Supporting Our Sisters: Encouragement Over Condemnation
Men have known for ages about the power of a woman’s words — how their wives can completely demoralize their efforts with a simple raise of the eyebrows and a quick, “Really, dear?” We women instinctively understand how we can use words to manipulate and hurt others if we really want to. We also understand how a quiet word of encouragement to a child or a friend in need can change their whole outlook and lift them to a better place. It is our power, and also our responsibility to use our words carefully.
In the past 100 years women have moved very far apart from one another in terms of our shared identity of “womanhood.” We no longer have a general definition of what it means to be a woman in our world, and with the wide variance of opinions comes the verbal assaults on one another’s decisions. Women are now learning, as men learned long ago, that it can be very painful to be on the receiving end of another woman’s words of criticism and condemnation. Gone is the sisterhood of femininity that once demanded a certain level of camaraderie and understanding from someone of the same sex. New Feminists, however, seek to restore the loving encouragement between women that is so necessary for us to live up to our fullest potential.
As a lactation consulting student, I had the opportunity to talk with new mothers struggling to learn the art of breastfeeding. In these private sessions of complete vulnerability and honestly, some women shared with me their stories of deep hurt from their own mothers, sisters, and friends comments about their mothering decisions. Often times it seems that the women closest to them in their lives criticized everything from how many children they have, to whether or not they work, to their feeding choices, and just about everything else they might be struggling with themselves to accept. The last thing they need is for others to sow seeds of doubt in their minds.
In our world of extreme relativity, it is controversial to say that anything is universally “better” than anything else. But there are simple truths from Natural Law that can guide us to discern that some things certainly do have a “Best Case Scenario” that will fit for most women and families. While I believe this to be true, I would never say that abiding by the “Best Case Scenario” is the only way that good can come about and that anyone outside of this scenario is always doing something wrong. The exception to this is when someone completely rejects and ignores the “Best Case Scenarios” of Natural Law. For these cases we must stand firmly by the ideal and lovingly challenge our sisters and brothers to accept and strive for a higher standard for the sake of the best interest of our world.
For example, it is certainly the “Best Case Scenario” for a baby to be carried to full-term of at least 37 weeks gestation before being born. However, a family that must choose an emergency cesarean section at 32 weeks to save the life of the baby or mother is certainly still acting to make the best of their particular situation. They are making a choice in the best interest of their child and are being flexible to allow for the circumstances to direct a new “Best Case Scenario.” In contrast, a woman who chooses to intentionally terminate a pregnancy at 10 weeks is not making an effort to acknowledge the child involved and is in no way concerned for their best interest. This could never be the “Best Case Scenario” for how a pregnancy should end. Not to mention the death of their unborn child and the effects on other family members. The realities of what they have done to their own body could never justify this as a “Best Case Scenario.” Although their circumstances may be legitimately difficult, their disregard for everyone else involved and the very serious nature of the result marks it as a very poor decision. They need and deserve our compassion and support as we work to share with them the truth and wisdom of the ideal in order to build confidence and courage in those who might face this decision again in the future.
Another example that I am very familiar with is breastfeeding. The “Best Case Scenario” according to health literature and numerous medical studies is that newborn babies should ideally be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life. This is a great goal and something we should strive for in the best interest of our children and our own bodies, but sometimes the surrounding circumstances make this very difficult. Some women try very hard for many weeks and months to breastfeed their children exclusively, but for a variety of reasons they are unable to do so. For the women who understand and have striven for the “Best Case Scenario,” there is no need for us to berate them with information about why they should be breastfeeding. We should be offering them comfort and support and encouragement so that they might be strong enough to try it again with any future children. Now in contrast there will be women who for whatever reason do not even consider giving their children the gift of their breastmilk. They will purposely dry up their own milk supply and immediately begin feeding their children milk-replacement formula in complete rejection of the established “Best Case Scenario”. These again are the women who need our compassion and understanding as we work to help them understand the beauty of their bodies and the amazing abilities they were created with. Even the women who completely reject what is clearly “best,” we must never condemn them but rather work to make future circumstances more ideal for them to reach for a higher ideal.
Our words can either build relationships and trust with women whose choices we disagree with, or we can isolate ourselves from them with words of judgement and criticism. It is a fine line to walk in holding to the ideal “Best Case Scenario” while also acknowledging and accepting those situations outside the norm. But as women, we are quick-witted enough to form language that is loving and kind and that builds up our sisters struggling to continue to reach for the ideal no matter the circumstance.
Above all, we need to always remember that while Natural Law has established “Best Case Scenarios” for many things, there are not always clear ways that are “better” than others for every situation. Some things just do not hold that same weight as others in their level of importance for the best interest of society. These things will always be a matter of personal discernment and should be left to our sisters to make their best judgement about. Don’t let it keep you up at night if your sister’s kids have never had a haircut or if she chooses to let them watch tv for a few hours a day. As long as she is lovingly raising them, trust that parenting differences are okay. When we encounter someone who has made a decision very different from our own, we must always first try to understand the situation and circumstances of that decision and then lovingly uphold our confidence in their ability to achieve what is in the best interest of everyone involved. Share in a non-judgemental way about the beauty of the ideal through your own choices and life decisions.
As New Feminists we need to lovingly build up one another to understand and accept our unique role as mothers to society and the next generation. As long as we are always trying to fulfill this role and doing our best to meet the needs of this position, our world will become a better place with every woman’s choice to strive for the best interest of those around them. Only with the support from one another can we be strengthened enough to do this. Soon we will begin to see a new generation of New Feminists rise up and lead with love and compassion. Let’s start doing our part today by supporting and honoring one another as beautiful, capable women.