An acquaintance of mine recently told me that staying at home with her children wasn’t for her anymore and she was looking for work. I replied with an, “oh, really” and wasn’t sure what else to say. I didn’t know if she wanted encouragement to keep up the good fight, to defend my own decisions or simply soothe her conscience, “yes, motherhood is hard, it’s not for everyone.” After this conversation, I fortuitously stumbled across this thoughtful article, A Fallacy of Motherhood by Laura Wood, which is worth a read. Here’s an excerpt:
” No other form of daily work is burdened with such unrealistic expectations and exalted assumptions as the work of motherhood, which is so sentimentalized in our feminist culture. The woman who does not enjoy the company of young children or finds the home lonely and unstructured compared to the workplace may be left thinking she is not meant to be a mother.”
Apparently, this painting by Norman Rockwell is often used as a Rorschach’s test. People see all sorts of emotions in it and there doesn’t seem to be any general consensus on its tone. I didn’t know this until recently. When I first saw the painting, I was just surprised it was a Rockwell. It seems so different from his other paintings.
Always, when you get specific about women’s roles, there will be a good woman somewhere who is serving God with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength, and she will think, “But I’m not like that.”
I sympathize with anyone who tries to write about the role of women. It’s so tempting to just say, “Let’s keep it simple. Wives, obey your husbands. The end.”
I tried that myself, as newlywed – tried obeying the hell out of my poor husband. Later, I realized that what the poor guy really wanted was to live his life with the weird, cranky, specific woman he fell in love with.
He didn’t want The Catholic Wife; he wanted me.
We can talk about women’s roles and men’s roles. We can pin them down to an extent because our natures are different. But we also must acknowledge that there are always exceptions to the rule.I do not have that classically feminine personality but I acknowledge there is one. Does it make me feel less feminine? Sometimes, but I still have my role as wife and mother despite my personality quirks. The principle “obey your husband” still applies to me. My husband might be considered moodier than the masculine ideal but the principle, “protect and provide for your family” still applies to him.
And yes, I’m also pretty sure my husband wanted me, his quirky Catholic wife not some abstraction of the feminine. I may not be the quintessential woman, my husband may not be the masculine archetype but at least we accept that there are masculine and feminine ideals and they are there to guide us not ostracize us.
“Just in proportion as maternity is honored is womanhood honored, and just in proportion as womanhood is honored are manners and morals elevated. Licentiousness cannot obtain a foothold where the real dignity and sphere of woman is understood and respected. It can prevail only where a low estimate of woman obtains in society, and indeed only where woman entertains a low estimate of herself in relation to the designs or plans of divine Providence. Men, in general, estimate women very much as they estimate themselves, or rather, estimate womanhood as women estimate it, and if women regard womanhood as invested with sacred and awful functions, they will be as averse to wronging her as to the commission of the crime of sacrilege. The maternity of Mary has given sublime moral and spiritual significance to womanhood, as the assumption of human nature by the Word has to manhood itself.”
—- The Moral and Social Influence of Devotion to Mary, Dr. Orestes A. Brownson
Women and Morality Women are not little, emotionally driven, amoral faeries that men must repel or appease in order to survive. Women can attain virtue- should attain virtue and like men will have to stand before God and face judgment. Women however, have different duties than men and seem to approach morality differently as well: “I would say not that women are amoral but that their morality is teleological (utilitarian) rather than deontological. . . women do not generate their own morality internally, but rather, typically, adopt the morality of the crowd. The second point is that putting women in positions of religious authority is obviously liable to lead rapidly to the promotion of moral error. . . Incidentally, studies have shown a truly extraordinary correlation between a father’s religious practices and those his children eventually adopt, and very little correlation with the mother’s.”