Our society is very concerned with productivity and efficiency. As with most social phenomena, there are a variety of factors that contributed to this. One factor that I find fascinating, however, is the so-called “Protestant work ethic”.
I had never even heard of the Protestant work ethic – although it’s got a whole Wikipedia page unto itself – until senior year of college in my Intro to Sociology course (yes, it was a class of freshman + me). Sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) wrote an entire book called The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, in which he claims that Protestant (especially Calvinist) theology, laid the foundation for capitalism. It’s a very fascinating argument, but I can’t do it justice here. The overall (oversimplified) argument is that, in some Protestant circles, there has historically been a significant emphasis placed on hard work and industry as a sign of one’s “election by God.”
Hence, the emergence of capitalism.
I suppose it’s no surprise, then, that American Christianity has elevated “industry” to a virtue. Think I’m exaggerating? I was shocked to discover recently that sloth (the deadly sin, not the animal) is NOT the same as laziness.
I donned a T-shirt that said it all as I dragged myself out of my warm, cozy bed and into the gym one recent Monday morning. In big, bold letters it read “THE STRUGGLE IS REAL!” Oh, yeah. Believe me when I tell you, I am one of the LEAST physical people I know and at every turn I will avoid exertion of any kind. Yet, there came a time when my body began to retaliate against this kind of neglect and I could no longer avoid the reality of what my body was saying: “I’m tired, I’m heavy, I’m thirsty, I’m hungry, I HURT!”
We have nothing short of a spiritual crisis in womanhood.
I know that I am not the only woman who carries this kind of reality within her body. We struggle with negative self talk and lack of respect for our own bodies. The cultural pressures that impact women’s relationship with her physical self abound. We are inundated with images that exploit, distort, and dismantle the vital and natural life-giving connection that woman was created to have with her own body.
I’m told, as a housewife and stay-at-home mom, the contribution I make to our family is invaluable and irreplaceable.
I’m told, as a housewife and stay-at-home mom, the market value of my in-home services (accountant, chauffeur, tutor, housekeeper, nurse, personal shopper, general maintenance, etc.) is incalculable.
Recently, I’ve also been told, as a housewife and stay-at-home mom, I shouldn’t speak on politics and should just post photos of my cute babies on Facebook instead.
Suffragette cartoons capture the predicament of many housewives and stay-at-home moms today.
How can a woman be so overwhelmingly qualified to manage a household and form the hearts of our next generation, and yet, simultaneously, disqualified from holding an informed political opinion?
Why am I uniquely entrusted to manage my children’s diverse and complicated healthcare needs, and yet silenced, when I talk about how our country could improve healthcare affordability and accessibility?
Why am I empowered to be the primary parent in my children’s education, and yet also informed that these issues, on a national scale, are more complicated than I could possibly begin to understand?
I recently got kicked out of a Catholic moms group because I didn’t participate in enough mom meet-ups.
Yep, that’s right. Kicked out.
Let me back up a little.
In the two years following college, I worked full-time at a hospital and school for children with disabilities. I did mainly fundraising and community outreach, and I loved it. The kids were heroes, each battling severe physical and mental conditions, and I was daily reminded of the sacredness and frailty of human life. I was grateful to do meaningful work right out of school and I appreciated the chance to touch lives in some small yet powerful way.
When my husband and I welcomed our first child into our family this past spring, I decided to stay at home full-time. It was no doubt sad to say goodbye to my job and the families to whom I had grown close. Nevertheless, I embraced my role as a new mother wholeheartedly and didn’t look back for a second.
But as many new mothers will admit, life at home all day with an illiterate little person can be extremely lonely, especially when you’re used to constant intellectual stimulation as a professional in the working world. Knowing this, I was excited and anxious to make some friends who would alleviate that feeling of loneliness and isolation. So, I joined the Catholic moms group in hopes of finding a few kindred spirits who were also looking for companionship and solidarity in the sometimes mundane stay-at-home life. What I thought would be an enriching and stimulating community, though, proved instead to reinforce a stereotype about stay-at-home moms that is both limiting and reductive.
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.
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.