A fringe organization’s insistence that Catholic women shouldn’t attend college runs not only against the realities of the modern world, but the Catholic tradition itself.
A recent article entitled “6 Reasons (+2) to NOT Send Your Daughter to College,” by Raylan Alleman of an organization called Fix the Family, has generated quite a bit of discussion since it was posted on the group’s website last week. It’s filed under a “Feminist Lies” series the group is promoting.
“Probably the most controversial and rejected position we have at Fix the Family is that parents should not send their daughters to college. It is even more vehemently opposed than the submission of wives to their husbands,” Alleman begins, before adding in a bit of condescending tone. “Both of these positions we have are a threat to the trophies of the feminist agenda, so the rejection we receive is always emotionally charged and ends up insulting, since once explained logically, the opposition runs out of substance and is only left to hurl insults and presume and misconstrue this practical wisdom into some chauvinistic evil. But to distinguish these 2 issues, we are NOT saying that sending a girl to college or women working is a sin. But after looking at the issues we raise, we would challenge anyone to convince us that college for girls is not a near occasion of sin.”
The group, which purports to be a Catholic organization, does the Catholic tradition a huge disservice, aside from being chauvinistic (as Alleman rightly assumes). It’s also just plain dumb.
Catholic teaching, history supports women’s education
Alleman and his fringe group neglect to mention that there is a long tradition of women being empowered through education within the Catholic tradition.
Saint Hildegard of Bingen, for example, was a 12th century German Benedictine abbess — and a composer, philosopher and mystic. Writing on topics ranging from medicine to botany, she was first and foremost a theologian, founding two monasteries: Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165.
In addition to being an educated Catholic woman and also an educator herself, she was recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church for centuries, leading up to last year, when she was named a Doctor of the Church in October 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. That’s a rare honor recognizing an individual whose contributions to theology or doctrine have been especially noteworthy.
There has been a rise in scholarship on Hildegard in recent years. I was afforded the opportunity to take a semester-long course on her works while an undergraduate at Wellesley College — a women’s college — a decade ago, and since then, her story and popularity in academic circles has continued to grow.
Hildegard has become a figure of reverence within the contemporary New Age movement, in relation to her holistic and natural views on healing, as well as her status as a mystic.
She was the inspiration for Dr. Gottfried Hertzka’s “Hildegard-Medicine” and is the namesake for June Boyce-Tillman’s Hildegard Network, a healing center that focuses on a holistic approach to wellness.
There have also been a slew of recent books and films released on Hildegard, including a BBC documentary called “Hildegard of Bingen,” and the 2009 film “Vision.”
Scholars have also noted her reference to herself as a member of the “weaker sex” and puzzled over the fact that Hildegard frequently referred to herself as an unlearned woman, completely incapable of Biblical exegesis. The strongest evidence evidence that she was wrong — or more likely, was essentially forced to state these things to be taken seriously as a woman in the medieval context — is that apparently in spite of herself, Hildegard went on to have write her ideas into history.
Centuries later in America, over 150 colleges were founded by nuns, which over time have served many constituencies, setting some educational trends while reflecting others, say Tracy Schier and Cynthia Russett in their book “Catholic Women’s Colleges in America.” The co-authors chronicle the long history of the involvement of Catholic women in higher education, asserting that these women met the challenges of broader educational change. Schier and Russett write that Catholic women’s teaching orders from the 1890s to the 1920s — and again during the mid-20th century — did a tremendous amount to shape education in America. “It will surprise even the best-read historians of women’s education that the Catholic women’s colleges educated a slightly larger cohort of American women than did Protestant or non-denominational institutions,” they write.
There are many colleges and universities in America today, including women’s colleges and institutions rooted in the Catholic tradition and committed to educating both men and women alike.
According to the census of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, the total number of Catholic universities and higher education institutions around the world stands at over 1,300.
Moreover, there is no scriptural prohibition against women learning at the collegiate level or teaching within the Catholic tradition. There is also no prohibition within Catholicism against women obtaining a college education.
Alleman’s comments are not only off-base, backwards and ignorant, but also have no connection to the Catholic tradition he is purporting to represent.
Women have played an important role in the Church and in education at large, and have a long history of doing so, given that nuns and sisters of the Church, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “date from the first ages of the Church, and women may claim with a certain pride that they were the first to embrace the religious state for its own sake.” Women being educated has been of great benefit to the Church and society at large since the times of Jesus.
However, Alleman seems ignorant of this fact.
Practical reasons for women’s education
Moreover, Alleman believes that having a degree will render a woman unsuitable for family life, writing, “Not having a degree frees her to enter into a marriage with proper roles in which her husband will provide for her and their children.”
However, as blogger Lindsay Kurt points out, religion aside, there are many practical reasons for women obtaining an education.
“Catholic doctrine wasn’t exactly written for 2013, where two paychecks are often vital to the survival of a family, or women don’t always get married at 22 so they need a way to support themselves,” Kurt wrote in response to Alleman’s article. “I don’t know a single unmarried woman in her twenties whose parents would be willing to completely support her financially until she finds a husband.”
Women today need and deserve the same educational opportunities that are afforded to men. Self-sufficiency, knowledge about the world around them and a heightened sense of accomplishment and self-esteem are also afforded to women through a college education.
As Alana Horowitz of the Huffington Post points out,
The author also charges that women will “regret” going to college. Yes, some people regret going to college after being saddled with massive amounts of debt. And, yes, college is not for everyone; some people are better suited for vocational training. But by and large, education and, more specifically, a college degree is a GOOD thing. College graduates report making more money, having more career options, and being more satisfied with their jobs in general. Plus, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most of the fastest-growing occupations require a post-high school degree of some kind.Two of the most common occupations for women, according to the Department Of Labor, are nursing and teaching– two jobs that require advanced degrees.
The comments the article has generated also raise some very good points. Debates on Catholic doctrine aside, plenty of commentators aren’t exactly certain what Alleman has in mind for them.
“So, please, what is an 18yo girl to do then?” asked Michaela Tomas. “Bag groceries till a prince charming comes along to give a few kids?” asks one poster.
“#1 Reason I’m currently sending my girls to college: So they can critically comprehend what they read and mentally flag BS like this article,” comments Mark Nikirk.
“So…what I am supposed to do? Do I move back in with my parents and give up teaching at a lovely private school?” asks Mary Cupo. “Should I have stayed in middle of nowhere Mississippi and waited for the man God left for me there? Have I completely trashed God’s will for me because I went to a Catholic liberal arts school? Is this the reason I am not married yet and 25?”
Alleman should take this opportunity to educate himself about his faith’s traditions, and re-evaluate his questionable logic.
Educated Catholic women have been shaping and contributing to society for generations. To discourage women from obtaining higher education just does not make any sense in either the context of the Catholic tradition or in the modern world at large.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Mint Press News’ editorial policy.