25, Catholic, & Also A Woman

Hugh Hefner died last week.

As a Catholic, it’s tough to know the right way to respond to his death. A lot of Catholic figures suggested we should pray that he repented and recognized Christ before he died. This is probably the right idea.

After drinking a pot of coffee around 7PM last night for no good reason in particular, I found myself still awake and staring wide-eyed at my computer at 3AM—which is when I came across a 2015 Cosmopolitan article from an interview with Holly Madison, one of Hefner’s (more recent) Playboy girlfriends.

Madison described how depressed she became after Hefner forcibly cut her off from the outside world, required she engage in sex with him and other women in the house, and inflicted emotional abuse that manipulated her into consenting to all of the above. Sadly, one could’ve guessed that this was what’s going on behind the doors of Playboy mansion. It’s a phenomenon that’s contributed to the twisted way we look at sex—and also at women in general.

I often think of something Jason Evert says about the beauty of the female gender:

“The woman is the most beautiful thing on Earth. I’m not pandering to you—this is obvious. What do guys get addicted to looking at on the internet? Like, flamingos or something? Waterfalls? It’s the beauty of the woman! If creation was a symphony, she is the crescendo, and this is how it’s presented in the book of Genesis—God creates the stars and the moons and the bugs and the birds and the mammals and then man, and then woman. And when Adam sees her, he is beside himself. “Alas! This one is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone.” He is captivated by her. He is in awe.”

What could possibly be more special than this? Not to say men aren’t special—like, you guys are fine—but this is super special. It’s so inherently good to be a woman. I look so warmly on all that comes with it—the upsides and the downsides, monthly gifts notwithstanding. Truly, womanhood is such a blessing. It’s so, so good to be woman.

John Paul II’s Theology of the Body further emphasizes this point. Women have an incredible capacity for vulnerability, adversity, pain—and also for love. Our bodies were perfectly made for bearing and rearing children, even down to the tiniest details, like the bend of our arms and the curve of our hips. We’re an incredibly strong, resilient gender from the moment we’re conceived in the womb. Women are amazing.

Our Mother was the ultimate woman. Her example set the standard for femininity in a graceful, beautiful way. Blogger Matt Foley expressed this remarkably:

“We don’t hear much from Our Lady in the Scriptures, but we do hear in Luke’s Gospel that she “kept all of these things in her heart.” Mary had a lot to deal with. The Lord of the Universe came to her and promised her the life she was born to live, and then she knew He would have to take it away. And she had to just wait for that. There was so much back and forth, up and down, waiting and going. And she knew deep in her heart, that on this side of Heaven, for three long and terrible days, it would all end in heartbreak. But every sorrow, every joy, every love, everything, she kept in the depths of her heart and shared it with her first and deepest Love. It was there she found the meaning of her womanhood. It was there she was affirmed in the fullness of her identity as a woman. So when God came and asked her, “Mary, my daughter, I love you. Are you ready?” Her answer was yes. She already knew her worth and her purpose was rooted in Goodness. She knew she was loved and lovable. Her answer was openness to receive the gift of God. And because of that, the world was never the same.”

But if women are profoundly capable of all of these things—vulnerability, resilience, receptivity to love, etc. etc.—we’re all the more profoundly capable in our ability to draw greatness out of man. This is what we were created for—to compliment and accentuate the parts of man that perfectly reflect his creation in the image and likeness of God.

Peter Kreeft said it best:

”The heart is like a woman, and the head is like a man, and although man is the head of woman, woman is the heart of man and she turns man’s head because she turns his heart.”

