Someone recently asked me how, as a stay-at-home mother, I relate to and live out feminism. To the secular culture, that might seem difficult. Feminists might not have a problem with women staying at home, provided that it’s their choice and not a necessity, but that choice doesn’t seem to need feminism. It has always been the default. Feminism as a movement related to women in the workplace and in politics, not to housewives.
Feminism as a movement related to women in the workplace and in politics, not to housewives.
As a Catholic, though, it seems very obvious that staying at home with my kids is deeply feminist, in the authentic sense. Let’s look at what the popes have had to say about feminism from this persepective.
In Mulieris Dignitatem, it is clear that what is distinctly feminine is a special way of “being for the other,” and in particular in motherhood, physical and also spiritual. In “Women reveal the gift of their womanhood by placing themselves at the service of others in their everyday lives.”
In Evangelium Vitae, “Part of this daily heroism is also the silent but effective and eloquent witness of all those "brave mothers who devote themselves to their own family without reserve… in order to pass on to them the best of themselves". In living out their mission ‘these heroic women do not always find support in the world around them. On the contrary, the cultural models frequently promoted and broadcast by the media do not encourage motherhood. In the name of progress and modernity the values of fidelity, chastity, sacrifice, to which a host of Christian wives and mothers have borne and continue to bear outstanding witness, are presented as obsolete.”
In Familiaris Consortio, “the true advancement of women requires that clear recognition be given to the value of their maternal and family role, by comparison with all other public roles and all other professions… a renewed "theology of work" can shed light upon and study in depth the meaning of work in the Christian life and determine the fundamental bond between work and the family, and therefore the original and irreplaceable meaning of work in the home and in rearing children. Therefore the Church can and should help modern society by tirelessly insisting that the work of women in the home be recognized and respected by all in its irreplaceable value…society must be structured in such a way that wives and mothers are not in practice compelled to work outside the home, and that their families can live and prosper in a dignified way even when they themselves devote their full time to their own family… Furthermore, the mentality which honors women more for their work outside the home than for their work within the family must be overcome… society should create and develop conditions favoring work in the home.”
The Church can and should help modern society by tirelessly insisting that the work of women in the home be recognized and respected by all in its irreplaceable value."
So given all of that, how exactly am I making a feminist choice by staying at home with my children?
I am witnessing to the value of work in the home, particularly raising and educating children, and to the value of sacrifice of my time and varied interests for the service of my family.
I am also testifying against utilitarianism: another person cannot replace me in my caring for my own children, though they could take good care of my children in a different way. Some people seem to think that my caring for other people’s children would be of more value to society than caring for my own, because it is more efficient. I testify against materialism, foregoing a second income, potentially lucrative, for other values. I show that I value the varied work that I do for its own sake, without financial compensation, thereby actually professing the dignity and value of work.
I have also taken on various tasks in the service of my local community because I have the availability. I am available for serving extended family and friends, whether by cooking, hosting, babysitting, caring during illness and grief. I strive to show that the youngest members of society, often treated as little more than objects, are as worthy of my service and attention as adults who might benefit from it. And if I succeed in doing all of this with joy, I witness also to the delight of children and motherhood to a culture who sees them as a burden.
And if I succeed in doing all of this with joy, I witness also to the delight of children and motherhood to a culture who sees them as a burden.
Giving everything for the service of others, in my family and my community, and witnessing, with all that I have, authentic values to a very confused society.
Seems feminist to me.