Over on the Catholic men’s mailing list I operate, the question of women and work came up, and as you might expect, Pope John Paul has written on the subject in his encyclical Laborem Exercens.
His teaching obviously does not correspond to some bumper-sticker slogan about individualistic “women’s rights” or a repressive notion of “women’s place”. Instead it’s about how people are more important than money, about the dignity and value of child-raising, and yes, about motherhood as a distinct role and a vocation, whose value society needs to respect and foster.
Let me summarize the main points:
- the working world should accommodate itself to the variety of workers, men and women, to their special talents, and to their family responsibilities;
- a “family wage” should enable a father to support his family, so that the mother has the freedom to care for the development of her children.
Here’s the passage:
“…Just remuneration for the work of an adult who is responsible for a family means remuneration which will suffice for establishing and properly maintaining a family and for providing security for its future. Such remuneration can be given either through what is called a family wage–that is, a single salary given to the head of the family for his work, sufficient for the needs of the family without the other spouse having to take up gainful employment outside the home–or through other social measures such as family allowances or grants to mothers devoting themselves exclusively to their families. These grants should correspond to the actual needs, that is, to the number of dependents for as long as they are not in a position to assume proper responsibility for their own lives.
“Experience confirms that there must be a social reevaluation of the mother’s role, of the toil connected with it, and of the need that children have for care, love and affection in order that they may develop into responsible, morally and religiously mature and psychologically stable persons. It will redound to the credit of society to make it possible for a mother–without inhibiting her freedom, without psychological or practical discrimination, and without penalizing her as compared with other women–to devote herself to taking care of her children and educating them in accordance with their needs, which vary with age. Having to abandon these tasks in order to take up paid work outside the home is wrong from the point of view of the good of society and of the family when it contradicts or hinders these primary goals of the mission of a mother.
“In this context it should be emphasized that, on a more general level, the whole labor process must be organized and adapted in such a way as to respect the requirements of the person and his or her forms of life, above all life in the home, taking into account the individual’s age and sex. It is a fact that in many societies women work in nearly every sector of life. But it is fitting that they should be able to fulfill their tasks in accordance with their own nature, without being discriminated against and without being excluded from jobs for which they are capable, but also without lack of respect for their family aspirations and for their specific role in contributing, together with men, to the good of society. The true advancement of women requires that labor should be structured in such a way that women do not have to pay for their advancement by abandoning what is specific to them and at the expense of the family, in which women as mothers have an irreplaceable role.”