Hope for Housewives -- Or Dishonor?

December 2000

Concern for the poor has been a cornerstone of Catholic action and doctrine since Jesus issued the Beatitudes, chief among which is the first, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Jesus came to vindicate the suffering of the poor and give them hope for eternal life.

But who are the poor? The American Heritage Dictionary defines the poor as "People with little or no wealth and possessions considered as a group." The Church calls upon her members to perform Corporal Works of Mercy, which include feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, tending to the sick, and visiting prisoners. The Church has a good handle on who the poor are and what they require.

But if you were to ask Amartya Sen, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, he would tell you that the Church's understanding is inadequate. Sen, whose article "Will There Be Any Hope for the Poor?" appears as part of Time magazine's "Visions 21" series (May 22) speculating on the future of "Our Work, Our World," claims that "Economic poverty is not the only kind of poverty...," and that the definition of the poor must include "subjugated homemakers in male-dominated societies, common in Asia and Africa, who lead a life of unquestioning docility...."

You have two options:

  1. Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at newoxfordreview.org AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
  2. Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.

If you're already a subscriber log-in here.

New Oxford Notes: December 2000

Read our posting policy Add a comment
I belong to an institute of consecrated secular life. As a member who has taken temporary vows, I have vowed poverty, conjugal chastity, and obedience (as well as making a special promise of fidelity to the Pope).

When attacked for being so dependent on my husband, I have explained to others (including those in the same institute) that choosing to be an at-home mother and wife is part of my way of living out "poverty".

We are by no means a poor family. However, I have chosen dependence on a benefactor (my husband) in a society where he could abandon our son and me on a whim. I don't expect him to, but, nonetheless, I have chosen radical dependence.

I don't have a problem with the term "poor" for housewives (who, in our culture, have little defense). In my case, I have no personal wealth and very few possessions of value that could not be considered as belonging to my husband. I think that housewives are blessed for our extreme economic reliance on the goodness of another.

On the other hand, I do have a problem with the word "subjugated". My life is chosen, and I find it honorable.
Posted by: ancillaDomini
February 06, 2007 11:25 AM EST
If a woman is entirely economically dependent on her husband, then yes, she is poor. This is simply a fact. A married woman with children is vulnerable by definition, particularly now where marriage, fidelity, and life-long vows mean nothing.

NOR really needs to stop blaming everything on the feminists; women left "holding the baby" is a reality that has existed since the fall.
Posted by: Caroline
February 06, 2007 03:53 PM EST
Add a comment