You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby?

Women are less happy than ever.  In a Time magazine special report, Nancy Gibbs writes: “Among the most confounding changes of all is the evidence, tracked by numerous surveys, that as women have gained more freedom, more education and more economic power, they have become less happy. No tidy theory explains the trend.”

Who needs a theory?  The numbers tell the story. The article points out:

  • 40 percent of women say they are now the primary breadwinner of their household.
  • There are 3.3 million married couples in which the wife is the sole earner (in more than a few cases, not by choice, I’m sure).
  • Today, only about 30 percent of kids grow up with a stay-at-home parent.
  • A staggering 39 percent of all births are to unmarried mothers.

Thanks to the Women’s Movement, women have less freedom.  It sounds crazy on the surface, but the woman’s movement has sometimes confused the grab for control with freedom and dignity while inadvertently robbing women of both.

The movement still marches on  but I’ve learned that it is the Catholic Church—that age old institution with, yes, a male hierarchy—that truly promotes the freedom and the dignity of women.   I don’t claim that the Church’s history on the treatment of women is pristine.  And neither are societal issues all black and white either.

A Changed World

Throughout history, men were expected to take care of women — the weaker sex.  But in modern times, women en masse began wanting to take care of themselves rather than depend on others who might let them down. The women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s drew inspiration from the civil rights movement, but not all issues were good. For instance, it promoted a spirit of rebellion and was strongly linked to the sexual revolution of the 1960s, the birth-control pill, and then finally abortion.

Some activists in the movement pushed for ratification of an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Constitution.  It declared, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex."  After years of efforts, the ERA died in 1982 when only 35 of the necessary 38 states ultimately ratified it.  But in 1973, abortion became legal.  This was considered a major victory for the women’s movement.

As a result, women are free to have sex with men that they don’t want to marry, then free to abort if a baby should come of that union.  In practice, this means that women are much more pressured  and expected to have sex before marriage than in the past.  Before the women’s movement had pushed contraception, there was a sacredness and respect given to women who waited for marriage. Such women are more likely to be viewed as oddities or prudes these days.   And if they relent and get pregnant, since women have the choice to abort, the babies are viewed as their choice–their problem.  The control that women were told they won, has largely gone to men who want to free themselves of responsibility.  (Not to discount men hurt by their  powerless to stop the abortions of their babies. )  Half of women who have abortions, do so because they do not want to be single mothers or because their partners do not want the babies. (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1995).

Then, somewhere on the way to gaining rights, marriages fell apart in a big way.  No-fault divorce meant no-strings-attached; no alimony for stay-at-home moms. Today, even if there are small children involved, divorced women are pushed to work or are considered lazy.  But the face of poverty is still largely a female head of family. That seems to be something the women’s movement just cannot get at.

Many will argue that before the women’s movement, women were expected to stay home, barefoot and pregnant, cleaning and cooking to the extent of boredom even if they preferred the board room. In reality, the world has changed to the point that few women can stay home even if that is their desire.  Some women dream of taking care of their family full-time.  Instead, they must get up before dawn and pack kids off to daycare while figuring out what they’ll make for dinner when they return before the sun goes down–if they are lucky.   Many men help at home, but survey after survey shows that when a woman works outside the home, the second-shift of housework and childcare falls mostly on her shoulders. Women certainly did win the freedom to work.  And work, and work.

This article is not to ignite a battle of the sexes, but merely to point out that in many ways, the women’s movement has freed men and further burdened women.  This being a fallen world, there are no easy or clear cut answers but the world’s brand of feminism often causes more problems than is solves.  Women have been discriminated against and treated unfairly at times throughout history. Yet, the methods used in fighting inequality must be evaluated according to an understanding of the dignity of woman in the light of the word of God.

On the Dignity of Women

Pope John Paul II expressed this desire of the Church in 1995 when he wrote his Apostolic Letter titled Mulieris Dignitatem On the vocation and dignity of women. This beautiful letter touches on the true value of women and cuts through mistaken notions that ultimately hurt women and society.  “The Church desires to give thanks to the Most Holy Trinity for the ‘mystery of woman’ and for every woman-for all that constitutes the eternal measure of her feminine dignity, for the ‘great works of God’, which throughout human history have been accomplished in and through her."

