I, like many other twenty-four-year-old women this summer, devoted some hours to reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. As I read, I became interested in Atwood’s vision of how a power-hungry group could manipulate the Bible to support their oppressive regime. I was particularly troubled by the relationship between Commanders—men in authoritative positions—and their wives. Although their union did not look like a Christian marriage, the theonomic military dictatorship governing the Republic of Gilead insisted that this was the society that God had envisioned.
This claim raises an important question: what does a Christian marriage look like? Atwood appears to suggest that Christianity supports a society in which women are inferior to men, and slaves to their husbands. I want to address Atwood’s vision of Christian marriage, and grapple with one of the most troubling Bible verses for feminists, in which Paul instructs a wife to be subordinate or submissive to her husband.
So, let’s dive right in. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul explicitly defines the role of wives: “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22, NABRE). Other translations of the Bible use the word “submissive.” Before we go on to look at his instruction to husbands, let’s first draw attention to what Paul did not say.
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I resonate with you.
While I will admit that I personally love babies and hope to be married and a mom one day – I, too, get irked by the overwhelming abundance of Catholic wife and mommy blogs and the unspoken yet pervasive sense that “mommy-hood” is what it means to be a fully realized Catholic woman.
I have other passions, abilities, and callings in life too besides pushing out babies. Ultimately, what it means to be a holy Catholic woman today is to follow Christ to the best of my ability, strengthened by the grace of God. I want to live out my apostolate, my call to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world, now, today, each day. God has not yet allowed me to become a wife or a mother, and for all I know, that might never happen for me. So in the meantime, what does it mean to live out my vocation in my current state of life?
While you say “I’m not maternal”, I would ask – what does the word “maternal” mean anyway?
What does it mean to be a mother? We often think that being maternal means reacting like the dog from the movie “Up” when he sees a squirrel every time we see a baby, or that it means fantasizing about our future children and “decorating a nursery”, or lamenting the increasingly audible sound of our biological clocks. But is that all it means to be maternal?
A diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome at the age of 14 inspired one suggestion for treatment: the birth control pill. Unaware of better alternatives, my mom and I agreed to try it, and I walked out of my OB/GYN’s office with a prescription in hand.
What followed were months of suffering side effects: in short, I became a moody monster. Severe irritability, prolonged sadness, and a general mean-ness replaced my typically joyful disposition. School – still one of my favorite things – ceased to excite me and I found less and less enjoyment in spending time with friends.
It eventually occurred to my mom that the Pill might be responsible for these odd changes. She was right – I stopped taking the Pill and returned to my normal self.
It eventually occurred to my mom that the Pill might be responsible for these odd changes
Fast forward to the age of 20, when I decided to pursue treatment for PCOS, again. Before visiting the OB/GYN, I researched on my own. I was hesitant to go on the Pill a second time, but realized that my young age (i.e. being an angsty high schooler) may have exacerbated its effect on me.
In 1995, Pope John Paul II started a conversation.
You’ve probably heard of it – his Letter to Women.
Now, over twenty years later, Chloe Langr is continuing that conversation. Chloe runs the Letters to Women podcast, and she invited me to chat with her for the latest episode “A Letter to the Woman Wondering about Feminism.”
Here’s a few of the things we talked about in this episode:
- Why feminism always resonated with me, wanting to be “part of the boys club,” and how it led me to start FemCatholic
- Mythbusting on what it means to be a “good catholic woman”
- Differences between modern secular feminists and catholic feminists – what modern feminists get right about equality, and the advantage catholic feminists have
- Should you call yourself a feminist, or does “catholic” already cover everything?
- Virginity and it’s history of empowering women
- Being a new mom myself, I talk about why feminism needs to support moms in the culture and the workplace
- NFP and birth control (from a feminist perspective, of course 😉)
- Seeing woman’s body as a burden – even in marriage
- What you need to know about how modern feminism has impacted men – and what to do about it
- What I want to tell you if you disagree with church teaching
Listen to our entire conversation on iTunes or online.
Keep chatting with me on Facebook Live! – this Tuesday, Sept. 26th @ 1pm CST
I had SO much fun talking to Chloe about feminism, and now I want to talk with all of YOU!
These are really important, and tough, topics. There’s a lot we need to discuss.
Here’s how to join:
- Join the Facebook event.
- Before Tuesday, download the episode and listen to it.
- Tell me what resonated with you, and what rubbed you the wrong way. Send me your questions!
Talk to you soon! 🙂
Samantha Povlock is the Founder + Creative Director of FemCatholic. You can learn more about her here.
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One of the beautiful revelations for me of reading St. John Paul II’s Letter to Women, was discovering the Catholic church upheld women working. Up unto then, I thought the only way to be a true woman was to be a SAHM. Being present in the workplace as a woman balances the workplace environment.
God perhaps has withheld imparting the desire for biological maternity to spare you the agony of wanting something that is not yet attainable in your life because you are single. You can live what is called spiritual motherhood.
Spiritual motherhood is a beautiful gift. I witnessed this in a profound way on a mission trip to Haiti. I was with a group of college students, priests, and consecrated women. We were ministering in the wound clinic. The wounds were severe and very painful. A consecrated woman knelt down at the feet of a woman with a severe toe wound. Very lovingly, gently and so Christ like she soothed the women as the consecrated debrided her foot – without pain meds. This consecrated woman was ministering Christ present in the Haitian woman. Such a profound beauty of spiritual motherhood. Also on the trip, I witnessed these consecrated women rock babies, feed babies, and lovingly hold them. Again, another way to care for others in our femininity in lieu of biological motherhood.
Is cheap sex making marriage obsolete? A popular New York Post article sure thinks so. (Incidentally, so does my late grandmother, who took every opportunity to counsel, re: “giving the milk away for free.”)
The New York Post is right on one point: marriage rates are decreasing. But slut-shaming, with a side of porn and masturbation, isn’t the primary source of this decline.
Do we really believe, as a society, for the past 241 years of American history, men simply followed their phallus into lifelong marriage in exchange for an exclusive, all-access pass to unlimited sex?
I’d expect this kind of reasoning from Hugh Hefner or James Bond. Surprisingly, it’s quite prevalent in Christian dating advice books. The best cure for sexual desire before marriage? Simply get married!
As a married woman, please, hear me out: this is terrible, terrible advice.
2 years ago (almost) I broke up with my then boyfriend. We were best friends for 8 years, and I only had started dating him after he left seminary.
We dated for 6 months, but come to find out he had been cheating on me for the duration of my relationship (was he cheating on God too because he was hooking up with girls while in seminary 🤔).
While I’m grateful to be out of the relationship, and even more grateful to say that me and the “other woman” are now best friends, I still find my self struggling to trust men.
The few dates I’ve been on I’ve been rambling and nervous. I get nervous when men touch me (hugging, handshakes, shoulder touches). The only men I feel comfortable around are relatives, gay men, and guys whom my other lady friends are dating.
My mom insists that I wait for a “good catholic man” but my ex seemed like a “good catholic man” so I can’t even trust that.
What are some tips for trusting men, or trusting people in general when I’ve been hurt so badly?
Responses to this question will be accepted until Sept. 30, 2017.
Want to respond? Or have a question of your own?
See the Dear Edith page for more info.