Has there ever been a woman less understood in history than Mary Magdalene? This tried-and-true follower of Jesus has been labeled everything from his wife (inaccurate) to a prostitute (also inaccurate). But looking at this woman only through the lens of her relationship to men does her a disservice. She was a child of God: holy and wholly Christ-centered.
Categorizing women unjustly may have biblical roots, but it’s a trend that has never weakened. Women are shortchanged in fiction (The Scarlet Letter’s Hester Prynne), in film (pick almost any title with a female lead), national news (male anchors only at ABC, CBS, and NBC), and in just about every other branch of the media.
Reality television dumbs down the feminine genius on a daily basis, but irrespective of that destructive industry, we’ve long rejoiced in character-assassinating women for sport. From OJ Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark to businesswoman Martha Stewart; from media titan Oprah Winfrey to Vogue’s Anna Wintour: as a culture, we tend to label women, often unfairly, before we can accept them.
The Women’s Media Center (WMC), which publishes a yearly report card of women in media, found that we are far from gender equality. Take the news industry as one example. The WMC found that in broadcast news, women are on-camera only 32 percent; in print news, women report only 37 percent of the stories; and on the Internet, women write 42 percent of the news. WMC’s report also exposes the gender gap in radio, film, gaming, social media, and technology.
It’s been an uphill climb in the religious spectrum as well. According to a 2016 Pew Research study that analyzed nine major religions, only two of them (American Baptist and Evangelical Lutheran) have women in top leadership positions. This is in contrast to a growing trend, at least in Catholic circles, where 59 percent favor women’s ordination.
But that tide could be changing a bit. Not long after another 2016 Pew study found that Christian women are generally more devout than men, Pope Francis appointed a commission to explore the possibility of ordaining women as deacons. Could our Church be opening doors that have been closed to women? Why has it taken our secular culture so long to formally recognize their gifts? How complicit are we in this trend?
Bridging the Gap
It’s difficult to look at the gender divide and not exhale in frustration. Real change seems far off. The 2015 World Economic Forum predicted that social and economic equality between men and women would not be reached for 177 years. That’s puzzling since women make up 57 percent of the workforce, according to the US Department of Labor.
Women—a dominant force in any culture, country, or industry—deserve better. But we as a media-hungry society should do our part to lift them up and celebrate their true gifts.
We should encourage youth, especially girls, to focus on true role models. Let’s embolden them to retweet human-rights trailblazer Malala Yousafzai (526,000 followers) over reality television’s Kim Kardashian (53 million followers).
In our own Catholic cosmos, we shouldn’t forget that our Church was built, in no small part, on the shoulders of strong women, such as Mary Magdalene, who fearlessly sought out the risen Lord while his apostles—our Church fathers—were in hiding.