Catholicism, Gender Roles, and Assumptions about Leadership

A few weeks ago, my parish was giving out free copies of the Catholic Digest. Since I rarely turn down free reading material, I picked it up. I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it took on real-life issues from a Catholic perspective and went beyond pro-life rhetoric and snide remarks about President Obama (**cough coughmylocaldiocesannewspapercough**).

But then there was Chet Raymo’s article, “My Dad’s Workbench.” On the surface, it seems like a harmless enough memoir-type piece about how Chet’s father’s workbench became an important component in Chet’s memories of him. But the equation of the workbench with masculinity in the article grated on me, particularly the line that read, “A pouty wife might lock herself in the bathroom; a sulking husband needed a more manly retreat.”

OK, so my hackles pretty much go up anytime someone says “men need/do this; women need/want that” if they aren’t coming from a social science or evolutionary biology standpoint. I’m not exactly an essentialist when it comes to my perception of gender roles. But we all know that gender roles and limitations are alive and well in the Catholic Church,  so why was this article getting under my skin so badly? Why couldn’t I just let Chet remember his father in peace?

The image of the “pouty wife locked in the bathroom” wouldn’t leave my mind, and soon, I knew what the issue was. By printing this article, with those lines, the Catholic Digest condoned a viewpoint that posited women as ineffectual in a crisis, and certainly unfit for leadership. When a man faces a problem, he goes to do something productive; when a woman faces a problem, she locks herself in the bathroom. We can all imagine Jesus at a workbench–and indeed, the only thing that seemed to tie Chet’s reminiscence to Catholicism was its oblique references to Jesus and Joseph sharing “manly” time–but it’s a little harder to imagine Him locked in the bathroom. What a silly thing to do.  And that, my friends, is why women “can’t” be priests.

Doubtless, there will be those who say I’ve taken a benign or meaningless phrase and blown it way out of proportion. But Chet’s article has brought to the surface the perception of women as ineffectual that permeates Catholicism, and that is the true fuel behind every argument against women’s ordination.

Lacey Louwagie is a freelance writer and editor, feminist, and cradle Catholic. Her favorite topics of exploration are religion, spirituality, psychology, and sexuality. She’s a member of the CTA blog team and founder of a speculative fiction writers’ group. In addition to blogging here, she blogs about writing at LL Word.

1 thought on “Catholicism, Gender Roles, and Assumptions about Leadership

  1. Not benign at all! And I was having a hard time putting my finger on it too, but you’re spot on. We discount the emotional life as unimportant, but by going to the bathroom, that woman did something very productive. Something that creates changes, radical ripples of movement and momentum towards, hopefully, us becoming more fully alive, more mature, increasingly connected.

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