The Laywoman in the Church

by Janet Smith

The present widely held view that only activity in the public realm "counts" as worthy activity threatens to subvert and not to enhance the kinds of contributions that women, with their natural gifts and talents, can most readily make. Our age is a public age, one that has nearly altogether lost any appreciation for the private. The private world is largely that of the home, but it is more than that. The private world is the world of the intimate realtionships without which we cannot live fully human or happy lives; it is the realm where the individual is cherished and the memories that give us a sense of self and connection are most readily built. Both realms need their heroes and their saints, but the contributions of the private realm, precisely because they are private, simply cannot receive the recognition that public recognitions do. Since our society is intoxicated with the need to acknowledge and reward all achievements and believes that there are no achievements where there is no recognition, the private realm is seen as having no value.

Although women tend by nature to value, appreciate and nourish what is private, many women have been and are being persuaded or seduced into abandoning the private for what is public. Since women have been succumbing to this seduction, our world has been becoming a more hostile place, to the point that babies are now killed in their mothers' wombs at their mothers' bidding. One hopes that this is the nadir of our degradation. If women continue to abandon the private for the public, human gifts will have a more difficult time flourishing. Indeed , the chief contribution that women can make to the public sphere is to attempt to extend as far as possible and as much as appropriate the values of the private into the public. I just read of a business that spent thousands of dollars to learn how to keep workers happy so they would stay on the job. The finding was that the workers who stay on the job are those who feel they are appreciated as individuals; this is a finding almost any woman intuitively knows and could provide for free.

From The Laywoman in the Church, by Janet Smith, in: The Mind and Heart of the Church (Ignatius Press, San Francisco), pp.87-105.

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