Women are notorious for checking each other out -- for analysing their choices, their wardrobes, their child-care arrangements, their exercise regimens, their decorating schemes, their educational options for their children, etc. It's not just that one woman takes note of what another woman does, but that in parsing her choices, she internalises them and applies some sort of invisible yardstick -- as though a different choice might indict her own choices. That's why women usually arrange their friendships around others who choose in similar ways; and the more fundamental the choice, the greater the degree to which the friendship will be trustworthy and comforting.
In this way, for example, women who remain childless by choice are not very close to those who embrace motherhood, and those who choose public school are a little distant from those who choose parochial school (when finances are not the issue). Obviously, values/morals are part of it, but it's not all. Women are most comfortable with women who have made the same life's choices.
That said, one college program for women who want to stay home is bugging college prof Mary Zeiss Stange, who has not made that choice, and she lets her discomfort rip. First the background:
When it comes to women and higher education, the old joke used to be that the only reason a woman would go to college would be to earn her "MRS" degree. That was the 1950s take on things. It was before the women's movement of the 1960s and '70s, and before females accounted for roughly half the students in most graduate professional fields and more than half of all undergraduate students.
But now, at least one institution — Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Fort Worth — appears to be trying to set back the clock. Southwestern is one of the largest fully accredited Southern Baptist seminaries, offering bachelors in addition to divinity degrees. Last spring, the school announced the establishment of a B.A. in humanities, with a concentration in homemaking.
At first glance, it's not that the degree takes homemaking seriously, which the author insists is a good thing (in keeping with her feminist credentials) but that the degree here is only open to women, which makes it, well, women's work. Ugh.
In rock-solid biblical literalism, a woman's place is neither in the pulpit nor at the lectern, but in the home. If this amounts to a return to the 1950s, so be it. As Patterson stated at the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting in June, "We are moving against the tide in order to establish family and gender roles as described in God's word for the home and the family." The implicit reference here is to Genesis, when God created Adam and Eve and told them to be fruitful and multiply. God established marriage as the central social unit and reproduction as women's key social function.
Seen in a biblical light, Southwestern's homemaking program is consistent with the Southern Baptist Convention's social and theological conservatism. But seen in that same light, the program is fraught with contradiction. For one thing, if women's role as nurturer and housekeeper is written into the divinely ordained scheme of things, why should something so very natural need to be taught to them? Shouldn't these skills be innate? And mightn't they best be taught in the context of the home, not the classroom?
Now obviously Mr. Patterson and I would disagree with the premise of "gender roles" because he doesn't have an ecclesial framework on which to base his understanding of femininity, but what is that to Ms. Stange? No one is enrolling her in the Southwestern Baptist program or even sitting there criticising her career. Also, didn't she say earlier that the work of the home ought to be respected? While the desire may (or may not) be "natural," there is a science to nutrition, health care, and time management which are just some of the fundamentals of home making. Edith Stein promoted a solid education for women which would undergird the vocation in the home from her academic chair decades ago. What's the beef?
But surely the seminarians would be truer to women's biblical roots were they to recognize, as their savior did, that there is more than one career path open to women.
Wow. I find it interesting to find a professor of women's studies at Skidmore College lecturing fundamentalist Christians on the tenets of their faith. She justifies herself by pointing out Jesus' admonition to Martha as an eye-opener about His thoughts on house-keeping, while missing His point about the importance of meditation on the Son of God. In that very prayer, women should come to keep their eyes on Jesus, to listen for His personal call in their lives, and let others choose accordingly. If prayer brought Ms. Stange to Skidmore and guides her classes, Glory Be. But somehow, I think that women grounded in their vocations should be more at peace, and stop looking sidewise for affirmation -- or grist.