At the Register: We Need the Courage to Christianize Feminism

And no, I don’t mean offering yoga classes at the Newman Center.

You know, when Catholic women tell me, “Oh please, we don’t need a theology of women, ” they really mean, “I always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, and now I am one” or “I am temperamentally suited to homeschool” or “I really enjoy cooking and sewing” or “I have no desire or need to work outside the home.”  There are many, many women who want desperately to follow God as women, but who can’t or don’t follow these paths.  Women should be able to ask for more guidance from the Church without being branded as ball busting feminazis.

  • Caroline Moreschi

    Thank you!! As a non-Catholic with a strange addiction to Catholic blogs, I can tell you that one huge barrier to Catholic conversion (for women) is the “get in the kitchen and make a sandwich” attitude. Those of us still on the outside aren’t just in the grip of a contraceptive mentality: we have a genuine terror of being relegated to the sidelines, of having our own skills diminished or dismissed. Abortion-pushing feminism is wrong, but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    • Jordan

      I can completely understand your sentiment, Caroline. I’d probably feel much the same if I weren’t raised Catholic, and I really think it cuts off the possibility of good dialogue when some Catholics just assume non-Catholics are, as you say “in the grip of a contraceptive mentality” and don’t have actual, valid concerns. Of course, (speaking of the phrase “contraceptive mentality”) those same Catholics are sometimes the same people who attempt to lay huge burdens on other Catholics who ever discern a need to avoid or space a pregancy using NFP, so, if those of us already in the Church ever figure out how to speak to our fellow Catholics and come to an understanding, we’ll certainly let you know, lol.

      • Caroline Moreschi

        Yeah, I’ve read that some Catholics use NFP with a “contraceptive mentality,” even though they’re not using contraception at all. Huh? How does that even compute?

        • KL

          It doesn’t. And it’s insane to guilt-trip the TWO PERCENT of devout, well-intentioned couples who are already making great personal and often financial sacrifices to be faithful to Church teaching, because their “mindset” isn’t right, according to some interpretation of a poorly-translated Latin text.

        • anna lisa

          Lol, I used breastfeeding with an enthusiastically contraceptive mentality. I wonder if I should feel guilty about it.

          • anna lisa

            Sigh. I’ve had five hours to feel guilty. I guess the difference is that Breastfeeding inhibits ovulation, and there is nothing wrong with being relieved about that, though the primary reason to breastfeed is to feed and comfort a human being, not to have an infertile free-pass.

          • Barbara Fryman

            Don’t feel guilty that God gave us a natural break in fertility between babies. It’s His gift to give, one He didn’t give me for very long while I was nursing our last baby. I only wish I had been more grateful.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        I must admit, I’m one of those who think if a couple needs “NFP” to space pregnancy, then neither father nor mother are spending enough time taking care of the child (because if they were, abstinence wouldn’t be an option- it would be mandatory). Children under the age of two are a handful, as they should be- and if you were spending the amount of time with them that they deserve, there’d be no time for romance or sex for the parents in the first two years of life.

        Having said that, for those who *are* able to grow their families faster- well, older siblings take care of *some* of that burden. By the third child, it isn’t such an imposition.

        • Jordan

          Hmmm…well I suppose that would also mean anyone with babies spaced closer than two years + 9 months also wasn’t taking good enough care of their children, because they found time somewhere when the child was that young to be alone? I have a 20 month old son, so I’m certainly aware of how much attention a child that young needs, but I’m not holding him or interacting with him 24/7…he does sleep some of the time, lol.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            When he sleeps, you sleep, if you’re taking care of yourself.

            But I think this is an extension of my “FaHmily Bed” method of birth control, which with my special needs son who seems to be maturing much slower than normal, had that stage lasting 6 years.

          • Damien and Simcha Fisher

            Well, it’s very tempting to believe that our own experience is normative, but that’s something we should be careful to avoid. All people need sleep, but most marriages need sex without two-year hiatuses. Yes, you can survive without sex, but most married people would find that a heavy cross.

        • Damien and Simcha Fisher

          Good heavens, I hope you’re kidding.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            More stream of consciousness…..and I think the real answer was in the last paragraph. Now that I look at most of the more-than-two-kids families I know, yeah, spacing gets harder the more kids you have (because the older ones take care of the younger ones, and thus give the married couple more time to be, well, married).

