My husband and I were avoiding pregnancy after our wedding while we worked on an interstate move and settling into new jobs. But we were open to life, and looking forward to tangibly welcoming life by way of a squishy little bundle of baby chub in short order.
We were prepared for it to take time – I was diagnosed with PCOS in high school, and years of charting my cycles for health awareness revealed a litany of reproductive health concerns that hadn’t responded to treatment thus far. Cycle after cycle led to a week of extreme cramping and a glass or three of red wine while picking fights over Downton Abbey or the gender wage gap instead of gleefully researching how to raise a kid in an urban studio apartment. After a year, we weren’t alarmed by this, just resigned that my ovaries hadn’t magically healed themselves (surprise) and we would have to pursue fertility-specific medical intervention after all.
Six months later, a few days before leaving to visit family, I peed on – a lot – of sticks, not wanting to let myself believe that I really was seeing a second line.
We were pregnant.
That life had arrived.
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.
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.
“Oh, I’m going to be a stay-at-home mom,” she said, surrounded by the other women at brunch.
They nodded, giving their approval, and the affirmation so many Catholic women seek these days.
I get it.
We want to acknowledge the value in staying home, in foregoing apparent worldly success in order to give day in and day out to one’s family. Because for all the advancements feminism has brought women, greater recognition of caregiving and homemaking hasn’t been one of them.
Because for all the advancements feminism has brought women, greater recognition of caregiving and homemaking hasn’t been one of them.
But what if in proclaiming their desire to be SAHMs, women think they’ve rejected modern feminism, and they’ve actually given into it?
Let me explain.
Fertility Awareness isn’t just about pregnancy and women’s health; it’s about equality.
It’s Natural Family Planning Awareness week – which means you may see a lot of women promoting NFP because “my body isn’t broken,” “children are a gift,” and “cycles are part of being a woman.”
Maybe you agree with those things. Maybe you don’t.
If you’re a feminist, maybe it doesn’t matter; because those arguments are all missing the point.