Pope JPII agreed that women’s dignity has not always been acknowledged which resulted in a  spiritual impoverishment of humanity. He stated: “When it comes to setting women free from every kind of exploitation and domination, the Gospel contains an ever relevant message which goes back to the attitude of Jesus Christ himself. Transcending the established norms of his own culture, Jesus treated women with openness, respect, acceptance and tenderness. In this way he honoured the dignity which women have always possessed according to God’s plan and in his love.”

Pope JP II stood behind  real equality in every area such as equal pay for equal work and fairness in career advancements but he always upheld morality and respect for life and stopped short of encouraging women to do everything that men do.  Referring to the Book of Genesis, he said that we are then told that, from the very beginning, man has been created "male and female" (Gen 1:27). "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:18). The creation of woman is thus marked from the outset by the principle of help: a help which is not one-sided but mutual. Woman complements man, just as man complements woman: men and women are complementary. Womanhood expresses the "human" as much as manhood does, but in a different and complementary way.

Thus, the genius of women” is part of God’s plan in which he assigned different roles. He further explains that there is diversity in being male and female.  For instance, Christ chose men to shepherd his flocks in the priesthood. “…this in no way detracts from the role of women, or for that matter from the role of the other members of the Church who are not ordained to the sacred ministry, since all share equally in the dignity proper to the ‘common priesthood"\’ based on Baptism.”

So an authentic women’s movement should be more about dignity and serving others in Christ rather than being free to do whatever one wishes — such as ending a pregnancy, becoming a priest, or engaging in licentious behavior. Such supposed freedoms, end up as slavery. It is here that we have a paradox, for the more we submit to God, as St. Paul calls it the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5) the more free we will be.

The Next Generation

This is something that is often lost on the women’s movement –t he dignity of women through serving God in the role for which they were created. It is the gem that we must hand down to our daughters –t hat they are of infinite value and dignity.  Their God-given gifts are meant to be used to their fullest to enrich the world along paths God has chosen for them.  This is where their strength and their beauty lies. Lest  we specifically set out to teach our girls this lesson, however, they will be easily swept up in the shallow worldly view of feminism.  We must consider the input of the media, literature, school or other organizations, and counteract the errors with truth.

For instance, I recently came across a book which imparts the Christian view of true femininity as opposed to feminism.  Girls Rock , (Tomeo, Miller and Cops) is part of the “All Things Girl” book series for pre-teens and young teens.   Examples in the New Testament reveal that Jesus treated women as first class citizens. The book also shows that  there are many instances of women of great influence in the Church throughout history and in modern times. The examples of modern Catholic women making a difference in the world, shows girls that the Church and God’s teachings do not hold women back, but rather empowers them.  It points out that women and men are made the same in that we are made to know, love and serve God.  Yet, it explains this in light of the fact that men and women are not always called to serve in the same ways–the priesthood and motherhood being prime examples of different ways.

The book also contrasts the Feminist Movement with True Femininity.   For instance, the Feminist Movement tells women:  Motherhood takes away freedom and freedom is doing whatever you want without rules.  True Femininity tells women:  Motherhood is a fulfilling gift full of joy and true freedom is the ability to choose what is right and good.

Although this article may be preaching to the choir, we must take care to pass the truths we have come to know down to the next generation. Then, if we are successful in teaching our daughters what true femininity is, we really will be able to announce:  “You’ve come a long way, Baby!”

Patti Maguire Armstrong


Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. She has appeared on TV and radio stations across the country.  Her latest books, Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and children’s book, Dear God, I Don’t Get It are both available now. To read more, visit Patti’s Catholic News and Inspiration site. Follow her on Facebook at Big Hearted Families and Dear God Books.

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  • Claire

    This is so true! Until recently, I was the primary breadwinner in my family, and I can assure you that it did NOT make me happy. While I certainly believe that women have the right to be educated and pursue careers, the feminist movement has pressured women into being in the workplace to the extent that our economy and social structure is now such that (as this article points out) very few women can stay home to care for their children. This is very sad.

  • DOK

    One such movement is the Daughters of the Heavenly King – for more info check out the blogsite:
    and look around.

