Female role models don’t exactly abound in the Catholic Church. On the one hand, we have Mary, mother of God. Ever see a statue of Mary? Does she look like a woman who gave birth and nursed a child or does she look like a twelve-year-old boy? If you agreed with the latter, you must be a church-goer. All the statues I’ve ever seen of Mary portray her as nearly sexless, with no curves and even less femininity. Saint John is prettier. But of course, Mary was a virgin. That the Bible never says whether she had sex with Joseph (who was her husband, after all) after the birth of Jesus doesn’t keep most people from viewing her as perpetually untouched — and therefore sinless. Mary is just about the only positive role model young Catholic girls have…and she’s not portrayed as a woman in any real way — certainly not in a way that a modern woman in a loving relationship can respond to. There are few (if any) husbands or boyfriends as understanding as Joseph. One expression of human sexuality and, well, you’re not like Mary anymore.

So, whom can we look to? Let’s examine the other Mary, Mary Magdalene. Again, nowhere in the Bible does it state that Mary Magdalene was a woman of ill repute. In fact, MM’s backstory didn’t come about until Pope Gregory, in the year 591, decided that three women named Mary mentioned in the gospels were, in fact, one and the same woman. Thus began Mary Magdalene’s association with bad girls. Of course we know that she reformed. But let’s face it; what do we primarily associate her with? Prostitution. Arguably Jesus’ most faithful female disciple — she who stood by the cross while He died, she who first discovered that He had risen — has gone down in history as a common whore. Who wants to be like her?

Where does that leave all of us women of faith who are neither virgins nor whores? Who do we have to look up to, to emulate? Most female saints are of the virginal sort, many losing their lives rather than relinquish their purity to some filthy man. Then there’s St. Anne, mother of Mary, and St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine — both married ladies and mothers to boot. What do we know about them? Not much, other than they gave birth to great figures of the Church. They are prized, seemingly, mostly for being the mother of Someone. Too bad.

Catholic boys and men have a plethora of choices for role models — from firebrands like Peter and Paul to contemplatives like St. John…tough guys, like Michael the Archangel and tender guys, like Francis of Assisi. Catholic women mostly have Mary or Mary. No wonder so many of us feel lost.

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