When a woman should work

One of the nice things about blogging anonymously is that I feel more free to state things starkly.  To say something like “patriarchy is good” is refreshing for a traditionalist to write and, hopefully, to read.  Sometimes, though, distinctions must be made.  In an earlier post, I attributed to the Catholic Magisterium (and implicitly endorsed myself) the claim that the father should be the sole breadwinner of a family, and that the economy should be regulated under the overriding concern of maximizing single-income families.  This is, I think, more or less true.  Ideally, in an industrial society, most women should stay home to raise their kids and then do community volunteer work after their children are grown.  It is not true, though, that a woman should never do remunerative work.  There are at least three important cases:

  1. Economic necessity.  Sometimes two incomes are required to provide a family’s basic needs.  Then the mother has no choice but to work.  In this case, she does the right thing, but society as a whole has let her down by not providing a sufficient income to her husband.
  2. Family farms and businesses.  Some families are still living the pre-industrial model wherein the household itself is economically productive.  In this case, it’s natural that father, mother, and children all chip in in various ways.  Such a thing is even a valuable apprenticeship for the children.  A woman working in a family business or family farm is fundamentally different from her working outside the home.  There is no compartmentalization of work and family life which is more alien to feminine nature than masculine.  There is no erosion of the father’s authority from putting his wife under the rule of another man eight hours a day.  There is no illusion that the wife is making herself economically independent of her husband.
  3. Women with a special calling or genius.  The truth is that most people don’t find fulfillment in their work.  Feminists (who are, after all, really just corporate propagandists) go on and on about how “fulfilling” and “empowering” having a “career” is, but for most people–waiting tables, answering phones, filling in spreadsheets, carrying boxes–it’s just necessary drugery.  Most people–women and men–have no special talent or passion that lends itself to a career.  Some people, however, do have special callings to art, medicine, scientific research, or whatever.  A patriarchal society can and should be able to accomodate the extraordinary talents of an Emmy Noether, a Jocelyn Bell, or a Mary Douglas.  It can do so largely because such types are extraordinary (in either sex) and so have little influence on the general expectations attached to the male provider role.  This is, I think, how we are to reconcile the statements of recent popes, which have troubled Laura Wood and others, condemning unjust “discrimination” against women in the workplace and praising working women.  This should be taken to refer to women with special callings and in no way to call into question a tradition’s two millennia-long affirmation of gender role distinctions.

18 Responses

  1. Interesting.

    I noticed you didn’t mention women who are not married. How are they to support themselves?

  2. Ah, yes. I forgot about them. Of course, they have to, but I do think there’s a problem with it. We basically force women to be career-focused until they get married. At this point, they’ve made a big investment in their jobs–even if they originally hadn’t really wanted to work outside home and had preferred to be a housewife–so there must be a lot of pressure not to let those years have been totally wasted. The system works to get women caught up in careerism.

    Unfortunately, the only alternative under current arrangements–that women should be supported by their fathers until marriage–wouldn’t be popular. Distributism would have a solution: if home production again became a significant part of the household economy, there would be useful things for non-career minded women to do while looking for a husband. I remain undecided as to whether Distibutism can really work in the modern world, though.

  3. Bonald,

    If you happen to stumble upon this comment, thanks for leaving up your old blog. Have enjoyed greatly rereading some old posts and reading others even older for the first time.

    You suggest that JPII and other recent popes may be understood as speaking against unjust discrimination against women in the workforce in the sense that it applies to those women with a genius for a particular field. However, if this has been the case, how is it that we have allowed women geniuses to thrive such that we have Noether, Bell, and Douglas? If unjust discrimination has been such a problem, as JPII lays out, shouldn’t their genius have been squelched so that we virtually never would have heard of a woman with genius?

  4. Hi Buckyinky,

    I’m pleased to know that I still have a few readers here. I agree; discrimination has probably seldom been an insuperable obstacle to brilliant women. A few people really do have a great passion and talent for some career, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They are a minority, though, and liberalism does humanity a disservice in making this the paradigm for everyone.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts. I’m still trying to figure out just what JPII’s teaching on women was, as I have been since first being introduced to it. You suggest elsewhere that the writing hands of recent popes have been all but forced, with the constant, unrelenting barrage of leftism against the solitary and exposed island of the papacy. It is only if I join you in this line of thinking that I can keep from being troubled myself by documents such as Mulieris or Letter to Women or the many speaking engagements of JPII or the current Holy Father where they tell us how particularly terrible women have it the world over.

  6. “I’m still trying to figure out just what JPII’s teaching on …” is pretty much how every sentence I’ve heard in connection with JPII has started.

  7. I realize this is an old post, but I think there may be another way to reconcile the statements of the recent Popes on sex discrimination, and I think it would be more in line with what they meant.

