Women, Catholics, & Conservatives

Last week, I wrote my regular column on three films this year that feature women leads, including The Mighty Macs, a G-rated feel-good sports movie that opened last weekend. I’m used to writing about controversy so I almost felt like I wasn’t doing my job by writing about something that would be so uncontroversial.

Silly me.

Turns out that this movie, at least according to some, is “contrary to Catholic teaching and as such [doesn’t] deserve our support.”

Strong words.

Lisa Wheeler [full disclosure – a friend of mine] gives good response in the comments. But I’m still troubled by the post and other comments.

The controversy largely centers on the role of women and the character of Coach Cathy Rush. It’s asserted that the “live your dream” message dovetails with a feminist agenda and it’s suggested that women have no place in the workforce.

First, these are conservative views, not Catholic. Some conservatives hold them. Some groups of Catholics do, too. Some Protestant Churches make them a matter of belief as do other religions. But they are not Catholic doctrine.

The Catholic Church has never taught that a woman’s sole role is to be married, have children, and stay out of the world. Most recently, in 2004, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith put forth that women have a role in every aspect of society:

In this perspective, one understands the irreplaceable role of women in all aspects of family and social life involving human relationships and caring for others. Here what John Paul II has termed the genius of women becomes very clear.19 It implies first of all that women be significantly and actively present in the family, “the primordial and, in a certain sense sovereign society”,20 since it is here above all that the features of a people take shape; it is here that its members acquire basic teachings. They learn to love inasmuch as they are unconditionally loved, they learn respect for others inasmuch as they are respected, they learn to know the face of God inasmuch as they receive a first revelation of it from a father and a mother full of attention in their regard. Whenever these fundamental experiences are lacking, society as a whole suffers violence and becomes in turn the progenitor of more violence. It means also that women should be present in the world of work and in the organization of society, and that women should have access to positions of responsibility which allow them to inspire the policies of nations and to promote innovative solutions to economic and social problems. [Emphasis mine.]

The Church doesn’t say that only unmarried women, childless women, or women whose children are grown can have roles outside of the home. That’s what some conservatives and other religious groups say. Admittedly, some have even more stringent views of the role of women.

For all the Catholic inspired humor about Catholic guilt, rules, stern priests, and nuns that rap your knuckles, the Catholic Church actually does think that adult women and men can make decisions about how they lead their lives and arrange their families. Yes, the family must be a priority for a married couple; but there are so many ways for that to happen according to the gifts and needs of each couple.

So, getting back to The Mighty Macs and the role of Coach Cathy Rush, my first reaction upon reading the critique and the related comments was: “A pregnant woman can coach basketball.” The critique centers on the fact that Coach Rush got a job without consulting her husband. From there, apparently it necessarily follows that she must be eschewing family. One could infer that, but it doesn’t necessarily follow. Maybe she was not delaying a family. After all, it does take 9+months for a baby to be born. A woman can do a lot in that time, even coach a basketball team if she gets pregnant.

It’s ironic that some conservatives think that women shouldn’t be out in the work force, that somehow it’s too much for them. But nonetheless women should have the energy to stay home and manage a busy family and be pregnant. Sorry, but that takes a ton of work and if you don’t think women are up for hard work then they certainly don’t have a role in the family.

I also find it off putting that a group of Catholics would find something troubling in a woman pursuing her dream and yet they never caution against the dangers of a man pursuing his dreams. After all, a husband can be so caught up in pursuing his dreams of success that he neglects his wife and children. It’s not that uncommon…

And Catholics should be a little more facile when it comes to the word “feminism” and its derivatives. After all, John Paul II used it repeatedly, most notably in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, n. 99:

In transforming culture so that it supports life, women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on them to promote a “new feminism” which rejects the temptation of imitating models of “male domination”, in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination, violence and exploitation. [Emphasis mine.]

In other words, “feminism” is not a dirty a word.

But back to the movie, it may not be perfect and no one has to like it even though I did. But don’t use the Catholic faith as a basis for not liking it and please don’t misattribute extremely conservative views on women to the Catholic Church.

Update, 12 p.m. 11/27/11. Just came across Jeremy Lott’s review of TMM which I think is very good. Go see the movie! C’mon you know you’re craving popcorn…




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  • Maureen

    From the “mulier fortis” of Proverbs, to St. Lydia, and on to St. Gianna Molla and others of recent times, many many saintly Catholic women have been married career women. St. Therese’s mom was a woman of means, thanks to her lacemaking expertise.

