March 8th is International Women's Day. If you logged onto Facebook this morning you were reminded that today is a day to "celebrate the amazing contributions women make to our world and our future"
And if that was what International Women's Day was, I'd agree. But after doing some research on the origins of the holiday, I have to take a step back and ask the question only a huge Theology of the Body and history nerd like myself would ask -
Would Saint Pope John Paul II approve of International Women's Day?
An International Women's Day was celebrated on March 8, 1917 in Petrograd. Women who worked in the textile industry gathered in the capitol of Russia and rioted. This was the start of the Russian Revolution, which caused Emperor Nicholas II to abdicate the throne just one short week later. The women's day march-turned-riot was an incredible turning point for the rise of communism. The provisional government that took the place of Emperor Nicholas granted women the right to vote. But the communist governments around the world also issued in a reign of terror.
For perspective, Hitler and his Nazi regime killed between 11 and 12 million people, 6 million of them Jews. Communist leader Mao Zedong of China is responsible for the deaths of somewhere between 40 and 75 million Chinese people. His political decision of the Great Leap Forward alone is responsible for the deaths of 18 to 45 million.
Stalin is estimated to have been responsible for 20 million deaths, placing him second on the list of dictators who killed the most people.
For the almost sixty years, the holiday was celebrated mostly by socialist movements and communists countries - including the Soviet Union, China, and Spanish communists in 1936. In commenting about the women's march, Stalin said:
"I wish them every success...in making the two sections of the oppressed masses, which are still unequal in status, a single army of fighters for the abolition of all inequality and of all oppression, for the victory of the proletariat, and for the building of a new, socialist society in our country. Long live International Communist Women’s Day!"
So with its roots in the communist movements, I am hard pressed to believe John Paul II would be involved. After all, communism played a significant role in the life of John Paul II. In fact, he fought it so strongly that Mikhail Gorbachev said, "I did not destroy Communism, John Paul II did."
John Paul II spent a majority of his life standing up against the forces of Communism - but also standing up for the beauty of the feminine genius and the beauty of masculine and feminine complimentary. His first mission after he was elected pope was a series of 129 Wednesday audiences discussing the importance of men and women in today's world in order to bring about a better understanding about the beauty of God, sex and our universal longing for fulfillment. He saw people as persons to be loved, not things to be used. This didn't sit well with the strong belief of the Communist government that people were meant to be used.
"He [John Paul II] knew that people do not exist for the good of the state. Rather, the state should exist in order to serve the people. This wasn't about making the government more religious, but about making it worthy of the human person. In Wojtyla's mind, injustices such as violence and the suppression of of human rights are lies spoken against the truth of humanity. When the laws of a state are not based upon the truth of the dignity of the human person, inhuman conditions and acts inevitably follow. This is especially true under communism, which sees man as a purely material being" (Jason Evert, Saint John Paul The Great: His Five Loves).
In 1995, John Paul II released a letter to women, in which he said:
Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of "mystery", to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity. (Letter to Women, 1995)
But finally, I don't think that John Paul II, who was amazingly pro-life (from natural conception to natural death), an advocate for masculine and feminine complimentary, and a fighter for the true definition of love would stand for what the women's moments of today stand for. Can you picture John Paul II standing with any one of these signs?
Is is it wrong to celebrate the beauty of femininity in today's world? No! In fact, the world could use more appreciation for the inherent amazing feminine genius that women offer. But we need to promote the beauty of a woman's dignity by fostering a culture that understands, embraces and appreciates the beauty of her fertility and femininity. Not by seeing her as an ends to a mean in a communist mindset, or rejecting her fertility as if it was a disease.
So I respectfully decline the celebration of International Women's Day. Not because I hate women (I am one, after all), but because I've been inspired by John Paul II to appreciate women at a much deeper level than a holiday steeped with communist roots can ever supply. To realize the beauty and dignity of woman is incredible and out of this world. In the words of John Paul II, "The basic plan of the Creator takes flesh in the history of humanity and there is constantly revealed, in the variety of vocations, that beauty-not merely physical, but above all spiritual-which God bestowed from the very beginning on all, and in a particular way on women."
"Necessary emphasis should be placed on the "genius of women", not only by considering great and famous women of the past or present, but also those ordinary women who reveal the gift of their womanhood by placing themselves at the service of others in their everyday lives. For in giving themselves to others each day women fulfill their deepest vocation" (Letter to Women, 1995).