My sister delves deeper into this point in a beautiful critique of the Women’s March (which you can read here):

“Women, we are the heart! We are the heart of this world, with the ability to turn its head. Women, we were not created to be trampled on or used. We are not secondary or lesser to our male counterparts. We were created with feminine qualities including gentleness, warmth, sensitivity, compassion, and receptivity. Yes, we’re intelligent, capable, and driven. We are strong and brave (shout out to Leah Darrow). We are not a slave to our fellow man, but rather a fundamental, necessary, and worthy companion. The gifts and talents that we have to offer are good, holy and beautiful. We are nurturing, loving, protective, loyal, self-giving, and communicative by nature. These qualities are of great service to our world. They are valuable in the workplace, just as they are essential to the family. It is by harnessing these very qualities that we will be be most impactful in the world, whether as business women, entrepreneurs, politicians, journalists, doctors and/or nurses, but of utmost importance as mothers.”

We were not created to be trampled on or used. We are not secondary or lesser. We are not a slave to our fellow man. In this thought, we’re brought back to “fellow man”, Hugh Hefner.
His contributions to the twisted way the world now sees women are neither here nor there, in my opinion. It would’ve happened one way or the other, as it has countless times over in other civilizations and will continue to until the end of time. One of the devil’s greatest weapons is the perversion of the beauty of womanhood and the relationship between the sexes, because the toxicity of its outcome seeps into every other area of life. In modern times, we see this everywhere.

The perversion of woman—who she is, what she does, how she’s meant to relate to man—has brought forth social repercussions we could list for days. And it hardly leans in one direction. The woman who demonizes the male gender and aims to squeeze women into the role that’s meant for men does as much damage to herself as the one who exploits her sexuality in an attempt to harness power and control. I hurt for these women. I hurt for the Holly Madisons of the world, who suffer from a fundamental misunderstanding of who they are and what they’re capable of.
But within this context, it must be said: the Hugh Hefners suffer too.

Men need good women, just as women need good men. You can’t have one without the other. So as Holly Madison likely suffers from her disconnection with her purpose, Hugh Hefner likely suffered also. A man who uses and abuses women the way he did strikingly misses out on his own potential for greatness. This is a travesty too.

To be 25, Catholic, and a woman is a profound gift, but it’s also an incredible challenge. Women bear a responsibility to the men in their lives to hold a certain standard, but it’s a responsibility that does not come without its share of risk. 20-something single, Catholic women today enter into a remarkable vulnerability in choosing to maintain that standard. In a world where most women consent to their own mistreatment and the perversion of their beauty, man’s obligation to the standard isn’t an obligation at all—it’s a choice. As a result, the women who expect more often find themselves at the receiving end of profound rejection. It’s that pain and adversity I mentioned before—it’s real and it’s common.

But there’s good news: it’s worth the graces of calling men to their higher purpose. The cross of rejection is worthy of the great fruits that stem from fulfilling our call as females to draw the greatness out of men. But just as we have the call, we also have the tools. Our remarkable resilience gives us the ability to endure it.

The Quiet Confidence Of Ivanka Trump

I’m continuously impressed with Ivanka Trump and how well she carries herself, even when met with the most humiliating and hostile sentiments of those around her.

This photo was taken today at a women’s summit in Germany, where she was booed and “hissed” at (do women seriously hiss at other women? that’s grotesque) for referring to her father as a “champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive.”

The moderator of the panel acknowledged the hostility of the crowd and confronted Ivanka, saying, “You hear the reaction from the audience. I need to address one more point—some attitudes toward women your father has displayed might leave one questioning whether he’s such an empower-er for women.”

And once more, we witness her incredibly poised demeanor in the well-spoken and gracious response she gave (per POLITICO):

“As a daughter, I can speak on a very personal level,” Ivanka Trump said. “I grew up in a house where there was no barrier to what I could accomplish beyond my own perseverance and tenacity. That’s not an easy thing to do; he provided that for us.” She said that her father treated her exactly the same way he treated her two brothers, who now run the family business. “There was no difference,” she said.

Her tone was not defensive, nor did she so much as grimace at the question she received. There’s a level of self-awareness and restraint here that we fail to give her credit for.

It’s very easy for us, as both consumers of the mainstream media and American voters, to forget that these people are just that—they’re people.

