There are a few things that I do not like about being a woman. One of them is being lectured by people like Frank Bruni at The New York Times about how I am oppressed by my Catholic faith. Funny, I never realized it.
Bruni’s article, “Catholicism Undervalues Women,” has many of the “standing up to the patriarchy” tropes anyone would expect, with some surprises and glaring factual errors along the way. He begins by wryly mentioning Pope Francis’ statement about equal pay for women wherein, Bruni says, the pope “fashioned himself a feminist.” Bruni laughs at this, assuring his enlightened readers that they “are not reading The Onion.” He then goes into the expected diatribe about how inconsistent this is with the church that has oppressed women for centuries.
Women Care about Freedom of Conscience
While taking some time to mention the church’s good works and how awesome Pope Francis is for changing the “tone” on marriage, Bruni jumps in with some stuff about reproductive choices.
For women to get a fair shake in the work force, they need at least some measure of reproductive freedom. But Catholic bishops in the United States lobbied strenuously against the Obamacare requirement that employers such as religiously affiliated schools and hospitals include contraception in workers’ health insurance.
So what this amounts to—if I understand this correctly—is that the church hurts women by not personally paying for their birth control. To my knowledge, the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops’ lobbying against the Obamacare mandate to require employers to provide abortifacients and other forms of birth control was more about religious freedom and conscience rights than about making absolutely sure no one has birth control.
The issue here is not why Catholics do not believe in contraception but the mere fact that they do believe it and shouldn’t be coerced by the government to buy yours. In fact, the church’s teaching on contraception has a lot to do with making sure women are treated as equals and not objects. But what do I know? I am just a cog in the machine of my own oppression.
Gender Identity Is Not the Same as Equality
Then, as expected, we get the old the-Church-is-mean-because-women-can’t-be-priests argument:
Men but not women get to preside at Mass. Men but never women wear the cassock of a cardinal, the vestments of a pope. Male clergy are typically called “father,” which connotes authority. Women in religious orders are usually called “sister,” which doesn’t.
Now at this point I could go deep into Catholic theology and explain just why the Catholic tradition calls only men to enter the priesthood. I could, but I figure it will be lost on the “not my boss’s business” crowd. But what I can say is that this is a part of an error we see all the time when dealing with gender—mistaking identity for equality.
Many on the Left—especially second-wave feminists—think that to be equal to men, women basically need to be identical to men. Not only is this untrue, it’s simply impractical. I can’t help but to roll my eyes whenever I hear a report lamenting the lack of woman coal miners or construction workers or the like. What did you expect? Women, always and for the most part, are not physically equipped for such jobs and—if I can say it without getting into a shouting match with feminists—nor do we even want such jobs. Maybe there are a couple of great women coal miners out there, but they are the exception, not the rule.
Being equal does not mean being the same in every respect possible. Wouldn’t you think that the Left’s champions of diversity would understand that? For example, take what Bruni said in the excerpt above. First, the male equivalents of Catholic nuns (“sisters”) are actually “brothers”—Catholic monks and friars. Nuns typically report to a “mother,” an authoritative title, who is in charge of their community (someone please get this guy a copy of “The Sound of Music”). They are different, but they each have something of equal value to add to the church.
Making Women Into Men Isn’t Equality
The priesthood may only be open to men, but this certainly is not the only role of value within Catholicism. The Catholic church would not run if it weren’t for the mothers, sisters, and teachers who contribute their time and effort in a vast multitude of capacities. And just because these women do not wear vestments or hear confessions in no way means their contributions aren’t just as vital and important. Bruni even mentions the increase in female employment at the Vatican:
And the trend line in the Vatican and in Vatican City government is apparently toward a greater number of female employees, though in 2014, according to The Associated Press, they held less than 20 percent of the jobs. That needn’t be the case, even factoring in women’s exclusion from the priesthood.
I guess, like coal miners, true gender equality won’t come until exactly 50 percent of priests are women. The millions of Catholic women teachers, mothers, nurses, or lectors don’t matter—there have to be women priests in order for women to be seen as equal in the church.
Here is the ultimately anti-feminist feminist conundrum we’ve been facing for quite some time. Women’s roles—like mothering among many other things—are seen as inferior. Instead of seeing feminine and masculine roles as equally important to society, we’ve pushed women into men’s roles and called it equality.
But what kind of message does this send? It says to women, like me, that to obtain equal value we must become something different from what we fundamentally are. In order for me to be successful, I need to shed all my silly, useless feminine qualities and become a man.
For a piece supposedly calling out an entire global organization for “undervaluing” women, this article sure does undervalue the contributions of Catholic women and feminine roles that aren’t the priesthood. I mean, please. Am I reading The Onion?