[After a provocative Guest Letters series debut, I bring you part two: Annie Mathe–a friend, neighbor, and gastronomic inspiration. You would count yourself divinely blessed to share communion with whatever she makes in her kitchen. Her background and work in women’s studies makes her the perfect choice for this blog’s first female voice (finally!). And now: Annie]
Dear Church of the Holy Abstraction,
I should begin by saying that I am a feminist, which to me means believing in women. Feminism is about equality, but for me it has also become a sense of pride in what is particular, what is special, what is unique about being a woman. I was a feminist before I knew why I was, or what I believed in regarding the subject.
Growing up, there was no apparent gender bias in my public school. Everything was equal opportunity for little boys and little girls: sports teams, sex education, drama and academics. Long gone were the home economics classes of past generations, the male-only athletic opportunities, and the expectations that young women would marry and have a few children by age thirty. I liked it that way.
I also grew up in a liberal Congregational church. I liked my church too, for the most part. It was a place that made you feel good. It was a peaceful but also appeasing experience. But as I started thinking more directly about faith as I got older, I couldn’t find many answers from my church experience.
When I arrived as a freshman at a Christian college near Boston, I was certain I would never want to have babies, and made fun of the type of girls who I determined to be headed straight for homemaking. There was no real, blatant expectation for women to become wives and mothers at that school either. It was all about academics, and your “walk” with God- one of the many contemporary Christian terms with which I never became comfortable. But I knew girls who were focused on their goal of finding a husband and becoming a mother, who were saving their first kiss for their wedding day. Lots of students got married the summer after graduation.
Thinking back on my two years at that school, however, I can’t remember much of a message about marriage and family from my classes or three-times-weekly chapel attendances. (Yes, on top of the expectation that all students would be in church on Sunday mornings). I do remember some guest speakers who came to campus for a week with the message that sex before marriage was B.A.D., as if most of the students at that school weren’t completely convinced of that already and needed to hear their spiel. Their catchy line was: “Four on the floor”, meaning, basically, no fooling around either. But what about how to adjust to married life? How to deal with adjusting your day-to-day routine to fit in synch with someone else’s?
My church experience, which amounts to those first two years of college and attending a handful of non-denominational churches regularly (but not recently), leads me to believe that a lot of Christians have been influenced by the general idea in society that women and men are created equal, have equal opportunities in life, and are both fully capable of being either husband or wife, or some combination of both. I think a family works best with a stable, loving partnership (whatever that may be comprised of) to keep it going. I have also come to believe, simply, that men and women each exist for a reason and have certain specific, but not always predictable, ways of being. We hear a lot of talk in our society that is making fun of gender stereotypes. But are we afraid to recognize the positive character traits that may be more one gender to have than the other? Even in church?
We are the only industrialized, modern country without a standard system in place for maternity and/or paternity leave, early childcare, and healthcare. Birth has become a business, as many obstetricians these days are not trained in natural birth, but in surgery (read: C-sections), which are much more profitable for them, and much more risky for the mothers. Staying at home to raise children and maintain a home is not respected anymore. Girls are laughed at if, as they grow up, they say that they want to be a wife and a mother.
I don’t think every woman is meant to be a stay-at-home mom, but when you think about it, what vocation is more important than that? There is now a generation of children being raised in daycare, and mothers who are working just to pay for that supervision. Many can’t afford it, but neither can they afford to leave their jobs. I know women who have worked, waiting tables, up until the day they gave birth because they were saving up their earnings just to be able to take three weeks off after having their baby.
I realize a lot of churches are trying to be modern, hip, and liberal, but the lack of guidance for young married couples is almost as bad as the rigid gender roles we don’t want to think about anymore. I think a lot of women would like to hear the message that yes, of course, you are capable of being a high-powered CEO, a lawyer, a teacher, a doctor, anything you are dreaming of, but that it’s also just as much of an accomplishment to raise children in our world today. Homemaking is radically different now than it was fifty or sixty years ago. It is a privilege now, and one most Americans cannot afford.
Women need support if they choose to work at home rather than outside of the home. We need a clearer message that staying home is valuable, respectable, and maybe some concrete advice about how to make it work. I’m not writing this because I definitely want to be a stay-at-home mom myself, but because I think that choice of vocation is one of the most important in the world. To simply open the gates to a world that has always been ruled by men is to deny and devalue what is distinctly feminine. Today it’s taboo in mainstream society, including our hip, liberal non-denominational churches, to suggest that some women might be good at raising children full-time. It seems like a step backwards to say something like that these days, but you’d think an institution that is so tied up with family values would be bold enough to preach about supporting what might be the remedy for a lot of our country’s belly aches and bad dreams.
Annie is a young, married feminist. She is particularly concerned about the history and politics of pregnancy, motherhood, and women’s bodies. If she does have children someday, they will eat homemade baby food. You can read more at her blog, Strong, Healthy, Fit: http://www.stronghealthyfit.wordpress.com.