Amy Coney Barrett: Feminist Genius
Am I a feminist? I’ve never felt comfortable describing myself as such. But maybe I should start rethinking that. When I began to read more about Amy Coney Barrett, I was delighted to find a new role model.
I rarely find a political figure I want to emulate. So when one of the men in our friend group said, “Hey, you’ll be like Amy Coney Barrett in a couple years!” I didn’t appreciate until later how much I loved that compliment. I’m not a lawyer, but I am an anomaly in our conservative Catholic group. I’m the stay-at-home mom with a podcast who runs online conferences and courses, blogs, and travels to speak. I’m weird, not because anyone in our friend group makes me feel that way, but because I like discussing entrepreneur ventures just as much, (and sometimes more,) as potty training. It’s rare to find another woman walking a similar balance beam.
The old feminist narrative prescribes waiting until the end of your fertility to start a family because children restrict you from your dreams. It also touts religion as a patriarchal system designed to hold women back. I’ve never bought it, and Amy Coney Barrett defies that narrative. She started a family in her 20’s and is a deeply committed Catholic. In 2019 Amy said in an interview, “what greater thing can you do than raising children?” It’s incredibly inspiring for me to witness that she and her husband’s generosity and openness to life have enhanced her professional life. Commentator Rachel Campos-Duffy wrote, “Barrett’s life challenges the feminist notion that fertility and children are a drain on a woman’s ambition. In her case, children and family gave her professional ambition purpose and perspective.” I couldn’t be happier to see a mother of a large family being picked to help lead our Country.
On the flipside of feminism is the conservative Christian narrative. The faith blogosphere can get vicious in a perhaps well-intentioned but misguided attempt to validate stay-at-home mothers. The narrative proclaims that the only ‘real’ work is raising children, and all other passions or ambitions must stay firmly as hobbies. A few commentators even maintain the Catechism forbids married women to work outside the home. I don’t buy that either. St. John Paul the Great’s Letter to Women reads, “Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of "mystery", to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.”
Conservative Catholicism runs deep in my veins. I’ve always admired my mother who set aside her job as a Physician Assistant to homeschool eight of us children. I envisioned myself doing the same. To my great surprise, I instead found myself desiring to begin a speaking ministry when I was pregnant with my first baby. My ministry has grown right along with the earliest days raising my children. My first two are spaced 364 days apart and now we have a third on the way, but I’ve built an outreach I love in these last three years. I play with my kids on the floor in the morning and then at nap time I jump onto the computer. I can’t imagine giving up either.
I’ve never felt I had to choose between my children and my ministry. I believe motherhood makes me a better speaker and fuels my purpose. I also want my children to see me doing the things I love- it sends them the message that you can be a person of passion as a parent. “Either/or” was the battle feminists in my mother’s generation fought; perhaps thanks to them, I see my life as a “yes/and.”
Still, I’ve lacked role models. I found out early that moms can always, always find something to feel guilty about. I felt guilty that I spent my children’s nap time podcasting rather than planning craft time. I felt guilty leaving the kids some weekends to speak at conferences. I felt guilty when I turned down speaking engagements for maternity leave.
Amy Coney Barrett’s life is a fascinating study for me in, perhaps, a new kind of feminism. When she’s not ruling on cases, she’s the family carpooler and birthday party planner. She and her husband welcomed five biological children (including one with Down’s syndrome) and adopted two Haitian children. Amy’s maternity applies to her students as well as her children. She’s described by every colleague and student as generous and kind. A student she mentored has now become the first visually-impaired clerk for the Supreme Court.
Like Amy, I see my ministry as an extension of my motherhood. It’s another beautiful side of my womanly call to be a life-giver that flows from my marriage.
The impression I gather is that Amy’s marriage is a wellspring from which she and her husband, Jesse, pour out love to their children and to their work. Amy praised Jesse as a generous teammate, saying that for the last twenty-one years he’s asked her every morning what he can do for her. And she also joked that her kids consider Jesse to be the better cook! It’s beautiful to see that a couple further down the road than we are can make a healthy marriage work through mutual generosity and a unified vision.
Now please let me be clear: Not every woman is called to be Amy Coney Barrett. It depends entirely on your individual calling. Stay-at-home moms homeschooling a large family are in no way less than women with careers. She must have incredible energy. And she’s chosen a husband who’s willing for them both to have a career as well as a full family life.
If Amy Coney Barrett is a feminist, it’s a brand I can live with and aspire to. Plus, I’d just love to have her over for dinner.