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    Women-changemakers: the sharing economy and the feminine genius

    Women laughing in the late afternoon sunshine

    Generation Share is a genuinely inclusive book, and yet it’s hard not to look at its cover and notice that the two names on the cover are both female names. While many men appear in the pictures and stories, it is also striking how much they reflect traits that are often dismissed as feminine, as if they were a weakness rather than a strength. In my previous post (The Conservative Case for the Sharing Economy) on the subject, I have argued that the sharing economy is a practical way to address some of the problems we face in our modern society that has forgotten this common-sense wisdom that previous generations had.

    Today, I want to look at how it enables us to value women without asking us to do as much as possible to become like men in order to compete in a game whose rule were written by somebody else, to benefit somebody else. Or, in feminist speak, the infamous patriarchy.

    The hour is coming, in fact has come, when the vocation of women is being acknowledged in its fullness, the hour in which women acquire in the world an influence, an effect and a power never hitherto achieved. That is why, at this moment when the human race is undergoing so deep a transformation, women imbued with a spirit of the Gospel can do so much to aid humanity in not falling.

    – ADDRESS OF POPE PAUL VI TO WOMEN

    The feminine genius is a concept that was named and codified in Saint Pope John Paul II’s Letter to Women (or in its Latin name Mulieris Dignitatem, On the Dignity of Women), but it’s not by any means a new concept. What it stands for, is that there are four aspects of femininity that we should value more: receptivity, sensitivity, generosity, and maternity. Now, before people start screaming at me, maternity isn’t just about the act of making babies. Maternity, in this context, is about caring for other as a mother cares for her child. It is more to do with the works of mercy, corporal as well as spiritua. In the words of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein): “A woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold”.

    Over and over again, the stories of hope of the sharing economy show these qualities: an openness to the other, as we share what we have and what we do, even what we are (receptivity); an openness to the needs, joys and sufferings of others (sensitivity); the willingness to share itself (generosity); and the desire to nurture relationships and people over possessing things (maternity). Benita Matofska, when she had her intuition about what was missing from the world, was showing all of these qualities herself. It all began with her feminine genius, and everyone (regardless of gender) who partakes in the sharing economy is living out these qualities.

    I am not, for one, surprised that a lot of the high profile change-makers (as well as a lot who are doing work unseen by the media spotlight) are women, because I do not believe these qualities mean that we should just relegate ourselves in the family kitchen. If that’s where you are happy, by all means, I am a liberal feminist and will cheer you on, but the gifts of the feminine genius, when we extend our circle of family that Saint Mother Teresa said we draw too small, will drive us to want to tackle these issues. And we need to stop treating these things as if they were defects.

    You may be thinking, but what about the men who indeed also show this propensity to making the world a better place? And you’d be right, because there is some overlap with what moves men to do so, especially if we move from the presupposition that men and women were equally created in the image of God. God is love, and so it follows both the masculine and feminine genius reflect that. The reason for focusing on women though is not just that last time I checked I was one. It’s because I believe we have been too eager to buy into the system to get at the top of it instead of dismantling it altogether to build a better system that thinks we are good as who we are.

    I want to show that the fruits of our work when we tap into these innate gifts we have, whatever they look like in our individual selves, are setting the world on fire (to say it with St Catherine of Siena). Change is not a dream, but a reality: it is happening, and it is happening now. And the sharing economy is one of the main ways in which it is happening, and sharing itself is a very feminine act. Biologically, we share our body with a child when we are expecting, and then if we breastfeed we keep sharing it after the child is born.

    Our society, for most of its history, was built on this idea: it is no coincidence that pagan religions tend to have a female goddess of fertility/the earth, and that even the God of Israel, Whom with Jesus we address as “Father”, appears in Scriptures with feminine attributes (Isaiah 66:13, Isaiah 49:15, Deuteronomy 32:11, Luke 15:8-10, Psalms 22:9-10, Psalms 71:6, Isaiah 66:9, Hosea 13:8, Luke 13:34) and the original Hebrew word for the Holy Spirit is in the feminine. Then, somehow, we made it that to be a woman is bad.

    I’m writing this the Friday before Corpus Christi, the liturgical feast that celebrates the fact that God shares His body, blood, soul and divinity with us every day in the Mass. It follows after Pentecost, when God shared the Holy Spirit with us, and the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, a relationship in which we share whenever we make the sign of the Cross. I don’t know why this week was chosen by them as Global Sharing Week, but it falls at a great time of the liturgical calendar for the idea of sharing. And if God shares all that He is, who are we not to do the same, and share all that we are as well as all that we have that He has given to us?

    I understand that so much emphasis on how much change we can achieve may put some unfair pressure on women who are more than happy to influence their most immediate sphere, and I’m in no way intending to suggest we all have to go out into the world and fly far away on wings like eagles. Being Mother Hen with wings to protect the little ones and not too much as to hurt them is needed just as much. What’s truly important is that both of them, and all its possible variations, come from an appreciation of our caring and sharing nature as women, in whichever way it manifests in us.

    The women (and men too) in this book have inspired me to seek out how much more I can do to live out my feminine genius and serve others through the gift of myself, the sharing of my talents and the fruit of my work. Who are the women that inspire you? I’d love to hear about them and celebrate them with you.

    Generation Share” by Benita Matofska and Sophie Sheinwald (IBSN9781447350101) is published by Policy Press (Part of Bristol University Press). Available at www.policypress.co.uk