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I love a good paradox, so here’s one I’d like to share with you: there’s an exception to every rule, except this one (meaning there’s no exception to the exception rule).  Well, I haven’t found one, anyway. When I discuss feminine virtues, I’m speaking in generalities. I know masculine men who exhibit these in spades, and feminine women who don’t. We all are unique, and we all have different gifts and graces.

I’m thinking about femininity and my personal models of femininity, feminine virtues, and their characteristics. My thesaurus lists womanly, ladylike, and delicate as synonyms for the word feminine. Is this what we really mean when we talk about feminine virtues? Beyond frilly, flouncy, frou-frou, lacy, pastel style choices, what do we really mean when we say “feminine”? Whose image comes to your mind as your own model of feminine virtue?

For me, it’s my grandmother and the Blessed Virgin. As an archetype, it’s the image of the Southern “Steel Magnolia”. Aside from the movie from 1989, based on a play from 1987, Wiktionary defines a Steel Magnolia as “a woman who exemplifies both traditional femininity and an uncommon fortitude”. The term contrasts the strength of steel with the softness and beauty of a Southern magnolia, which is a large white flower with a very strong fragrance that blooms on a tall evergreen tree. I think our Blessed Mother is a total Steel Magnolia. My grandmother is too, and so are a few other ladies I know.

These women embody three virtues in particular: generosity, adaptability, and receptivity. I could also talk about creativity, resilience,  nurturing,  gentleness,  docility, and almost two dozen other traits, but I’ll focus on these interrelated three, which are uniquely feminine – biologically, mentally, emotionally, societally, and spiritually.


These women – these Steel Magnolias – are generous.  Generosity, as a feminine trait, is more than just material support, though that is important,  too. Feminine generosity involves time and experiences. Women share (often to the point that this sharing becomes fodder for jokes). We talk, and exchange ideas, gifts, news, experiences, thoughts, and information. Taken too far, this sharing can become the vice of gossip. Within healthy boundaries, though, we support each other through this sharing. Mary did so by journeying from Nazareth to the hill country to support Elizabeth during the older woman’s third trimester, having just received the bombshell news from the angel Gabriel of her own unexpected pregnancy.

Imagine: Mary left Nazareth, betrothed but not yet married, and not yet looking pregnant. She came back, still not married, still betrothed, and probably looking pregnant. Can you imagine the chatter and snickers at the well, in the morning when all the village women came to draw water for the day? Mary had to know this gossip was likely, as was the possibility of Joseph divorcing her, if she wasn’t stoned to death for adultery first! Yet she still gave her fiat; she still said “yes”. That’s some major generosity. And major courage.

My grandmother was generous, too, especially with her time. She talked every day with my mom, and every weekend we went to visit her and Granddad. She gave us this time freely, without complaint or a scowl. Granny gave us her undivided attention, making each of us feel like we were the most important thing she had before her, whether on the weekends or at a family gathering.

That time is a real gift. That kind of time, and the communication that happens in it, is the lifeblood of a relationship. Sharing time with our loved ones, be they friends, our spouse, or other family, is what nurtures and builds those bonds. My grandmother (and grandfather) knew that. Granny was 100% present to us every weekend: playing games, sharing stories,  shopping (of course), and cooking. Granddad was, too, but we had more one-on-one time with Granny. They also provided material support; my grandparents subsidized our schooling, but the time is what made the bond between us.

Granny’s femininity shone through in her sensitivity to others, and in her generosity of spirit in being present without being condescending.  She was present to us in a way that’s rare now, in this Information (Overload) Age. That kind of real, tangible presence lifts others up without diminishing oneself. It’s also something I’ve noticed in times of consolation in prayer. When someone is present to us like this, we feel safe, loved, and valued. That kind of presences shows generosity, too.

In our infertility,  we can still be generous, even if the gift of life is not necessarily ours to give.  We can give our time as my Granny did, and we can give of ourselves as Mary does. It is in our power to let others feel safe, valued, and loved.

Who in your own life has been a model of generosity? What aspects of generosity speak to you? For example, my Granny never to my memory had a harsh word for anyone, regardless of how richly it may have been deserved. How can we emulate these people in our own lives, so that we can be called models of this virtue of generosity?

This post will be continued in Steel Magnolias: Part Two.

Delsonora lives in Central Ohio and has been married to the best husband a woman could want for over a quarter century. She has a disability and was adopted as an infant. Delsonora loves pets, crafting, and food, and she thinks that coincidence is often a “divine hint”. Catholic from conception, she’s convinced that the faith is why, despite the prevalence of other options, she was able to be born.