  • Amy

    Hmm – it was my understanding that the issue wasn’t that she had a career but how she went about it (not including her husband in the decision). Just going off and doing her own thing without consulting her husband doesn’t make her a strong woman. It makes her inconsiderate. That’s just my take, though. I’m not sure if that would stop me from seeing the movie but it might. I think it’s fabulous that there is a movie out that is rated G. I am a homeschooling mother of 10 children (six daughters) and I was very excited to see this heading toward the theaters. I haven’t decided if we will support this movie or not yet. Lots to think about.

    • Pia

      Amy, good point. She doesn’t consult her husband initially and I don’t think the movie holds that up as a virtue. It’s just real life. Sometimes spouses don’t go about things in the right way. But that doesn’t mean that what they’re doing is wrong. I thought it was great to see her husband forgo the way in which she left him out of the loop and focus on the good as they moved forward. Spouses have to do that all the time or else they’d be bitter and caught up in the past. (H/T this comes from a comment by Teresa Tomeo on her show this a.m.) There’s a scene in the movie where Coach Rush comforts a girl whose engagement has been called off. I thought it was handled really well and I’m fairly confident that, as a mother of six girls, you’ll enjoy it;)

      • Amy

        I heard you on the show this morning and was glad to hear your take on it (as well as Teresa’s). It’s so hard to decide on which media to support and which media not to support as a parent. I had dismissed this movie but after reading your review and hearing you on the show I may have to reconsider. After many years of marriage I know that spouses don’t go about things in the right way all of the time :) I have certainly been guilty of that. Thanks again for your review.

      • http://thepracticingcatholic.com Joel Schmidt

        Dr. Pia, I have to admit that I interpreted that conflict differently than you did. My impression from how the dialogue was structured was that she had consulted him. Rather, they simply disagreed about whether or not she should take the job. That may be a subtle distinction, but not an insignificant one. Bottom line, I think we agree there are a number of points in the movie where the characters’ motives are not specifically disclosed. Occasionally, the viewer gets to decide what what he/she thinks; nothing wrong with that.

        • Pia

          Also, Archbishop Chaput, along with several other members of the hierarchy, saw the movie and endorsed it. If it’s such a dubious movie, I’m sure he would have reserved his endorsement. He’s not exactly someone who cowers…

  • Nora

    So glad you wrote this post. Now I know not to read your blog. Imagine if her husband had not consulted her in the manner she did to him. Oh the names he’d be called. Oh, and a movie would not have been made about him. Which reminds, a woman I know who was a high school coach and didn’t discuss with her husband either about continuing to coach while she was pregnant and her and the baby died from exhaustion of overworking and pregnancy because her goal of getting “her girls” to state championships was more important then her health. Where’s her movie? What about poorly Cathecized Catholics claiming the Cathecism is against the death penalty, where is their dismissive and condescending blog post?

  • http://moviegirl70.blogspot.com/ Mary Emily

    My 11 year old daughter (an avid soccer player and sports fan) and I saw this movie this weekend. First of all, I was stunned to find just the 2 (two!!!) of us in the theater. It is so refreshing to see a sporty movie with girls/women playing ALL of the major roles. This movie showed real women, real girls living in the world, dealing with its disappointments without compromising themselves, and always striving to do their best and use their God-given gifts. Where is this idea coming from that women only have one path, that of marriage and children, and that that path keeps them from ever doing anything else?!?!

    Also, basketball season is pretty short, and involves practices and games — not that much time out of your week. Seems like a wife/mother could be a coach, and it wouldn’t negatively impact her life that much. It would certainly be less of a time commitment than an 8 to 5 job every day.

    • http://www.aquinasandmore.com Ian

      The idea that “women only have one path, that of marriage and children, and that that path keeps them from ever doing anything else” is a straw-man created by Pia in her criticism of my review to make a point that I nor anyone else who has reviewed the film was trying to make.

  • Sam

    I thought one main problem that the reviewer has with the movie was the comment to her husband, “I know you wanted to have a family but I really want to do this.” Why would having a family be contrary to coaching,and why would the movie apparently make that point? Also, the nun saying her husband is really good with his hands is going to be necessarily offensive to many. And a nun sticking her rear in a man’s pelvis … Maybe its not contrary to Catholic teaching, but its not all that either.