    That while a man should be the sole provider for his family, our society often makes this impossible, so if a woman is the sole provider for her family, she should also be payed sufficiently, as men are. And the praise is for women who must work outside the home, something more foreign to them than to men, in order to provide for their families.

  8. @ArkansasReactionary,

    That while a man should be the sole provider for his family, our society often makes this impossible, so if a woman is the sole provider for her family, she should also be payed sufficiently, as men are. And the praise is for women who must work outside the home, something more foreign to them than to men, in order to provide for their families.

    It is possible that is what the recent Popes are saying, but I still don’t see the reason to emphasize the suffering injustice while also being a woman aspect of it all, as though unjust wages are worse when inflicted upon a woman than upon a man; or as though unjust wages to women in particular is a chronic and recurring problem.

    Having had the benefit of a Franciscan papacy for a couple years since first reading and commenting on this post, I think I understand better the need to refrain from taking a current pope’s statements too seriously, i.e., keeping myself from drawing any conclusions, especially weighty ones, from my reading of a certain encyclical, or a certain homily, or a certain communique, or (updated for today’s reader) a certain impromptu interview or a certain tweet. So much of the Catholic faith has been laid forth in clear terms from the beginning that it is very rare indeed that we need the Pope in particular to explain anything for us regarding the faith. We must allow for the humanity of any pope, which will include, among other foibles, the possibility of an overinflated ego and the public bearing that goes with this (yes, obviously I suspect our current pontiff of this one), or the inclination to faulty reasoning especially on certain subjects.

    For what it’s worth, how do I think this applies in the case of the topic first raised by this post? Well, for one thing, I still don’t really know why JPII wrote what he did, especially when it came to the topic of women; but I am more inclined now than before to consider it likely that he had some kind of blinders keeping him from having a more expansive purview on the subject of relationships between the sexes, and that this affected his speaking and writing in such a way that should be kept in mind when drawing conclusions from them, so as not to draw hasty and faulty conclusions. To state it a different way, I suppose I don’t see the need to “reconcile the statements of the recent Popes” anymore, but have allowed in my mind the possibility that some popes have been saying irreconcilable things, chalking it up to their human frailty, and moving on while trying my best to retain fidelity to them (the popes) as befits my Catholic faith.

  9. My understanding is that the statements were made in the exercise of his teaching authority. Thus we would seem to be obligated to give them religious assent.So my concern is with how to interpret them as true, not whether they were prudently made.

    While I respect Bonald’s opinion, I think it more in accord with JPII’s meaning to regard his statement as simply discussing the matter from the perspective of women working being a given, rather than discussing a very rare case.

  10. I suspect we are in agreement as to what assent we owe the Pope, and that any confusion is due to a lack of precision in my description. The difficulty for me in understanding and being able to accept the whole ball of wax with JPII is not in what he posited so much as the context in which he posited it, and also upon which things he chose to remain silent. I don’t think I disagree, for instance, with anything of his statements in his “Letter to Women,” simply standing on their own merits; however, his teaching message consisted not simply of what he said, but also his very decision to expound upon the subject at all, to expound upon it when he did, to whom he did, in what societal context he did. These are all questions of prudence, upon which nothing in our faith requires us to believe that the Pope is impeccable (I could be mistaken here at least in part), yet also part of his teaching message.

    It appears JPII was favorable to an embrace of some kind of feminism – he mentions the term favorably in Evangelium Vitae. Does this mean that my faith requires me to find some way to be favorable to some kind of feminism also, a philosophy that I’ve found can only survive, even in its mildest forms, by feeding on some sort of bitter envy and mistrust between the sexes, which philosophy also does its greatest damage not in what it posits, but in what it fails or, better yet, refuses to address? These are the sorts of irreconcilable problems that I’ve encountered, that I’ve all but concluded are not in need of reconciling. They are simply the manifestations of frail human judgment in prudential matters, and not an exercise of the sort of authority to which our faith requires my docile submission.

  11. “This is, I think, how we are to reconcile the statements of recent popes, which have troubled Laura Wood and others, condemning unjust “discrimination” against women in the workplace and praising working women. This should be taken to refer to women with special callings and in no way to call into question a tradition’s two millennia-long affirmation of gender role distinctions.”
    Bonald, this is probably not what the recent popes meant. They probably meant the same thing that Hillary Clinton means when she talks about this issue. It seems that you are interpreting their words in a way that isn’t consistent with their intent.
    I hope I’m not being uncharitable but I guess I don’t understand this tendency to try to reconcile what a Pope says (or other sources of authority e.g. the Catechism) with Catholic doctrine when said reconciliation likely involves twisting the intended meaning of the words.

  12. Feminism can be thought of as an attempt to universalize the career-as-center-of-life that fits an abnormal/exceptional minority. Hillary Clinton probably imagines that every woman has a special career calling and sees no great value in the housewife role, and this makes her a feminist. Is there a reason to think JPII believed these things? If not, then he must have been thinking about a minority.

