Laura Scanlon | Mirror Columnist
A friend and I were talking a while ago about Catholic schools and what a shame it is that they’re too expensive for many Catholic families. “It’s because there aren’t enough nuns,” she pointed out. I hadn’t thought about that before. Schools don’t have to pay nuns nearly as much as lay teachers.
Growing up Catholic, you read a lot about nuns. Most female canonized saints are nuns. In St. Therese of Liseux’s famiy, all five girls became nuns.
It can make a girl feel ashamed of her generation. We must be pretty selfish these days, seeing how few of us choose religious life compared to generations past.
But it occurred to me:
- What if I entered marriage knowing I had a substantial likelihood of dying in childbirth?
- What if there were a substantial likelihood that one or more of my children would die in early childhood?
- What if I had no reliable way of spacing out my children, if I knew I might well spend decades of my life pregnant or breastfeeding?
- What if books, newspapers and the internet were not widely available, meaning I had no easy way of pursuing an intellectual life?
- What if I would need to stay home from mass to care for my young children, possibly for years on end, preventing me from developing my spiritual life?
- What if I weren’t bombarded by media messages that sex Sex! SEX!! is the ultimate human experience and that a woman’s worth hinges on how sexy she is?
- What if I didn’t have the modern, romantic notion of marriage being a union of soul mates, and instead I viewed it as more of a practical business consideration, a means of survival?
What if I were in the same boat as Charlotte Lucas, a character in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice;
[Marriage] was the only honorable provision for well-educated young woman of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.
Seen in this light, the religious life sounds like a feminist paradise!
A religious sister could possibly pursue intellectual pursuits; she could attend Mass and pray regularly; she might develop skills in nursing, teaching, or perhaps other professions. At the very least she could have the “room of one’s own” that Virginia Woolfe longed for—an opportunity to be by herself and hear herself think!
Nowadays, with the advent of contraception, a married woman can do everything that a nun can. She can also have sex and male companionship. All without giving up her independence, legally or practically. She can have her cake and eat it too.
This got me thinking: what about those of us who don’t use contraception? Natural Family Planning goes a long way in reducing the drawbacks to marriage I listed above. Still, if you follow Catholic (or simply Biblical) notions of being “open to life,” you might likely be having babies for a long long time. Those babies don’t leave much time for developing a career. Some super-women seem to manage it but most (myself included) find ourselves putting careers on the back burner for decades. Also they make it hard to hear yourself think. Do we have any consolation other than an eternal reward?
And has the modern woman really reached a point where she can live free of encumbrances from anyone else?
If so, why did 100 million women seek out the bondage and submission fantasies in Fifty Shades of Gray? Why do female celebrities more and more go out of their way to portray themselves as sexual playthings?
My theory is that we have a deep-seated psychic need to serve, to give up ourselves for others. If we forcefully oust this reality from daily life, it will pop up elsewhere in more perverted forms. Not for every woman, certainly, but in society. (And of course men are called to serve, also, as are married women without children, but it manifests in different ways.)