Friday, September 5, 2008

My letter to Sally Quinn

. . . or how I learned to stop using the spell check and love the legalese. (Sorry)

I found this post from Sally Quinn via the Anchoress. Her attacks seemed so grossly and outrageously unfair that I felt compelled to respond.

[ETA: Welcome visitors from the Anchoress! Thanks for giving me a read. Even though I haven't been blogging here long, I intend to continue. So if you're interested in what I have to say, there will be much more to come.]

Ms. Quinn:

I'm a conservative Catholic, so you may regard me as someone even more strange and foreign to you as the the evangelicals and Southern Baptists you want to hear from. Goodness knows you've got issues enough with the Catholics these days.

Don't think we Catholics don't hear our own fair share of horrified "feminist" flutterings at our daring to have faith in an institution that has served mankind for thousands of years but fails to conform to the politically correct hegemony of the last thirty.

There are more parts of Catholic belief than the requirement that priests be men. In all facets of life in and out of the church, women have a distinct and valued relationship with God. Men and women are not "better" or "worse." My faith fulfills me. Why would I care about not being a priest? I have my own role.

I have never felt less-than as a Catholic woman. Every role has its own challenges, rewards, and sacrifices. We all face the challenges of sometimes not getting what we want for seemingly arbitrary reasons. Our job is to learn to accept the things we cannot change with good cheer and seek God's plan within whatever limitations exist. Not everything is a fight, and I certainly don't want to fight with God.

I have never felt the need to look at another's share in church life and compare it unfavorably with my own. I have no doubt that the majority women of evangelical and Southern Baptists faiths feel the same way. The purpose of a church is to worship together, not to one-up each other. It is not a competition between the sexes. It is not church leaders versus everyone else. Women in conservative churches are not slaves plotting to overthrow their masters. Everyone has his or her own role.

Christianity is a community, not a cult. Tell your friends!

So to answer to your questions, which I am assuming you've asked in good faith:

1) A woman has no right to be a Catholic priest. No one has the "right" to be a Catholic priest. That calling is not open to women. Many others, co-equal in dignity, are.

2) As a general proposition, Catholic husbands and Catholic wives have different roles within the marriage and different relationships with the children.

3) Sarah Palin has a responsibility to God and her family. She also has responsibilities to her country and to keep her promises. Fathers have responsibilities toward God and their families as well. Sarah Palin has accepted the task and given her word to serve as a public official. If she and her family feel that their needs can be met despite her decision to serve the public, then that is between her and her family. Many men are primary caregivers by choice or otherwise and they do just fine. If Todd Palin has agreed to do so in support of the larger goal, then he owes it to his family to live up to his own word.

This position could also benefit her family as well. Perhaps Ms. Palin feels that this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity can serve a much greater goal, to be an example to the world (and her daughters) of how to a woman of faith conducts herself on a world stage.

Presumably, the governorship has given the Palin family a test-run of the practical considerations. At any rate, I don't presume to have the knowledge to judge what the requirements of her family are. That's personal. Neither you, nor I, nor the public has any means with which to judge what the Palins, rightly or wrongly, have chosen to embark on. We simply don't have the information necessary to know. There's a reason for that: IT'S NOT OUR BUSINESS.

4) You ask what I think of Sarah Palin's priorities as a woman with five children, still breastfeeding, one pregnant, and who's made (what you have decided) is a "risky" decision to fly to Alaska to have a child and then go to work days later. What do I think of that? I think it's ADMIRABLE. I think it's INSPIRING. I think that her family is going to sacrifice mightily, but they see some purpose and perhaps reward in following this path. It's a high risk with a chance of great reward. Some people are more risk-averse. Others make history.

5) You ask whether I believe her first priority will be as a mother or as a governor or vice president. I think that her first priority is, obviously, to God. This is clearly a woman who feels that she's been blessed with an opportunity larger than herself. She has actually already proven herself willing to sacrifice a child on behalf of her country through her encouragement of her oldest son. Presumably, she thinks that the good is worth the risk. I would expect that the good she feels she can do as VP will outweigh the costs to her children and family.

6) You ask what I think about her judgment in accepting the role of vice-presidency while her family situation was chaotic. We don't have the information to judge whether her family can handle it or if they wanted to. We don't know the costs and we don't know the benefit that she is seeking. As to her judgment, time will tell, I suppose. It would obviously not be good judgment to think that there would be no costs to her family or her relationship to her children. I don't think there is any indication whatsoever that she hasn't considered that.

But this is a judgment question insofar as it presumes that she has improperly calculated the costs and benefits. It's a judgment question insofar as it presumes that family obligations are the immovable object that all else must accommodate. Her religion does not require that this be so. The fact that she has conservative beliefs does not mean that this is a judgment call she's made. If she has chosen her course in spite of the costs, then that is a values question. Should she value her children's comfort, privacy, and happiness less than her official duties, that would not disqualify her for office. This unstated implication in your questioning of her choices is what's causing the right to cry sexism. The value a parent places on their children ought not be part of the job interview.

As to the judgment aspect, I don't think there's any way for us to say that the older members of the family, including the eldest daughter, don't have their own opinions that they've made known. I can't imagine being a pregnant seventeen year old girl and having the weight of my parents' hopes and dreams and the potential course of history hinging on a moment of poor judgment. The guilt would eat me alive. I don't think we can say that her decision, on its face, is evidence of poor judgment. If she proves to be a bad mother, well, then that is between her and her family and God.

