Do We Still Believe in… a Woman’s Right to Choose?
How interesting a title is, and how easy it is to modify words and phrases. Because it is most often used in a certain context, most people would automatically think that I am referring to a woman’s right to abort (kill) the life in her womb. I am not.
Believe it or not, women are not to be defined simply as human beings with the legal right to end a life if they want to. No, the choice that I want to think about is whether or not a woman has the right to choose to stay at home as a mother, or indeed the right to go to work as a mother.
This is an odd subject. You can usually tell if something is contentious by the language which is used about it. And here, let me assure you, it is a minefield. What do you call a mother who does not go out to work? A stay at home mum? This implies a passivity, a lack of engagement with the world. A housewife? This has the woman’s life revolving around her husband and family – her only identity coming from others, either her husband or children. A homemaker? Beloved of the Americans, this implies that if she does go out to work, then a woman who is a mother is not making a home – her home is somehow ‘less’. A domestic engineer? Too technical, too mechanical, too weird!
This is not me being an unreconstructed male dinosaur, all of these definitions and critiques come from women’s own voices on websites which address this question, whether or not a woman should stay at home and look after the children, or whether she should go to work. None of this comes from me.
It is often said that it used to be the case that when a woman became pregnant she would simply leave her job, and there would be no expectation at all that she would ever go back to work. Or if she did come back to work, then it would be a number of years later. However, I suspect that this was actually only ever the case for the equivalent of the middle class. I know of many women of my grandmother’s generation who simply had to work, or there would be no food on the table. And throughout the whole of history there have been a fair few women who have been left by their husbands, either wantonly or because of circumstances beyond their control. So the waters are a little muddier than some would have us think. And nowadays there is a financial argument for some men staying at home, or single mums having to manage family finances.
There are as many individual cases as there are families.
But what do we believe? Well, we believe that a family is a mother and a father, and that this is the place where children should be brought up. And we believe that if women wish to stay at home, then they should be allowed to with no persecution, either financially or psychologically. And if they wish to work, then the work and the working environment should bend to the good of the family. It is not simply a matter of ‘getting women (and specifically mothers) into the work force’ – which seems to be a fixation of our politicians – and the family, the children, can go hang.
|The other children are at school, |
some are upstairs because they have had their meal,
some are now at university.
“In this way, women who freely desire will be able to devote the totality of their time to the work of the household without being stigmatized by society or penalized financially, while those who wish also to engage in other work may be able to do so with an appropriate work-schedule, and not have to choose between relinquishing their family life or enduring continual stress, with negative consequences for one's own equilibrium and the harmony of the family.”
CONGREGATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, The Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World, §13, 2004.
Published in the Latin Mass Society Magazine