In the below article penned in 1897, a Mrs. Marion Reedy held that widespread veneration of Mary encouraged the pedestalization of women, gave birth to the chivalrous gentlemen, and was responsible for the “New Woman” of feminism:
“The church it was that built up the modern ideal of woman. The church it was that cultivated, so to speak, chastity, by its insistence that the creature who had borne a God was worthy of veneration, and was not to be only an utensil in ministration to male passion. Not only was man indoctrinated with a higher idea of woman, but women became possessed of a higher, better sense of their own worthiness.
There is no love poem in the world that equals the Litany of the Virgin, composed by the celibates of the church, and all that is ethereal and spiritual in modem love’s expression is to be found in the beautiful titles whereby the Virgin Mother has been supplicated for centuries. This idealization, not to say idolization, of woman could not but have its effect upon men and women in a time when the church was supreme, and so we see, as woman is more and more recognized for her worth & her value in the scheme of things, coming down the centuries, woman’s ideas gradually changing the heart of the world. As civilization progressed, cruelty was put away. This was the influence of woman.
The gradual growth into life, out of religion, of the reverence for Mary manifested itself in the development of chivalry, and then, when chivalry, its ends accomplished, passed away, in the development of what we now know as the gentleman.
This Mariolatry, as some people call it, led to the modern gynolatry about which there is, now and then, much protest. Yes, the devotion to Mary is responsible for the New Woman, and the New Woman is only a distortion of the real woman as she will be when emancipated completely from the denomination of the ideas against which Mariolatry has been an age-long protest. If the church enslaved woman, it did so, in one way, only to give her greater power in another.
The nunnery up-held chastity in times when universal and continuous war ravaged the world ; for the Middle Ages were anarchy. The church maintained the indissolubility of marriage when every petty tyrant in Italy, Germany & France deemed himself a god, and thought to appropriate other men’s wives and daughters as he would their cattle. Churchmen at times were dissolute enough to convert unbelievers on the theory that an institution which could survive such infamies must be Divine, but the teachings of the church held the great body of men true to purity in woman, and to the sanctity of the marital relation.
The church has upheld Mary consistently as the type of sacred womanhood and, by its influence upon the minds of men, has brought about a general attitude toward all women as if they partake of some of her mystical attributes of worthiness and even of divinity. Ave Maria!
Source: Mrs. Marion Reedy, published in The Philistine in 1897.
Further reading: ‘Mariolatry and Gyneolatry’