          • Damien and Simcha Fisher

            That’s the opposite of my experience. I had more energy for all sorts of things when I was younger.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            I think the key word there may be YOUNGER. I wasn’t married until I was 29. By the time Christopher came along, I was 32.

            Energy left over to waste on sex? Especially with a kid in the FaHmily bed (H because he’s got his head on Mommy and his feet on me)? Are you kidding?

          • Barbara Fryman

            I’m not sure you are are reasoning this out well. I don’t know you or your family and I certainly wouldn’t judge what your experience might have been. And yet, you sit and do that very thing to those of us who find NFP a useful tool.

            The reality is that there are children who are in the NICU and can’t be nursed, there are women whose fertility doesn’t read the NFP books and returns regardless of the family bed and on demand nursing, there are babies who sleep through the night and sleep better in their own beds. These things exist and there are couples who find time for each other because it nurtures their marriage. No one but the two people responsible can discern if NFP is the right choice for the time being. The Church allows it and that is all anyone on the outside really needs to understand when asking if it is used licitly.

        • James

          How much time do you think it takes to take care of a child? Or have sex?

          Women need at least 18 months, ideally 24 months, between pregnancies to fully physically recover. In primitive cultures, breastfeeding gives women this time to recover. In modern society, a combination of culture, diet, and possibly genetics makes this impossible for most women.

          While a couple can space pregnancies with abstinence, there is nothing wrong with NFP. It is morally licit and most couples find it far less burdensome.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            My wife breastfed. I spent as much time caring for our child as she did. It was 24 months before we left the child with anybody else, and 6 years before he left our bed.

          • simchafisher

            Look, I’m sorry to keep hammering on this, but you said that if a couple needs NFP to space pregnancies, they’re not taking good enough care of their child. That’s just false. You had a very high needs child, and obviously took and are taking very good care of him. But you are not entitled to take your experience and make moral judgments about other people who have different circumstances.

            I just wanted to reiterate for anyone who might be reading:

            it is NOT normal to be so exhausted from childcare that you can’t have sex with your spouse for two years.

            Many women breastfeed and cosleep and still return to fertility. Many women don’t breastfeed or cosleep, and they are still taking good care of their children.

            It is NOT good for a marriage to always put the child first over your relationship. Marriages wither and die when they are not nourished, and it is bad for a child to be raised by parents who have a bad relationship. Sex is, for most couples, a very important part of nourishing the relationship.

            I’m not disputing any of your choices, Ted – just the generalizations you’re making about other people.

          • jenny

            100% agree…..

    • TapestryGarden

      I find your sentiment baffling. I am a Catholic convert, middle aged, a professional with a college education. I have always been a “career woman” don’t have children. I NEVER felt or heard or had any inkling that I was supposed to “get in the kitchen and make a sandwich.” I have participated in numerous Catholic blogs with many other women posters who are discussing world events, politics, Parish life, prayer, theology, culture…everything BUT homemaking skills, cooking, housework and stay at home mommy life. I converted to Catholicism as it was the most intellectually honest, consistent and rational faith. It attracted my brain AND my heart. I am very involved in my Parish using my “time talent and treasure” in furtherance of God’s plan for this world. I’ve never felt the slightest bias toward my life, nor have the many Catholic role models I admire seemed to be totally focused on kitchen, children and church as the old German saying indicated was women’s proper role in life.

      All I can say is I have no idea what kind of Catholics you encounter on the blogs or discussion lists or in real life but none of them are brainless dimwits who can’t see past their kitchen window.

      • Beadgirl

        That attitude (pop out kid after kid, homeschool them all, don’t even think about ever getting a job ever again) I’ve only ever found among online “Catholics.” The real world Catholics I know seem to have grasped the concept that there is no one right way to parent, one right way to be a woman (or man), one right way to live a faithful life.

        • KL

          “The real world Catholics I know seem to have grasped the concept that
          there is no one right way to parent, one right way to be a woman (or
          man), one right way to live a faithful life.”

          This, right here, is the problem I have with so much of the Catholic blogosphere: the idea that there is a univocal Right Way to do everything (and what do you know, that Right Way is generally the one the writer has chosen! Weird!). The Church is catholic. She is universal. She embraces men and women from all places, times, backgrounds, contexts, and cultures. She revels in the great diversity and richness of the world and human life. If God meant us to live like ants, marching in rank and file and indistinguishable from one another, He would have made us ants! Instead, we are able to learn from our differences as much as from our similarities — and praise God for that.

