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OK, not Communism with a capital C, all grim and totalitarian, but “communism” as in communal living. Barrett appears to have extensive involvement in a Christian intentional community, People of Praise, an organization both Charismatic and mostly Catholic, in which members practice communal living. According to the Pedia of Wiki,
Members attempt to live as much of a common life as possible, working together, praying for one another both privately and in groups, visiting one another, sharing meals and offering one another gifts of money and material items in times of need. For some members common life extends to working together in community sponsored businesses and outreaches. Most members are married couples, including many with growing children. Some married couples have single men and women living with them in “households”, but most do not. Some single people live together (in houses of single men or women) while some live by themselves. There are also celibate single men and women, some of whom have formed a Brotherhood and Sisterhood within the People of Praise.
The fathers of Justice Barrett and her husband both have held leadership roles in People of Praise. As of 2017, Barrett was still serving as trustee of a school founded and run by People of Praise. Since trustees must be members of the PoP community, this suggests Barrett’s ties to PoP are recent, as well as longstanding.
We all know involvement in a supportive community can make parenting — especially motherhood — easier. This raises the intriguing possibility that Barrett’s involvement in a very close-knit, supportive community, one which practices some level of communal life, helped shape her into the outstandingly successful woman she is today, a woman who does seem to “have it all” in terms of career and family.
These days, Western women have more support than ever if they choose to make a career outside the home (some even say women get too much support). Nonetheless, the mere expectation that a young woman might have kids someday serves to make her career more expendable than a young man’s. I’m not calling this expendability “discrimination”, it’s just life: If people believe a gal’s gonna interrupt her career to have kids, then asking her to interrupt it for other reasons seems less intrusive than asking the same of her brothers, who otherwise stand a reasonable shot of reaping the benefits of a wholly uninterrupted career. People can’t really be blamed for reluctance to invest in a woman’s career when it can be so easily be derailed.
One way to address this reluctance is to simply accept that most women shouldn’t have careers. Oh, women should work outside the home whenever they’re not needed at home, this reasoning goes, just not in a career. Instead, most women should resign themselves to lower-status jobs where resume-building is less important, and time off is no big deal. Men should reign supreme in the workforce: it’s just the proper order of things.
Not all consequences of such a “proper order” are bad. Such an arrangement takes some pressure and guilt off women who do intend to have kids. It also helps soothe the male ego, a benefit which shouldn’t go overlooked. Civilization relies on taming male aggression, on convincing men that acting civilized and responsible isn’t emasculating. When men can rely on the workforce being a male-dominated space, going to work every day isn’t “emasculating”. Many men claim to find a “feminized” workplace less appealing. Men may feel less special, less needed, less manly if their workplace status isn’t seen as dependent not only on their effort as individuals, but also on their masculinity.
The mass entry of women into the workforce may have vastly expanded human capital, but we haven’t yet settled on a social script for women’s careers that doesn’t leave many men — or for that matter, women — feeling uneasy about their place in the world.
Another way to address people’s reluctance to invest in women’s careers is to help women who want careers build careers that are less easily derailed. Some women manage to achieve enough financial security before childbearing that they can easily afford to outsource childcare to paid help, but many women don’t. While some people advocate government intervention to keep women’s careers on track, voluntary communal living may offer a way for career-driven women to achieve this goal without resorting to government mandates or huge childcare expenses.
Traditionalists often worry that mothers who outsource their childcare to strangers for the sake of “a career” aren’t striking a good bargain. For one thing, childcare is expensive — sometimes expensive enough that having mom work outside the home is a net economic loss for the family. For another, outsourcing childcare weakens family ties. Career-driven women who surround themselves with a close-knit, extended family, though, have an opportunity to reduce the strain of outsourcing childcare on both family unity and the family budget. An extended family can supply not only more free child care, but also more family-centered childcare. Not all families are prolific or sedentary enough to make living together in an extended family feasible. Intentional communities, though, create a voluntary family, a “family” not limited to blood ties alone.
Sharing childcare in an intentional community doesn’t accomplish the goal of pressuring as many women as possible into the highest-status careers they can manage (whether they truly enjoy their careers or not). Indeed, there’s a risk of the highest-status women in the community exploiting the lower-status women, treating them as mere drudges and hindering their aspirations. After all, someone has to take care of domestic duties. That said, the purpose of intentional living isn’t exploitation, but mutual help. A healthy intentional community, one bound by mutual trust and help, might be an ideal way for women (who, after all, have a variety of work-life preferences) to specialize in the work-life balance that’s right for them.
Barrett has been reticent about her involvement in People of Praise, and understandably so: American pop culture seems prone to marginalizing intentional communities as “cults.”
Involvement in an intentional community doesn’t fit easily into stereotypes about American individualism, self-sufficiency, and the nuclear family. Many Americans likely find the idea of intentional living off-putting (a lifestyle for “dirty hippies”) and even those of us who don’t may find it hard to picture ourselves in an intentional community where we’d fit in. After all, these communities are few and scattered: there aren’t that many to choose from, especially if we’re unwilling to leave what community we do have in order to move to wherever these intentional communities are. That People of Praise is also a Charismatic community only adds to the perceived weirdness.
The Barretts’ understandable reticence about their involvement in People of Praise means we can only speculate about People of Praise’s contribution to the fantastic success Justice Barrett has made of her life, both in jurisprudence and as a mother. Still, a woman doesn’t have that many kids and a successful career without a lot of help along the way, whether bought or given. If Justice Barrett’s experience in People of Praise could serve as an exemplar to tradition-minded women who still yearn for careers outside the home, let us hope popular prejudice doesn’t keep her from telling her story.