Cindy Crawford lights the Empire State Building in celebration of International Women's Day in partnership with Delivering Good and Jones New York on March 3 in New York City. (Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP)
For as long as human history has been recorded, women and families have been inextricably linked.Traditionally, the whole purpose of a woman’s existence was seen as raising a family, protecting and preserving it from outside threats and remaining tied to the family for life.The outer world — the public forum, exploration, discovery and warfare mainly — was always the domain of men: boisterous, conceited, violent men. By contrast, the inner world — the cloister, seraglio, kitchen and bedroom — were allotted to women. No more.This relationship, so much taken for granted by men across cultures and for centuries, is breaking up today with a speed which leaves us astonished. The unattached woman is a sign of our times.In earlier times, the only unattached woman was the sex worker, used and abused by men and discarded when older and unfit. In the ancient and medieval world, these were the only women without families. They were even designated as threats and temptation to "honest, upright" families, and shunted to the margins of society. It’s easy to see how the conventional classification of two kinds of women — fostered by men and uncritically accepted by all women — has guided our attitudes toward women everywhere. This is how false ideas become part of conventional wisdom.
Family defined a woman’s place
At the root of it all is the concept of family, whether extended or nuclear, as the paramount value to be upheld, preserved and cherished for posterity.This is especially so in Eastern societies, most of which are still feudal or tribal, where favourable comparisons are drawn with more modern (read "Western") societies.
Redefining familyAny wonder then that women are detaching themselves from family and childbirth, two areas in which they have traditionally only experienced oppression, violence and illness?For societies rarely talk about the emotional and psychological effects of domestic violence, whether verbal or physical, which is the daily lot of most women.Thus, many women are opting out of permanent relationships — whether marriage or cohabitation — and are choosing to stay single and unattached. Others form close bonds within their gender and adopt rather than have their own children.So in many ways today, the family is being redefined.We acknowledge that such statistics come from the affluent first world, and not from the third, Africa and Asia. In the latter, single women are usually found only for reasons of poverty or ill health, for arranged marriages are still the norm, enforced by a patriarchal ethos.Still, things are changing ever so slowly even here. As women change, they redefine the family. As women change, they will redefine the Church. How vital it is that the present Church leadership gives them the space to do so.
Father Myron Pereira SJ is a media consultant based in Mumbai. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.