Should Bearing the Child Mean Bearing All the Cost? A Catholic Perspective on the Sacrifice of Motherhood and the Common Good
Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, Vol. 10, No. 3, p. 15, 2007
19 Pages Posted: 4 Oct 2005 Last revised: 23 Dec 2007
One of the most significant factors in the persistent wage gap between men and women in the United States is the economic penalty suffered by working mothers. As a Catholic legal academic struggling with the complex issues involved in securing mothers' access to financial security, I discovered some surprising compatibilities between the Catholic Church's teachings on the importance of family and the role of women, and recent writings of feminist legal scholars. In this essay, I argue that Catholic thought could contribute to the development of an emerging theory of justice that is compatible with both Catholic and feminist theorist agendas, which in turn could facilitate the difficult work of translating Church teachings on this topic into concrete policy proposals.
Over the past decade, feminists such as Martha Fineman, Eva Feder Kittay, Robin West, and Joan Williams have argued that the dominant equality-based theory of justice needs to be replaced or supplemented by a theory of justice that incorporates the reality of dependency and the need for dependency care. An important component of this argument is a critique of the devaluation of the dependency care work mainly performed by women - primarily raising children but also caring for the old and the infirm. There are two predominant approaches to addressing this marginalization of care work - either change the fact that women do most of this kind of work, or change the fact that this work is accorded no economic value. I argue that the latter approach is the most promising, the most realistic, and, when translated into concrete policy proposals, the most consistent with the positions taken by the Catholic Church in writings such as Laborem Exercens, Familiaris Consortio, and Evangelium Vitae.
These proposals for according proper economic value to care work range from reforming welfare and tax policies to subsidize unpaid childcare work, to guaranteeing maternity leave, to more radial proposals to restructure the workplace to permit parents to care for families without undue penalties in career advancement. All of these proposals shift some of the cost of childraising from individual parents (particularly mothers) to society as a whole. I argue that Catholic thought could make significant contributions to articulating persuasive rationales for shifting these costs. Catholic teachings support feminist arguments that children are a 'public good' and that the current market structures incorporate unjust 'free-riding' on the unpaid work of mothers. More significantly, though, Catholic teachings on the role of women, particularly the powerful arguments in Mulieris Dignitatem about women's contributions to the realization of a truly humane social order, could provide support for feminist arguments for more radical restructuring of the workplace to ensure mothers' access to the public sphere. At the same time, I argue that the work of Catholic scholars on these topics could be enriched by engaging the dependency-based theories of justice being developed by the feminists, and by considering the feminist perspective that women, including mothers, have a significant role to play in the public as well as the private sphere.
Keywords: feminist theory, Catholic intellectual tradition, Catholic social thought, working mothers, maternity policies, theory of justice, restructuring workplace
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