On Scripture: Women, Work, and the Word

Graph courtesy Pew Forum

Graph courtesy Pew Forum

A recent Pew poll revealed a significant shift in American families. Four in 10 of this country’s households now rely primarily on the income of women.

This is both good news and bad. For many women, new opportunities are allowing them to be the primary breadwinners in their families. In some careers, women are chipping away at the very real glass ceiling so many have and continue to face. Our efforts towards equality have made some strides. Some strides.

At the same time, a significant majority of households who rely primarily on women’s incomes are single-mother households living in poverty or near-poverty. Structural barriers lead almost inexorably to more complicated and difficult lives for these families. From health care and food costs to child-care and educational expenses, they face greater challenges because of structural obstacles we so often unwittingly endorse and from which we even benefit.

Some things never change.

Pope Francis on Celibacy, Feminism, and More in Two New Books

 RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Pope Francis waves from the pope-mobile during his inauguration Mass. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

In his two months as leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, Pope Francis has captured the imagination not only of his own flock, but that of the world at large.

Many of us, Catholic or not, seem to hang on his every word both for spiritual guidance and clues to the personality of the man we collectively are getting to know as perhaps the most recognizable Christian on the planet.

Two new books offer further insights into the heart and mind of the former Jorge Bergoglio through his own words. Both are fascinating reads for papal watchers and news junkies alike, painting a vivid portrait of the man, the leader, and the humble follower of Christ.

How Abercrombie & Fitch Became Uncool

 Photo by SimonQ錫濛譙 / Flickr.com

Photo by SimonQ錫濛譙 / Flickr.com

I hate Abercrombie & Fitch.

It all started a few years ago. A member of my youth group worked at one of their stores in a Chicago suburb. I was minorly troubled that she was employed at the store. But what really flamed my loathing for Abercrombie was when they asked her to model their clothes for their catalogue. She told me about their offer and I responded in the only way an over-protective youth pastor could:

“NO! Absolutely not! No way in Hell are you doing that!!!”

I don’t think that Abercrombie is evil per se. I only hate them because they stand for everything that I’m against!

Over the weekend, BusinessInsider.com published an article titled “Abercrombie & Fitch Refuses to Make Clothes for Large Women.” The article included a comment made by Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries in 2006. He described his business strategy by stating:

In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny.

Jerusalem Court Upholds Women’s Prayer Rights at Western Wall

Many members and supporters of Women of the Wall pray with prayer shawls. RNS file photo by Michele Chabin

JERUSALEM — Women who want to wear prayer shawls while praying in the women’s section of the Western Wall are not breaking the law, according to a landmark decision handed down Thursday by the Jerusalem District Court.

Israeli police arrested five women on April 11 who were dressed in prayer shawls while praying with Women of the Wall, an activist group that prays at Judaism’s most sacred site once a month.

Immediately following those arrests, a lower court judge ruled that the women had not violated “local custom,” a legal concept intended to keep the fragile peace at holy sites. The Western Wall is a remnant of the Second Temple that was destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago.

On Leaning In

Sheryl Sandberg, speaking at the World Economic Forum, via World Economic Forum

Sheryl Sandberg, speaking at the World Economic Forum, via World Economic Forum / Flickr.

Well, somebody had to do it: Somebody had to go buy the incessantly hyped volume Lean In by the stratospherically successful Facebook COO (and mother of two) Sheryl Sandberg, and figure out what’s behind the seemingly endless radio talk shows and online profiles — they have been following me, they have, filling up my car like clouds of incense and dinging on my phone with the book’s mantra-like subtitle, Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

I bought this part-memoir, part self-help book on a gorgeous spring weekday when, because I work part-time, I was supposed to be home anyway. Because the pollen was getting to me and I had woken up groggy, my husband generously offered to take the children to school on his way in to work, something that Sandberg would applaud: husbands who will assume major leadership at home are a major key in enabling mothers to succeed.

I stumbled around the house in my nightgown for a while, then finally got dressed and picked up Lean In at the Target in suburban Largo, Md., which at 10 on a weekday morning, was as silent as a tomb.

I drove half an hour to have lunch with a homeschooling friend, folded laundry and cleaned some grout, picked up my children from school and finally settled down to read the book on the bench at my son’s baseball practice, as the evening sun sank over the trees.

I found myself surprised by how much I enjoyed it: Sandberg, who’s about my age and who shares some of my generational preoccupations, comes across as warm and intimate, gently self-deprecating in describing her own “monkey bar” career path (it’s not a ladder, she says, because you can move sideways too), as well as some of her mistakes.