“So no one has proposed to you yet?” my Grandma Streeter asked when I was not yet 22, finishing my last semester at the University of Maryland, College Park.

“No,” I replied. “Do you want me to get married, quit school and not have a career?”

“Of course not,” answered Grandma. “I just want someone to have asked.”

That’s the conundrum of modern womanhood: Traditional expectations that measure female self-worth in domestic bliss are cast against the stratospheric hopes for which so many of our parents sacrificed to provide. Grandma Streeter wanted to tell her friends I was awash in engagement rings but turned them down to be a successful working woman. She’d worked hard herself to be a wife, mother, grandmother and long-time supervisor at the U.S. Department of Treasury. She wanted all of that for me, too.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Before she married my grandfather, she’d also been a single, divorced mother with the personal knowledge that sometimes husbands don’t stay, or should be left. Sometimes they come later in your life than you think and then they die. Sometimes, they don’t come at all, and that’s OK, too. Grandma knew that love is great but security is key. I’m sure Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker would disagree with her philosophy, although it would have been unwise to say that to her face.

In a now-viral commencement speech at Kansas’ Benedictine College, a Catholic institution, Butker congratulated the graduating women on their “amazing accomplishment.” But, he said, they’d been sold “diabolical lies” to focus on “promotions and titles.”

“Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world,” he continued, “but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world.”

Butker offered as a better example his own wife, whose “life truly started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother,” deciding to “embrace one of the most important titles of all: homemaker.” If I’d been a female graduate who’d been working for a title like “nurse” or “mechanical engineer” — two courses of study Benedictine offers — I might wonder why the school I’d been paying for four years invited a guy to celebrate the occasion by explaining that my efforts were part a plot to destroy God’s plan for society. I mean, even the school’s nuns hated the speech.

Let me be clear: I am not anti-marriage. I liked being married, until my husband died. And though I was never interested in being a homemaker, if that it is your choice, that is beautiful.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

I’m just concerned that people like Butker, whosemother is a renowned physicist, present it as the only choice God approves of, when the Bible is full of women with careers, from judge to queen. I’ve met elderly women who told me that before their husbands died, they’d never written a check or paid a bill and had no idea what banks their money was in. Their husbands had taken care of all that. Now that they had no husbands, they were lost not only in grief, but in trying to function in the world.

I’m afraid we’re going backwards.

You may have heard of the rising so-called “tradwife” movement — which reclaims traditional gender roles in marriage — made shiny and TikTok-friendly for a new generation with good-looking folks like Butker, influencer Estee Williams and model Nara Smith. It’s the shiny Instagram images of thin, gorgeous moms, chubby baby on their hip, basking in the glow of gleaming wheat, or the memes warning single women they’ll “hit the wall” of attractiveness and eligibility at 35 and be stuck with their degrees and cats. (That honestly doesn’t sound that bad.)

As Ms. magazine wrote recently, the gist of the movement is that “men are the breadwinners; women are the breadmakers. It’s the natural order.” But I worry for women who put all their bread into a basket that might run out, leaving them in many cases without resources, job history or even access to their own funds. When I got married at 38, I had a successful career, owned a home and had my own credit. When I was widowed five years later, that foundation guaranteed the financial survival of my son and I, and now we’re thriving.

Yes, Butker is a conservative Catholic speaking to other Catholics, as his defenders on the internet have pointed out, framing his speech as presenting just one of many choices women can make. But no one who truly respects the choice to prioritize career or never marry frames those decisions as “diabolical lies.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Being told that having your own foundation is against God’s plan makes that beautiful marriage about control and ensuring women have nowhere else to go, said Eve Ettinger, a former Christian fundamentalist home-schooler. Ettinger was raised in the Quiverfull movement (like the infamous Duggar family of many, many TLC shows), and is now a journalist who explores the impact of those movements in their writing and in their podcast, “Kitchen Table Cult.

“Trapping you in gender roles is a way to keep you in it,” said Ettinger, a former Gaithersburg resident who was featured in “Shiny Happy People,” the 2023 documentary series about the Duggars and their beliefs. “You’re supposed to find more fulfillment, more reward and more satisfaction as a person the more you die to self and lean into the rules. And you become a cog in a machine.”

Butker, whose speech also questioned the legitimacy of pro-choice President Joe Biden’s Catholic faith, abortion, surrogacy, COVID lockdowns, Pride Month, DEI and non-Latin Mass, and made a thinly-veiled antisemitic reference, is a handsome, successful man whose visibility is meant to make his views more attractive. Ettinger said that’s why he quoted the ever-popular Taylor Swift, who he referred to as “my teammate’s girlfriend.” But did he stop and think that Swift herself is an extremely successful, unmarried, childless 34-year-old woman?

The truth is Butker’s wife went to college before she married, and the female tradwife influencers actually have careers creating constant content, making money while someone else is tending those children and milking those cows. “Tradwives have jobs,” Ettinger said, citing conservative and anti-Equal Rights Amendment activist Phyllis Schlafly, who spoke against working women while leading a political crusade and “running an empire from [her] kitchen.”

Ettinger’s concern is that the media is focused on “outrage bait” like Butker’s speech as a distraction from more pressing matters like “Project 2025,” the extremely scary plan to reshape the American government in a strictly conservative direction in the event of former President Donald Trump’s reelection. “But I think that outrage can be useful,” they said. “People can be brought into ongoing activism off it, if we can channel that into putting feet to it.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

So I’m using my outrage to say: Ladies, live the life that makes you happy. Get married or don’t. Be a homemaker or not. But get life insurance. Know all the bank passwords. Get your name on that house. This is the kind of advice Grandma Streeter, who died 30 years ago, would give you. She didn’t live to see me get married, but she was infinitely proud to read my first-ever professional newspaper column. She wanted me happy and secure, no matter my relationship status.

To say we need to temper our dreams for someone else’s ideals? That’s the diabolical lie.