The Genius of womanhood


HAVE you ever considered womanhood to be a vocation or a calling?

Someone who offered women an understanding of their femininity as truly vocational was St John Paul II.

Elected as Pope shortly after the peak of the sexual revolution and feminist liberation movement, John Paul II was deeply aware of the challenges facing women in the modern world.

While recognising these challenges, he also saw the need to communicate the age-old truths of the Church in new and engaging ways.

One of the ways he chose to engage women more fully was to extend to them an invitation. It is an invitation to reflect with him on what it means to be created as a woman in light of God’s original plan.

More than 20 years ago, John Paul II extended this invitation in his apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem, on the vocation and dignity of women. He begins Mulieris Dignitatem with the closing statement from the Council Fathers at the end of the Second Vatican Council.

“The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling”.

This forms the essence of what John Paul II wished to communicate; a desire that women would play a central and irreplaceable role in the world. He called on all women to embrace their giftedness, or genius, and offer that as a gift to the world.

Sadly, many women do not believe that their womanhood is, in fact, a gift. Rather than seeing their femininity as an answer, many women live their lives with the underlying belief that their womanhood is a problem. That they are either too much, or they are not enough, that they attract too much attention or not enough.

In so much of John Paul II’s work, he offered men and women a paradigm shift; rather than being a problem he encouraged all women to embrace the fact that they are an answer to so many of the problems that face the world.

But, in order to be that answer, women need to know what it is they have to offer.

Instead of women trying to be like men, he encouraged them to embrace the unique spiritual qualities of womanhood, qualities which he called the feminine genius.

Some of the qualities that mark the feminine genius include receptivity, sensitivity, generosity and maternity.

While certainly not limited to these, it is these qualities which really mark a woman’s unique nature.


  • Receptivity: This lies at the heart of the feminine genius. Rather than being a passive state the receptivity of womanhood is an active receiving of the gifts of life and love.
  • Sensitivity: The sensitivity that is so integral to the feminine personality is an ability to see and understand the deeper needs and longings of the human heart, and to respond in love.
  • Generosity: The qualities of receptivity and sensitivity in turn give rise to a spirit of generosity which places value on the human person in a unique way.
  • Maternity: One of the great joys of and mysteries of the feminine genius is the capacity for motherhood, both physical and spiritual.

These qualities, John Paul II explained, emerge from a woman’s physical capacity to nurture, sustain and bring forth new life. While this capacity may not be actualised in every woman, it is the ability to do so that structures a woman’s personality in a unique way; a way which makes her person centred.

She sees the human person with the eyes of the heart and senses their true value as human beings. Without the presence of women the world is deeply impoverished.

To read more about Mulieris Dignitatem  visit