          “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” – 1 Cor 12:4-6

        • TapestryGarden

          I still don’t understand your point. You say you are on all these Catholic blogs and it’s all about the mommy track but having also been on Catholic blogs since my conversion in 2005, I have seen the opposite. Even the women who are currently focusing on their children are well informed about outside subjects. The discussions are rarely about raising children or recipes or homeschooling. Obviously I can’t argue with your personal experience but I have to wonder which blogs you are frequenting. If a general Catholic blog, I would be VERY surprised if your observations were reflective of most participants. However if you are frequenting NFP or a “Catholic Moms” blog, sure you will encounter those who are passionate about those issues. Online Catholic women are every bit as sophisticated as “real world” Catholic women. I hope you look around a bit before continuing this (in my opinion) erroneous stereotype.

          • Beadgirl

            “You say you are on all these Catholic blogs and it’s all about the mommy track”

            That’s not quite what I said; that attitude I describe I only ever encounter on Catholic blogs (and I have read a bunch, on a variety of topics). That’s *not* the same thing as saying that *every* person who writes or comments on those blogs has that attitude; clearly that is not the case. But there are always a couple who pop up in the comments, and I don’t seem to find people like that in real life.

          • TapestryGarden

            Not into hairsplitting but here is what you said :

            “That attitude (pop out kid after kid, homeschool them all, don’t even think about ever getting a job ever again) I’ve only ever found among online “Catholics.”

            Whether intended or not, you gave the impression that “online” Catholics are all about mommy stuff. Again, I thought your post was quite confusing and not what I’ve noted among “online” Catholics or real life Catholics I encounter every day. There is a lot of variety among both groups. Hope you find a blog that is more reflective of reality.

    • James

      I understand what you mean.

      There is nothing in Church teaching that projects a “get in the kitchen and make a sandwich” attitude, but many self-proclaimed “faithful” Catholics do have a very limited and narrow view of women. Other Catholics have taken the culture’s “abortion pushing feminism” and attack the Church for not doing the same.

      I was raised Catholic and never saw any of that until we took an NFP course. This particular organization made no bones about the fact that they believed that married Catholic women should be stay-at-home homeschooling moms with either a baby in the womb or at the breast at all times. We were both horrified and ended up leaving the Church for awhile because we could not in good conscience raise our daughters in such a faith.

    • Je ne se quois

      Caroline, I come from a military background and long-standing, multinational military family history. I found all my confusion and anguish and imagined boogeymen summed up nicely in your reply. In an ethos and culture of “be all you can be” and “army of one” it’s hard to sit still and rock a baby to sleep.

      Raised in hierarchies and no-quit attitudes, I find it a wonder that I haven’t translated these beautiful mores more successfully into motherhood or a feminine theology. I’m so accustomed to giving orders to just soldiers that I’ve developed these skills specifically for just that military portion of my life, as if it could not spill over into my other identities and responsibilities.

      Yes, I think we need more Catholic feminine theology; we have not bottled up the essence of Joan of Arc (warrior-saint) and united it to the Theotokos, and I think that’s where TODAY’s would-be warrior saints, queen-saints, theologian- and religious- saints of our day are languishing. As Catholics, we are “not of this world but gifts for this world”– HOW?!, as far as feminism and motherhood go.

      Or maybe it’s there and we just don’t take time to read them and apply them since our “paycheck” as stay at home moms and wives don’t increase. (There’s that materialistic thinking again). Just last night, in changing our newborn’s diapers at [way too early in the morning], I found myself descending into the “i don’t get paid enough for this” and “oh the penalty of having a uterus” mentality. Sad, quite sad, and looking over at our baby girl, I know she has judged me and found me wanting.

      No child has done anything to deserve such wrath from their parents. Sadly, their parents have only the kitschy abortive, contraceptive, materialistic mantras of today and yesterday to fall back on…for the moment (?)…

      • Caroline Moreschi

        Actually, my comment had nada to do with not wanting a child, only wanting a paycheck, etc. I actually do want to have children, and my husband and I have talked about adopting as well. I have no intention of being rich – a good thing, since my husband is in ministry and I was an English major! I am very glad that you have a wonderful baby girl; I certainly don’t look down on my own mom for being a “stay at home” mom. It had more to do with Beth Lopez’s comment below, about reproduction at all times is the answer for women. Not everyone who wants to work outside the home is just grubbing for money.

