As a woman who immersed herself in the lives of the saints growing up, I have a unique perspective on the modern feminist movements we’re seeing today (including #MeToo). The litany of the lady saints is replete with examples of suffering and persecution, but those sisters were kickass heroines of survival. And not a one of them whined or wore pink hats. (Halos are infinitely more flattering.) Since news recently broke that the Women’s March has been going through its own dark night of the soul, I decided to dedicate this week’s column to my own female role models. I hope the stories of these brave and holy women provide some divine inspiration.
It’s fittin g that I start with Lucy, for several reasons. First, my mom was her namesake. Second, she is claimed by both Italians and Swedes, two proud cultures whose blood courses through my veins. Third, she is the patron saint of eyesight, and as someone who just cracked the half-century mark of wearing glasses, I’m appreciative of her lobbying efforts. But the main reason I love St. Lucy is because of her resilience.
As the story goes, her mother tried to marry her off to a Roman soldier, but she wanted to devote her life (including her virginity) to Christ. Both mom and the soldier were annoyed, and in the most extreme version of the tale, her jilted suitor gouges out her eyes. And to remind all of us of what she endured for that halo, she’s always depicted holding a tray with, you guessed it, two alert eyeballs.
Lesson for today’s feminists: If you have an independent mind and don’t march with the pack, you can earn headwear much more attractive than a pink hat.
Christina is the female who suffered the most, according to scripture. The daughter of a well-known pagan who was embarrassed by his Christian convert daughter, he did everything to make her life hell. He locked her in a tower for weeks on end with no food or water. (Some now might call that a Gwyneth Paltrow 10-Day Cleanse.) He threw her in a pit with poisonous serpent. He threw rocks at her. He dragged her through the streets naked. He beat her. Finally, when she survived a week in a burning furnace, her aggravated father killed her with a sword.
Despite all of that, Christina refused to renounce her faith, proving that women can’t be bullied into submission.
Lesson for today’s feminists: Women named Christina -- or Christine, ahem! -- stand up for their beliefs.
Joan was the best example of why women should be allowed in combat. This humble and illiterate French maid led her sheepish countrymen to victory over the hated British and, for her troubles, got arrested as a heretic and ended up en brochette.
Joan was smarter than any of the men who accused her, tried her, and killed her. That wasn’t enough to save her. But her great strength was her refusal to beg, to weep, to whine. She passed through the flames of torture and became our greatest female saint. Some would say she is our greatest saint, period, because gender is irrelevant to character.
Lesson for today’s feminists: Women with strong voices are heroic.
If you travel down to South Philly, you can see the statue raised in honor of the girl who sacrificed her life to save her honor. It’s in front of the school named after Maria Goretti, who famously refused to give in to the demands of her rapist and was stabbed to death. She was only 11. As a child, I sometimes heard people criticizing the church for making her a saint simply because she was a victim. But she was also beatified because she forgave her abuser. The deeper message is that we are creatures with free will, that even though exercising that free will might endanger us, it can also empower us.
Lesson for today’s feminists: Forgiveness and resistance are equally potent.