better late than never
Last month’s newsletter is coming to you live from the middle of May. Such has been the pace of 2022. This newsletter is (again) dedicated to maternity leave stories, since women’s reproductive decisions and the legal barriers around them are very much at the forefront of the news.
But, news cycles aside, what it means to be a woman in the body of a woman in a world that is built for men’s bodies—from office temperatures to iPhone sizes to medical research to workplace policies—always bears consideration.
What does it mean to be a woman in a world built for men? There are many possible answers to this question. But one wonders what a world built around the bodies of women might look like: paid menstrual leave, plowing the sidewalks before the streets, or full of the mutual aid that gives communities joy even in disaster.
Why don’t we build this world? Perhaps we lack the imagination, perhaps we lack the models or the will.
One point that has stuck with me from many conversations I’ve had while reporting on maternity leave is that when people critique the corporate nature of the Church, others respond that the Church doesn’t operate with enough business savvy. The Church, many people say, needs to operate with more of the wisdom of corporate America. As Kerry Robinson, of Leadership Roundtable, said to us, the Church should be the gold standard of business practices. And, in some sense, this is true. Currently, the Church tends to operate like a bad business, one which is out of touch with its “customers,” opaque, and ineffective.
So we should ask ourselves: what is the mission of the Church and what is the mission of a business? Well, the end game or telos of American corporations is maximum profit for a minimum number of people (shareholders, CEOs, top employees). Their systems and their practices are oriented toward this ultimate goal. Unions traditionally try to resist this tornado that sucks profits upward, and many of the organizing and petitioning for fair workplace practices — like paid parental leave — are also small efforts to resist that upward funnel and try to readjust the balance of goods.
But what is the mission of the Church? The Church is a community of people gathered together in worship of God and commitment to Eucharistic living, pouring out the love of God in to the world. Why would a Church embrace practices designed to squeeze worth out of laborers, reward them with petty wages, and funnel profits up to the top? Aren’t these business practices antithetical to the Church’s telos, which is to promote the flourishing of the human family on earth?
The only reason the Church would embrace the practices of the American corporation is because they do not imagine or embrace the possibility of another viable organizational option. But the way our businesses are built in the United States is not the only way to run a business.
In Let Us Dream, Pope Francis consistently urges people of good faith to convert their economies. Part of this conversion means transforming the capitalist value of the “bottom line” into the cooperativist motto of the “triple bottom line”—meaning care for people, planet, and profit. In that order. As many commentators have noted, the COVID-19 pandemic showed that an event of nature, out of the control of the financial markets, could in fact wreak havoc upon them. If we ignore the health of the planet and of our neighbor, then the fat profits reaped in the race to the bottom line are ephemeral and meaningless.
Not all business models are created equal. So, to those who say the Church needs to improve its business practices, I agree. But those businesses practices should not be imported from a culture that forms workers in competition and an imagination of scarcity, but should instead embrace the model of cooperatives like Mondragon or Industrial Commons in Morganton, North Carolina.
Sure, people will argue, Christians can put to good use the tools of the world—baptizing the gold of Egypt or what have you. But, at a certain point, you actually have to transform the thing itself entirely in order to have a virtuous or Christian version of the thing—like sex, or policing, or capitalism—as Professor Joseph Torma so eloquently puts it:
One reason for the predominance of this competitist economic system is that, unless they are pressed, most people do not recognize that capitalism is a system that, in its essence, requires winners and losers. The only way that capitalism can be reformed into a system compatible with Christianity is if it were no longer structured to produce losers. In which case it would no longer be a competitive system and therefore would not be capitalism.
For your earbuds
I and my fellow FemCatholic team member Kelly Sankowski showed up last week on “Jesuitical” (a favorite podcast of many Roden family members) to discuss maternity leave in the U.S. Catholic church and our work on the investigation.
Listen here or below:
Thanks to Zac, Ashley, Sebastian, and the whole team for having this conversation with us!
For your eyes
Almost 75% of Catholic School Teachers are Women, and Many of Them Lack Paid Maternity Leave
After reporting on the state of paid maternity leave in the U.S. Catholic Church for FemCatholic in March, we’ve continued to collect data in our spreadsheet here. We’ve also followed up with many of the men and women who have reached out to us to share their stories of parental leave or telling us about the state of paid leave in their diocese.
We’ve received many stories from Catholic school teachers, who are left out of the majority of the policies FemCatholic gathered, many of which only apply to diocesan staff at the central offices of the diocese.
You can read the follow-up piece that tells some of those teachers’ stories here.
“The Literary world I know nothing about” to George & Georgiana Keats, Feb 1819
—Highlights from the Good Reads Shelf —
Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer
There’s nothing like finding a book that you can make your entire personality revolve around for two weeks or two decades (Empire of Cotton stans, you know who you are). I’ve probably read the first six pages of Krakauer’s non-fiction account of the 1996 Everest disaster half a dozen times. When COVID-19 reared its ugly head yet again and upended yet another Easter brunch, I chose this book as my comfort read for the day.
And, for some reason, this time, I was hooked. I read the book until the wee hours of the morning, when I finished it. A pleasant experience I haven’t done in far too long, but complicated the next morning when I was catching a train to Pittsburgh.
I have very little interest in the practical undertaking of mountain climbing, which seems like a very scenic way to break your neck. But it’s an undeniably mesmerizing art and Krakauer’s book is thrilling thrice-over: as a survivor’s account of a tragic exploration (a storied genre); as his original journalistic project of analyzing and evaluating the commercialization of Everest treks; and as his own raw processing of the experience, particularly his guilt at surviving the ordeal.
Krakauer has a knack for writing books that remain perpetually relevant. Commercial treks continue to cause deaths on Everest, and the art and tradition of climbing continues to speak deeply to our competing yearnings to both cooperate and conquer nature.
Mr. Brown’s Bylines
“Brown, who is always one’s friend in a disaster, applied a leech to the eyelid, and there is no inflammation this morning though the ball hit me on the sight.” to George & Georgiana Keats, May 1819
—Pieces from friends and from writers whose words have been a friend to me—
Kelly Sankowski, “Why Women Need Paid Leave for Pregnancy Loss,” FemCatholic
Kelly reported this follow-up piece for project to cover an often over-looked experience for pregnant women. Thankful to all the women who shared their stories.
“To help avoid pregnancy loss is to feel the support of being a pregnant woman in the first place. It has to start there, the celebration of life at any stage, because if there is not that feeling of support and celebration … then there is just no chance of getting support when you lose that life,” she said. “I don’t want anyone else to go through what I just went through, feeling as alone as I did.”
Read the full piece here.
Ann Schneible, “Motherhood Matters. But Do Catholic Maternity-Leave Policies Reflect That?” National Catholic Register
Ann covered FemCatholic’s report and interviewed FemCatholic’s Sam Povlock in a really insightful piece for the Register.
Povlock told the Register that FemCatholic’s efforts are grounded in the Church’s teaching, and she urged Catholic institutions to extend their support of female employees.
“As parishes and dioceses are struggling to find employees or help, there is a need for more lay gifts to be brought to the table,” she said. “Women are the greatest untapped resource. But if we’re going to bring women in, we also have to acknowledge their needs.”
Read the full story here.
A thing of beauty is a joy forever
— John Keats, from “Endymion”