When we think of Donald Trump and his relationship with women at this point in history, our minds jump immediately to the recording released prior to the election of his conversation with Billy Bush. The things that were said were shameful, wrong, and have no place in American society, let alone American politics. It is appropriate to acknowledge that and to hold him accountable for what he said.

Nevertheless, as a daughter myself, I observe Ivanka’s willingness to stand by her father with admiration. She has not defended his behavior, which would be wrong—rather, she’s chosen to remain loyal despite his character, however deeply flawed it might prove to be.

I fight the urge to compare her to Chelsea Clinton as a public figure because I think my bias in comparing them would be obvious. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that the media approaches the two women from very different angles. While some outlets continue to, for all intents and purposes, plead Chelsea Clinton into a campaign announcement, Ivanka’s media coverage from those same outlets is critical, negative, and maintains, however subtlety, that she should be personally held responsible for her father’s splintered relationship with the female gender because she, herself, is female.

This is a difficult position to place a man’s daughter in. I struggle to recall a time that Chelsea Clinton has ever been asked to defend her own father’s promiscuity, and the one time I can recall was met with such aggressive criticism by the mainstream media that no one ever dared ask such a question again. And while she is placed on a pedestal, Ivanka is “hissed” at by her fellow woman, even as she speaks of promoting women and families at a public forum.

I was especially impressed with Ivanka in her interview with Gayle King earlier this month. King asked Ivanka if she had a response to critics who accused her of being “complicit.” Her response was commendable (via CBS):

“I would say not to conflate lack of public denouncement with silence. I think there are multiple ways to have your voice heard. In some case it’s through protest and it’s through going on the nightly news and talking about or denouncing every issue in which you disagree with. Other times it is quietly, and directly, and candidly. So where I disagree with my father, he knows it, and I express myself with total candor. Where I agree, I fully lean in and support the agenda and, and hope, uh, that I can be an asset to him and make a positive impact. But I respect the fact that he always listens. It’s how he was in business. It’s how he is as president.”

And in this one statement alone, we witness the quiet confidence of Ivanka Trump. She feels no need to justify herself to the public, and there’s something to be said for that level of self-assurance. It is clear she does not receive validation from the American people, which is important: it means her commitment to her values is not contingent on the approval of others. This is remarkable.

I fear that women are missing out on an incredible role model by so quickly jumping to criticize Ivanka. Many could say—and probably do say—that her loyalty to the President is self-serving, or necessary for her own professional success. I see it differently.

Ivanka has earned what she’s built. While I recognize the opportunities that inevitably come hand-in-hand with having the name ‘Trump’ on your birth certificate, she’s not been given all that she has. She is educated, professional, and successful by her own right. And yet, she has chosen to leave her empire behind (in some sense) to serve her father and the public in the White House.

How many celebrities are estranged from their famous family members? How many women wrestle with their self-worth (or lack thereof)? And how many experience behavioral crises at the hand of their damaging fathers?

It is clear Ivanka Trump is not one of those women. So why are we so quick to condemn her?

Love & Lemonade

My very serious Beyonce fandom has been an internal struggle for me for a few years now.

As a college junior, “Love on Top” was my anthem. I owe my spring 2013 date party “Best Dancer” title to Beyonce’s 2011 MTV Music Video Awards performance, when she did a kick-ass dance number seconds before busting open her blazer and revealing her Blue Ivy baby bump. She’s got the best hair, the best voice, and quite frankly, I wish I woke up like that.

All the same, I struggled when she released her “Drunk in Love” duet with Jay Z. The explicit, graphic content bothered me. For someone with so much talent and so much beauty — and, in my opinion, so much class leading up to that point — I felt she was lowering herself by trying to take on her husband’s rapper-esque coarseness. I thought it beneath her. Nevertheless, I’ve stayed a fan.

