Home/Rod Dreher/Woman’s Work, Second Class?

Woman’s Work, Second Class?

Note from kids, pinned to bulletin board above Julie' Dreher's desk

Christianity Today managing editor Katelyn Beaty thinks God wants women working outside the home, and no, being a stay-at-home mom doesn’t count:

“I’m wanting to tell wives and mothers that there is so much inherent goodness in the call to work and that we needn’t pit certain types of roles against each other,” Beaty said. “There are ways to be a devoted wife and mother and a devoted CEO. In the church, we need to make space for women who feel called to both at the same time.”

She’s 31, no kids, and has never been married. More:

“All women are called to have influence—cultural influence outside of the private sphere of the home,” Beaty said. “It wouldn’t necessarily have to be a career track, but certainly all Christians, including all Christian women, are called to have cultural influence outside the home.”

This begs a question: What about stay-at-home moms? While Beaty said she wants to affirm the value of the labor of motherhood, she considers it a separate category. While she isn’t willing to call full-time mothering “sinful,” she encourages women with children to assess their talents and put those to use outside of their households.

“When you talk about scales of influence or scales of societal influence, a woman who is staying at home with [her] children isn’t going to have as much influence on the direction of culture,” Beaty said. “We can talk about motherhood as a specific type of calling, but I’m not ready to professionalize it.”

Read the whole thing.

Well, I probably should just sit back and watch Erin Manning handle this one. But as the husband of a stay-at-home mom who homeschools our kids and manages our family’s business, I will say with as much restraint as I can manage that what Katelyn Beaty doesn’t know about motherhood, family life, and what matters is a lot.

Look, I agree with her that the workplace ought to be more friendly to working moms. And it is definitely the case that not all women are cut out to be homeschoolers, or stay-at-home moms. What I strongly object to is the idea that a woman whose work is solely in the home is somehow a second-class worker, because her work doesn’t “influence the direction of the culture.”

Really? Who says? And besides, what kind of value system holds “influencing the direction of the culture” as more important than raising, nurturing, and forming the hearts, minds, and souls of one’s children? It’s not sentimentality when I say that my wife has a more important job than I do. I don’t mean to put my job down. She couldn’t do what she does with the kids if I didn’t make enough money on my own to support us. Most people don’t have that kind of privilege, and we are grateful for it. We work as a team with the mission of raising our children. One flesh, as they say.

Any good that I’ve done “influencing the direction of the culture” is in large part thanks to what my own mother and father gave me. Daddy was a health inspector, and Mama drove a school bus. They raised a journalist and a teacher. If Ruthie were still here, I know she would credit the raising we had at home with the good she was able to do in the classroom. My mother did more to affect the culture by the way she brought us up than she did by driving a school bus, for heaven’s sake.

What a weird metric for judging the worth of a woman’s vocation, or a man’s vocation, for that matter: “influencing the direction of the culture.” Who thinks like that? Beaty and I are lucky in that as journalists, we have more cultural influence than many people, but the hidden bias in her statement is that people who have minimal cultural influence — electricians, Wal-mart checkout clerks, lawn care guys — are somehow less valuable to the Kingdom because they are in vocations that lack cultural impact.

I wonder if this is an ecclesiology thing. I see us all connected in a web of purpose, usually hidden from ourselves. I get so many nice e-mails from people almost every day thanking me for what my work has meant to them in their daily lives. I’m so grateful for that, and it makes me think about how my work would not be possible if not for a constellation of people — first of all my wife, but also my pastor, my friends, many others — who do the same thing for me. Cultural impact? Whose work do you think matters more in the sight of God: the culturally-impactful Kim Kardashian’s, or the anonymous man who cleans the floors at a nearby college after coming home from his days job, having supper, and putting his kids to bed — this, so he can support his boys?

(That man — Amos Pierce — raised a son who became a famous and enormously talented actor. Such was his cultural impact, even though he worked in a department store by day, and scrubbed floors at night.)

What a trite and blinkered way to measure the worth of a woman’s labor. I’m pretty sure that my views on marriage and work are more egalitarian than Owen Strachan’s, but I agree with this remark he made to Jonathan Merritt, who wrote The Atlantic piece on Beaty:

What shapes culture? People shape culture. How are people themselves shaped? They are shaped at least in part by mothers. If you want to influence culture in a very serious way in the future, one of the best things you can do is build the world’s first institution, the natural family, and launch children, who love God and neighbor.

Amen. And, I would add to fathers, don’t sacrifice your family for your career. This is something I’ve got to do better on in my life. But think about it: which is more God-honoring — to be a CEO, or to have a much lesser job in the eyes of the world, but to be there for your kids in a way you couldn’t be if you were the CEO?

