Forget Marriage, Why Do Women Stay Catholic???!!
Last week I posted an argument defending, in part, marital monogamy – in the strict sense. Nothing, “monogamish.” The responses were illuminating and provocative. And, I very much appreciated the engagement. Something that stood out was how deeply gendered some of the responses were. In some replies there was an insistence that monogamy worked better for women than for men. Others wondered about the power differential between the sexes and the effect that might have on whether being “monogamish” was deemed a virtue.
The cacophony of responses provoked another question for me, “Was I just being a girl, some state of nature response, defending monogamy?” Or “Was I being Catholic?” Or better yet, “Was I being a Catholic girl defending monogamy?” And, how might these two identities be related. That is, how might being a 21st century woman still committed to the Catholic Church resonate with a commitment to monogamy. Not in some doctrinal way (i.e. the Church’s long commitment to the sacramentality of marriage) but rather how might Catholic women particularly have learned to navigate the pain, love, loyalty and betrayal that comes with remaining Catholic in ways that make them particularly well suited for arguing for monogamy? Indeed, perhaps the challenges of staying committed as women to the Catholic Church are echoed, in some ways, by the challenges of staying committed to a marriage. This might not be “natural law” but it certainly is part of the Catholic tradition.
Recently, Cindy Peabody in an essay in America Magazine (July 19, 2001) “Staying Power: What Keeps Women in the Church?” called on Catholic women to talk more candidly about our relationship with the Catholic Church. Indeed, she describes how eager many Catholic women are to do just that: “I am no longer surprised,” she says, “when women jump at the chance to talk about the muddled mess of feelings they have toward the church. Love, betrayal, commitment, tradition, shame, anger, compassion—what do we make of all this?”
Sounds suspiciously like the nettled complexity of a marital commitment, no? And, so I began to see how my commitment to monogamy is echoed in my feminist commitment to the Catholic Church. I’m reminded of a conversation I once had with Patricia Hempl about “staying Catholic” in which she said, “There’s just too many things I love so I can’t leave.”
Oddly, Peabody (like Savage regarding monogamy) describes how a young Catholic colleague lamented that “staying in” was getting harder. She believes that a whole new order of church is in the offing….” But, perhaps, “staying in” might be getting easier; there’s now generations of women who have figured out how to stay a part of the Catholic Church with integrity. A generation, at least (!) who understands that being a Catholic woman is not a tag for false consciousness. They are, as Peabody (quoting Chastiser ) calls them “rebuilders….those who take what other people only talk about and make it the next generation’s reality. These are the superstars of the long haul…. They give up prestige and money….and build the new world right in the heart of the old.” Perhaps as Catholic women wrestle with the challenges of monogamy they can consult some of their own success in staying committed to another vexed institution, the Church.