Lemonade is art unlike any music video I’ve ever seen. It is a visual masterpiece by way of color, light, texture — a sensory marvel, I assure you. I could not believe the depth of symbolism and thought that went into every scene, every frame. It is beautiful, thought-provoking, and emotionally jarring all at once. It’s 55 minutes worth of video that seems to pass in seconds. I loved it. Truly, I loved it.

And yet, here we are again. The music is remarkable and the imagery is compelling, but the message, for lack of a better way to say it, hurts my heart. And not because I hurt for Beyonce regarding the implications she makes of Jay Z’s affair (although I deeply feel for her in that regard as well, if those implications are true), but because she took such a coarse, explicit, offensive approach to delivering it. The language she uses in more than half of the songs was, quite frankly, unnecessary. It did its job by shocking me each time the words came from her mouth, but otherwise, it wholly took away from what I believe she was trying to convey.

I’m not sure whether we should believe that Jay Z’s affair was real, and that the emotions behind Lemonade were actually Beyonce’s, or simply the masterful work of a remarkably skillful writer. It would be naive to forget that Beyonce and Jay Z have the financial means to pay for work like this — just as they undoubtedly paid for the incredible cinematography that makes this music video what it is. But regardless of whether these deeply felt emotions convey the internal dialogue of Beyonce or of someone else, Lemonade has made a comment about marriage that I am inclined to appreciate.

If you’ve not watched Lemonade, the gist is this: I am your wife, and you cheated on me. I am angry, but I love you. You have hurt me, but I love you. I feel worthless, but I love you. I want to leave you, but I love you. My family warned me, but I love you. I don’t need you, but I love you.

I forgive you, because I love you. I will stay with you, because I love you.

And as Beyonce soulfully sings about the promise of marriage, home videos of her, Jay Z, and Blue Ivy play behind it.

Do you see why it hurts my heart?

I’m both obsessed with this video and also so disappointed by it. Total emotional schizophrenia, I know.

I’m obsessed with it because I think it ultimately communicates a message that society so desperately needs to hear, and one that is so true about love, marriage, and family. But I’m also disappointed because the message was communicated by way of offensive language, explicit & graphic detail, and a mention of religion which, while wholly acknowledging God, left a bitter taste in my mouth.

There were a few acknowledgements of God in Lemonade. The only one worth mentioning was when bold, white lettering flashed across a black screen: GOD IS GOD AND I AM NOT.

Whoa. This, from a woman we’ve deemed “Queen” and elevated to an almost immortal capacity, in a video about feeling worthless and used in a broken marriage. If this doesn’t say something about the flawed way our society perceives celebrities, I’m not sure what would. In addition to the messaging about marriage, this message was consistent throughout: this “do you realize who you’re married to? I’m not your average woman” attitude, and yet: “I feel worthless; God is God and I am not.”

To tie this back to everything I’ve been saying in recent posts, we all have our stuff. Do we not all have our stuff? If this narrative is true — if Beyonce, who we’ve placed on such an unreachable pedestal, suspected that Jay Z was cheating on her and was begging God to shine a light in the shadows of their marriage (as she says in Lemonade), what more do we need to know? We all have our stuff.

I hate the abrasiveness of Lemonade. I hate the explicit, graphic language. I hate it. But I really, really think the deeper message is worth a second look — because the circumstances are real, the emotions are real, and the truth is real: that love defeats it. I’m a firm believer that as human beings, there’s good and bad in all of us. There’s definitely some bad stuff going on in Lemonade. But the resounding message is love, and there’s something to be said for that.

Why My Confidence Won’t Come From Having Lips Like Kylie’s (And Where It Will)

‘Confidence’ is a word that’s thrown around a lot these days.

In a world where women are encouraged to have a butt like J.Lo’s, a torso like Kate Upton’s, and lips like Kylie Jenner’s, we’re likely to find ourselves looking in the mirror and feeling subpar (or worse.)

