Friday, December 18, 2009
Elizabeth Rose Schiltz
University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)
WOMEN, SEX, AND THE CHURCH, Erika Bachiochi, ed., Pauline Books & Media, 2010
U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 09-27
This chapter in a forthcoming book (Women, Sex, and the Church, ed. Erika Bachiochi (Boston: Pauline Books & Media 2010) argues that the work-life balance issues often characterized as “women’s issues” in discussions of social phenomena with labels like “the opt-out revolution” or the “Mommy wars” should be understood more broadly as manifestations of the tensions inherent in the precarious balance between the private vocation and the public vocation to which each of us, whether male or female, a parent or childless, is called.
By our private vocation, I mean our calling to live according to a Christian understanding of the web of relationships into which we are all personally imbedded. The most significant of these relationships is typically the relationship we have with our spouse and then the other members of our family, but they extend to relationships with our co-workers, fellow-parishioners, neighbors, the members of any religious orders to which we might belong and, most importantly, to God. By our public vocation, I mean our responsibilities to live and witness as Christians in and to the various social institutions to which we belong – the Church, our local communities, our places of employment, our country, and our world.
The flashpoint in most discussions of the tensions between our private and public vocations is typically the conflict between our responsibilities to our families and to our professional – paid – work. These two vocations are clearly, at this point in the world’s history, at a particularly tenuous balance. The market for paid work, as currently structured, makes demands on many of us that are not particularly conducive to living out our private vocations as primary caregivers of children or elderly parents. But our private vocations also include our relationships to God and others in our lives. And our public vocations also include our commitments to institutions and enterprises other than our paying jobs, such as volunteer work, apostolic activity, and social and political advocacy.
In this article, I argue that the teaching of the Catholic Church offer many resources for understanding and navigating the tensions between our private and public vocations. Using the controversial 2005 American Prospect article by Linda Hirshman (Homeward Bound) as an example of common contemporary feminists understandings of the issues at stake in these tensions, I first explore the commonalities between the positions of many of these feminists and that of the Church regarding the need to construct social policies that facilitate women’s participation in the workforce. Then, again using Hirshman’s article as an example, I explore the points at which the Church’s conception of family, work, and human flourishing diverges from that held by many – but not all – secular feminists. I will conclude that the Church’s conception of family, work, and flourishing offers Catholics a set of extremely useful tools for navigating not just the tensions between our family responsibilities and our paid work, but also the broader tensions between our private and our public vocations.