Lessons on Femininity From Edith Stein


By Anna Laughery

I have a confession to make: for most of my life I have struggled to feel feminine. I love sports and am ultra-competitive. I have lots of opinions and a big mouth. I never learned how to do makeup and my sense of style is gravely lacking. Every day I look around and notice myself failing to meet the standards of femininity I see. And I know I am not the only woman who feels this way. Every day, thousands of women across the world stare in the mirror, measuring themselves, and all they see staring back are the ways they fall short. There are a host of standards of ‘femininity’ that our society tells we need to meet in order to feel feminine. 

But what if we discovered that femininity isn’t a feeling?

It wasn't until this year that I began to understand what true femininity is. This realization came through an introduction to a woman who is now near and dear to my heart. Her name is Edith Stein. Edith, also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, is an early twentieth century Carmelite nun, martyr and philosopher. She was brilliantly intelligent, outspoken, strong willed and fiercely devout. She wasn't afraid to ask hard questions, give hard answers or speak hard truths. She fought for women's equality in what some would call a manly way, yet she lived out her femininity more fully than any modern feminist dreams possible.

Edith wasn't feminine because she was strikingly beautiful. She wasn't a good woman because she was the perfect housewife. She wasn’t the perfect Catholic because she had a flawless prayer life. She was feminine, she was a strong, beautiful woman, because she lived out her life, her vocation and her relationship with the Lord in the way he intended her to. 

I have always thought femininity was a title to be achieved or a set of standards to be met. In reality, femininity is just the opposite. In fact, femininity doesn't exist outside of women. True femininity is only found when it is seen through strong women living the lives God intended for them. We don't need to change ourselves to become more feminine. We are feminine because we are women. We are feminine because, as Edith says, we have “a longing to give love and to receive love, and in this respect a yearning to be raised above a narrow, day-to-day existence into the realm of a higher being.” We were created for more. We were created for perfection, for heaven and for union with our God. This is where the fulfillment of our femininity is found: in our path to holiness. So give and receive love today in the way only you, the woman God created, can.

Woman naturally seeks to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole. To cherish, guard, protect, nourish and advance growth is her natural, maternal yearning.
— Edith Stein

How is the Lord asking you to 'cherish, guard, protect, and nourish' your own growth as a woman? How is he asking you to bring life to those around you? See in yourself what Stein knew lay within the heart of each woman and let that goodness, truth and beauty flow forth.