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Republican Diversity: they are wearing different colored ties March 24, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Trump, Uncategorized, Women.
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Roger’s note: the astute observer will discover an interesting omission from an important meeting.

Vice President Mike Pence paid a visit to the Freedom Caucus, a group of far-right Congressmen, to stir up support for President Trump’s new health care bill on Thursday.

The new bill would involve quite a few concessions, such as some basic health care services, drug and mental health treatment, wellness checkups, ambulances and maternity and newborn care.

Social media users noticed something off about the photo of the men who met to discuss these massive changes that could take place, mostly effecting women.

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There is something wrong with this picture.  If you look really hard, you might be able to detect it:

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Four Activists to Stand Trial on July 7, 2015 for Protest inside the Salvadoran Embassy, in Solidarity with 17 Salvadoran Women who are Unjustly Imprisoned in El Salvador for Miscarriages July 9, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in El Salvador, Health, Latin America, Religion, Women.
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Roger’s note: The “radical” pope drew a crowd of a million in Guayaquil, that is nearly 10% of Ecuador’s population.  Following this article on the persecution of women in El Salvador I have posted a critique of the hypocritical plea to end poverty at the same time as defending the Church’s misogynist ideology.  My take on the RC Church, this anonymous quote: “if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”

For Immediate Release
July 6, 2015

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Washington DC – Four activists will stand trial on July 7, 2015 at 9:30 am in front of Judge Susan Holmes-Winfield (Case# 2015CMD005708) on the charge of unlawful entry, which carries a maximum sentence of 6 months in prison. The four were arrested on April 24, 2015 at the Embassy of El Salvador where they staged a sit-in to call attention to a group of Salvadoran women currently serving extreme 30-year prison sentences for having had miscarriages. Protesters included Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of Latin America solidarity organization School of the Americas Watch; Ed Kinane, of Syracuse, NY, retired educator and nonviolent peace activist; John Honeck, a counselor and activist from Hamlin, NY; and Paki Wieland, of Northampton, MA, longtime peace and justice activist and member of the Raging Grannies. The group delivered a letter to the embassy to express their solidarity and to seek the release of the 17 women. Julienne Oldfield of Syracuse, NY, and Palma Ryan of Cliff Island, ME, also participated in the sit-in.

“The 17,” as they are now known in the global movement advocating their release, are 17 women in El Salvador serving decades in prison for having had miscarriages. A country with deeply conservative abortion laws, El Salvador has convicted these 17 and charged as many as five more. According to Amnesty International, the charges are for aggravated homicide and receiving illegal abortions, though there is little to no evidence as to the causes of their miscarriages. Cristina Quintanilla, sentenced to 30 years after she had a miscarriage, was released in 2014 by a court, which commuted her sentence to three years, amounting to time served. Carmen Guadalupe Vásquez Aldana made international headlines earlier this year as one of the 17 to be released. (El Salvador and ‘Las 17’, New York Times).

Mirian, Martiza, Marina, Salvadora, Ena,Teodora, Guadalupe, Mariana, Mirna, Cinthia, Verónica, Alba, Johana, Evelyn, Teresa, and María make up the remainder of The 17. Many are mothers of young children, and all have many more years to serve under their current sentences.

“This is a grave injustice. Where there is injustice, silence is complicity,” said Father Roy Bourgeois. “For that reason, we were at the Salvadoran Embassy in Washington, DC, to express our solidarity with these women.” The group invited the embassy staff to join the call for the release of the 15 women who remain incarcerated.

The extreme abortion laws in El Salvador were passed under the ultra-right wing Arena government in 1997. Embassy staff were concerned about the issues raised and informed protesters that the Supreme Court has the authority to review these cases.

Some of the protesters were part of a recent US Human Rights Delegation to El Salvador that visited five of the women in prison who are serving 30-year sentences for having a miscarriage. They have 22 more years to go before they are released.

The Radical Pope’s Reactionary Vision for Women

Pope Francis this week embarked on a seven-day “homecoming” tour of Latin America in his unstoppable quest to defend the planet and the poor.

The continent—the most unequal region in the world, and the Argentine pontiff’s home turf—will likely provide fertile ground for more of his legendary sermons on poverty and inequality. After addressing a crowd of a million in Guayaquil, Ecuador, on Monday, Francis is scheduled to attend a meeting of grass-roots political activists and visit one of the continent’s largest prisons, in Bolivia, as well as a slum and a children’s hospital in Paraguay.

While he advocates for South America’s impoverished and disenfranchised, its prisoners, its indigenous peoples and its children, one group is unlikely to feature in Francis’ apparently radical agenda: its women.

Despite his efforts to champion his constituency—the world’s poor, of which the vast majority are women—the pope tends to overlook the feminized nature of poverty and inequality.

