Week Four: Interview with Shannon Ochoa 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? Is it something innate to every woman or something else? Feel free to elaborate on what you think it is, and what it isn’t.
The “feminine genius” is the unique way in which God desires to manifest himself, in His image, within woman. If we are all made in the image and likeness of God, this is innate to our very being, from our genetic makeup to our internal world. In the second creation account Woman enters the world with a person already in it. Immediately she is called to regard the human person, to hold an attentiveness to them. Being woman is complex, but I feel like this is a beautiful image in understanding the feminine genius. As St. John Paul II notes, “the moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way” (Mulieris Dignitatem 30). In being made woman there is a particular awareness and entrusting of the person. This doesn’t mean that women are only called to care-giving, person-centered careers or that you have to become a biological mother, but it speaks that there is a special concern in women to consider the person first.
Drawing from your experience in helping run Eden Invitation (A nonprofit devoted to promoting the fullness of personal identity beyond the LGBTQ paradigm) and as a woman attracted to the same sex, what does the feminine genius look like in your current day-to-day life?
I used to think my femininity was bound up what I wore, how I spoke, what hobbies I spent my time on. Over the past few years in running Eden Invitation, I’ve encountered so many unique and beautiful manifestations of femininity. I have the opportunity to see this unfold in my favorite part of our work: intaking stories. Each week I get to receive men and women experiencing same-sex desires or gender discordance striving to pursue a life of discipleship. It’s such a sacred space. It offers me the opportunity to receive and honor those God entrusts to me, at least for a little while, through their stories, interests, advice-seeking, and time in prayer together. I think as a woman experiencing same-sex desires, there’s also been a particular attentiveness to marginalized populations, longing to both protect and nurture. Eden Invitation has provided a space for me to live my feminine genius well and to unpack it in new ways.
How would you describe the relationship between your genius as a woman and your personal vocation? How do the two relate?
I think that depends on what we’re defining as “personal vocation.” I think one of the greatest things we can remember is our first call to know, love, and serve God with “all of our heart, all of our soul, and all our mind,” (Matthew 22:37). Each of us are called to live this as our first vocation, and we do so as uniquely gifted and shaped individuals.
I couldn’t tell you what my vocational call will be in the traditional sense - religious life, marriage, consecrated virginity, singleness in the world. But I do know that the Lord is inviting me into an adventure with Him, to pursue and receive Him in my daily tasks and and relationships. In my current state of life, I’m called to run a non-profit. I’m called to make a gift of myself to my family, friends, and community. I’m called to get to know my strengths, weaknesses, quirks, wounds, talents. In my femininity I have the opportunity to receive the adventure the Lord wants to unfold in my life and to encounter, encourage, and empower His children along the way.
Describe a moment when your genius as a woman was most evident to you.
It was back in an interview for a campus ministry job. In one hour long interview, I felt as though my “genius” as woman was on full display. I shed tears over the goodness of the human person, I stood up for injustices observed through my social work background, mapped out a discipleship model rooted in authentic community, and spoke of wonder over God in how He moved in my life from the college partier to a convicted campus minister. I feel like in that moment, I was living so many unique aspects of my femininity. Our femininity is like a cut diamond - so many different edges and facets, always finding new angles, reflecting the Light of God - all of it revealing something beautiful and complex. This moment gave me the opportunity to speak into the different passions and gifts the Lord placed within me, all unique shaping me as a woman of God.
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?
I would say look up, look out, see who’s beside you and who has walked before you. The world is filled with so many different kinds of women. Even in our world today, what our “culture” sees as feminine depends on what cultural lens you’re looking through! Throughout the course of history in the world and in the Church - even in your own life - I’m sure you can name so many unique women and you would say they are authentic women nonetheless.
Ask yourself, who is in my life? How do they uniquely represent femininity? Read the lives of the saints - St. Joan of Arc, St. Gianna Molla, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and so many more. Read the lives many powerful women in history - Rosa Parks, Emily Dickinson, Andrea Evangelina Rodríguez Perozo, the list goes on. St. John Paul II speaks of the human person being “unique and unrepeatable”. Each of these women are unique and unrepeatable. You as a woman, you as a daughter of God, are unique and unrepeatable. Your femininity is too.
What’s the best insight you personally have received on the feminine genius, or on womanhood in general? What’s the worst?
Someone once told me a story of how a young woman was questioning if she were “feminine” enough, she didn’t feel as though she “fit the mold” of what it meant to be a woman. Her husband turned to her and told her, “You are feminine because you’re a woman. Everything you do is feminine.” This rocked me! In our body-soul unity, all that we do as women is feminine simply because we are doing it with our whole self. That means you are just as feminine chopping wood as you are cooking, just as feminine wearing basketball shorts or a blouse, just as feminine in your pottery class as you are in your kickboxing lessons. Your femininity cannot be reduced to what you wear, what job you have, what activities you’re a part of. Your femininity comes from being made woman, in the image and likeness of God.
I wouldn’t say I’ve received poor advice per se. I think what has been challenging is seeing people have particular expectations of what a woman is or should be. This can happen in the Church too. It manifests both spoken and unspoken - stereotypes instilled through marketing techniques, being complimented solely on appearance, or jokes about leaving careers and “getting in the kitchen.” When this is what we receive, it can become instilled in us that our value is based on appearance or ability to make a nice home, not in our identity in God. We need to shift this paradigm in expanding our understanding of femininity and in seeing it rooted in the image and likeness of God.