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Apostolic Movement

Being a woman in a masculinized enviroment: Essence vs. caricature

By: Joelma Melo

The Schoenstatt Movement was born in 1914 in a masculine environment: the Pallottine seminary. Nevertheless, in the first years of Schoenstatt’s history, we can see the birth and growth of the feminine column. It was necessary for some women to take the initiative and have the courage to knock on the door and insist on entering. The founder of the Work, Father Joseph Kentenich, seeing in this feminine presence the act of God’s will, opened the door and let them in. From this joint journey of men and women, each with their own originality, the Movement developed harmoniously and, under the guidance of the Blessed Trinity and the Mother Thrice Admirable, Queen and Victress of Schoenstatt, has today become part of the Church and of society.

This “glance” at the beginnings of the Schoenstatt Movement is meant to guide our reflection towards a specific point which was always highly valued by Father Joseph Kentenich and which has pedagogically guided the entire feminine column of the Movement: the need to preserve the inner feminine being, the “being a woman” and to value the great contribution that women bring to the workplace.

Being a woman without becoming a caricature

For centuries, from East to West, women have striven to earn their place in the world alongside men. This quest has come a long way, but there are still many areas to conquer. Today we see many women in environments previously considered “masculine”, such as some technical and university careers, and also in some professions. It is not an easy achievement. There is strong pressure from many sides: from the family, from society and from the woman herself. So, how to preserve that feminine being and not let oneself be transformed into a caricature of a man? How not to succumb to the desire to be “equal”, to adopt a masculine posture?

As a civilian police officer, at the beginning of my career and before I met Schoenstatt, I often felt pressured to adopt typically masculine attitudes when speaking, dressing, and reacting to the usual situations of the job. This type of behavior imprisoned me within a stereotype created centuries ago and I did not have the assertiveness and inner freedom to be who I really wanted to be. I was flattered when I heard comments like, “You are a woman, but you are more of a cop than many male cops!”

This comment, which at first seems like a compliment, carries an implicit prejudiced view of women and the profession. It makes women unconsciously desire to have characteristics that are considered typically masculine in order to be accepted. In this context, without a thorough understanding of the feminine nature, her potential and her originality, the woman becomes a distorted caricature of what she could be.

Schoenstatt pedagogy is applied to the woman’s world

To grow in this knowledge and to have mastery of your own personality, you need to grow organically. This is what happened to me, and I think to many women in Schoenstatt. Using the Schoenstatt pedagogical system, where there is a deep respect for the feminine nature and its essential characteristics and potential, it is possible to acquire the inner freedom and the firmness to be what you are: a woman!

Mrs. Rosana Silva, from the Institute of Our Lady of Schoenstatt, highlights with objectivity and clarity the feminine nature and the way in which a woman, full of herself and attached to God and the Blessed Mother, expresses herself in the environment in which she operates:

“The woman’s tendency to express herself personally leads her to imprint her originality on everything she does. While a man expresses himself through his ideas and opinions, a woman expresses herself through the world around her. Her soul is present in her gestures, in the way she behaves, in the atmosphere she creates around her, in the way she dresses and grooms herself. Each form is a way of externalizing something of her person, of her soul.”

First, be a woman

By bringing out in women the sense of divine daughterhood and leading her to understand her noble nature and, at the same time, her simplicity and willingness to serve, Father Kentenich contributed significantly to the fact that many women who entrusted their education to him – and I am one of them – were strengthened internally and attained the inner freedom, which is so necessary to stand firm in difficult environments.

Today, experts reinforce the value of being feminine and give advice and suggestions that are fully in line with the Founder’s teachings, which have been propagated for more than half a century.

Elaine Saad, managing director and operations coordinator for Latin America at human resources consulting firm Right Management, advises women working in masculinized environments to adopt a firm but not masculine posture, because women are indeed more emotional, more involved in situations and with people. But, on the other hand, women are more intuitive and can be more skilled at managing conflict. “So be a woman first and then think about improving what you need to improve as a professional,” said the expert.

Pope Francis often highlights female originality:

“”The peculiar gifts of gentleness, sensitivity and tenderness that enrich the feminine spirit represent not only a genuine force for the life of families, for the propagation of a climate of serenity and harmony, but a reality without which the human vocation would be unfeasible. And this is important! Without these attitudes, without these gifts from women, the human vocation cannot be fulfilled!” [1].

Today, women are conquering their rightful place in the world, but these conquests must not come at the cost of losing their originality and the special gifts that God the Father has given them. Those who have received the mission to be a reflection of Mary in today’s world must always draw inspiration from the women who have preceded them and continue the mission, because “without women there is no harmony in the world” (Pope Francis – Mass at Santa Marta on February 9, 2017).


*Joelma Melo, Schoenstatt Apostolic Federation of Women, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Source: Schoenstatt Brazil –


[1] Pope Francis. Address to the participants in the National Congress of the Italian Women’s Center. Clementine Hall, Vatican. March 25, 2014.


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