Redefining a “highly successful” woman

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A recent commentary  article about the dating culture at the University of Dallas, published on March 22,  made some pointed claims about the interests, aspirations and desires of many UD students, especially women. The majors with supposedly “few job opportunities” were presented as less valuable, and the women who choose them, frivolous and naïve. 

Without delving too much into the specifics of UD’s dating culture, I would like to address the mistaken idea that the women who choose the less practical majors and are hoping to be married soon after college are “contributing to the problem.”

I should begin by explaining that I do not think college is merely a place to search for a spouse. As young people, we have a unique vocation to study and a duty to learn as much as possible for the formation of our minds and souls. Our college years should certainly be focused on rigorous study and the cultivation of lasting friendships. But the hope of additionally finding one’s future spouse during college is not a foolish one. 

The desire to be married is one that is deeply present in the hearts of nearly all young women. Girls dream of their wedding day from the time they are little, and as they grow and mature, the deepening desire to love and be loved as a bride begins to blossom. As she prepares to go off to college, each young woman reflects on what she would like to study and, more importantly, who she would like to become. I suspect that there are a lot of women who think, “I ultimately desire to be a wife and a mother, but I also have this talent and passion, so that’s what I’ll pursue in college.” 

This way of thinking is not one that should be scoffed at or dismissed. First of all, one of the great advantages of a liberal education like UD’s is that no one is going to be left prospectless after graduation, regardless of major. We become so well-formed by the Core that we are able to adapt to all different kinds of professional and academic opportunities . So even if someone is not married right after college — that’s okay, the Lord’s timing is different for everyone! — he or she will certainly be able to find a path and stay afloat. 

Secondly, for a woman, this way of thinking speaks to her essential vocation as a mother. At their core, women are made to be mothers, and this call can be lived out in a variety of different ways. Maybe it’s by bringing both your sharp mind and tender heart to a business meeting, caring compassionately for your suffering patient or, most fundamentally, forming the eternal souls of your children. 

As Pope St John Paul II affirms in “Laborem Exercens,” “it is fitting that [women] should be able to fulfill their tasks in accordance with their own nature, without being discriminated against and without being excluded from jobs for which they are capable, but also without lack of respect for their family aspirations and for their specific role in contributing, together with men, to the good of society.” At the college level, this insight ought to be lived out by regarding women who desire ultimately to be wives and mothers with the same respect as those who have other types of career goals.

The claim that women who wish to prioritize a family over a career “do not even know themselves or the real world” is deeply mistaken. In fact, I think it is the young women who heed the whispers in their hearts that say, “I wish to be pursued, protected and provided for” who “know themselves” best. 

Their longing to pour themselves exclusively into a family speaks volumes about their great attunement to the truth of their feminine existence. A woman’s desire for marriage and family over a career should never be considered a “red flag.” It does not indicate a lack of skill, laziness or impracticality, but rather a willingness to die to herself for the good of her family. 

G. K. Chesterton, without diminishing the role of women in the professional world, poignantly reflects upon the great task of motherhood: “How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.” 

I ultimately believe that our definition of a strong, “highly successful” woman must be expanded to include not only women with impressive careers and brilliant minds, but also those who ardently aspire to cultivate beautiful and flourishing families. It is their work that will restore hope to the world, one soul at a time. 

3 COMMENTS

  1. Well done. I was very disappointed by the March 22nd article. The idea that success, especially for women, is tied to the power and wealth one amasses in secular society is not at all the Catholic’s measurement. There are many unpaid, unnoticed, and humble ways we are called to use our talents which are not rewarded by society.

  2. I would have to disagree with some. I do not think this is a great article. The author makes it sound as if women who choose to prioritize their career are doing so over having a family. I graduated with a Bachelors in Chemistry and am now in graduate school to continue my education in Chemistry. I believe that in order to prioritize my family, I need to first prioritize my career. How can I have a successful family if I am not financially stable first? We do not live in a world anymore where it is smart to grow a family off of one income. On top of this, women who do strive to have successful careers do not lose the job or ability of being a great mom or wife. We have our jobs at our businesses or labs and then go home to be a mother and a wife. This does not mean we are any less of a mother or wife than the women who choose to stay at home and live off of their husbands finances. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we are better than them to an extent because women with careers are basically working two jobs. These women are still able to be there for their families and teach them their values. I cannot imagine that they would consciously work a job that would keep them from their family. I believe, as I’m sure most people do, that in a marriage the husband and wife should work together. It is not the job of the mother to take care of the household or the children alone. Married couples should work as a team to raise their family, the role should not fall on one more than the other. In the last paragraph, the author states, “ I ultimately believe that our definition of a strong, “highly successful” woman must be expanded to include not only women with impressive careers and brilliant minds, but also those who ardently aspire to cultivate beautiful and flourishing families.” Just because some women choose to have impressive careers does not mean we also do not aspire to have beautiful and flourishing families. In fact, we can and do have flourishing families because we are able to provide for our family along with our husbands.

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