Irreplaceable Women

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.

taylor-swift_416x416A 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.

Brittany Higdon is a native of Ohio and has been residing in the Washington, DC area for the past six years.  She holds a B.A. from Franciscan University of Steubenville and an M.Ed from the University of Virginia. She is a Reading Specialist and is passionate about Catholic education. When she is not teaching or writing, she is exploring the Smithsonian Museums, traveling, and playing with her ferocious Dachshund/Yorkie cross named Cannoli.
Articles by Brittany Higdon:

  • Stephanie

    Well thank you for the citation. And I do agree with your statement that using a standard of personal well-being besides high pay and recognition means “living outside of our American reality.” I do think that all Christians are called to “live outside” the standard of “American reality.” Yet a standard of happiness includes basic material well-being which certainly includes a reasonable amount of money to meet basic human needs. My statement was in direct reference to stay-at-home moms whose development still has value even if the world does not see it. Such lucky women are generally provided for by a working husband, who I acknowledged often make many sacrifices for her and for his children. But to your example, a widow in need of money certainly needs money and work! (and of course the love and care of her extended community). Each person’s vocation is different and many women have very legitimate reasons to work and seek fair compensation for it. I certainly agree that women in the working world (or half-working world) should be honored and recognized as the full humans that they are, right alongside the men.

  • CMR

    The so-called disparity and gender pay gap is such a waste of time, and means nothing. I guess it makes good news. Feminism should have evolved by now into celebrating femininity. I have had enough of being told that because I’m not a “real” man in the business world, I’m therefore not fulfilled. You cannot be a full time mom and a full time anything else. As a 50 year old woman who is a homemaker, with a working husband, I hate to hear young women being told they can do both. You can’t. One or the other will suffer. I have seen it first-hand and made the choice to live the more difficult path. It is difficult, because today’s women are told their “self esteem”, found by worldly accolades, is the most important quality they possess. Usually, the modest gains made by the employment of a mother are more than taken away by the costs incurred by having the job. This is a totally different subject than a working woman. You can work. You can have a career. Just like the men. Then the gender pay gap will not affect you because you are devoting ALL of your attention to your profession. But if God is calling you to marry, and hopefully have children (the reason for marriage is to create a new family), your life has taken a new direction full of sacrifice and joy. Mothers should stop chasing the career-pay check-professional world and trying to be another man. Families are hurt by this (no real need to stay together), women are demeaned by it (unless you have a professional value, you are kind of a nobody), children suffer (being with strangers day after day, no one responds like a child’s real mother), fathers loose employment opportunities (jobs are taken by working mothers) and you have the kind of cultural mess that exists today. Basic human needs are easily met in America, no matter what your situation. Fear is no reason to break up the family by encouraging mothers to have jobs to somehow address a gender pay gap. The throw away comment made by our Holy Father appeals to the modern notion of fairness only, not the reality of male and female uniqueness.