As a Catholic woman, the Catholic Church has told me that the person I should look to and emulate as an example of my gender is Mary, the Mother of God. I always had a problem relating to Mary, however; this is perhaps heretical, but I used to feel like Mary didn’t do anything. She gave birth to Jesus, she has a few other scenes with the gospel, but that is mostly it. I also felt Mary has largely no personality. She passively and humbly accepts everything God or Jesus does. Now, in the Catholic tradition Mary is considered sinless, so you might argue I couldn’t relate to Mary because of that. For example, in fiction, characters who have no flaws are pretty boring, right? But Jesus is also sinless and I could relate to him just fine. Jesus weeps over the death of Lazarus; he feels sorrow over Judas’s betrayal; he yells at God and attempts to bargain with God; he gets angry and flips the tables of the money changers. But Mary is always just humble and serene. At least that is what I thought — but I was wrong.
This version of Mary as the passive submissive female to a male church, savior, or god is what feminist theologians call the patriarchal feminine. This is a female figure who is lifted up as the ideal woman for a patriarchal society. Mary’s acting the submissive passive female to a male God and Christ, or even her husband Joseph, sends the message that if women truly want to follow God, then they too must be submissive to men.
Of course this version of Mary lifted up by the patriarchy is not in any way accurate. Mary is actually a very empowered figure. However, Mary as the patriarchal feminine is what we find in both theology and in pop culture.
Shmi Skywalker and Padmé Amidala (Star Wars)
Padmé occasionally stands up for herself, but for the most part she lays there and dies of a broken heart while Anakin goes around killing people because of love… or something. So much for Padmé being a badass no-nonsense politician — by the time the third movie rolls around, Padmé’s pregnancy seems to have disabled her spine, allowing people like Anakin and Obi-Wan to make decisions for her as she never did in the previous movies. Well, to be fair, in the other movies the men made decisions for Padmé too, but at least she fought with them about it. But I guess she “learns her lesson” in the third movie and just accepts what the men tell her to do.