    • http://thepracticingcatholic.com Joel Schmidt

      Yes, I found also found that comment to be the hingepoint of the reviewer’s criticism; unfortunately, his paraphrase of the line is totally inaccurate. I’ve seen the movie twice. In my recollection, the line is, “I still want to have a family with you, buy I want to do this, too.” That has a completely different connotation than the reviewer gives it. However, the criticisms of the Sister Sunday character, in my opinion, have some merit. Here’s our review: http://www.thepracticingcatholic.com/2011/10/20/get-ready-to-back-the-macs/.

      • Pia

        Joel, thanks for the link to your review. I think it’s very accurate. You may also be right on the exact phrasing. But we agree on the connotation. The Sr. Sunday character is interesting. When she does the “grind,” it’s abrupt and not meant to be something from an MTV reality show or music video. It’s just way more familiar and bold than people expect a nun to be. I was ok with the comments in the bar scene b/c it resonated with an earthy sense of humor that I’m used to. I just think it’s important to not always be looking for what’s wrong with the world, a movie, a book, a person, whatever. Catholics who are conservative, self included, can have a strong tendency to do that…It’s frankly easier to not always assume the worst. Probably healthier, too;)

  • http://lohowarose.blogspot.com Laboure

    Thank you so much for saying this! My mother has a job, my grandmother worked while my mother was a child, my father’s mother worked as well. They were devout Catholics, loving mothers, and wonderful at their respective jobs.

  • http://www.aquinasandmore.com Ian

    To address your points. Lisa’s response avoided my criticisms. She never addressed the feminist themes I criticized. She never addressed the inappropriate behavior of Sister Sunday and never addressed the portrayal of lying as acceptable. What she DID do is take one piece of my pre-screening rating and make it sound like I had changed my mind later. She also said that the movie had never been marketed as a Catholic film but someone from Maximus was sending out emails to bloggers asking them to support Mighty Macs because it was a Catholic film. She also didn’t correct the paraphrase of Cathy Rush’s comments about wanting to coach instead of having a family. Both my wife and I remembered it the same way. Whether or not Cathy said “we wanted” or “you wanted” she did imply that they were planning on going on vacation to work on starting a family and that she unilaterally was delaying that. So did she rule out having kids altogether? No. Did she make a decision about putting off a family to coach basketball instead when their wasn’t a financial necessity to do so? Yes. She chose to follow her dream and put off having a family. That is not Catholic.

    Your comments create a straw man wherein you stated that my argument was that “live your dreams” is a feminist notion and that women have no place in the workforce. I fully understand that women with younger children may be in circumstances where they have to work 40 hours a week to make ends meet. This, however, is not ideal. Parents are supposed to be the primary educators of their children and if all the kids see of mom and dad is possibly dinner and bedtime prayers, it isn’t the ideal situation. So can women have jobs when they have younger children when it isn’t necessary for the family’s financial security? Sure. As long as the job isn’t put above caring for the family. Dad’s have the same consideration. Are they putting their job ahead of their family? Is the goal of the job to acquire stuff? Obviously, some reconsideration needs to be made.

    I don’t know why you consider it “off-putting” that no one discussed men following their dreams at the expense of their families. That wasn’t what the movie, or the controversy, was about. Had the movie been about Ed Rush and his all-consuming drive to be the top NBA ref. while his wife and children languished at home without ever seeing him then this would have been an issue.

    Like I said at the very beginning of my review, I wouldn’t have bothered writing it if it wasn’t being promoted as a Catholic film. After reading the completely uncritical reviews that followed mine where none of the issues such as lying and Sister Sunday’s behavior were mentioned, I’m even more glad I wrote it.

    The one thing you do have right is that feminism isn’t a bad word. The problem is that the Catholic vision of feminism is not what is portrayed in the film.

    • Pia

      Ian, as I said before, we may have to agree to disagree. Your post and the ensuing comments made it explicitly clear that it was problematic for a married woman to have a goal (“dream”) that was outside of the home. As I said in another response, the movie wasn’t holding up the character Rush’s way of handling the situation with her husband as a virtue. I do think, however, the way that they resolved it was a good model as every couple faces conflict and needs to see a healthy way of resolving it. As to her plans for children, those really weren’t addresses and a relatively short basketball season probably wouldn’t get in the way of anyone who wants to have children.

      Your points on lying and Sr. Sunday’s behavior are interesting, but I think it’s a hyper scrupulous read. The scenes in the bar and on the basketball court can – and I think should – be taken in a much more innocent way. There’s nothing wrong with earthy humor. Shakespeare and other great authors have used it very well and don’t lower the moral bar by using it.

      JP2 said that the saint is not the perfect person; it’s the person who gets up every time they fall. Honestly, I think this is a great example of that. Sure, the characters have their faults; but they are not bound by them.

