Comment

The Polish queen who can inspire 21st Century girls

Jadwiga of Poland by Bacciarelli (Wikimedia Commons)

I blogged recently about Fun is Not Enough, the collected columns written for the Catholic Eye newsletter by the late Fr Francis Canavan SJ and quoted his ironic comment in a column for April 2001 concerning the New York Police department. He had repeated a complaint that “only 15 per cent of new officers are women, who are half the population” and added, “We are a democracy in this country, you see, and the basic rule of democracy is equality. Therefore 50 per cent of the police force ought to be composed of women. The same goes for the armed forces. It would not occur to the ideological mind to ask how many women want to be police officers or soldiers.”

Ah, the ideological mind; determined to fulfil quotas and focus on statistics rather than recognise an essential truth: that men and women are equal in their human dignity but also different. That there is such a thing as the “feminine genius”, of which Pope John Paul II spoke so eloquently; not a patronising dismissal of women’s intelligence and abilities but a recognition that they bring different mental, emotional and imaginative resources to a task from those that men display.

There is also the matter of physique. There are jobs that women can’t do as well as men (and generally don’t want to do) because they are not physically as strong as men. This is not as obvious as it ought to be to the ideologues.

These thoughts come to mind as I have been reading two books aimed specifically at girls’ readership. The first is So Young a Queen: Jadwiga of Poland by Lois Mills (Bethlehem Books/Ignatius Press). First published in 1961, it has been republished this year by Bethlehem Books as part of a series of biographies entitled “Portraits in Faith and Freedom”. It tells the story of St Jadwiga of Poland, 1374-1399 who married Jagiello, the pagan Prince of Lithuania in 1386 and converted him and his own peoples to her own devout Catholic faith.

As Lois Mills shows, Jadwiga, though betrothed to marry someone else, made a sacrificial choice at a young age to marry this unknown prince for the sake of her country’s peaceful union with Lithuania. It reminds one that other strong queens in history, such as Isabella of Castile, Bridget of Sweden and Margaret of Scotland became women of influence and power having been shaped by a deep Christian faith in childhood, alongside a rigorous education. They knew how to exert “soft power” for good in their husband’s lives, alongside the suffering and sacrifice such lives generally endure.

The other series of short stories I have just read reflect life in the 21st Century where opportunities for ordinary girls (rather than princesses) to excel are inevitably much wider than in the past. They have been charmingly devised according to a lively formula by a retired scientist for his two young granddaughters, Ella and Emily, as a way of showing them that young women can lead adventurous lives in areas formerly dominated by boys and men. The Ella Abbott Helicopter Rescue Service stories and Ella Abbott in Space, aimed at girls in the 7-9 age range who are looking for excitement and action in which they, rather than their brothers, are the heroes, show just how brave, resourceful, calm and quick-thinking girls can be in dangerous situations.

For girls of a scientific bent, the Space stories include scientific details suited to their age-group. Although invented for his granddaughters, Professor Abbott’s action stories cater for any girls looking for adventure in which they play the central roles and where they are treated with respect for their professionalism by male colleagues. They can be personalised and downloaded for free at: www.stevenabbott.co.uk/adventures.php

Lois Mills describes a real historical queen and saint in the making; an inspiring example that sheds light on significant events hardly known today outside Poland, where Jadwiga’s memory is still revered. Professor Abbott uses fiction to challenge young girls today to go as far as their determination and talents will take them.