But in the same breath, we’re told by various self-image campaigns that we should simply be happy with who we are, be content with our bodies (regardless of what we look like), and keep the standard that people (particularly men) judge us based on our personalities.

And as if it’s not hard enough to keep up with all of that, we’re also reminded that confidence is key.

Confidence. K.

It’s not exactly a breeze to muster any confidence under the pressure to look the right way, let alone like yourself despite the fact that you don’t [look like you just sucked on a shot glass for 10 minutes.]

So what’s a girl to do?

Insecurity comes in all shapes and sizes – both literally and figuratively. My own insecurities span a wide range of topics – from body image to work performance to my sometimes in-your-face personality (was I talking too much in that work meeting today? Probably).

For other women, insecurity might mean something entirely different. Regardless of the source, how does one combat insecurity and replace it with confidence?

Fr. Mike Schmitz (aka the man) touched on this briefly in his podcast a few weeks back. First and foremost, I was surprised to learn that the origins of the word ‘confidence’ actually mean, “with faith,” in Latin. So when we encourage women to “be confident,” what we’re essentially encouraging them to do is “have faith”… but have faith in what, exactly?

Fr. Mike went on to say that faith in oneself is utterly useless because there is a limit to our ability to maintain confidence in ourselves – mostly because there is a limit to our ability to do things right.

Faith in God, however, is entirely boundless.

Placing our confidence in God, then, is the ultimate solution.

I might not have the power to control my circumstances; I might encounter challenges at work, in my relationships, or in my personal life. Or I might simply screw up – I might skip a few work outs or spend too much money on Starbucks, or I might mishandle a confrontation and wind up regretting it later. But confidence in God that it will, in the end, be okay, can get me through that.

And additionally, the practice of forgiving myself and moving on from the past when those things happen is not only healthy, but is the right thing to do. God is merciful and He forgives, so why can’t I?

I am not entirely confident in myself. I fall constantly and often make the same mistakes over that leave me banging my head against a wall (figuratively, of course). I do, however, have the UTMOST faith that God is working in my life to make those mistakes worthwhile and guide me along the right path in the meantime.

Confidence in Him and His will for me is more than enough, and is much more likely to bring me a happy life than having lips like Kylie Jenner’s ever could.

Women: Wise Up To ’50 Shades Of Grey’

Bill Cosby has recently been accused of sexual assault and rape by nearly three dozen women. In most cases, it has taken multiple decades for his victims to come forward and speak out against him.

Years later, we’re constantly reminded of Chris Brown’s beating Rihanna back in 2009. Rihanna’s pain has been exploited by countless media outlets looking to profit from their very-public breakup.

Eminem is another name that’s been tied to domestic abuse. He not only has a history of violence – year after year, he makes his living from rapping about said violence.

Sean Connery, Mike Tyson, Tommy Lee, Sean Penn – the list goes on of male celebrities that have in some shape or form, physically abused or harassed a woman at some point in time.

Meanwhile, women in Hollywood are being exploited as their phones are hacked and nude photos leaked online for the entire world to see (ie: Jennifer Lawrence, Scarlett Johansson, Vanessa Hudgens).

This is the real world of use, abuse, and exploitation.

It is a world of pain, shame, and real damage to real lives.

So why – why – are we praising this clearly obscene, clearly offensive, clearly awful movie, Fifty Shades of Grey?

I’ll openly admit that I have not read the book. Initially I wanted to – first out of curiosity, then because I wanted to rip it to shreds with criticism (a hobby of mine). Even today, before I sat down to write this post, I considered plowing through a few chapters to earn a little bit of credibility in speaking out against it. I ultimately decided not to.

Instead, I read a synopsis – which made me sick enough to feel that I don’t particularly care how credible I am in speaking out against this book. I’m going to do it anyway.

How have we fallen so far from emulating the relationship of smart, creative Allie and romantic, loving Noah as to emulate the “relationship” of a sadly naive 22-year-old and her manipulative, sadomasochistic abuser?

