Last Sunday happened to be International Mother’s Day. In honour of the occasion Pope Francis paid tribute to mothers in his general audience, speaking of “all our dear mothers, those that live with us physically but also those that live with us spiritually…” It was a very brief reference to a truth the Church has always taught: that to be maternal is intrinsic to womanhood, whether in the specific sense of bearing and raising children or in the deeper sense of spiritual fruitfulness, recognising that the instinct for motherhood can be translated into any sphere and any vocation, most especially, obviously, the religious one.
What has such Catholic wisdom have to say to our own country, where the feminist dogma of complete equality between the sexes reigns supreme and where you challenge it at your peril? Watching the increased number of women trooping into Downing Street as part of the new Tory Cabinet, a friend remarked to me: “What signal does this give to women at home with their children? That women validate their importance and use their gifts best when they go to work?”
Yes, we have equality with men, whatever that means. Yes, we want more paid day care so that we can leave our young children with qualified professionals and return to our place in the workforce. Yes, we can now “lean in”, as Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, describes it, to professions and positions that a past generation of women could only dream of. But suppose the Church’s insight about women’s nature is not just chauvinist or simply out of date, but true? It suggests that the price to be paid for women’s newfound freedom might be very high.
In the Telegraph this week a news item had the headline: “Britain’s educated women are among worst in the world for binge drinking.” According to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and development (OECD), it seems that professional women are taking their equality with men to a hard-drinking level. The report states: “Women with higher education may have better-paid jobs, involving higher degrees of responsibility and thus may drink more heavily because they have more stress…” As Mark Pearson, the OECD’s head of health remarked, the trends reflected “the dark side of equality”.
The Telegraph followed this with an article by Lucy Rocca, a 39-year-old working mother who realised after many humiliating drunken episodes that she was an “almost alcoholic”. She has now launched Soberistas.com, a social network site aimed at women like her who want to lead a new, sober lifestyle. In its first year it has attracted 20,000 members.
I have recently read a little book that has much to say on this whole subject: The Eternal Woman by Gertrud von le Fort (for UK readers the book is here). A profound meditation on “the timeless meaning of the feminine” and first published in Germany in 1934, it reflects on the different roles of woman, as virgin, bride and mother, from a divine perspective. The author discusses spiritual motherhood, the feminist movement, the vital contribution women make to culture (and the decadence that follows when they lose sight of this contribution) and much else including a consideration of women in politics. Von le Fort thinks that only if women bring their maternal gifts into play in politics “can [their] presence there be approved”. She adds: “No man can replace the voice of a mother; there is question only of how this voice may make its influence felt without distortion.”
So the question isn’t whether women should stay at home or not, but rather, are they being true to their feminine genius in the particular circumstances of their lives?
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