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…

 

 

 

Mother's Day: Gender Matters
Ready to Rumble: Discussing a Theology of Woman.
4 Things You Should Know About International Women's Day
Violence Against Women: The Underbelly.

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