Friday, January 29, 2010


When I was in the fifth grade, my reading group read and discussed a story that my teacher decided was important enough to read to the entire class. It was called "A Child Called X" or something similar. I remember the premise very clearly:
Two parents decide to raise their only child free of gender stereotypes. They accomplished this monumental feat by explaining their noble cause very clearly to all involved, including the child. Everyone cooperated fully. One day they would dress the child as a girl, the next as a boy, some days as a combination of both. They called their child "him" or "her" indiscriminately. It describes the parents' care that not even family members knew the gender of the child. The "story" began when the child became old enough to enter school.

It wasn't a very well written story, I don't remember there being any dialogue or action. The entire story was written in a benevolently toned third-person exposition. It certainly wasn't worthy of any discussion as literature. It was merely a propaganda piece pushed on kids poised to enter the fray of puberty in a few short years.

The class generally disliked the idea. The teacher kept pointing out how much better life would be without silly ideas about boys and girls. She quoted the blissful descriptions of the child's happiness and carefree exploration of his or her personhood. We questioned her about which bathroom this kid would use. She explained how limiting gender roles were. We wondered why only boys were allowed to play Dodge Ball in this story. She explained that none of the girls wanted to play the boys' games because they were limited. She took off on a long tangent about being sure children are not influenced by toys, providing girls with trucks and boys with dolls to help broaden their experiences. I watched the clock. I was ready to play some serious Four Square.

I'm sure this wasn't my first experience with the idea that gender is merely a social construct, it was merely my first memory of actively thinking about that idea. I wish I'd held on to my early common sense because I eventually succumbed to the notion.

I started to want to be a boy.

I didn't look at it that way. I looked at it as exploring my full potential. I could be anything I wanted, do anything I wanted, aspire to anything! But with that message was the caveat as long as you don't want to do "womanly things." Being a mom, staying home with the kids, all of that was out. Almost equally frowned upon were the more traditionally womanly jobs such as teacher and nurse.

Since childhood I've been dripping with maternal instinct, As a young girls I always had a doll on my arm. As a teen I was a highly paid babysitter because I actually played with the kids. I shut it off for years to find acceptance as a Real Woman. Eventually I stopped progress on my teacher's credential and concentrated on Literature in college. I went into media and marketing. I even sold insurance. This is from a woman who if there are children in the room, she would soon be talking to them.

I developed an active scorn for housekeeping, cooking, and all things feminine. I put off marriage and children. I did not teach. Those of you who know me now as an organizer, a very good cook (allow me prove it to you sometime), and a former school teacher who can never seem to resist a "teachable moment" would wonder how or even why? All I can say is: I wasn't myself.

In my 20s you might not have been able to guess that I actually even liked children.

Feminism failed me by belittling what I wanted most--variations on the theme of child rearing. My teaching years, when I finally allowed myself the luxury of becoming a teacher, allowed me to explore the human mind, to witness the struggle between nature and nurture, to point down the paths of further study and watch a student begin a life's work. It was what I was meant to do, I thought.

Then my first child was born. What a shock to discover that my teaching was an outlet for and an expression of mothering. All of the gears that engaged as I taught a roomful of other people's children torqued even more powerfully as I watched my own son reach developmental milestones. It was as if I could see the workings of his intellect and personality before my eyes.

Then I did the unthinkable--I quit my job! My identity, my income, my anonymity, my value as a person disappeared the first August my friends went back to school and I didn't. Somewhere, somehow I had learned that a woman was only a woman of value if she worked.

My Catholic faith helped me to unlearn it.

Catholicism is a very big tent. Ideally (and yes you can argue the logistics and theology of this all you want) the entire world fits under it. There must be room for everyone, including women of all kinds and varieties. There will be purposefully childless women. Women with many children. Women devoted to study. Women devoted to God. Women of limited means. Women of great gifts or wealth.

The Catholic stance is that we are all of equal value as children of God. Our careers, our social utility, our political choices, or even our sins do not diminish our value in the eyes of Our Creator. Christ died for each and everyone of us: God Himself suffered to redeem us. That makes us priceless. We are each made in the image of God and made to fulfill His purpose and plan for us. Our nature will best express itself when we are who we were made to be.

I was made to be a woman. I was made to be married and raise a family. In the world and in the eyes of the feminist I used to be, that's pretty small potatoes. In the church and the eyes of God I am the soil and root of generations. In the eyes of my nursing child, I am Mom.

That is more than enough.


  1. This is a GREAT post. I remember that story, but we read it in college in a class called "Language Power and Abuse". Maybe it was just alluded to. We all saw it as child abuse. Not saying we weren't a bunch of feminists, but something about it was so fundamentally WRONG that we rejected it in favor of a far more natural approach. Maybe that of relativism, but one that did not condemn a boy for playing with dolls any more than it did a girl who played with GI Joes

    Then again...maybe most of us grew up that way.

    As a little girl I played with some dolls and talked about what I would or wouldn't do "when I have kids!"

    But as I got older, I realized I DIDN'T want children AT ALL!!!!

    I wanted to be married...but didn't want the product of marriage. I didn't understand why the two had to go together.

    Over time that changed, of course, but I also realized I wasn't called to marriage at all. Unfortunately I was STILL told by people that if I wasn't called to marriage, I couldn't possibly be called to anything else, because, as they said, "To be a good religious you have to be called to be a mother so you have to love and want children."

    How WRONG that advice was.

    Because of that very thing, I didn't discern my Vocation properly because I was sure that since this priest, and others who thought like him, said that I'd have to want to be a mother, well, since I didn't I must be in limbo.

    It's part of an extreme that is NOT the teaching of the Church!

    More and more I continue to learn now that "motherhood" isn't just physical, and that the ONLY expression of femininity isn't tea and dolls and dresses.

    The best Moms I have always known are those who get their hands dirty, have jeans stiffened by dried mud and have hands and faced worn by the elements. They aren't a bunch of sissies. But dang it, they are MOMS and they are incredible WOMEN who refused to be bullied by popular culture!

    And some of those women I admire...they aren't Mom's in the biological sense, but the spiritual, and God Bless them for being who they ARE and not who popular culture wants them to be.

    Mother Teresa, anyone?

    Sorry for the convoluted comment, but there it is!

  2. First of all, how strange that we were both subjected to the same bad writing passed off as literature. If anyone needs proof of Purgatory...

    I'm so glad for your comment @Adoro. I was worried about implying that there is only one way or one call for women by expressing my call to MY way of being. Your letter points out, very clearly, the different callings for different women. Even though, in many ways, we are alike.

    I'm guessing that you, too, have lit a bonfire and payed homage to Tom Hanks.