For the women who came before me and the women walking alongside me
Feb 28, 2019
Growing up, I was the only girl in the group of neighborhood kids who would gather almost every afternoon to play sports in someone’s yard. I developed a strong belief in “girl power,” holding my own in all of the games of basketball, baseball, and hide-and-go-seek tag that we played.
I was a Girl Scout through my entire childhood, and I was empowered to go out of my comfort zone in different ways, including rappelling down waterfalls and knocking on people’s doors to tell them that their cookie purchase would be "tax deductible," long before I had any idea what those words meant.
For high school, I attended Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Maryland, where women were further encouraged and empowered to be leaders who go forth to change the world. I never felt very disadvantaged as a woman, because in my world, women really could do everything that men could.
It was not until I was an adult that I really started to reflect on what it means to be a woman. I had just graduated college when the first “Women’s March” made me feel extremely torn about my identity as both pro-life and someone who believes in the importance of empowering women.
That year, I thought a lot about what it means to be both Catholic and a woman, and I came to a much deeper appreciation of the Church’s teachings on the topic. While I had long grappled with the Church’s teaching about contraception, the idea of forcing women to make their bodies function more like men’s instead of pushing for changes in society that respected their natural function (i.e. paid family leave, flexible work schedules, on-site daycare, etc.) seemed increasingly anti-feminist to me. It also happened to be the same year I was engaged and learning about Natural Family Planning for the first time, and I was surprised to find that the knowledge I was gaining was incredibly empowering to me as a woman.
Though I found a lot of wisdom in the Church at this time, I also found that there is still a lot of progress to be made. I thoroughly enjoyed learning from some of the women leaders in the Archdiocese of Washington, but I wished I saw more of them in the Church. Around the same time, the #MeToo movement reminded everyone of the ways in which women were often coerced and harassed, and I became increasingly aware of the imbalance of power between men and women in all of society.
Since then, I have started to have a deep gratitude for everything that women before me have done to pave the way for me to be able to go to college and get a job where I can contribute my ideas and skills to society. I think about my mom, who practiced law at a time when very few women did so – which in many ways I owe my entire existence to, since she and my dad met at Catholic University’s law school.
After practicing law for about 10 years, my mom left her career behind to raise me, and I am grateful for all of the sacrifice she made to pack my lunches, drive me to all of my activities, and spend time with me at home. Now, as a young adult trying to navigate what my life as a woman will look like – I look to both my mom’s courage to enter a male-dominated field and to her example as a mother as things that I want to emulate.
In his 1995 “Letter to Women,” Pope John Paul II spoke about how women’s contributions have been historically undervalued and that they are often “valued more for their physical appearance than for their skill, their professionalism, their intellectual abilities, their deep sensitivity; in a word, the very dignity of their being!” He also discussed the “urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regard to family rights and the recognition of everything that is part of the rights and duties of citizens in a democratic State.”
I have long known about the value the Church places on family and motherhood, but reading this letter always reminds me that the Church also cares about the justice of women’s equality and the importance of their contributions to the world.
Unfortunately, it can be hard to figure out how to honor both my desire to someday be a good mother and my desire to make a difference in the world through my career, which is why I am grateful for the women who are grappling with this alongside me. I have been very encouraged by the recent uptick in resources for Catholic women, such as the Catholic Feminist Podcast, the GIVEN Institute, and Catholic Women in Business, to name just a few.
To try to learn from other women, I recently read Jennifer Fulwiler’s book, One Beautiful Dream, in which she talks about balancing raising six kids and starting her writing career. My Women’s History Month reading list includes Claire Swinarski’s book, Girl, Arise: A Catholic Feminist’s Invitation to Live Boldly, Love Your Faith, and Change the World and Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, an autobiography about both her career and her role as a mother.
This Women’s History Month, I feel more grateful than ever for other women who are grappling with the same questions as me, and for the women who have been doing it long before us, making progress that we now have to continue. So thank you to the women who have come before me, and thank you to the women who are in the trenches alongside me – you all impress me with your strength and your faith.