      • http://www.aquinasandmore.com Ian

        As you keep insisting that I said something that I didn’t and not addressing the issue that someone at Maximus was promoting the film as Catholic in spite protestations to the contrary, I have nothing further to add.

  • Dennis

    I haven’t seen this movie yet, but I plan to see it. I wasn’t surprised that The Boston Herald and The Los Angeles Times canned it, but the New York Daily News gave it a positive review. Everything else I heard about the Mighty Macs was good. Today, Catholic Answers Live discussed it briefly with Steven Graydonnis from decentfilms.com. One guy who called in said it reminded him of sports before Title IX.

    I’m going to ask my brother to take my 8 year old niece to see it – she likes to play soccer, and she likes dance. Like the one reviewer said, I think it would be a positive film for young girls to see. Personally, women friends (and past girlfriends) that I know who participated in sports (cross country, tennis, volleyball, swimming, etc.) growing up, I find them to have more self-esteem, and to be less susceptible to peer pressure. Many are good team players too. I also find them to be very intelligent, and honestly (I did date a college volleyball player at a small college I attended) quite a few had higher GPA’s than the guys on the men’s basketball team.

    I have a female friend who is also fairly athletic. She likes to run, likes aerobics, and lifts weights. She is a nurse and she is also very feminine (likes to wear makeup, dresses, likes kids, flowers, etc.) She is also a devout Catholic, who prays the Rosary and frequents daily Mass.

    Yes ladies, you can be an athlete and show a feminine side too. My mother is also athletic, and she raised four boys. To this day, she is still an excellent swimming instructor, and still married to my father after 49 years.

  • http://www.matchingmoonheads.wordpress.com alison

    Thanks for writing this post. This is exactly what I was trying to say in my comments but, well, I got too tired to pursue it further :) So thanks for doing that for me! What you say is right on, and it really is more like Mormon theology than Catholic…and I’m glad I’m Catholic. Anyway, good work.

  • james steele

    Yea, what people want to see is a sports movie starring an all-woman/girl cast. What was the score in the championship basketball game? 6 to 4? “I am woman, hear me roar” would carry more weight in sports if women weren’t so starkly terrible at them.

    Single, celibate women have a role in the workplace- not married ones. Being married and working while living a life open to bringing forth new life i.e., you are not using contraception, is impossible. The primary purpose of marriage is helping God to create life. How can a woman be open to life (which realistically means having children every couple of years and being pregnant for 9 months) and be in the workforce at a “career?” Last time I checked, CEOs and lawyers don’t take 2 years off at multiple points in their careers to bring forth and raise a child.

    Furthermore, after a child is born, the primary purpose of a parent is to catechize, raise, nurture, and love the child. With both parents at work, children are resigned to being raised by the state- devoid of love, morality, and all but the most superficial nurturing. While one parent must work, an unfortunate result of the necessity of food and shelter, one must stay home.

    Now here is my favorite part: at least one post-modern, neutered, lobotomized eunuch will surely exclaim, “but why does the father not stay home?” with a look of triumphant self-inflation! I respond to the eunuch (who ironically might critique religious people for “rejection science”) that 4.6 billion years of evolution, and 100,000 years of anthropological evolution, designed man’s psyche with an array of hormones (namely testosterone) which make him content to be the breadwinner. (In the stone-age, men needed testosterone and the subsequent aggression to risk their lives hunting mammoths or whatever). Likewise, 100,000 years of evolution of women gave them estrogen and oxytocin, which leaves them content to stay home and rear children. A man who stays at home will never feel satisfaction to the fullest, neither will a woman who goes to work and selfishly forsakes her family. But I forgot, liberals don’t believe in science- nor do feminists. It’s all “biological determinism” – as if giving something a name with a negative connotation makes it less true.

    I resent that people think they can replace eons of evolutions with their pathetic 50 year bra-burners revolution…as if it were important. Time will march on and leave this pathetic revolution forgotten. Women, go back to your homes. Lack of parental love, affection, and catechesis is destroying the next generation and we all will reap the consequences of this sad, social experiment.

    All this so women can FEEL powerful. True power comes from raising a whole family of leaders which will reshape the world- not from taking unmerited pride from holding down a half-assed ‘career’ as a secretary making 32 grand a year before taxes. As for other jobs…I’ve seen women athletes, firemen, and policemen, and like the rest of the world, I’m highly unimpressed.

    But most of all, the sports are just awful. If you won’t go back to the home, at least quit sports- please for the love of God.