I’ve spent a good deal of time today researching material for an RS A Level Developments in Christian thought module I’m teaching on Gender issues and society. I’ve been thinking about what the Christian church has had to say about developments of feminism and the women’s liberation movement.
I’ll be talking with my class this week about how Mary is portrayed as the epitome of the feminine ideal for many Christians, Catholics especially. Traditional views of Mary as the submissive handmaid of the Lord, the passive devoted mother and wife to Jospeh the worker well trodden. But the idea of Mary as a feminist icon is an interesting one to play with and think about.
If you’re teaching this too, here are some images I’ve found that you might find useful and interesting
I really love this one : (Much thanks to @ashdeanpoetry who has advised it’s ‘Andes Virgin and Child’ – -Artemio Coanqui)
Mary looks so young and fresh faced here. There’s an innocence and vulnerability to her that I find almost tearjerking. She’s so young, she wouldn’t look out of place in my Year 9 class. She’s elaborately dressed in a rather splendid black and gold number, and her shawl is exquisite I think. What i particularly love about this image though is the unusual depiction of Jesus on her back. Very adorable he is too, fast asleep and nestled into her neck. However, what’s significant here, I think, is that there is no eye contact between mother and son and that this is a hands free Madonna and Child. Despite her beautiful garb, she’s ready to work. This is no passive Mary who has not much to do except spend all day staring, besotted, at her little son. No. This is Our Lady of the Shopping. Our Lady of the Nursery Drop Off. Our Lady of the Trying to Pack a Million Things Into the Day. In fact, the child on her back reminds me of women in some of the poorest parts of the world tying their babies to their backs and starting work in the fields. She looks good on it mind. I suspect the porcelain complexion and the unfurrowed brow, the alert eyes are a cover. This is a woman who understands the power of mascara and a touch of creme blusher. I expect her laundry basket overfloweth though! I wonder if her hands are chaffed and sore. She keeps them hidden. Fair dos.
This is a really positive image though I reckon. Lots of women don’t get to see their children during the working day. But these children are still well cared for, content and close to their mother’s heart.
This one is from Our Lady of Angels, LA
Isn’t it incredibly striking?
There’s no fine elaborate robes, no crown. Her hair hangs in a simple plait. We can’t pin this Mary down. Who is she? Where does she come from? I like that. She looks mixed race. She looks strong too. She stands so tall. Her open posture suggests a welcome and an openness, but one which brings with it a vulnerability. However, her face is so serene and so composed – she is not afraid. Her hands are the most visible thing about her. She looks like she uses them in her work. Her arms are bare, she’s got her sleeves rolled up! Our Lady of the Workers, Our Lady of the People Who Struggle. Our Lady of The About To Crack Under The Pressure But Found The Strength From Somewhere. Our Lady of the Women who Need to Take Five and Say Oh God I Don’t Quite Know How Im Going To Do All This Today. Our Lady Who Asks For Help And Still Keeps Her Dignity.
I really like this image too. It’s a very human Mary. It’s not idealised or romanticised. She seems real.
This last image is hard to look at. I think it may be the most beautiful though.
This is Our Lady of Nagasaki. She was burned and scarred and blinded (Her eyes were simply melted away) by the atomic bomb that evaporated thousands of people. She was lucky to survive at all, and here she is.
When I saw this picture, and realised the context, I thought straight away of the Hail Holy Queen prayer, “To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears”
And then this line:
“Turn then most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us. And after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O Clement, O Loving, O Sweet Virgin Mary”
She has no eyes though. Only two dark black holes. But there is still a strange and wonderful beauty to her. I think so. Our Lady of the Disfigured. I have eyes. I see how the world is. She makes me want to make a world that’s kinder and more compassionate. A world without war and violence. She’s a woman who shares my values. She survives; her task is to challenge how we live, both men and women, and how we treat each other. She survives, but I can see.
“Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ”