“So what do you do?” I’m asked over drinks at a recent party.
I mentally flip through a list of possible responses. I hesitate, considering my interrogator. I think I remember someone mentioning he works as a neurosurgeon.
He performs brain surgery. I wipe little bottoms.
So here’s my quandary: Do I come clean and admit I’m “just” an at-home mom? Do I mention I went to law school (there’s no need to bring up the fact that I dropped out after a month to support my husband through medical school)? Do I opt for a smart-alecky response? “I breathe. I read. I shower (almost daily). I nibble at my nails when I’m anxious (hence, the nibbling right now). What do you do?”
Or do I simply pretend I’m still a productive member of society and forget the fact that my nursing baby is tugging on my blouse, ready for a drink of her own?
On a good day, I’d come clean and confess I’m an at-home mom. On a really good day, I’d say it with pride.
Sometimes, though, especially when I’m surrounded by my husband’s colleagues — who generally are physicians, esteemed researchers, or other professionals with impressive accolades — I’m not as confident. I waffle. I mention motherhood in passing like it’s my side job, instead of conveying what I really believe: that this mothering gig is a genuine vocation, a way of bending to God’s will for my life, as well as the best way for me to use my gifts.
While most people respect my decision and the fact that I’m blessed to be able to be a stay-at-home mom, I have the feminists — the people who are supposed to be on my side — to thank for my occasional stabs of insecurity. Like many of my female peers, college classes in women’s studies and multiculturalism indoctrinated me with “culturally correct” beliefs, where the big picture seemed to be lost in a quibble over who suffered more prejudice and who the real victims were. It was easy to see any “softness” in my personality as a point of weaknesses that needed to be hardened if I wanted to be a success.
It was the feminists who made me feel like less instead of more. The same women who warned us about never allowing a man to turn us into Barbie were furtively turning us into Ken — and ladies, Ken doesn’t wear an apron or change diapers all day. The same women who praised motherhood (when it was convenient and the time was “right”) were telling us we didn’t have to just be moms confined to a life of domestic drudgery. We had the potential to be so much more (who cares if there’s only 24 hours in the day?).
It is the feminists and their unflagging campaigns for “equity for women” who continue to lead so many women to question what God designed us to do, who make us want to be more like our rational (and less intuitive) male counterparts, who make us wonder why we don’t have it all — as in a career that provides manifold satisfactions and an identity other than “Mommy.”
They’ll disagree, of course. The feminists will swear they’re all about choice and helping women make an impact on the world through their work and their lives while remaining true to themselves.
They’re more than willing to share the secret formula to doing this, too. You evolve into the modern woman — the woman who can do it all and have it all.
While early feminism sought to encourage the rise of women through support of their traditional roles as mothers and champions for virtue, many of today’s feminists say, “Forget that namby-pamby traditional stuff. Get a career. Then a hubby. Then maybe have a baby (if it will make you happy). Keep the career. Hire a physical trainer and get a great postpartum body (but not too great, lest you be considered an object), make money, wield power, and keep your husband in line. Oh, and make sure he’s someone who does his own laundry and sometimes yours.”
As I’ve grown into my mothering shoes and become more confident in my role, I’ve started to see that modern feminists and their dedication to gender equity, their “I am woman, hear me roar” mantras, and their push for women to balance careers, family, and a hobby or two or three aren’t really about being female or male, or even human. They’re really about being superhuman.
It’s all those courageous, outspoken modern feminists who, instead of concentrating their time and efforts on something that would really help the plight of women — say, spreading awareness about injustices such as sexual slavery, bride burning in South Asia, abortion, and female infanticide — tirelessly defend a view of the perfectible woman. In doing so, feminists don’t liberate women; they disappoint them. In its wake, feminism has left a sobering parade of women who are realizing that it’s a big, fat lie: You can’t have it all.
And why should you even want to?
Womankind doesn’t need to be saved or fixed or changed. We don’t need to prove ourselves by juggling a career, motherhood, and a slew of other accomplishments. We don’t have to wear power suits to be powerful. Our power is found in our femininity, in the wombs that give women the ability to be sacred chambers for new life. Everything that makes women women is what makes them valuable to society. We don’t have to contribute to the GDP to be productive. Mothers produce souls — souls that have eternal value. And women who never have children of their own are still spiritual mothers, helping and nurturing society’s underlings.
When we “liberate” women from the “menial” tasks of motherhood, when we suggest a woman loses her life and her identity if she stays home with the kids all day, when we say that women must be fiercer in the workplace or become more “rational” and physically and emotionally “stronger” like their male counterparts, what we’re really saying is that men and the male role in society is superior to our own, and we must do everything in our power to become more like them.
Man and woman share in God’s image and likeness. We are equal in dignity, but we’re not the same. It’s when we start striving for sameness that we — and society — start to fall apart.
What will happen if all women toughen up, strive to do it all, and be more than “just” wives and mothers? What if women start to believe a beautiful life is only possible once you have that beautiful career? Can we truly embrace our God-given vocation to nurture others if we’re more concerned with nurturing ourselves and catching up to the boys?
I’m not suggesting women don’t have a place in the workforce. Long before terms like “working mom” or “hybrid woman” snaked their way into feminist parlance, women were productive workers in the vineyard of the Lord. We’ve given birth to children. We’ve built domestic churches. Some of us have been called to be doctors, humanitarians, artists. But none of us has to be everything to everyone.
What the feminists seem to be missing is that a woman’s liberation must truly be freeing her from things that are holding her hostage — not releasing her from her supernatural calling and all that is good and sanctifying and makes her a woman.
Let us embrace the wisdom of the Catholic Church. Women, be who you were created to be: people who possess a special sensitivity and a sublime respect for the dignity of the human person. People who are inclined to follow the way of the cross, to nurture, and to hold the fabric of society together, not with high levels of productivity measured in output by hour but with the gift of self.
“What do you do?” I do enough. I am enough. I’m a mom. I’m a wife. I’m a woman, designed by God. I have no need to pretend to be more. I don’t have to roar to be heard. My life says it all.