CRS and Father’s Day

A few weeks ago I wrote about my thoughts on a letter Catholic Relief Services (CRS) sent out on Mother’s Day.  In that post, I posed the question: “Would someone ever write on Father’s Day: “It is clear that if we do not help men, real change can’t happen?”’  Well, they did not exactly write that, but CRS did send out an email connecting their work to Father’s Day.  It stated:  

“Throughout the world, fathers are the ones who teach us lessons about generosity, responsibility and selflessness. Fathers reveal to us the loving image of what a dad should be—and Father’s Day is the perfect opportunity to show your dad that you were listening all those years.” 

Now, this email did not go as deep as the letter on Mother’s Day.  It basically was asking readers to make a donation to CRS on behalf of their fathers for Father’s Day.   However, I felt uneasy about the wording of the email – in the same way that I did about the Mother’s Day message.   

After reading some of your comments, mulling them over since Mother’s Day, and receiving this message on the role of Fatherhood as expressed by CRS, I think I may be able to pinpoint more clearly what rubs me the wrong way about these messages.  Or, at least, I’ll try.  I am bothered by the language that confines each gender to certain roles.  That is, this whole idea that fathers teach us about generosity (because they have the money) and responsibility (because they have the jobs) and selflessness (because they go to work) while mothers care for the children and keep families intact.  Maybe I am reading too much into it, but I don’t think that it does justice to either men or women to be confined to these roles. 

I suppose what I am getting at is that “equality through complementarity” is not really equality.  Until we get past this way of thinking, we will not be able to reach true equality.  To me – and it became even more obvious after the Father’s Day message – CRS seems to back up this ideology of “equality through complementarity” and the nuclear family and other ideologies that have been catalysts for gender inequality.

Surely, CRS is noble in treating some of the symptoms of this inequality through providing women with microcredit and different types of aid.  And there is no doubt that this work needs to be done.  However, it seems to me that – at the same time – we need to look closely at the root causes of this inequality to find a more sustaining solution.  If we don’t, then we are just putting band-aids on the real problem of gender inequality.  

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About Kate Childs Graham

Kate Braggs has recently completed her graduate studies in Gender and Peacebuilding at the University for Peace in San Jose, Costa Rica. In her graduate studies, she focused on the intersection of gender, sexuality, and religion in a human rights context. Currently, Kate is working as Justice Advocate for a community of women religious. She is also member of the Call to Action Next Generation Leadership Team, the Women's Ordination Conference Board, and a small faithsharing community in the Washington DC metro area.

5 thoughts on “CRS and Father’s Day

  1. Looking at the CRS passage by itself, it’s the “…are the ones …” in the first sentence (as if mothers have nothing to do with generosity, responsibility, and selflessness?? Really???) that irks me. If they’d just said, ” … fathers teach us lessons about …” it wouldn’t be nearly so bad, I think.

    Except that it’s still not very well written, but that’s another matter.

  2. In terms of “equality through complementarity,” I can’t say I agree that it’s not really equality. There is a difference between being equal in value, and being identical in nature/purpose. To say that men and women are created differently is simply to acknowledge the fact that “male and female He created them” — God did not create as us essentially the same people, just with different sets of reproductive organs. Gender is absolutely key to our identity — as gendered beings, we each image the greatness of God in different, but no less valuable, ways.

    Men are often seen as the ones who are the source of strength, protection, responsibility, and other adjectives like that, while women are often seen as the nurturers, the caretakers, the communicators. This does not mean that men can’t be nurturing, and women can’t be protectors — it simply acknowledges that, because each gender was created to image God differently, there are certain fundamental differences in tendencies and natures between the two. To ignore that is, really, to ignore the way He created us.

    When leading retreats, there’s an analogy we often use when we talk specifically about the differences in genders. “Men of steel” and “women of gold” — steel is stronger, but gold is more precious. Both are valuable, but different in the way they express that value.

    As a man in Christ who does hope to someday be a strong, supporting father, either as the head of a family or ordained to the priesthood, I think it’s very important for us to remember those distinctly maculine qualities — too often, men in this world forget what makes them truly masculine, and we run into a lot of problems because of it.

  3. In theory, I can see the beauty in the “complimentary but equal” teaching. But I have to agree with Kate that it’s too often been at the root of oppression for it to really sit well with me. For one thing, it’s simply not true. Brain science tells us that yes, women and men are wired differently, with women being more likely to express the “stereotypical” female traits of communication, nurturing, etc., and men more likely to express the stereotypical male traits, such as logic and risk-taking behavior. But there are approximately 20% of each gender who are naturally inclined toward the “opposite” gender traits. Does that mean that these 20% of women who don’t “fit the mold” are somehow the wrong kind of women? Or that the 20% of men are the wrong kind of men? My main issue with ‘complementary but equal’ is that it doesn’t acknowledge the many, many ways there are to be a woman, and the many, many ways there are to be a man, all of them sacred and beautiful. The other issue comes from the fact that, while both sets of traits are most certainly equal in the eyes of God, they aren’t equal in the eyes of humans: the stereotypically male traits are consistently valued more highly in our society than the female traits, which is why teachers, social workers, and others who do important, difficult, nurturing work are consistently paid less than plumbers, electricians, or other traditionally “male” jobs. And women who stay home to nurture their family get no monetary compensation at all; which makes it nearly impossible for them to do, even if they want to.

    I agree that as human beings we’re all created differently and to compliment one another, but that we can’t draw that line so easily down the middle and say which specific trait compliments which, and who is the holder of that trait. (And most psychologists and neuroscientists agree that androgyny is most healthy, anyway). But cfxdrummer, I do agree with you that we run into trouble when men embrace the “wrong” kind of masculinity, and I very much admire your quest to live as an honorable man.

  4. You’re right that, in many cases in society, masculine traits are generally valued more than feminine traits. But just because the world has a tendency to misperceive the value of gender traits doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to believe in the complimentarity of the genders taht God built into us– it just means that we, as fallible humans, often have a hard time seeing things the way He does. Men can often embrace a false masculinity, which creates a lot of problems for society, and on the same token, women vary often embrace some variety of false femininity, be it at either extreme of moving too much toward masculinity or devaluing their femininity by not valuing their own bodies, persons etc… All across the spectrum of our human society, we fall short of living up to the truth of God — but that doesn’t mean that we should abandon those positions simply because we aren’t able to fully live up to them.

  5. Ohh, I just had the conversation the other day with a guy who said something about a particular group and I found it offensive. He tried to explain that he meant it as a compliment but I asked if a stereotype is o.k. just because someone meant it as a positive stereotype. I’m thinking no. Maybe its the individualistic nature of our culture, but I want people to be free to be whomever they are and not roped into something because of their gender for instance. We are each unique and although I like to celebrate things like CRS has characterized men as, I think we should celebrate the virtues wherever and in whomever they reside.

    Its tricky though, because there are many things I appreciate from certain people and which is common to their culture/religion/gender/etc. but I can’t generalize. I can say I really appreciate the hopefulness so common in many people from the ________ culture.

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