For the sake of a fair argument, I admit – I get it. This article said it perfectly:

Here’s what I would like to believe: that buried beneath all the smut, poor writing and abuse, on some level this book appeals to that nurturing part of every woman that makes her feminine and beautiful. That part that wipes the tears of a child who skinned her knee, makes her volunteer at nursing homes and adopt stray cats and unwanted dogs at the pound.

This is true. Women are likely reading this book and seeing a heroine who saves a damaged, distant, incapable-of-real-love, underwear model (half-kidding) – but those women are forgetting something.

This book is a work of fiction. That is (very unfortunately) not how these stories end.

These stories end the way they’ve ended for all women who’ve experienced an abusive relationship – they come out just as damaged as the man doing the abusing.

And even more importantly, women need to know that they do not have to submit themselves to this kind of torment and abuse in order to be loved – nor does loving their abuser mean submitting to his abuse.

As women, we are not doing any men any favors by accepting it. We owe it to ourselves and to the men in our lives to demand more from them than this.

Christian Grey doesn’t need a woman to submit to him, nor does he need a woman to deny him (which appears to be why he falls in “love” with Ana).

What Christian Grey needs, in real life, is intense therapy.

And what Ana needs is to back away, preferably as fast as she can.

On Kim Kardashian’s Paper Magazine Photos

Over the past year, I’ve become mildly full-fledged obsessed with an online magazine called Verily. It has become a part of my daily routine to check the website each morning as I wait in the drive-thru line at Starbucks (not kidding). Recently, I’ve found myself particularly inspired by the magazine’s articles on women in careers – mostly because they often target those driven, single 20-somethings like myself who aspire to “do it all” one day, ie: foster a successful career while simultaneously raising a family.

So tonight, I was binging on Verily Magazine articles (not an unusual occurrence) when I briefly switched over to Facebook and somewhat ironically stumbled upon a Buzzfeed post regarding Kim Kardashian’s recent cover shoot for Paper Magazine.

The magazine initially released a photo of Kardashian yesterday which very blatantly highlighted Kim’s bare butt – as it literally glistened in all of its photoshopped glory.

This Buzzfeed article, however, was addressing the release of a second photo of Kim – this one, full frontal nudity.

I like to think I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to these types of things. I’m not easily offended by celebrities – maybe to a fault – probably because I typically chalk it up to different ideologies and choose to just ignore them. For whatever reason though, tonight, this Kardashian stunt really, really bothered me.

I am by no means a feminist. Rather, I am a woman who firmly, firmly believes that the sanctity of my body – and the sanctity of all women’s bodies, for that matter – is worth preserving.

In fact, I believe that not only is it worth preserving – it is worth glorifying.

Plastering a shiny picture of a woman’s glistening, digitally-altered body parts all over the internet hardly seems to achieve anything other than objectification. And frankly, I am absolutely sickened by it.

There are two tabs currently open on my internet browser – one links to the Buzzfeed article on Kim Kardashian’s photo shoot for Paper Magazine, and the other links to a Verily Magazine article entitled, “How to Empower Women in the Workplace.”

They stand in stark contrast to one another as two vastly differing approaches to achievement. One achieves sweeping attention and mass amounts of internet traffic (I’d say more so due to shock value than anything else – hashtag break the internet, right Kim?) by presenting Kim Kardashian as a collection of parts and baring her naked body for the entire world to see. The other effectively dignifies the individual by encouraging every woman to fearlessly pursue her goals for her career – and her life – in the midst of obstacles not uncommon for our time.

The point I’m hoping to make is this –

As women, we are so much more than a collection of parts and have so much more to offer than simply an appealing exterior. We have the capacity to be creative, productive, to love and be loved, and ultimately, to achieve the deepest desires of our hearts. Let us not fall prey to the world’s lies that suggest anything less than this.

You are beautiful, you are whole, you are worthy, and you are loved.