The Virgin Mary

We live in a frenetically visual society bombarded by images, many of which may be called ‘icons’ as they represent objects and / or ideas instantly recognisable to us. These visual cues evoke an emotional response, usually in terms of what we buy or eat, or the brand of clothes we wear. They range from the unequivocal Coca-Cola sign to quite insidious advertisements that remain effective simply by association. In the same way we absorb these messages as consumers, so we assimilate more covert directions relating to who we are, our aspirations and the roles we play in society.

Whether it’s fine art, advertising, cartoon or photograph, every image carries a subtext or statement from its author. So what is communicated by the myriad images of women that confronts us today? Despite an increase in the number of intelligent magazines for women, many mainstream media outlets still have at their core the conservative old-time ‘ideal’ female. She is beautiful by fashions standards, strives to maintain her youthfulness, compliments men but rarely rivals them, needs fulfilment through children and adores them, puts family first, unflinchingly maintains the home, denies her own sexual identity in favour of society’s view of it, is gracious, serenely wise – and not too loud! But who can measure up to such an unattainable fantasy?

There is one such ‘perfect’ woman, the enduring cultural construct that is The Blessed Virgin Mary. With scant New Testament or historical evidence, she became the archetype by which Western women have been judged for centuries.