|Madonna and Child by Sassoferrato|
Recently, I came across a couple of articles articulating two very different realities regarding women in the workplace. The first was by a career businesswoman, who, having recently had her own child, wrote about her past biases and the way she had treated or seen mothers treated in the workplace. The second was regarding Vodafone's latest policy change regarding maternity leave and workplace reintroduction, in which women were afforded a longer paid leave and a longer period of time to transition back to the workplace at reduced hours but at full salary levels. The first article, while apologetic, reveals the nature of the treatment of women in the high-pressure business world, and the expectation that they will subordinate and even avoid family life in favor of advancing their career. The other article highlights dramatically more accommodating workplace policies that make motherhood and even fatherhood more manageable...and more gratifying. What parent, feeling confident in their involvement in their child's life wouldn't feel less anxious and instead, more confident about their work? Many mothers in less high-pressure jobs feel equally pressed on both sides. There are often difficult compromises to be made about day care choices, the amount of time parents can volunteer or help with homework, or even how to handle something as basic but serious as sacrificing hours to care for a sick child or sending them to school because of the risk of even losing a job.
Dignity, Not Dishonor
Why does this matter in a world that has forgotten God, let alone the nature of the true dignity of women? Human beings desire genuine communion, and whether they will admit it or not, the only source and end of a relationship of such satisfying purity is God. Made in the "image and likeness" of God, man tends toward freedom, and the freedom offered by God is one that respects the individual will and satisfies man's desire for happiness and fulfillment, so long as he respects the rules in the "instruction book" of how the human nature is created to achieve perfect happiness, beatitude. The "freedom" the world promises can never satisfy because it does not appeal to the innate likeness of God present in us all, which desires authentic freedom and relationship. Once man, by his sin, violates his true freedom, he violates his own nature and abandons his dignity. In his encyclical, Mulieris Dignitatem, Pope St. John Paul II identifies the modern intersection of man's rule over woman and the loss of dignity through the violation of one's human, and in this case, female nature:
"[E]ven the rightful opposition of women to what is expressed in the biblical words "He shall rule over you" (Gen 3:16) must not under any condition lead to the "masculinization" of women. In the name of liberation from male "domination", women must not appropriate to themselves male characteristics contrary to their own feminine "originality". There is a well-founded fear that if they take this path, women will not "reach fulfilment", but instead will deform and lose what constitutes their essential richness" (MD, 10).
Marginalization is Not Progress
An attempt to advance the rights, dignity, and freedom of women cannot successfully come from efforts to mold woman in man's image because she, with man, is man in God's image, and changing this dynamic naturally sets man above her in power and influence and reduces her uniqueness to a mere characteristic to be restrained in a misguided desire for what is really just "sameness". Rather, women should be given the opportunity to contribute in the workplace, receiving the just wage and respect to which she is entitled, regardless of her gender or family status. Again, the Church, specifically, John Paul II, is unbelievably clear here, saying again and again that women, rather than being "relegated to the home", ought to be respected in their contributions to society in every industry because they offer unique gifts that are specific to their nature, but women should, in no way, be required to sacrifice their uniquely feminine aspirations in deference to their careers:
The idea that the "rights" available to advance women's equality (i.e., abortion, artificial contraception, sterilization) actually promote social progress logically inconsistent with woman's nature. If women have special charisms and abilities, especially her unique ability to be "mother", then denying those elements of her nature degrades rather than elevates her value. The idea that the "freedom to choose" abortion and sterilization somehow preserves woman's equality is a complete fallacy because neither of these is necessary for women to be equal, and we have seen the commoditization and exploitation of women has increased as the ease of eliminating the accountability of sex, especially for men, who experience very minimal consequences for their part. This does not lead to an authentic freedom, but a slavery to the world's expectation that one should employ these "rights" to avoid "ruining one's life" or keep family life from becoming an inconvenience. Increasingly, women are expected to do great violence and harm to their bodies and their persons to maintain the respect of and their place in the world.
So then, this is not freedom, not progress; this is self-marginalization, and it never elevates the dignity of women, but destroys the life-giving nature of the "female genius" in today's world. Ultimately, no society will prosper or find full equality for all of its members when its very source of life and compassion is called to be sterile and against her own nature. Diminishing the nature of one member diminishes the value of all because nothing will stand in the face of arbitrary valuation of the human person. Only life gives life, and true respect for each person's nature brings true freedom. Anything less than this is nothing more than a caricature and beneath we who are the Imago Dei.