Here’s to the Patriarchy: Why the Catholic Church Gives Me the Freedom that the Summer of Love Never Did

After years of striving for the feminist dream, I appreciate the strong male presence of the clergy.

I’m okay with the Catholic Church being patriarchal. And that’s coming from someone who had a strict father and then a controlling older brother. But I have to keep my feelings to myself. If I were to state my opinion on the Church to a nonbeliever in my city of San Francisco, they would instantly picture me garbed like the women in The Handmaid’s Tale. I could face permanent social ostracization. 

So how can a woman who was born in the Summer of Love 1960s in San Francisco be in favor of the patriarchy? It’s complicated. 

As a woman born in the 1960s, I should have burst into instant independence and freedom. Feminism was everywhere. Women were publicly burning their bras. 

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I appreciated the ideas of women being able to choose any career they wanted, dating without a goal, not getting married just to get married, and opting out of having children. Since marriage didn’t have a deadline, I didn’t worry about dating with any sense of urgency. I had flirtations but was never the girl that was always asked out. Since I felt less in control of my dating life and more in command of my career, I modeled myself as an office worker after women that inspired me. 

The reality is that even though I have a Bachelor’s degree, I mainly found work as an office worker. In 2004, I was hired as a “secretary”; so much for the advancement of women. It’s not as if I wasn’t capable of better jobs. I’m a writer now with the same skills and knowledge I had back then.

My role models were from the media: Mary Tyler Moore, Marlo Thomas, and Lauren Hutton. The Mary Tyler Moore Show was about a woman who worked in a newsroom. She was respected at her job and esteemed by her boss and co-workers. She had her own apartment and lived a very 70s-woman lifestyle: free and independent. 

Marlo Thomas starred in the television show That Girl, a sitcom about an aspiring actress living alone in New York City, pursuing her acting career and enjoying spending time with her boyfriend. Lauren Hutton became popular in the late 60s as a supermodel and actress. She was often interviewed about her travels in Africa with her then-longtime boyfriend. These women inferred that marriage wasn’t important but a career was. I bought in and focused more on a career than marriage and having a family. Yet, I still believed in love.

After my strict father died, I got to live a little. At 36 years old, after saving money from years of working my way up and a brief stint in television producing, I decided to go to film school in Italy. I hoped to become a film director. I later realized that I subconsciously just wanted to live in Italy, and school was the ticket.

I found the film school, applied, and was accepted. Booking the flight to Rome was the final step.

I had been living in Italy for about a year when I received a call from my mother, whom I spoke with often. On this particular day, she had an agenda. She passed the phone to my brother, who admonished me for spending too much money by living in Italy and demanded that I immediately come back home. 

It wasn’t about money but rather control. I always worked and funded myself, but I doubted I’d ever truly break free. My sister was a little bit of a wild child, and to compensate my family felt the need to wrangle me in even though I never warranted that. I was rarely allowed the freedom to be wild.

Today, now aging out of career possibilities, I see how misguided I was. In my 50s, I was rocked into submission by bad health. Holding an office job became like climbing Mount Everest. My life became about solitude not socializing. It was also when my chance at love at long last ended like a poof when my boyfriend of five years ghosted me.

My saving grace was coming back to the Catholic Church. Though it was a faith I was born into, I only sometimes carried it with me in a side pocket. I held onto it, but I didn’t always uphold its practices.

Now that I’m older, I find the Church is a welcoming home. Older women are still respected in the Church. Age doesn’t matter. The Church traditions that have been passed down for centuries are comforting to behold and participate in. It’s a chance to be part of something bigger than myself—something that existed before I was even born and that will continue long after I pass on. I sense life, longevity, and love when I attend Mass. 

In this more humbled state in my life, I appreciate the strong male presence of the clergy. It makes me feel protected. I honor their authority and earned status in the Church. I don’t need to see a woman in any of those roles. There are other roles for women to fulfill through service as laity, nuns, and sisters. Women have also been honored as Doctors of the Church. Women mystics are revered. The teachings of women saints and the apparitions of Mother Mary are spread widely throughout the world.

Although I value the patriarchy, you will never find me living submissively as the women in The Handmaid’s Tale. I respect authority and humility, but I also want to exercise my free will, and I hope for respect. At church, far more than anywhere else in my life, I get that.

[Image Credit: Unsplash]

  • Christine Arata

    Christine Arata is a native San Franciscan. She has a B.A. in Anthropology with a minor in Film. She has been writing since 2011 on various topics, including film and memoir. She founded a niche website devoted to animal activism and art and culture; and one devoted to memoir. She also authored an e-book and is now a freelance writer. She received her certification in spiritual theology from the Avila Institute.

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