Week Three: Interview with Nykole Willmore on the Feminine Genius
This interview is the first in our four part series titled “Reimagining the Genius of Womanhood Through the Lives of Catholic Women.” Learn more about the series here.
How do you define the feminine genius?
I define the feminine genius as discovering the beauty of what it means to be a woman. As we read in scripture, men and women are each created in the image and likeness of God but have been given respective gifts that complement one another. But I think that the “genius” part comes in when a woman fully enters into her vocation. Discovering the path that God has called us to and sharing our gifts and talents with the world, whatever that might be, is when the beauty of our femininity truly radiates into the world.
Drawing from your experience in the army, what does the feminine genius look like in your current day-to-day life?
I strive to live out my feminine genius in the ways that I care for my fellow soldiers. The army is centered around the idea of being “physically and mentally tough” which is extremely important in order to do your job effectively. However, deployment is a different environment - especially for Reserve or National Guard soldiers such as myself. We go from working together one weekend per month to spending every single day for an entire year with the same people. And that can be a challenge for some who have never experienced it. That being said, I try to check in with my section and see how they are doing on a personal level. When the operational tempo is high, and everyone is focused on the mission it can be easy to push your feelings aside and get lost in the day-to-day. Especially being in a male-dominated work environment, it's rare that people open up and talk about what’s going on in their head.
Describe a moment when your genius as a woman has been evident to you.
My previous job in the Army was serving as a Chaplain Assistant or Religious Affairs Specialist. However, this is not the role I am serving in while deployed. The role of a chaplain assistant is to (you guessed it) assist the chaplain in routine things, such as a secretary - scheduling, administrative, etc. Having that as a military occupation has no relation to your religious preference (an atheist can be a Chaplain Assistant). Only the Chaplain is affiliated with a specific religion, as they are usually ordained in their respective faith.
Whenever I was the chaplain assistant if I was having a random conversation with someone about civilian life, etc. the question about what I am studying always comes up. I am currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Theology. That being said, people would always assume “Oh, she’s a Chaplain Assistant and getting a degree in theology. She must be planning on becoming a Chaplain.” And this question always leads to the discussion of “Well, that is not exactly my intent. And even if I did want to become a Chaplain in the Army, I can’t because I am Catholic… only ordained priests can serve as a Catholic Chaplain.” Which then almost always invites one of two responses: 1. Why doesn’t the Catholic Church allow women to be priests? And 2. Why don’t you just convert to another religion that would allow you to be ordained? … I love that conversation.
I think most people (who aren’t familiar with the Catholic Church) think that women who are Catholic feel suppressed or something by the fact only men can be ordained. I love hearing what people have to say when I tell them that “No, I don’t want to be ordained and I don't think that women should be.” It usually leads to a more in depth conversation about the complementarity of men and women and how it’s okay that we have different gifts and serve in different ways.
How would you describe the relationship between your genius as a woman and your work in the army?
This is a tricky one! In recent years, the issue of equality has affected our culture in many ways and the Army is no exception to that. It was just a few years ago that the Army has allowed women to train for combat specific jobs previously only open to men. Depending on who you talk to, this can be an interesting topic of conversation. There are people who believe that women have absolutely no business being in these positions, some people who think it’s great, and others, such as myself, who don’t mind either way.
For me personally, I have very little desire to attend Ranger school or become an infantryman. But there are many of women out there who are a lot more tougher and ambitious than myself. I know quite a few women who can out-do most of the guys when it comes to physical fitness and tactical situations. I am glad that those women have the opportunity to take on those roles and still live out their feminine genius while doing it.
That being said, I recognize that men and women have different gifts and talents that contribute to the success of our jobs. Just because I do not want to do all the same things as a man in the Army, doesn’t mean I am incapable of it. And if a woman does want to do all those things, I think she still brings a new perspective to the table as a woman in that role.
What advice would you pass along to the millennial Catholic woman who wouldn’t consider herself what’s culturally defined as “feminine” and may be skeptical of the notion of the feminine genius?
If a young woman feels bombarded by all that the current society says is feminine and feels she does not fit into that - I think she's in the right place! It's really unfortunate that we live in an era where everyone can just make up what they feel is right and redefine something in order to fit their own personal agenda. When society as a whole begins to disregard universal truth, we end up in a really strange situation. Our culture’s definition of feminist has a wide range of answers that go from one extreme to the next and personally I also don't believe that I fit into it.
My advice would be to take the time to seek out the truth of what our femininity holds and the beauty of the feminine genius. I think this can really be a transformative experience. Starting with the scriptures and teaching of the Church is vital. Rooting yourself in what our faith teaches about the complementarity of man and woman is so important in understanding yourself and the vocation you are called to. But also remember that you don't have to be on the exact same page as every other Catholic woman, as we are all called to different paths.
What’s the best insight you personally have received on the feminine genius, or on womanhood in general?
I think what I love most about the feminine genius and I may have already said this is some way, but I like that it calls each of us to be ourselves just as uniquely as we were created. The feminine genius teaches me how to live out my current vocation as a single woman just as fruitfully as my sisters in Christ who may be living their vocation as a wife and mother. There is beauty in each of the different paths of life than can glorify God just as magnificently.