Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Is it Demeaning to Focus on Women as Mothers?

1 comment :
Recently, I came across an op-ed decrying the emphasis of Pope Francis, and the Church in general, on the role of women as mothers.  The author complained that such a view reduces the potential of women, denying the importance of the feminine contribution to careers and public life.

I contemplated the words while sitting on the floor reading an unlikely trilogy of “Bear on a Bike,” “The Story of Christmas,” and “The Big Red Barn” to a brand new one-year-old.  The cycle of stories was often changed only two rhyming sentences into the next book, interrupted by an urgent, “Pease” (please) and a new book plopped into my hands.

Is it insulting to my intelligence, time, and gifts that I choose to stay at home with our daughter?  Am I ignoring my potential or wasting my life and education by repetitious rounds of “The Eensy, Weensy Spider?”  Would my life be of more service to the world if I agreed to 40 hours per week at a desk?  These questions came to mind as I spent a typical day with our daughter. 

“Mother Playing with Her Child” Mary Cassatt, c. 1899
Every human person is unique, unrepeatable and someone chosen by eternal love (as St. John Paul II liked to say).  Every human life is precious.  Every person possesses a dignity simply by virtue of existing. 

In our society we tend to measure worth by what one has accomplished.  What grade did I receive on the test?  How many figures are in my salary?  How many items did I cross off my to-do list?  How impressive is my resume or Linkedin profile?

Babies and toddlers are blissfully unaware of the pressure to produce their own worth.  They remind us of the truth that it is simply good that we exist.  Their very existence invites us to consider whether or not our priorities are properly ordered.

If a human person is the pinnacle of creation, the greatest gift, a living, breathing image of God, then what could be a greater privilege than to encounter a person in a most intimate way as her mother every day?

We can ask ourselves – Is this life entrusted to my care worth dedicating my day, my week, my life to upholding, defending, and introducing into the world?  If I truly believe in the dignity of every human person, then if I spend my entire day caring for this particular person entrusted to me, I am not wasting my time or belittling my talents.  I am simultaneously complimenting this life entrusted to me by giving my all for her and I am being complimented by being asked by God to care for this person in all her uniqueness and unrepeatability. 

St. John Paul II emphasized this in his “Letter to Families” when he wrote, “the family is the center and the heart of the civilization of love.”  It is in the family that life is given, cultivated, and welcomed in love.  It is in the family that we place our time, energy, gifts and love at the service of the particular lives entrusted to us.

The Church does not say that women are incapable of serving in capacities other than as mother.  The Church does not say that women should not serve in other capacities.  Rather, the Church helps us to see that there is no greater honor than to be a mother, whether spiritually or physically, and to be entrusted with the gift of life.

We forget how invaluable the gift of life, the gift of a particular, unique, unrepeatable person is, and instead insist that the value of a woman is wrapped up in how expensive the equipment is that she oversees, how large of a staff she directs or how big of a budget she can handle.

Can women receive advanced degrees, run companies and be active in public life?  The Church certainly isn’t saying no.  In fact, one can read St. John Paul II’s litany of thanksgiving for women in his “Letter to Women,” wherein he writes: “Thank you, women who work!  You are present and active in every area of life – social, economic, cultural, artistic, and political” (#2).

To say that it is an insult to women to hold up their capacity for motherhood in highest esteem is to insult their children, whether a woman is full time at home or full time in the office.  In effect: “You, my child, possess less worth than college tenure, impressive clients, massive budgets and exciting promotions.”  I become an [insert career title] who happens to be a mother, rather than a mother who happens to be an [insert career title].”

In reality, as women, what greater honor can there be than that the most precious gift of life has been entrusted to us, spiritually and physically!  When I am sitting on the floor at home, playing blocks, reading books, and changing diapers, I am able to communicate to our daughter in a way that the entire world is incapable of articulating, “Your life is a gift, and it is good you exist.”

1 comment :

  1. Emily,

    Thank you for such a great reflection! I have a vivid memory of one one of our classmates asking a certain bearded and bespectacled professor of ours if a woman should ever work outside the home. He leaned back in his chair, smirked, and said "Heh." After a long pause, he said, "Well, in order to answer that question, we've got to get clear about a few things: Who is woman? What does it mean to work? And what do we mean by a home?" What you've written above helps us approach answers to all three. Thank you!


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