One of the big lessons of The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingis the hidden worth of people who do the job God gave them to give, no matter how small in the eyes of the world. I knew that there was nothing at all wrong with being a small-town teacher, but what I didn’t know until after my sister had died, and I started to people whose lives she touched and changed, what a powerful influence for the good she was. We just never know. St. Benedict didn’t set out to change the world. He just wanted to get to a place where he could be still and serve out his calling. And the little book he wrote, and the movement that arose from it, ended up saving Europe, pretty much.

Again: you never know.

Our kids are getting older, and all three will be starting classes this fall in a classical Christian school that works on the hybrid classroom/homeschool model. I’m proud to say that my wife will be teaching classes there this fall. She’s very good at this — she did it in Philly — and I’m thrilled that she will once again be able to share her gifts with others, and that we are at a place in the life of our family in which she is able to do this.

But boy, does it chap my backside to think about how extremely hard my wife worked to educate all our kids, especially our older son, who has had a world of special-needs challenges that even a Harvard Medical School physician said probably would never be overcome. She — and our son — proved him wrong, and are proving him wrong every damn day. This didn’t just happen; aside from paying the bills, I had very little to do with it. It was her. It was her tireless, active love for that kid, day in and day out, and having to take joy in one small victory amid every five large defeats. It was her resilience, and determination. I’m getting tears in my eyes now thinking about it, and I’m sorry, but I cannot be sanguine when a 31-year-old Millennial woman who has never raised a child assigns second-class status to what Julie and mothers like her have done and do every day, just because they don’t draw a paycheck, don’t have a byline, don’t have a business card, and don’t have followers on Twitter.

Having said that, I like reading Katelyn Beaty’s journalism, and my guess is that she hasn’t thought this issue through. And it is surely true that there are insufferable women (and men) who automatically look down on career women, without taking into consideration that not every woman is called to be a wife, a mother, or a stay-at-home wife and mom. Let us consider too that women who stay at home but who don’t homeschool may well serve their communities in ways that are not easily quantifiable. Case in point: you know who makes the Walker Percy Weekend happen? Stay-at-home moms, mostly, who have time and energy to give back to their community through volunteering for the public good.

Anyway, sorry. Emotional moment there. This comes on an afternoon in which I am manically scrambling to finish a book by deadline and to prepare for teaching writing workshops next week, which means I’ve had to offload the sudden search for housing for our family to Julie, now in Baton Rouge looking, as if she didn’t have enough to do with having to get the family packed by month’s end. If that Benedict Option book has any cultural impact, I want you to know right here and right now that its production has been made possible by the tireless efforts of a hard-working stay-at-home wife whose name does not appear on the cover of any of my books, but whose books they are too.

Now, over to you, Erin Manning…

UPDATE: A mutual friend of mine and Katelyn Beaty’s writes to say that the book is more complex than it may seem from this piece:

I have read Katelyn’s book and she spells out the meaning of cultural impact more there. I think the kind of education work (and community work) Julie does and that the Walker Percy SAHMs do is exactly the kind of cultural impact Katelyn is talking about for SAHMs. In her book, she basically says that women have always worked (in a pre-industrial age–think: Wendell Berry’s idea of home as a place of economy and industry) and that the idea of women obsessed with children alone (mommy-war judgy moms who swear that if you ever leave your kids or make them sleep in a crib or don’t nurse till they’re 3 that you will damage your children) as a profession is a new idea. She says that SAHMs contribute to culture not only with their work at home but with “public” work like volunteering, neighborhood associations, etc.

If that’s true, that puts Beaty’s quotes in this interview in a different light. I’d like to believe that, because I have always liked Beaty’s journalism, and it seemed strange to me that someone with her reputation was so clueless about the work of women in the home. Anybody else read the book and can offer an informed opinion?

UPDATE.2: Reader Hannah Anderson comments:

I read the book and am a SAHM & part-time writer. This Atlantic piece reflects Merritt’s agenda, not Beaty’s. Very unprofessional framing of the book. Beaty challenges the notion that women belong exclusively at home and takes on suburban consumerist mentality while providing robust view of work that includes work of rearing children and working at home.

If I were you, I put the edit at top of post. Atlantic article is not accurate and therefore your response to Beaty may not be completely accurate if based on article alone.

Thanks for this. I keep asking Jonathan Merritt on Twitter (and Katelyn Beaty) if the Atlantic piece Merritt wrote fairly characterized her book and her own point of view. Not getting any answers. I want to correct the record if the piece was unfair.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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