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This Woman’s Work

December 14, 2011

I am about to lose my job. A colleague and I were informed this week that our non-profit is no longer recession-proof. Since I work part-time, I’m probably a sensible cut. My colleague (or, as you know her, Token Catholic Friend) already has some job leads. A blogger friend of hers actually wrote about her situation on his blog and gave her a pretty glowing recommendation: “She knows what it means to be wise as a serpent but innocent as a dove as she works to be the leaven in our culture.” She’s the leaven. Daaaang. I’m more like the ‘leven:

I’ve spent the last seven years of my professional life working for women threatened by violence, poverty, and jackhole employers or professors. I’ve been writing and speaking, fighting for our culture to embrace women and to accept motherhood and fatherhood as important and socially valuable vocations.

This season of work appears to be ending and I’m prayerfully leaning toward becoming a stay-at-home mom. Our family is preparing to welcome foster children, so this seems to be a sensible conclusion, but I’m still unsettled. While this is what I want, I find that in some ways, I too have bought into the stereotypes that stay-at-home-moms are privileged, bored women whose brains are slowly going to sleep. The truth is, that description applies to maybe 0.5% of the women I know who stay home with their children. And I know that all mothers are working mothers regardless of whether or not they get paid for something.

Are women like me privileged? To be sure. Living on a single wage (or even a single wage and a few side opportunities) and having some dough to spare is a rarity. Our society refuses to compensate parents who want to stay home with kids. We don’t have mandatory paid parental leave (most corporations generously allow women to use short-term disability for postpartum leave).

Our social and economic policies tell poor women that they can’t stay home with their young children and receive government assistance because what they really need is to leave their kids in crappy, dubious daycare situations and work outside the home so they can support themselves like good Americans. Yeah, Mom, get a job already. We tell women that having a baby will curtail their ambitions or educations. We put women on the “mommy track” and now men on the “daddy track.” We even make ridiculous commercials that tell men who are involved at home they’re effeminate and thereby, worth less as people.

So I’m dealing with the fact that despite all I’ve been working against with regard to the dignity and value of mothering, a little of the “against” has entangled itself in my pride and infiltrated how I’m thinking about my family and my work. I’m also fearful that in losing this work, I’ll be losing the one pulpit I had where I could fight like a girl. Sure, I’ll be able to write my Congressman, or blog more freely (and more often), but without this work, my dominant area of service now becomes my church. And, like many other theologically orthodox institutions, my church has rules about women teaching.

I couldn’t affirm these rules, so we’ve never joined our church despite serving there for over seven years. I’ve hoped for several years that I could get back to teaching, but the only opportunities I’ve had are behind-the-scenes jobs in gender-blended community groups. Women’s ministry and working with children was always open to me, but “Durnit, I won’t be relegated to that!” I thought. I say “thought” past-tense because at some point I realized that I had adopted the very attitude I loathed: that women and women learning things was somehow less important than men and men learning things. Again, the thing I hated had found its way into my brain. So I approached the women’s ministry leader and signed up to lead a Bible study on social justice and poverty. In order to do so, I have to join the church.

I still won’t be affirming these rules, but I can in good conscience affirm that this is what my church teaches and explain why “we” operate this way. In fact, I’ll happily disclose that information and I don’t have to add my opinions on the subject because I think the problems with that rule are pretty obvious in practice. And I know I’m not alone in making this kind of a sacrifice in order to commit to a community that’s flawed. A few years ago, a Lutheran friend of mine allowed herself to be re-baptized (fully dunked under in front of God and everybody) so that she could join a Southern Baptist church and, as a voting member, vote affirmatively on an upcoming question before the congregation, “Should women be allowed to serve as deacons?”

This morning, a friend of mine sent me an encouraging post from Rachel Held Evans. Evans writes,

While some may try to downplay biblical examples of female disciples, deacons, preachers, leaders and apostles, no one can deny the Bible’s long tradition of prophetic feminine vision.

I believe that right now, we need that prophetic vision more than ever.

Right now, 30,000 children die every day from preventable disease.

Right now 3 million women and girls are enslaved in the sex trade.

Right now a woman dies in childbirth every minute.

Right now, women age 15-44 are more likely to be maimed or to die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined.

Meanwhile, the evangelical church has busied itself with endless debates about the “appropriate roles” of women in the church and complaints about the supposed “feminization of the Church,” as if women are no longer needed for the Kingdom, as if we’ve stepped outside our bounds. Meanwhile, churches are spending years debating whether a female missionary should be allowed to speak on a Sunday morning, whether students older than ten should have female Sunday school teachers, whether women should be allowed to read from Scripture in a church service, whether girls should be encouraged to attend seminary, whether women should be permitted to collect the offering or write the church newsletter or make an announcement. Those of us who are perhaps most equipped to speak and act prophetically in response to the violence, poverty, and inequality that plague our sisters around the world are being silenced ourselves.

I’m reminded of the words of scholar and activist Anna Julia Cooper who wrote about our struggle over a century ago,

It is not the intelligent woman vs. the ignorant woman; nor the white woman vs. the black, the brown, and the red,–it is not even the cause of woman vs. man. Nay, ’tis woman’s strongest vindication for speaking that the world needs to hear HER VOICE. It would be subversive of every human interest that the cry of one-half the human family be stifled. Woman in stepping from the pedestal of statue-like inactivity in the domestic shrine, and daring to think and move and speak,–to undertake to help shape, mold, and direct the thought of her age, is merely completing the circle of the world’s vision. Hers is every interest that has lacked an interpreter and a defender. Her cause is linked with that of every agony that has been dumb–every wrong that needs a voice.

Like the early suffragists, I can engage in community action. I can schlep my kids to townhall meetings or have them stuff my regular letters to my representatives. I can teach them to think critically about their world and give them the hope that God promises us in this Christmas season and in virtually every page of Scripture:

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, and in His name, all oppression shall cease.

All oppression. Even micro-aggressions. And like He did back in the day, He will use women. Women will speak it. Women will financially uphold it. As Rachel Held Evans said, “To those who will not accept us as preachers, we will have to become prophets.” Maybe I’ll give Paul’s advice to be “busy at home” that kind of meaning.

Stay-at-home prophet mom. I can dig it.

Man, what I really need is a STAFF. I wonder if a Swiffer handle would work...

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kate permalink
    December 14, 2011 7:01 pm

    I just LOVE that Anna Julia Cooper essay.

  2. December 15, 2011 4:03 am

    wwooo woooo!

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