  • Joe DeVet

    I had a nice charming colleague years ago who after giving birth to her first child said she had been “tempted” to cut off her promising career and stay home with her beautiful baby.

    She overcame the temptation and returned to the hurly-burly of the marketplace. This woman was not free! She was in thrall to the sisterhood who had persuaded her what her life path ought to be, regardless of the higher call of love.

  • Kelly Edmonson

    At 24 with my first child, I chose to get out of the Air Force to be at home with my baby. At 28, with a new newborn son, I thought I might like to go back to school. I loved being a mother but it seemed like a part of me needed cultivation. I became very successful in college and then continued on into the workplace. At 32, I gave birth to my third child and was back at work after 3 weeks. This seemed to be the norm among most women I knew.

    At 46, I began to work part-time from home and have so much time to be a homemaker. What a shock it was, when I first started driving around during the day and saw just how many women were also about their daily business as women who work at home! I felt so strange and almost guilty. I’ve since gotten over that and now I am slowly beginning to know the mutual pleasure of having my husband provide for us both. I resisted for two years until I figured out that it makes him feel needed and appreciated. I still earn an income that covers my personal responsibilities, but now I wish I didn’t have to work (for an income) at all!

    I have become very involved in church, volunteer for various community service activities, attend women’s bible studies and there is so much more I’d like to do! I am happier than I’ve ever been in my life.

    I definitely feel like the new deal that we young women of the 70’s were sold turned out to be tarnished goods.

  • guitarmom

    When I married 30 years ago, my husband and I arranged our finances so that I would be able to stay home when we had children. It was extremely tough to buck the societal trends of the time; back then, no educated woman stayed home with with babies. I was openly criticized for wasting my education and losing my brain to a bunch of dirty diapers.

    This weekend, we became empty-nesters as the last of our children moved out. I can happily say that I don’t regret for one minute the career I gave up, nor the time, talent and treasure that I “invested” in our kids. They are extraordinary women.

    I have also observed numerous young women who’ve worked with my husband. When pregnant with a first baby, we’d be told proudly that she would never stay at home and what wonderful child care arrangements she’d made. Then, when her baby was born, love would overwhelm and desperation set in. She’d realize that her finances had trapped her; she had to work when all she wanted was to be home. It was a common, sad pattern.

  • stella

    I am a 31 year old stay-at-home mom of three kids five and under. I love being at home. I really can’t imagine how I’d juggle three kids and a career in a way that made me feel like anything but a failure at both motherhood and my job.

    I too got the line about “wasting my intelligence” taking care of babies, but I really don’t see my talents as wasted here and I’m anything but bored. Honestly, I think my former career as a technical writer was a waste of my time. I think there’s a mentality shift when one parent stays home. The family becomes the primary focus and the job becomes a way of funding the family. When both parents work it’s easy to put the career first and see the family as a burden that inhibits career goals.

    We’ve been essentially broke (solvent, but with very little leftover at the end of the montht) our entire seven years of marriage and I’ve occasionally felt guilty about not working, but being at home helps me to stretch the money my husband earns much farther than I could if I worked even part-time. There’s no daycare expense, no gas to get me to and from a job, no expensive work clothes, no lunches out and I can make meals from scratch. If you factor all of that in there would be very little, if any, financial benefit to going back to work and the cost to my family and my sanity would be astronomical.

    My husband loves it too because when he comes home we can actually enjoy our time together instead of spending all of our free time running errands and doing chores we couldn’t get done during the week.

  • seebert

    I’m a 39 year old autistic father of a child with CP, and boy did I ever choose the wrong career (software engineering). Luckily, my wife had a background in daycare growing up- her mother did it also to help make ends meet- so my child has enjoyed having a stay-at-home parent for all but 3 weeks of his life, despite us both “working”.

    It’s a bit hard- got to clean up at the end of every weekend, because as of Monday-Friday, the front half of the house is “daycare”, limiting us to only 4 rooms of an 8 room house to live in. But it’s been great for the first 6 years of my son’s life, and it’s nice to know I have a backup in my incredibly unstable industry.