So those are your questions, but I don't think those are your concerns. I think you're wondering whether she's taken on too much. You're wondering whether she has any idea what she's getting into and what's going to happen to the country if she realizes that her do-it-all Supermom plan isn't going to work. From what I can tell from your last column, I'd bet that you and I both have had the experience of planning a tour-de-force return to the workplace after having our first and only babies, only to find that while our skills remained sharp our desires were gone? And it comes back, after awhile, and you get used to the new normal of being separated from your kid during the day and of trying to make the evening hours as "quality" as possible, (whatever that means). I work as an attorney in a major metropolitan area and I've got a baby at home. Most of my friends are female attorneys. Unlike the male attorneys we know, whose wives care for their new babies, the families of women attorneys seem to be more dependent on their incomes. So we're sad, but we go back to work, and yes, we cut corners in our jobs, especially during the first few years of our babies' lives, because it's really hard to bring yourself to care about work under the circumstances.

I think you're concerned about what's going to happen if Sarah Palin tries to cut corners in her job. After all, she has a baby at home, and one who's going to require a different kind of care than most parents have to deal with. Still, I'm not concerned about the choice she's made for the following reasons:

1) She's done this before and knows the demands of her family. She's a woman with five children, and anyone whose spent time around large families know that you can love your children equally, but where everything is strange and foreign with your first precious snowflake, by the time you hit kids number three and four you've got a better understanding of what to do and how rugged and adaptable kids really are. She's also got a good understanding of the way their family works and the extent to which her husband, parents, and extended family will be able to provide for her children in ways that her job prevents her from doing. The fact that her youngest has Downs suggests that he's going to need more care, but does not necessarily require that she personally be the one to give it. She's also had four months to get used to his care and learn about his condition - his need for additional care is not going to prove overly shocking while she's in office. She is going to have access to doctors, nurses, nannies, and tutors, not to mention cooks, maids, and drivers (yes, yes, leaving the speech aside). If she only sees Trig for a bedtime story most nights, it's not like he's going to starve to death.

2) I think your concerns also assume that if there came a time when she had to choose between her family and her job, that you believe she would choose her family. I think the reason you make that assumption is because of your own experience and your understanding of what's required of evangelical women in relation to their family. I don't think that is an assumption that can be made. For one thing, the assumption that the evangelical belief limits her to cooking and cleaning is too narrow. I'd bet that her family is viewing this as a shared family endeavor and that all are on board and willing to share her burdens. So long as someone is providing the love and care to her children, her duties to them can be discharged.

The main problem with this concern is that it presupposes an incredible amount of naivete about the burdens of the office. Sarah Palin is cute, but she's a political animal. She's been working to raise her national profile ever since she's been elected governor. I think everyone, including her, was surprised that she rose this far this fast. I do not believe she hasn't given serious clear-eyed thought to the burdens and costs. But given that she's been savvy enough to politic and sell herself to, at the very least, McCain, I have trouble believing she would be that naive.

3) We all have to worry about what happens if, after all, she can't reconcile her obligations to her family and her obligations to the job. There may come a point for Sarah Palin, that she just can't do both. You're concerned that she'll give the job short shrift. I don't think it's a given that the job is what she'll necessarily choose to sacrifice. But this isn't a concern limited to Palin. What if something happens to the Obama girls, or McCain's? What if the president or vice president commits a criminal act, or suffers mental health, or criminal [mean to say "addiction" -ed] issues? We can only hope that whoever is president or VP will have the integrity to step down if they ever reach that point. That's not something that's limited to Sarah Palin. As I've laid it out above, I don't think that situation is as likely as you seem to think. But moreover, I've seen no reason to doubt her integrity.

Sally - may I call you Sally now? We're practically friends now - after both conventions, it looks like this election is going to degenerate, as so many do, into an all-out culture war. It's fair for you to raise questions, but the vitriol coming your way stems from the assumptions underlying your concerns (the naivete, the lack of integrity, the simple-minded understanding of the role of formal religion). It's particularly galling to be called to account for one's faith to, of all people, the founder of "On Faith"! But I hope that you are able to get some answers to your questions and examine your own assumptions before making judgments about people. I've no doubt that I've misunderstood some critical point of yours, and hope that you'll let me know so I can examine mine.

Thanks for your time,
A. DePaul


Roger said...

I hope you sent this, but I doubt if she will read it, Sally seems to like it her way and if you disagree with her, even when you do it so well, she will think you a --- can't think of the word, because heathen kept popping into my head (sorry).

Excellent points, and as the father of six, I do love all of my children equally, but after number four - it got remarkably easier to handle. Call it experience, or whatever, but it's true - and my friends with large families (+4kids) agree.

Again, excellent letter, and I do enjoy reading (and commenting on) your blog.

Have a great weekend.

Athena DePaul said...

I posted the letter to her comments section. Maybe the fact that my response is twice as long as her column will grab her attention!

In all seriousness, I was so angry that when I started out writing, I was being NASTY. But after I realized that I thought I could maybe understand her, I didn't want to be nasty anymore. I edited out all of the little cheap shots that prompted the desire to respond in the first place. Funny how that works. It would be nice to actually talk to her, I think, depending on the forum.

Thanks for the comments, and for giving me a chance!