Husband & Wife Articles


Feminine Genius

Understanding your wife’s virtues and vices

By Carrie Gress

In his book Man Enough, Dr. Frank Pittman explained that men who fear fatherhood fail to understand that they don’t need to be perfect to be a father; rather, child-raising tends to make them better men.

This insight applies also to mothers, who acquire certain virtues through giving birth and raising a child.

Every human vice has an opposing virtue, so the key to correcting a vice is to discover that virtue and rewire our habits accordingly. Becoming a mom is God’s most basic way of correcting the vices that come so naturally to the fairer sex (which is why motherhood is so challenging for us). All women are called to motherhood — if not physical, then spiritual. Maternity is our avenue to spiritual maturity.

Despite what the secular world says, men and women are not the same: we were created with different, though complementary, ends. And no matter how unpopular these notions are, men are generally tasked with protecting and providing for a family, while women are made to give birth to and nurture the next generation. As a result of these different goals, men and women have different dominant virtues and vices. Men, I’m sure you are familiar enough with your own vices and virtues, but here’s a cheat sheet on figuring out the women in your life.

The first thing men need to know is that women have an innate desire to improve themselves so they can better nurture and improve the lives of others. This fact is the cornerstone of what St. John Paul II called the feminine genius. With this understanding, women’s vices and virtues come into focus.

Let’s consider some classic feminine vice-types and the virtues that will help them:

The Narcissist: With this vice, the feminine focus upon self-improvement gets stuck on the self, usually because of pride (it always comes back to pride). For the virtuous woman, however, this impulse to improve herself, her home and her work is directed to bringing life, goodness, health, wealth, and other good things to those whom she loves. The corrective of motherhood is easily seen — few women remain completely self-absorbed when faced with their own child. 

The Gossip: In this case, a woman’s impulse to share of herself runs amok. Instead of sharing what is enriching and constructive, she passes along what is destructive. Yet the virtuous woman, because she is also prudent, knows when and what to share that will be life-giving and not damaging to others.

The Smother-er: This woman’s desire to help others takes on a compulsive element (rooted in pride and control), and pushes her nurturing instinct in destructive directions. A woman must practice a level of detachment from earthly goods and a greater focus on heavenly treasures.

The Control Freak: This is a difficult vice to recognize because it is so encouraged by secular feminism’s call to Take control! and Girl power! The opposing virtue will only be gained by learning to trust God (and the God-given authority of our husbands) and accepting just how little each of us actually controls. There is nothing like raising children to remind us of how little we are in control.

The Overly Emotional: Our culture doesn’t think, it emotes, and builds safe spaces where hard thinking won’t bruise our delicate emotions. When ruled by unbridled emotions, a woman’s mind is clouded (because emotions distort reality) and our wills are weakened (making us vulnerable to abuse, manipulation, gluttony, sensuality, etc.). The flipside of this vice are emotions that are tempered to work for us instead of ruling us. One priest likened emotions to a dog: they can be our best friend or they can become a barking terror. If rightly channeled, emotions free women to act in accordance with what they know is good and just for everyone, instead of enslaving them to constant reaction.

Because of an inborn desire to give to others, women are often looking to find new ways to improve themselves. Study of the virtues offers a treasure trove of new avenues to do just that while enriching the lives of others.

Carrie Gress holds a doctorate from The Catholic University of America and is a philosophy professor at Pontifex University. She is the author of Nudging Conversions: A Practical Guide to Bringing Those You Love Back to the Church, and Ultimate Makeover: The Transforming Power of Motherhood. A homeschooling mother of four, she and her husband, Joseph, live in Virginia. Her website is