The Debate over the Meaning of Women’s Progress

By: Caitlin Forst

When brought up in conversation, the words “women’s progress” inevitably fill me with a sense of wariness.  Regardless of whether the conversations are among men or women, politically conservative or liberal, religious or atheist; this topic is sure to ignite lively conversation. After all, it is a topic which directly affects half of the world’s population.

Exploring the Unique Challenges Confronting Women of Faith

Yet the relevance and importance of this topic was made clear by the approximately 170 women who attended the first diocesan Women’s Conference on Saturday at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More. This day-long conference, including Mass with Bishop Loverde, lunch and time for fellowship and questions, affirmed the dignity of women. When Speaker Helen Alvare, Associate Professor of Law and Consultor for the Pontifical Council for the Laity, presented various ways to discuss women’s progress, these parishioners listened. (You can find a podcast of her talk here)

Helen Alvare speaks at the Women's Conference at the Cathedral

Alvare said that government statistics tell us that, on average, women earn 75 percent of what men earn in the professional world.  While many interpret this statistic to mean that women’s progress still has a long way to go, Helen asks that we view the statistic with a critical eye. Statistics also show that, on average, single, childless women actually earn more than men. Therefore, could it be that some women earn less than men because there are  women who choose professions that will also enable them to care for a family? What version of progress does society unabashedly proclaim and is it in keeping with the dignity and nature of women?

Theresa Notare explains the roots of the sexual revolution.

Theresa Notare, Assistant Director for the USCCB’s NFP Planning Program, then spoke on the history of contraception and how it became ingrained and accepted in our culture (for her full power point presentation, click here).  Through her thorough historical analysis of the forms of birth control used centuries ago and how Margaret Sanger, a promoter of eugenics, introduced the birth control industry in the mainstream, Notare challenged her audience to truly examine the way sexuality is portrayed and lived out in our society, and the affect that this has on women.

Beyond analyzing society’s view of progress, both speakers addressed the dignity of each woman and the importance of her role in her family, in society and in the Church.  In his encyclical On the Dignity of Women, Pope John Paul II writes, “A woman’s dignity is closely connected with the love which she receives by the very reason of her femininity; it is likewise connected with the love which she gives in return. The truth about the person and about love is thus confirmed.”

As the Pope implied above, progress should be measured by the extent to which the dignity of women is recognized and affirmed so that they can love others through their individual vocations, whether that be as a single woman or married, a stay at home mother or one who works outside the home.

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