Like the rest of the world -and  the Vatican – Latin America is built on gender inequality. Important progress has been made in the region over recent decades, and the percentage of its overall population living in poverty had decreased significantly. But the feminization of poverty (an increase in the levels of poverty among women or female-headed households relative to the levels of men or male-headed households) increased from 109 percent in 1994 to almost 117 percent in 2013, according to the United Nations.

Women’s labor participation in the region remains more than a quarter less than that of men, at 52.9 percent, compared with 79.6 percent, as recorded in 2010 statistics. And while the wage gap has shrunk, women still earn a staggering 68 percent less than their male colleagues. South American women are also twice as likely as men to be unpaid workers.

As a public figure who frequently invokes “dignity” in appealing to the hearts and minds of his followers, the Catholic leader would do well to address the results of a recent poll in which Latin Americans were found to be the least likely in the world in 2012 and 2013 to describe women in their countries as treated with respect and dignity. A median of 35 percent of adults across 22 Latin American countries said their women are treated this way—about half the percentages in any other region of the world.

Of the little research that exists, the statistics on violence against women in Latin America are gruesome. A recent U.N. report published in the Economist found that a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. It states that in Colombia, “attacks in which acid is thrown at women’s faces, disfiguring them, nearly quadrupled between 2011 and 2012.” Moreover, of the 25 countries in the world that are high or very high in the U.N.’s ranking for femicides (killings of women that seem to be related to their sex), more than half are in the region.

Research shows that when women have access to contraception and are educated to make responsible choices, their income, employment and education levels rise, as do their children’s. As women’s choices expand, they have fewer unassisted labors and backstreet abortions, meaning maternal mortality is reduced, and, depending on the type of contraception used, life-limiting sexually transmitted diseases are contained.

But because the Vatican considers women second-class citizens, it goes without saying that the pope will not mention abortion or contraception during his South American tour.

Figures show that of the 4.4 million abortions performed in Latin America in 2008, 95 percent were unsafe, and about 1 million women are hospitalized annually for treatment of complications from such procedures. In this context, it should be noted that the pope has described the abortion-rights movement as a “culture of death” and has opposed Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s efforts to distribute free contraceptives.

Francis has shown himself capable of influencing policy (he was most recently hailed as instrumental in restoring diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba), but as Jemima Thackray writes in The Telegraph, “the Catholic Church’s growth is coming from non-European countries where the so-called ‘liberal’ issues of sexual equality are considered less important.”

As much as he has advocated “rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world,” Francis has repeatedly embraced the traditional Catholic view that a woman’s role is in the home. Extolling the role of women specifically as mothers by declaring “the presence of women in a domestic setting” as crucial to “the very transmission of the faith,” Francis has said, “I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood.” Although women may have lives outside the home, Francis has urged us not to “forget the irreplaceable role of the woman in a family.”

Given the pope’s outspoken views, we’ve been hoping he’d get around to addressing gender inequality eventually. But lest we forget, the Vatican is—and always will be—a patriarchal institution based on sexual hierarchy. Asked on two occasions about the possibility of admitting women to the ranks of the clergy, Francis has given a firm no. “That door,” he said in 2013, “is closed.” As Thackray explains, “this is not about having a Western liberal agenda for equality for its own sake, but about acknowledging that in allowing women into positions of influence in the church, this would raise their general status, reducing their vulnerability and poverty. Perhaps,” she continues, “it would also help shake up some of the closed male-dominated systems which have caused some of the other worst abuses by the Catholic Church.”

It would be no violation of doctrine to recognize women as equally and intrinsically valuable, regardless of their familial role or fertility. Until the pope’s vision of equality includes this, it’s incomplete.

A version of this article originally appeared in Truthdig.

Roísín Davis, originally from Northern Ireland, is a journalist with a background in social research and community work. She is an assistant editor at Truthdig. She now lives in Los Angeles.

The Politics of Abortion in Latin America July 20, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Latin America, Women.
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Cora Fernandez Anderson

by Cora Fernandez Anderson, Five College Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Comparative Reproductive Politics

July 17, 2013 – 2:01 pm, http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/07/17/the-politics-of-abortion-in-latin-america/

 

Latin America is home to five of the seven countries in the world in which abortion is banned in all instances, even when the life of the woman is at risk.Latin America is home to five of the seven countries in the world in which abortion is banned in all instances, even when the life of the woman is at risk. (Apartments in Nicaragua via Shutterstock)

In light of the recent case of Beatriz, a 22-year-old Salvadoran woman and mother of a toddler, who, while suffering from lupus and kidney failure and carrying an anencephalic fetus, was denied the right to an abortion, it is relevant to discuss the restrictive abortion laws in Latin America and some of the reasons behind them.

Latin America is home to five of the seven countries in the world in which abortion is banned in all instances, even when the life of the woman is at risk: Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic, with the Vatican City and Malta outside the region. Legal abortion upon request during the first trimester is only available in Cuba (as of 1965), Mexico City (as of 2007), and Uruguay (as of 2012). In the rest of the continent, abortion is criminalized in most circumstances, with few exceptions, the most common of which are when the life or health of the woman is at risk, rape, incest and/or fetus malformations. However, even in these cases the legal and practical hurdles a woman has to face to have an abortion are such that many times these exceptions are not available, or by the time they are authorized it is too late. The consequences of such criminalization are well known: high maternal mortality and morbidity rates due to unsafe back alley abortions that affect poor and young women disproportionately.

