I was wondering how you would compare Dorothy Sayers’ view on women becoming human through the work force, particularly in light of the biblical call to give one’s self up in the service of others? Is it not judgmental to say women who devote their energy to serving their children are less valuable than those who have a job? What about the call in Titus 2:3-5 that encourages older women to teach younger women to lovingly invest in their children and their home? Isn’t it important for someone, whether the father or the mother, to invest in their children full-time?
I am a barista at this point in my life. Does making lattes really make me more human than my mother who used her master’s degree to educate my brothers and me at home? On a very practical level my job is just making people fatter and more addicted to caffeine, while my mother has raised, educated, and trained three gospel-believing, bright, intellectual souls.
My answer relates to three points in your message.
First, you should not choose between motherhood and a job. It’s not either-or! That’s what certain Christian cultures wants you to believe because they teach that males should hold all decision-making positions. And in order to get women out of leadership positions and back to their homes, people exalt and flatter them by saying, “By taking care of your kids, husbands and homes you’re doing a much better job than serving humankind as a female doctor, female teacher, female governor, female pastor, female administrator, female judge, female journalist.” The exaltation of motherhood is an ancient and ongoing pagan temptation. Christianity continues to struggle with this temptation in its own way. The exaltation of mothers who raised, educated and trained so bright, intelligent and gospel-believing souls sounds like a contemporary Christian variation of this temptation. I hear it every semester in my Christian Anthropology class (sigh). The churches should learn to hold at least a less pretentious language. It highlights that humankind has never ceased to identify women with mother goddesses and goddesses of love, beautiful and sexually attractive. No, women who raise their kids are not more or less valuable than those who have job and kids or job and no kids. In a Christian perspective, a woman is equally valuable as a human being. She is neither a mother goddess nor a powerful Venus warrior of economic success!
In addition, you should think in a more inclusive way about education. It’s not only the woman’s job to raise the kids! That’s what some Christian cultures wants you to believe. The husband and father are called to raise his kids just as the wife and mother is. For many centuries education, especially education of young children, has been “abandoned” to women by telling them that they were doing such a “great job.” When males do not want to do something, they usually entrust this task to women presenting the task as a “promotion.” Many women fell, and still fall, into this trap and then one day the bill arrives for being so naive! In the 20th century there were many women who raised their kids as they were told to by males, without any retirement plan, social security, Medicare and other insurance. Then their husband died and all what they had to survive was a tiny pension one cannot make a living with. And what will a woman with kids and no education or job do, in case her husband files for divorce out of the blue, loses his job, becomes disabled, or has to cope with a long-term disease? You have to think about the future.
My second point relates to your quote of Titus 2:3-5 which speaks about women being called to invest in their children and home. Again my question is as follows: why is it only up to women to invest in their children and home and not to the father and the mother? Such a stance is based more on culture than on the gospels, which present Jesus travelling around in company of female disciples (Luke 8:1-3). The stance held by Titus reflects a typical Roman context in which the average destiny of a Roman female of the upper classes is summed up in the following funerary inscription. It runs as follows: “Veturia was married at eleven, bore six children and died at 27”! In the Roman Empire, Paul or other authors could not envision an average life expectancy of women being 80 or more. Paul’s advice to Titus is advice, not a command from the Lord for all women in the entire church throughout the ages!
Third, the work you do right now may not be the right work that makes you more human. There is work our there that can be demeaning to all human beings, male and female. Therefore, the reflection on responsible fatherhood and motherhood, from a Christian perspective, has to go hand in hand with a reflection on one’s vocation. A Christian vocation in a 21st century context is different from a vocation lived out in a 1st century context. Your vocation is probably not to remain a barista your entire life. If you perceive this work as demeaning, then leave it as soon as you can and figure out how you can make an authentic Christian contribution to this world. In a Christian perspective being a mother is not being better than other women who combine work and raising kids, if this is their calling. I don’t say, that a woman should not raise her kids and instead go to work. I say, there should be equal opportunities for man and woman, husband and wife, to raise their kids together and to be invested, both in a fulfilling work.
Dr. Karin Heller is a professor on the theology faculty at Whitworth University. Her blog, Table Talk with Dr. Karin Heller, features her responses to questions that students have asked her over the years. Check back each week to see new posts, and if you have a question leave it in the comment section below.