Many are sure to have heard this popular statement from Edith Stein: “The world doesn’t need what women have. The world needs what women are.” This quotation isn’t quite correct, as what Edith Stein really said was, “The children in school . . . do not need merely what we have, but rather what we are” (Essays on Woman 6). Regardless, there is a similar message in both quotations, a message that is empowering and beautiful - and often not well explained.
Edith Stein’s Essays on Woman are very good. Rarely discussed, however, are the unique characteristics that reside within each soul, which are distinctly impacted by family, formation, education, relationships, emotions, temperaments, and habits. Discovering these complexities of the soul leads to better understanding the uniqueness of who we are and what we were created for and, as Edith Stein put it, to “conform to our true nature” (Essays on Woman 97). It is our responsibility to cultivate contemplation, pursue good formation, and strive for the eternal. The truth is that we cannot help but seek to know who we are, as “we will always find fundamentally the compulsion to become what the soul should be” (Essays on Woman 94). We must wholly embrace and discover the essence of who we are and what the ultimate has planned for us. And if we honestly care about women leading fulfilling lives that are oriented towards salvation, we must get better at raising girls and supporting women in the development of their souls.