Taylor Swift and Pope Francis are whistling a similar tune these days. The pop star and the pontiff have recently spoken publicly about the importance of equal pay for women, a controversy that many people the world over have very strong opinions about. Here in America, perhaps one of the most progressive countries in the world by way of human rights, women continue to earn only 77% of their male counterparts in the workplace. “Why is it expected that women earn less than men?” Pope Francis inquired at his April 29 Wednesday audience. “No! They have the same rights. The disparity is pure scandal.”
While the 77% statistic is, in my opinion, little more than a blanket-statement talking point that does not take education, years in the work force, etc., into account, it is still worth looking at. A woman who has taken years off work to raise children, for example, will likely earn a lower salary upon returning to work than a woman who has stayed in the work place for her entire adult life. It is not as conducive to be a working mother in the United States as it is in many European countries. This can be especially problematic for single mothers. For example, Denmark and France have government-funded childcare for working parents, thus somewhat (but not totally) alleviating their gender pay gap.
A 2013 Truth and Charity Forum article by Dr. Denise Hunnell said, “Perhaps part of the ‘genius of women,’ as Pope John Paul II terms it, is to provide the impetus to reform the workplace and make it more supportive of families for both men and women.” I have heard many within the Catholic world argue that enticing women into the work place with equal pay will cause an even greater breakdown of the family structure. However, Pope Francis appears to disagree. He also said, “Many believe that the changes that have occurred in these last decades were put in motion by the emancipation of women. But even this argument is invalid, it’s false, it isn’t true! It is a form of male chauvinism, which always seeks to dominate women.”
Recent opportunities brought on by the Internet have, in some ways, financially “emancipated” women who also stay home to raise children. A dear friend of mine wears many very impressive professional hats while her children nap. Also, as annoying as I find them, I know many women who have found financial success through “network marketing” careers.
A recent Truth and Charity Forum article entitled, “Just a Mom: Beyond ‘Having It All’” by Stephanie Pacheco said, “I do not disagree that creative work and the development of talents is important in human life, both for women and for men… Unfortunately, our standard of ‘success’ is usually public recognition or the number of zeros in a paycheck. The standard should be though a happy, purposeful life.” While I certainly agree that the standard should be a happy, purposeful life, the reality is that finances, particularly in the DC area in which Mrs. Pacheco and I both reside, are a pressing, constant issue. If women are not willing to make a name for themselves in the professional world, sure, they may be happy, but, I believe they are living outside of our American reality. The world is changing and it is becoming even more of an expectation that women have a title outside the home. Consider what happens when a stay-at-home mother who hasn’t held a professional career because she got married and pregnant immediately after college gets widowed with mounds of student loan debt. While this certainly is not pleasant to think about, it does occasionally and tragically happen, and I have seen it firsthand.
Taylor Swift is proudly donning the feminist title. She says that to be a feminist means, “You believe that women and men should have equal rights and opportunities and to say that you’re not a feminist means that you think men should have more rights and opportunities than women.” Many Catholic women shy away from the title of feminist, picturing Rosie the Riveter and bra-burning butch women of the 1970s. However, the face of feminism is rapidly changing, taking the form of both girly, crop-top wearing pop stars and, in some ways, the zucchetto-wearing Father of our Faith.
If what Taylor Swift says is true, I most certainly consider myself a feminist, and I find that many people have mixed reactions to my strong and vocal opinions, particularly within the Catholic world. As an unmarried woman, I especially feel as though I need to advocate for my rights, and many Catholics have responded by implying that I need to be more docile. In my humble opinion, I feel as though docility, in the form of being a figurative doormat, is what have gotten many working women into financial trouble. I recall a conversation with a friend who mentioned that she hadn’t received a raise in nearly three years. I know how seriously she takes her work, and did not hesitate to badger her to speak to her boss about it. “But I feel bad!” was her response. If one feels bad for advocating for herself, as I feel many women do, it is difficult to argue for equal rights.
Pope Saint John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Women for the Bejing Conference, “Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life —social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of ‘mystery,’ to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.” While I do not advocate a one-size-fits-all answer for the gender pay gap, women do have an irreplaceable role within the professional world, and I believe that those in the Catholic world could benefit from seeing women not just as figures of docility, but also as people who are capable of great things within the professional world. I believe that all women, whether they find it to be fulfilling or not, need to establish themselves in the professional world in some capacity, so that maybe, just maybe one day, we will see that the “disparity [as] a pure scandal” be ceased.