  • khan47

    Great article. A couple thoughts. Some of the stay-at-home moms I know are gone and invested in other activities away from the home for more time than the working moms I know. It’s an interesting trend I’ve noticed over time – no doubt moms still need outlets and adult interaction but I think it can also be taken to the extreme where a family does not benefit from a parent staying at home because they are, in fact, not there much.

    My husband is a Catholic school teacher and though we live in a fairly reasonably priced housing market, there’s no way we could get by on his income alone (the benefits are so high, too). Working for the Church certainly has many perks in this life and the next, but allowing for a credible income to provide for an even moderately large family is not one of them. My husband is very talented and has been able to string together some work on the side, and I consider myself lucky to work only part-time, and we’re able to make ends meet. It’s not ideal but we are very blessed to have family who watches our child when we are both working, giving peace of mind and saving childcare expenses significantly. I can definitely appreciate the way our limited income has pushed us to prioritize our spending and stretch our income to the fullest, though.

  • Population control and eugenics extremist influences within the UN are largely behind it. They are carrying out an orchestrated plan Evidence this 1969 UN document.

  • Claire

    khan47, you make a really good point. There are some stay-at-home moms who put their kids in almost fulltime preschool so they can pursue outside activities. It definitely seems to defeat the purpose of being a SAHM. I had an argument to this effect at a party the other night. An acquaintance, who is an elementary school speech therapist, was recommending a preschool for me to send my son to when he gets older. This particular preschool only has a full-time program. When I pointed out that I couldn’t afford fulltime preschool since I only work very part-time, and that fulltime preschool defeats the purpose of me staying home most of the time, she adamantly disagreed. She feels that fulltime preschool is essential to learning social skills, etc. Why a four year old needs to be in school fulltime to learn social skills is beyond me. Don’t we push them into hectic fulltime schedules soon enough as it is?

  • Kathryn

    “Don’t we push them into the hectic fulltime schedules soon enough as it is?”

    Ha! You said it Claire. I’m a stay at home/homeschooling mom, and you know, I am not entirely sure I am liking this ride. I don’t mean the homeschooling part, I mean all the other stuff–the sports and scouts and church and all this other stuff just so the kids can be “socialized”.

    And you know, I was thinking about it: when I was a kid, I went to school, then went over to my friends. It was a given. Half the time, I might as well slept there (and they at my house on occasion). It was no big deal to just go over to someone’s house. Everyone did that. During the summer we’d hop our bikes and hit the road (this was say, from age 9 to 16 or so). Bye Mom, see ya later! We’d be out for hours.

    Not anymore. Now it is all about the “Playdate.” My kids can’t play with their friends (for the most part) unless there is prior parental approval of schedules and all that. Really sad.

    And no, you DON’T need full time preschool. There is nothing wrong with part-time preschool (all 3 of my boys did that) or even no preschool. Actually, there can definately be problems with “other care” at too early an age. We have some “socialization” difficulties with one of our sons, and I can’t help but wonder if the seeds for it weren’t sewn back when he attended this one Montessori school half-time at age 3. (Of course, the oldest son had lots of “other care” at an early age as well, and he’s my most compliant. )

  • patti

    Here is a reaction I received on my facebook page regarding this article. I am sharing it here (with permission) with my response at the bottom:

    Frank Sommers November 3 at 5:27pm

    Hey, Patty

    I understand some of the points you are trying to make, but I (as a brother to nine sisters and father of six daughters) respectfully and deeply disagree with the basic premise and tone. Beyond the cultural and legal ramifications of your premise (it is worth noting that there were arguments made that Blacks were better off BEFORE they were freed from slavery), I have issues from a theological perspective as well. To suggest that women were, in some ways, better off before they had freedom and choices is, in many ways, akin to suggesting that Humankind would perhaps be better off (if not happier) if only God had not given us free will.

    It seems the real intent of the article may have been to argue against Abortion and other societal ills. I, for one, don’t feel the arguments are strengthened by watering down the very real injustices forced upon women for centuries, nor by dismissing the very real progress made combatting those injustices.

    HI Frank,

    I think you made some great points. In editing to tighten up the article, perhaps I edited out too much of my acknowledgment that women were unfairly discriminated against. I for one, would not want to give back my education or work experiences. JPII’s encyclical on the dignity of women made some very strong statements condemning past injustices.

