As you can probably tell, I’ve made the switch from a MailChimp email list to a Substack newsletter, which I’ve named The Sandpiper. I’m not getting too crazy and promising weekly emails or anything, but I’ll aim to send out updates monthly, so that you know when I publish something new.
I like Substack because it seems to combine the best attributes of an email newsletter and a blog. That means that you can click through this email, leave comments on my posts, and have conversations with other readers. If you’re curious about the name and logo, I’ve got an explanation here.
Okay, onto the good stuff.
Feminism, Past and Present
I’ve published several new pieces since I wrote to you last. In January, I wrote a piece for Verily magazine on feminism before and after Roe v. Wade. I got to interview not only Feminists For Life President Serrin Foster and Sue Ellen Browder, author of Subverted, but also my mom, OG pro-life feminist extraordinaire.
In researching for this article, it was fascinating to learn more about exactly how abortion became central to the second-wave feminist movement, and how pro-life feminists have been pushing back from the beginning. Both Browder’s book and my conversations with my mom gave me a more nuanced understanding of some figures, particularly Betty Friedan, who are often caricatured by critics of feminism. But it’s also frustrating to contemplate the effects of a feminist movement that has rejected a core part of what it means to be a woman. From the essay:
After fifty years of feminist advances, why hasn’t our culture embraced more options that allow women to integrate motherhood and work? Why are childbearing and caregiving seen as a woman’s inconvenient choice and responsibility rather than an essential and valuable aspect of both our private and communal lives? Why have women ventured out of an exclusively female domestic sphere only to accept the fundamentally male models of success that still dominate the professional world?
At the end of that essay (spoiler alert), I conclude:
Whether one identifies with the term feminist or not, all women can benefit from and be grateful for the gains the feminist movement has made for women in the last century. Our task now is to build a culture that will champion and support the dignity of both women and their children, born and unborn.
Baby Bucks, Please
Yesterday, I published a new piece at Public Discourse that I hope is a step in that direction. In it, I argue that conservatives should start getting serious about family policy, starting with a child allowance like the one proposed last week by Senator Mitt Romney.
Conservatives are right to refuse to reduce every social phenomenon to dynamics of power and oppression. However, emphasizing only the importance of personal responsibility, family values, and individuals’ moral decision-making ignores the reality that humans are social creatures, whose choices are influenced and constrained by external institutions.
Traditional conservative understandings of society emphasize that the web of communities and institutions that surrounds us gives us a sense of meaning, purpose, and identity. Judeo-Christian theology similarly emphasizes the inherent relationality of human beings: if we are made in the image and likeness of a triune God, loving relationships with others are at the core of what it means to be a person. The truth is, no one is totally autonomous. Whether we like it or not, we are all embedded within a larger ecosystem of relationships of mutual duty and dependence.
I go on to quote John Paul II and to analyze why giving families cash is in line with his argument in Centissimus Annus that the State has a duty to promote the common good while respecting the autonomy of institutions that preexist it (like the family), but a nationwide system of government run childcare centers probably isn’t.
Back in December, I put together a collection of some of my favorite articles published at Public Discourse, focusing on the theme of quiet hope. I frame the introductory essay as an end of year reflection on 2020, but it’s 2021 now, and I’m still over here trying to hang onto to hope. You can read it here.
I’ve been telling everyone and their brother about this (including PD readers in our annual reading recommendations post), but just in case I haven’t told you yet: I have been listening to and loving the Bible in a Year podcast, with Fr. Mike Schmitz. It’s not too late to start listening! It definitely helps with that hope thing.
Coming Up Next…
I’ll have an essay coming out from Plough soon on motherhood, work, vocation, and the messy but beautiful process of discernment. It features interviews that I conducted last year as part of my Novak project, and I’m excited to finally share them.
Along similar lines, my feature essay on Catholic subcultures and what they teach young women about work and motherhood will appear in the May issue of America magazine.
I’ll also have a review of Gracy Olmstead’s forthcoming book, Uprooted: Uncovering the Legacy of the Places We’ve Left Behind, coming out soon in the print edition of National Review. If you don’t already subscribe to Gracy’s newsletter, Granola, you should.
In the meantime…
Three quick reading recommendations!
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, by Katherine May, is a contemplative, poetic, compelling memoir. It’s an exploration of not only the physical season of winter, but also the universal human experience of psychological seasons of coldness, stagnation, and sorrow. I was ultimately disappointed in the results of her spiritual searching (another spoiler alert: she ends up at Stonehenge celebrating winter solstice shouting “We have turned the year!” with the neo-pagans rather than discovering, say, the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar, with its seasons of feasting and fasting). But still, May is onto something really important here. It’s worth the read.
Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life, by Zena Hitz. I’m late to the party here (Public Discourse published a series of essays on this book in 2020, including one by the author), but this is such a gem. Another memoir, this one by a professor at St. John’s College, it’s engaging and readable but also so inspiring. It makes you want to go out and read something, darnit!
Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke. I’m late on this one, too, and lots of great essays have already been written about it. But I’m here to chime in and say that this is a spellbindingly beautiful novel. It’s like Pan’s Labyrinth meets The Magician’s Nephew meets The Secret History. I don’t want to give too much away, but the genre morphs and transforms in a truly fascinating way as the story goes on. The world Clarke creates is imbued with ever-changing splendor and charged with intense, supernatural, personal meaning.
Until next time—happy reading!