I have been reading St. Therese of Lisieux’s autobiography, The Story of a Soul, for my podcast, Maria Lectrix. I have been enjoying it a great deal, and possibly identifying with the story a little too much for a flawless reading. (Sorry, folks. I know, it’s a pain.)
However, every feminist and Therese-loving bone in my body has just revolted.
Now I’m aware that, for some reason, some feminists think that Therese was oppressed, because she had a brief longing to become a priest. (A goal which soon changed back to her primary dream of being a nun, and left her mostly with a great sympathy for priests and their work, and a desire to pray for them. Which she did in heaven to such effect that priests consider her one of their patron saints.) Apparently in the same spirit, one of my listeners has decided that St. Therese’s brief longing to do great deeds like Joan of Arc was quashed by cruel sexism. (In fact, it just soon changed back to her primary desire to be a nun, and she believed she had received special teaching from God on the subject of her momentary desire and why such great ambition was useful to a nun.)
Nobody ever seems to believe that St. Therese’s desire to become a girl hermit in the wilderness was quashed by cruel, cruel eeeeeevil sexism. But that one lasted for several years of structured make-believe play and was shared by someone else! Much more credibility than the priest or the Joan of Arc thing. (Though, frankly, every girl wants to be Joan of Arc sometime. She is the closest saint to a Mary Sue, but more sensible, more forced to face reality, and alas, deprived of purple eyes.)
You’ll notice that nobody ever seems supportive of St. Teresa of Avila’s desire to go on crusade as a missionary as a kid, with her brother as a knight or a missionary, and convert all the Muslims. And Jews too, which is interesting since her family were Converso Jews. What’s more, our strong-minded Teresa and her brother actually set out on the journey to Palestine before they got caught and brought back, as I recall. (Cruel, eeeeevil parents and relations!)
I’ve rambled quite a bit here. So I’d better just state my points.
Hello? Hasn’t anyone here been a kid? Is sexism the only reason any female ever reconsiders a potential career? Isn’t it sexist to assume that sexism was the problem, when all the evidence is against it?
And does anyone believe that Mademoiselle Therese Martin, a damsel so frail and easily swayed from her purpose that she planned out and attempted to strong-arm the Pope (to his face!) into doing her will (!) was prevented from doing great deeds in the world by sexism????
First of all, we are not talking about some kind of purdah country. Therese was born in 1873. In France, where plenty of women meddled in politics and literature and art, and did great deeds.
If Therese Martin had been convinced that it was God’s will for her life to do worldly great deeds or save France with military power, WWI would have been over before anyone figured out that the French army usually didn’t take orders from bourgeois ladies who hadn’t gone to the military academy. We’d have seen Therese studying military strategy and history for years ahead of time. Then we would have seen her placing artillery and leading the French Foreign Legion on death or glory charges, or hovering over the landscape in a balloon.
(And if she had decided to go into the mistress business, she probably would have turned into the Anti-Bismarck, and France would own Europe all the way to Budapest. So… probably a good thing for Luxembourg that she didn’t emulate Madame Pompadour.)
Also, her dream of being a missionary sister (yup, she went through a lot of ambitions) was certainly not anything farfetched. Frenchwomen traveled all over the world in the missions, and they certainly did all sorts of “great deeds”. Only her health and her desire to stay near her family stood as barriers to this — but of course, there are plenty of sisters who managed to finagle their way into mission orders and overseas to rough posts despite ill health. Again, if Therese had felt that God called her to the missions during life, she would have been in Pago Pago before anyone had time to blink. But again, what really happened was that Therese discarded the momentary ambition for her real goal of becoming a nun, and was left with nothing but sympathy for missionaries’ work and a great desire to pray for them. (And so, yep, she’s a patron saint for the missions.)
Therese Martin was a bright, imaginative young person who dabbled in all sorts of career dreams. She returned again and again to her dream of serving as a Carmelite nun in a cloister, and in the end chose it with such force that she dragged everyone in her way, from the Pope down, into making her dream come true, and promptly. (Not as promptly as she’d have liked, mind you, but considerably more promptly than anybody thought it could have occurred.)
Sexism? Oh, please. She was too busy getting Jesus’ will done to _notice_ sexism, much less let it block her from doing precisely what she thought God intended her to do.
If there’s an -ism villain in Therese’s story, it’s ageism, seeing as people cruelly denied her constant requests to enter the convent at the age of seven and then again, as a pre-teen. Cruel, cruel eeeeevil ageism.
(And considering how young she died, you could argue that Therese was right to have been in such a hurry.)