Listening to the commentariat reacting to the infant-formula shortage in America earlier this month, it struck me just how unbearably complicated it is to be a woman in our secular world.
I was interested to see men and women, some who weren’t even parents, commenting on how women ought to feed their children. There were those who said the formula shortage was a good thing because it might force women to breastfeed, and there were those who said women need formula because it empowers them to go back to work and have their bodies to themselves again. A “feminist” I follow on social media, who is proud to have not had children out of choice, came out vociferously in favour of the latter viewpoint – another expert on child-rearing comes out of the woodwork.
You can guarantee that all these people with their militant views on breastfeeding and whether formula is good or bad are feminists, not just my voluntarily childless social media acquaintance. Even men these days are feminists because it is the fashionable thing to be. To have the best interests of poor oppressed women at heart is virtuous, even if it means bossing them around and telling them what they should and shouldn’t do with their bodies and their babies.
I am not a feminist. I do not need to be a feminist because I am a Catholic. Because I am a Catholic, I do not feel oppressed or hard done by as a result of my sex.
When I expressed this view in public recently, the response was shock and bewilderment. “But Catholicism is so restrictive for women,” said one person. Is it? I presume this very pervasive view stems partly from the fact that women are not allowed to be priests, and mostly from the fact that the Church does not approve of murdering unborn babies.
But must we always be victims? Personally, I struggled to breastfeed. I did it for a bit, mostly because I felt under pressure from our society to do so, but I was grateful to discover formula, which seemed to satisfy my babies in a way my own milk didn’t. But I felt useless and guilty about it and I felt judged by other women. I briefly allowed myself to be a victim.
But then it occurred to me that I had never, ever felt judged for my parenting choices by my Church. As far as the Church is concerned, how you bring your child into the world and how you feed it do not matter as long as your goal is to keep the child alive. What is restrictive about this? Personally, I find this totally liberating.
In fact, there is almost nowhere on earth where I feel more welcome and less judged than in my local Catholic church. And I feel especially welcome when I turn up with my two unruly toddlers, who seem to be adored by every member of the congregation (this is not my experience in other public places). Yes, the priest is male not female, but everything else in the church is run by wonderful old ladies without whom nothing beyond the Mass itself would ever happen. They were the ones who organised the collections for Ukrainians, who cooked meals for the disabled during Covid. They are the ones who make sure there are books and colouring pencils at the back of the church in case the children get bored. Are they victims? Are they restricted? No, they are not.
In my mother’s home country of Poland, a Catholic country, women are revered. Mary, mother of God, is the patron saint of Poland and people travel from all over the world to pray to the Black Madonna in Częstochowa. As John Paul II pointed out in his letter to women in 1995, Jesus treated women with “openness, respect, acceptance and tenderness”. Yes, women have been biologically designated to bear children and, yes, this means they are often confined to the home in a way men are not, but fighting this is not going to make this fact of life go away. It is also not going to make you happy. Embracing the miracle that is human life will.
Noelle Mering, a mother of six and the author of Awake, Not Woke: A Christian Response to the Cult of Progressive Ideology, among other excellent titles, says: “We live in an essentially Marxist society where people are divided between the oppressor and the oppressed, i.e. man versus woman. Christianity is above that. Revolution is born by people who are enraged by their circumstances.” Catholic women are not enraged by their circumstances because they know they are loved by God.
As far as the Church is concerned, how you bring your child into the world and how you feed it do not matter as long as your goal is to keep the child alive. What is restrictive about this?
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