I was in church this morning and I had to pinch myself, just to make sure I was really there and not in some kind of dream world. It was like being in Bizarro Church today. There were people making very loud extraneous comments and a man came up in the middle of the homily to give the priest some cash. (The homily was not immune as somehow we went from discussing The Suffering Servant to protecting your virginity.) I even got into the act by stumbling over some words in the prayer announcements. However, none of this was worthy of pushing an in-depth discussion of Lindsay Lohan and celebrity to another day. The part that really got to me was the focus on traditional gender roles, including a pre-emptive strike against those who might disagree.
I won’t bore you with the details, but essentially the gist of it was that men are the leaders of the family and women the background support. (Wife, ply that spindle!) I was born and raised Catholic, went to 12 years of Catholic school and will always identify myself as such. (I equate it with my overall feelings about the United Sates. Sure it is imperfect and there things I disagree with, but I can’t imagine myself being anything else.) Having done some reading into this subject matter (which you can do, too. Simple version summed up nicely here and long, drawn out, complicated heavy reading here), I have once again learned some things about Catholicism that my 12 years of education did not impart upon me. (Which further solidifies my belief that the Carmelites are probably the most free-wheeling of the Catholic orders.)
I think about the place of women in the world and society a whole lot more that I ever thought I would. This is directly due to being the father of 2 fabulous daughters.
I don’t envy women one bit. Besides dealing with the universal human struggle of “Who am I?” and “Where do I fit into the world?”, they also have to deal with what society feels the answers are to this question for them, probably more acutely than men do. When at work, missing being a mom. When at home, missing being at work. Being drawn towards the family from deep within, yet resisting that yearning because, at some level, it feels like a betrayal of all of the hard work and struggle that you have gone through to make you who you are and generations of women before you have gone through to lift women up in society. I have seen women at the medical center and women in my personal life struggle mightily with this. As backwards as it sounds, the Women’s Rights movement may have been a curse in disguise. Yes, a woman now has many more choices, but they aren’t totally free to make these choices. It seems like they are making these choices under the scrutinizing glare of their own soul, fellow women and the women of history. (No pressure or anything!)
I hate seeing my children struggle with low stakes things like crawling and writing numbers and the future only appears to hold more struggles. Struggles that I can’t help them with nearly as much as I can now. Of course, that is the point of life: growing up, taking the training wheels off and doing it yourself. But what about when you can’t quite do it yourself?
I remember a time watching television about a month after Hannah was born. It was the beginning of “The Apprentice” for that season. They all started on a golf course or something and, to the contestants’ surprise, had to run a considerable distance in business suits, last few there fired immediately. I distinctly remember an anonymous female family member being incredulous that the women had to run against the men. It was unfair. As a father of a baby girl with boundless potential, I remember vowing that I would teach my daughter to never be limited by anything. But, looking back on it now, was that competition fair or unfair?
I have run in a suit and dress shoes before and it was not ideal, but it wasn’t horrible. I haven’t run in high heels and a form fitting skirt before, but I have a feeling the degree of difficulty is somewhat higher. But maybe not. What would be worse, treating the men and women the same (with the women probably being disadvantaged by their attire and stereotypically lesser footspeed (men and women compete separately in the Olympics for a reason and no one is clamoring for this to change)) or assuming that the women would be at a disadvantage and then treating them differently. Is Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity a boon (allowing racial and gender minorities access to opportunities the traditional “Old Boys Network” has frozen them out of) or is it patronizing (“Out the goodness of our hearts, we are giving you this” even though you are more than qualified and would have gotten this anyway)?
Should I encourage my daughters to tilt at windmills, because assuming that they can’t win is an insult to them (and they might surprise me and win)? Or should I teach them that it is okay to accept the easier road when it is offered (even when they know they have the goods to make it the hard way?) It would be nice to say I should teach them both and take it case by case, because the world is not black and white, but mostly gray. But how exactly do you teach that to a 5 year old that sees the world in black and white?
In the end, maybe the biggest lesson is that I will always be there for them, cheering them on in the background, willing to push them when they are falling off pace and help them up when they fall down. That life is about the journey and not the destination. At least until one of them says that they want to be a priest when they grow up. Then, all bets are off…