  • Beadgirl

    Love it, love it, love it. I was going to pick out my favorite sentence, but it was too hard to choose.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    We don’t need more theology of feminism any more than we need more theology of masculinity. We need more theology of humanity.

    • KL

      Insofar as humanity exists in two modes, male and female (which the Church affirms), and each sex has distinct gifts and callings (which the Church also affirms), then yes, we need theologies of both masculinity and femininity.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        What I’m saying is that we’ve had so much of both, what we need is something more like a unified whole. I said more at the Register site, but an early line about we need to see women for who they are and not what they do, reminded me that our primary method of judging MEN is on what they do not who they are.

        • Damien and Simcha Fisher

          Part of the reason there’s a more desperate need for a theology of femininity is because, through the history of the world, there have been more errors made about what it means to be a woman than there have about what it means to be a man. I know that’s a very sweeping generalization, but I think it’s true. In general, when people have dumb ideas of men, they stem from dumb ideas about women. It’s not as if men’s behavior and womens’ behavior operate independently of each other. I think it makes perfect sense to start with women. Not because they’re more important than men, but because men tend to sort of orbit around women, rather than vice versa.

    • Dale

      I don’t see how it would be possible to articulate a theology of women without also clarifying a theology of men. Male and Female are complements of one another and together they form a unified whole. It isn’t possible to define one without simultaneously defining the other.

      Do we need a theology of men? I think the case could be made that Western society has lost its way: high divorce rate, the acceptability (even expectation) of pre-marital sex, and the widespread use of sexualized imagery in mainstream popular culture are just a few of the symptoms. Several authors have, in recent years, written about the “Guyland” phenomena in which men in their 20s are slow to take on adult responsibilities, and seem to wallow in shallow, selfish pursuits. So, yes, I think we would benefit from reading about a theology of men, as well as a theology of women.

      Perhaps one document would be written before the other, but I would expect that once written, the other half would be soon be completed.

  • Beth Lopez

    I’m a little disturbed that every time the conversation about women and Catholicism comes up, it’s about birth control. When I read this blog post, the part that strikes me is “wanting to follow God as women”. Why does it always have to be about reproduction? And why is reproduction a woman’s choice if life is created by two people? The point is a “good Catholic woman” can look like many different things and one is no less “good Catholic” than the other.

  • Alexander S Anderson

    As a man, I have no desire to work outside the home. Where can I sign up for that? :P Anyway, in our current society we seem to have a choice between either cloistering women from political and economic society, or chemically attacking their uterus and I think that fact points out that there’s something seriously wrong, structurally, with how we organize society. It means that we’re seeking to change man’s nature to fit society and not vice-versa, which is bizarre, considering the fact that society is at the service of man.

  • jenny

    Great article, keep writing on this topic, many of us do not have the courage to say it.

  • Martha O’Keeffe

    My objections to a special theology of women are (1) this makes women different to humans in general – why not a theology of the Irish or of tall people? (2) the examples I have seen have not encouraged me – they tend to regard women as special precious snowflakes with deep gifts of all kinds of goodness who have been oppressed by The Man for millennia and need to be reaffirmed that they are their own goddess in order to break free of social conditioning.
    I know myself, and I’m not specially gifted with deep wisdom. I’m just as slothful, proud and greedy as any man. I find “The Screwtape Letters” very handy as a spiritual guide/rebuke, not because I identify with “the client’s mother” but rather with the client, particularly in his temptations to intellectual pride and cultural snobbery.
    That being said, if someone does bring out a theology that involves more than “the angel in the home” notion of Christian womanhood, good luck to them!

    • Barbara Fryman

      I think the specific theologies help clarify where there is often confusion. Many in this world look at the Church as repressive toward women since it tends to highlight the maternal aspects of womanhood without clarifying what that can look like in all walks of life. I doubt any theology of women would come out as precious. While men might like to look at Mary as a sweet and mild obedient child of God, in reality her choices were bold and brave and took a lot of guts. Yes, she was obedient and she trusted God, but isn’t that the bravest choice anyone can make ever? Doesn’t that usually require pain and strength and the fortitude of a soldier? The women and John were the only ones able to face Jesus’ suffering and death. Not so precious and mild in my opinion.


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