US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Women's issues: More than marriage and family

By Meghan Murphy-Gill | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

This weekend I was reading a review of Alison Bechdel’s new book, Are You My Mother, a graphic memoir and follow up to her previous memoir Fun Home, about her relationship with her father. It reminded me of when I first became familiar with Bechdel’s work after hearing this story a few years ago on NPR. Bechdel, in a comic strip about 25 years ago expressed the notion that “women on screen ought to express their real feelings about all aspects of their lives. That ultimately, the women on TV and in movies ought to be characters, not cliches.” The Bechdel Rule, then is that movies worth watching feature three things: 1. At least two women 2. Who speak to eachother 3. About something besides a man.  The number of films and TV shoes that do not abide is surprising, especially movies and programs whose primary audience is women.

The NPR story asks listeners to come up with their own “Bechdel Rule.” Mine: In the church, we should speak to and about women without resorting to family and marriage.  After all, these topics aren’t relevant to just women. They’re not even just a little more relevant to women, despite our tendency to pigeon-hole women’s concerns into childrearing, housekeeping, and childbearing. Men are equally responsible for their families and marriages, and while Swiffer commercials would have you believing otherwise, I don’t know a single man who doesn’t have to do his fair share of cleaning around the house.

Still, as the editor responsible for the women’s beat for our print publication, I find myself falling into this cliché. Case in point: In the works for the next women’s issue (2013) is a feature on single mothers. And it certainly seems the Vatican doesn’t know how to talk about or to women without sliding into this trope—even when the women in question are celibate and single. Consider the situation with the LCWR assessment: the criticism is that women religious aren’t doing enough to convey the church’s teaching on sex and sexuality, nor are they promoting NFP. Frankly, I can’t be convinced that this same criticism would come down on religious men or priests.  

Regardless of ideology, it’s fair to say that women deserve more than this. A quick poll of the top three most pressing concerns just today of my female co-workers is revealing: Of the three of us, issues related to the economy, work, health, friends/community, and yes, family, dominated our thoughts today. One of the women told me that she often thinks about “poverty, the upcoming election, the environment, the state of my generation, the death penalty, war, inability to carry on constructive conversation/the polarization of our political climate.” Another woman said that she’s been thinking a lot lately about her son’s job prospects and her daughter’s schooling, but that so is her husband. Of course, all three of us have concerns about marriage/romantic relationships and families, but they’re just not the only thoughts swimming around in our lady brains.