Charlotte Wagner, a tenth-grade student of Art Sheridan at Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School in Chicago, Illinois, read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, “Love Letters to the Resistance,” by Aura Bogado
Think about what matters most to you about our country’s future. Write a letter to someone important to you, describing that future you imagine and hope for.
Even though you do not have a voice in your own story, I feel your words in me.
Truth be told, I don’t remember hearing your name before a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago. That’s when I first learned of your “reputation.” My grandma nudged me, her eyes locked on your half-naked portrait, your long red hair spilling down like a waterfall.
“She was a prostitute, you know.”
Isn’t it strange what history does to dead women? The Cleopatras, the Elizabeths, the Theodoras. There was never one mention of you being a prostitute, but due to a mix up with a couple of other biblical Marys, the notion stuck.
I suppose that was the only excuse that Renaissance painters needed to practice their female anatomy (all in the name of the Bible, of course). And while I can go on for hours and hours about the objectification and suppression of female sexuality, as well as the dehumanization of those forced into prostitution, I’ll save that discussion for another time.
Does history not remember that you were one of Jesus’s most attentive followers? That you were present at the crucifixion, the burial, and the resurrection? That you—not Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John—were the first to witness the Good News? That after the resurrection, you went off on your own to spread the message of Jesus?
Not to point fingers, but I think I know why your role was downplayed, Mary. Anyone who has taken a basic World History class knows why.
While notions of gender equality have been able to spread rapidly, in the grand scale of things our century of progress is nothing compared to eras of suppression. Most instances of female power have been squandered by the constraints of patriarchy.
You traveled every step with the disciples, but were only mentioned fourteen times. Why is it that Jesus appeared to you first, while all his other disciples fought among themselves? Not only that, but you stuck by him every step of the way, without even the slightest hesitation. As much as we Christians like to believe that the Bible was divinely inspired, it was still written by men seeking to immortalize their legacies.
Legacies that do not seem to have room for you.
How many girls have chosen the name Mary, after the Virgin instead of you?
So many things make me mad about your story, Mary. I’m sure you can’t feel anger anymore. You’re in heaven, surrounded by love and warmth and happiness. But I, my dear Mary, am not.
Things have gotten better since your time. There are now women scientists, women astronauts, and women authors, all writing their own stories for further generations to study and dissect. Things may not be perfect yet, but by your grace we’re getting there.
There is still so much history buried by time. So many women whose stories will never be told. Whose struggles will never be recognized. Whose deaths will never be remembered.
But don’t worry, I’m working on it.
So are millions of others, female and male, young and old, and everything in between. Someday, Mary, I hope that we can be as magnificent as you. But for now, you are our tower of light, guiding our hands and our work towards brighter ways.