  13. Hillary Clinton means the same thing that the entire post 1960s world means when she uses these phrases. If JPII meant something different, why didn’t he say it?
    Same for L.G. and CCC on muslims worshipping the one god. If they meant something different, why didn’t they say it?
    Same for Francis with his “who am I to judge.”
    It sometimes seems that this reconciliation of the bishops’ words business is a constant exercise in turd polishing.
    Sorry. In a sedevacantist mood this week.

  14. Sorry. In a sedevacantist mood this week.

    Joke/tongue-in-cheek (I think) acknowledged, Bruce, but it seems with a proper understanding of the authority of the Pope, and the evidence on hand, sedevacantism is a non sequitur. Is Pope Francis saying that I as a Catholic am required to make sure my faith is up to par as a result of his “Who am I to judge” comment? Was JPII saying that it is a matter of faith to assent to some form of feminism?

    Seems the best-case scenario with the evidence on hand is that we have/had popes who don’t ponder their words before they speak or don’t have all the evidence in front of them before speaking on certain topics. Worst-case scenario is that we have/had popes who are grievously lacking in fortitude.

    What did the faithful do during the worst of the Renaissance popes? They either had the grace of not being aware of how awful the popes were, or they went to Rome and saw how awful they were and became the unfaithful, like Luther. We are not given the grace of ignorance of what the Pope is saying/doing, but I could wish we were.

  15. buckyinky,

    I don’t doubt that mass communication (especially the internet) has helped sedevacantism spread since we can see the bad actions and hear the bad words of the popes.

    Still, I wonder if 95% of Renaissance parish priests were indifferentists or apostates.

  16. “If JPII meant something different, why didn’t he say it?”

    Technically correct theological language doesn’t jive with the hazy impressionistic twaddle by which the modern world communicates, so of course he, on occasion, affected the latter way of speaking rather than the former. (For Francis, it’s not an affectation; he’s clearly just a crude demagogue who’s at least sympathetic to modernity).

  17. Seems the best-case scenario with the evidence on hand is that we have/had popes who don’t ponder their words before they speak or don’t have all the evidence in front of them before speaking on certain topics. Worst-case scenario is that we have/had popes who are grievously lacking in fortitude.

    JP II said weird things in contexts where that interpretation is a little hard. “Yeah, it’s an encyclical, but homie was jes’ rappin’ out” seems kind of implausible. Personally, I think JP II in particular was so focused on Communism and aware enough of the state of the Church that he temporized a lot. The strange locutions in his documents (like the strange way Vatican II’s documents are written) seem to me a signal that some kind of unusual interpretive frame is necessary.

    The Conciliar Popes seemingly were trying to write and act in a way which permitted determined liberals to consider themselves good Catholics. All this blabbering about human dignity and the rights owed to us therefore, for example. Why? Perhaps to ward off persecution. Perhaps because JP II was aware that there were no more Carlists and that there was no prospect of there being any more Carlists. Since beating Communism was a high priority for JP II, he tried to continue the atmosphere in which right-liberals could see the Church as their ally.

    Assuming this interpretation is right, it’s not at all clear that this was the right move, but it’s also not clear that it was the wrong move. Also, it makes B XVI an even more interesting figure. His job would be to figure out and implement what the Church is supposed to be doing now that the commies are done. I’m not sure what we should think about what he actually did, though. The combination of widening toleration of traditionalism while continuing to ordain liberals to the episcopacy and making liberal cardinals seems odd. What was he up to?

    On the issue you guys are discussing though, this view would mean that the right interpretive frame, at least for orthodox Catholics, is the one you suggest. Fold, spindle, and mutilate everything the Church says after Leo XIII to make it conform to what it said before Leo XIII. You could even call it the hermeneutic of continuity if you want.

    Somewhat randomly, I raise my voice in defense of the Renaissance Popes and against their detractors. The whole “your religion is wrong because Christians sin” thing which Commenter is doing in another thread and which the raving against Renaissance Popes seems to partake of is stupid. How can a theory which predicts that everybody sins be falsified by people sinning? It’s retarded.

  18. I admit that I thought of several *worse* worst-case scenarios soon after posting that comment.

    FWIW, I like to think that I was raising my voice also in defense of the Renaissance popes, and that my defense of the modern popes is on somewhat the same grounds. Where a major concern of past popes in disseminating an encyclical would have been to find paper and scribes to do so, the major concern for a pope today is whether or not to press Send. It has always been a sin for a pope to act imprudently in his duty as pastor of the universal Church, but it is ever so much easier to do so today, not so easy to hold a mistress unbeknownst to your flock.

    One might argue that Pope Julius II never required a Catholic to hold as a matter of faith that it is a good thing to retain a mistress, but neither did JPII require us to toe the feminist line as a matter of faith, though he assumes the feminist frame in much of his teaching and apparently held it as true himself.

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