Pacem in Terris, St. John XXIII’s encyclical on universal peace, was issued two months after Betty Friedan’s feminist manifesto The Feminine Mystique was first published in 1963. Friedan’s book helped launch the second wave of feminism with its call to housewives to leave their homes and find their identity (it is feminism’s view that housewife is not a legitimate identity). St. John XXIII’s encyclical set a new tone for the Catholic Church’s stance on the woman question.
Under the section titled, “Economic Rights,” the pope states that “Women must be accorded such conditions of work as are consistent with their needs and responsibilities as wives and mothers.” He references Rerum Novaram, but this is what Leo XIII said in Rerum Novarum regarding women and work: “Finally, work which is quite suitable for a strong man cannot rightly be required from a woman or a child,” and, “Women, again, are not suited for certain occupations; a woman is by nature fitted for home-work, and it is that which is best adapted at once to preserve her modesty and to promote the good bringing up of children and the well-being of the family.” Continue reading
On the woman question, Pius XII was the bridge between the thinking of the popes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the popes of the latter half of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Unlike subsequent popes who attempted to reconcile feminism with Catholicism, Pius XII kept the two separate and denounced feminism. Pius XII, like his predecessors, called on women to fulfill their duties as wives and mothers first and lamented the loss of women from the home. However, unlike his predecessors, he treated women’s entry into “public life” as a fait accompli, and began to accept a larger role for women than that of wife and mother or religious.
In October 1945 Pius XII gave an address to various Catholic women’s associations, titled, Women’s Duties in Social and Political Life, which received widespread attention. Continue reading
What does the Catholic Church say about “the woman question”—the question, especially debated in the Victorian era, which asks, what is the nature of woman and what is her role in society? While most Catholics today look to the writings of St. John Paul II to understand what the Church says about woman’s nature and role, popes spoke about the woman question at the height of the debate about it in the secular sphere. To understand the Church’s view on the woman question it is important to look at what popes said while changes in women’s roles were first unfolding, as opposed to when the “modern woman” was a fait accompli. Continue reading