    However, the point of my article was to consider the study reported on in Time magazine stating that women are less happy today than ever. What is behind that? Women have more rights than ever, yet, their happiness quotient is down.

    It’s clear that more power does not always bring freedom. Arguing against abortion as a way to bring women freedom, was indeed one of my points. I do believe that in the end, it does not bring happiness to women or society. But lest anyone think I am proposing that women return to being second class citizens, I am not. Yet, I do think that we’ve gone so far in the other direction that somehow, women did lose freedoms, such as the freedom to stay home and raise their children. I do think that men, in general, once respected and valued their wives as mothers more. Too many men expect their wives to make money and then come home and do most of the childcare and housework. In the end, this reality has taken away freedom and made life harder for women.

  • bluestorm

    While I agree with the points about abortion and contraception, I disagree that women have it worse today or are less happy than ever. Does the research includes interviewing women from the beginning of 20th century, 18th century, or 2nd century B.C.? I did not think so…

    The reality is that staying at home with children is and has always been a privilege of rich women, not something all women did. My grandmother was born in 1907 in Austro-Hungarian empire and she barely went to school for two years. As soon as she learned how to read and write her parents pulled her out of the school and sent her to work – babysitting, cleaning for the rich families, later working in the fields. When she got married, she had 6 children who survived into the adulthood and she continued cleaning houses and doing laundry for rich families. She worked hard all her life while taking care of her family. The story of my grandmother is in no way unique – it is a story of the majority of women of that place and time. My grandmother was also very smart. If she was given an opportunity to go to school and get some education her life would have been much easier. She realized that and encouraged all of her children (boys as well as girls) to go to school and learn, because she did not want them to live the same life she did.

    My impression is that today we tend to idealize the “good old times”, when every women was able to stay home and was taken care of by her husband, who appreciated her. I am sorry, but those times did not exist. It is true that the life is different today and has some unique challenges that did not exist before, such as widespread access to the abortion and contraception, societal pressure to have sex before marriage and today’s society disregard for children. On the other hand, women today do have power to make their own choices – they do not have to contracept, they do not have to have cohabitate before marriage, they do not have to have abortion. Women also have unprecedented access to education and ability to take care of themselves and their families if the need arises (husbands die too…). As a woman, I am grateful that I live in this time and place that give me so many opportunities. But with the ability to make the choices also comes responsibility…

  • patti

    Excellent points made. I think there are a few things going on here to show women are less happy. One, is that most of us are comparing our lives today with those of our mothers and grandmothers. During the Fifties and Sixties, that is an idealized time and most women did stay home. Of course there were all sort of scenarios and not everyone was happy by any means.

    One aspect that is different today is that there is a high divorce rate, women living with the result of abortion, women falling for the lie that they can “have it all” and women feeling taken advantage of when they work all day then come home to the second shift.

    Another situation is that our expectations are so much higher today than women of long ago. We expect to be happy and have a good life. People did not necessarily think they had that coming to them. Ironically, in some ways we’ve never had it easier yet it would seem that people complain more than ever.

  • Patti, I thought the article very well written and thought out.

    When we married my wife quit her job in a federal(US) institution (which kept track of her bathroom visits – so much for dignity) and I worked while she finished her college degree. After the degree, she worked about a year and then we both felt the need for her to stay home when our first baby arrived. She has put her degree to work in raising healthy children and answering medical questions of many family members (Clinical Laboratory Scientist) and dispelling some of the fad miracle diets and vitamins and the list goes on. I have fumbled along with my jobs and somehow God has always provided. After listening to me complain and grumble about something at work she sometimes mentions she could go to work. I tell her “before you go to work, just take a knife and stab me in the heart”. My thoughts – There is little that I am able to do but don’t take away the little I have to show my love for you and our family.

    God bless you, keep spreading the truth.
    (Media, Jesus and Family Life…and Paulines!…

  • Claire

    I don’t think this article is saying that women shouldn’t have the right to education, etc. I think it’s just making the point that in pushing women to pursue careers at the rate that men do, the structure of our society has changed to the point where they actually have less choices.