The vocation of men and women in academics

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Freshmen girls Angela Ciacchella and Anya Van Arnam sitting in Braniff. Photo by Annabelle Nicholas

Amidst the frenzied close of the semester, it can be tempting to compartmentalize life, making studies, spirituality and sleep separate and unrelated entities. As we study for quantifiable assessments of the last semester, it is so easy to robotically memorize facts.

But this approach is counterintuitive to human nature. In “Fundamental Principles of Women’s Education,” St. Edith Stein writes, “Education is not an external possession of learning but rather … the process of this formation.” 

The way that we engage with our studies has an impact on our formation as writers, chemists and lawyers, but also as human beings. 

How does our education form us into the individuals society needs us to be? Stein writes that “God created humanity as man and woman, and He gave to each his and her particular duty in the organism of humanity.” 

God calls me not just as a human, but specifically, as a woman. If my studies are supposed to prepare me for this vocation, I should be approaching them as a woman.

Every woman is called to be a spouse and mother, in a spiritual sense. Our bodies and souls are designed to be expansive — to receive the love of another and to harbor new life. The body of a mother is the first home that an unborn infant knows. Because our bodies are dwelling places, we have a particular inclination toward cultivating the home and an innate desire to offer security. 

A woman’s nature leads her to place an emphasis on the whole person in academics. In C.S. Lewis’ depiction of a saintly woman in “The Great Divorce,” he writes, “Every young man or boy that met her became her son … every girl that met her was her daughter.”

This spiritual motherhood extends to the classroom. A woman sees an author as not merely a name in a textbook, but as a soul to be encountered and loved.

Behind every essay, treatise and poem is a human writer whose joys and struggles shaped his or her work. A woman’s spiritual maternity is going to be particularly concerned with those details of the author’s life.  

Stein writes that in addition to being expansive and maternal, a woman’s soul is “predisposed to love the beautiful.” Our receptive nature makes us long to be filled with beauty and to be moved by it. 

Women have a unique perception of Christ’s nature as the Bridegroom of the Church. Our attentiveness to beauty in academics reflects the Church’s reflection of the rays of light that emanate from her divine spouse. 

While women are called to be spouse and mother — at least in a spiritual sense — all men are called to be fathers and defenders. Their souls are designed to give and guard. 

Because of the different natural vocations of men and women, men have a paternal and masculine insight into texts and classes that women do not have. They will see debates about war differently than women. They will have different reasons from women for loving Hektor or arguing about Aristotle. 

These differences are crucial in coming to a complete understanding of the truth. According to Stein, the purpose of education is to “become an other Christ in whom the barriers have dropped and the positive values of masculine and feminine nature are united.” 

If we approach academics without a full integration of our respective masculinity or femininity, we lose the opportunity to collaborate as men and women in the pursuit of truth. But if we study as men and women, fathers and mothers created for divine intimacy, we give Christ the room to form us in and through our studies. 

With that mindset, finals don’t sound so bad anymore.

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