The current laws ruling abortion in the region have been inherited from colonial powers. They are a legacy of the Spanish and Portuguese empires. While European women have already gotten rid of these laws many decades ago, Latin American women still have to deal with them. Why is this so?

As both scholars and activists know by now, women’s rights, like other human rights, are only respected if a movement organizes around them and puts pressure on the state to change unfair laws and policies. While feminist movements swept Europe and North America during the 1960s and 70s, Latin American countries were busy fighting dictatorships and civil wars. It is not that women did not organize, but rather they did so to oppose the brutal regimes and to address the needs of poor populations hit by the recurrent economic crises. Reproductive rights just had to wait. When democracy finally arrived in the region—in the 1980s in South American and the 1990s in Central America—feminist movements gradually began to push for reproductive rights. For example, the September 28th Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion was launched in 1990 in the context of the Fifth Latin American and Caribbean Feminist meeting held in San Bernardo, Argentina. Since then, most countries in the region have seen mobilizations and protests around this date. However, by the time the movements began to focus on reproductive rights, the global context had changed and the conservative right had also set up a strong opposition to any change to the status quo.

The strongholds of the opposition to decriminalization lie in two places: first, the Catholic Church, and second, the ascendance of the religious right in the United States. The Catholic Church has historically been a strong political actor in Latin America, ever since its large role in the conquest and colonization of the continent by the Spanish and Portuguese crowns in the 16th and 17th centuries. The church’s influence among both political and economic elites is still a reality in the whole region with only a variation of degree among the different countries. However, the church’s strong opposition to abortion has not been constant. While the church has always condemned abortion, it used to be considered a misdemeanor and not a murder of an innocent human life, as in the current discourse. In addition, it was not until the late 1800s that the church considered that life started at conception. Until 1869, a fetus was thought to receive its soul from 40 to 80 days after conception, abortion being a sin only after the ensoulment had taken place.

Even in the beginning of the 20th century, when many Latin American countries passed their current legislation that allowed legal abortion under certain circumstances, the Catholic Church did not pose a strong opposition to these reforms. As Mala Htun explains in her research on South American abortion laws, at the time abortion reforms were passed by a nucleus of male politicians, doctors, and jurists. In addition, these reforms legalized abortion only in very limited circumstances and required the authorization of a doctor and/or a judge, and therefore represented no real threat to the dominant discourse of abortion being morally wrong. The church only began organizing against abortion decriminalization when feminist movements came together to claim the autonomy of women’s bodies threatening this consensus.

When John Paul II became Pope in 1978, moral issues such as abortion were given a priority in the church’s mission as never before. Having lived through the Soviet conquest of his home country, Poland, and experienced the repression of Catholicism and the legalization of abortion there, the Pope felt very strongly about these issues. Once many of the European Catholic countries achieved the legalization of abortion in the 1970s and 80s, Latin America, being the largest Catholic region in the world, became the battleground in which abortion policy would be fought and decided.

Together with this shift within the Catholic Church, a second stronghold of the opposition has come from the United States. Long past the days of Roe v. Wade, since the 1980s the increasing influence of the religious right within the Republican Party has implied that U.S. reproductive rights policies have been increasingly anti-abortion when this party was in office. How has this affected Latin America? Both directly, by banning federal funding for international NGOs involved with providing, advising, or even advocating for abortion decriminalization (known as the Mexico City Policy or the Global Gag Rule), and also indirectly, through the legitimacy and strength given to anti-abortion discourses, particularly during the George W. Bush administration.

Latin American politicians have not been indifferent to these trends and have thus sought the support of the Catholic Church and/or U.S. Republicans and anti-abortion groups to strengthen their chances of winning office. Unfortunately, in this context the future of Beatriz and many other poor and young women in the region remains politically uncertain.

U.S. nuns locked in battle with conservative Vatican leadership August 19, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Women.
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Roger’s note: it may be because of my own long discarded religious background that I bother to post an article about the Roman Catholic Church, which is today a bastion of misogynist patriarchal tyranny.  I often wonder why good people remain involved in and institution that is so fundamentally corrupt, but I suppose that I have no right to be judgmental, especially where good works are being done.  The nuns who are the subject of this article would do better, in my opinion, to be working outside their dinosaur of a Church; but then again, they have invested their lives within that organization, and it may not be fair to expect them to abandon it without a fight.  As the article suggests, excommunication could very well be the outcome for these socially progressive and feminist nuns.  Today’s incarnation of the Inquisition, known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is at the center of power within the RC Church, the current Pope Ratzinger being its former head and today’s champion.  This startling statistic tells the story about the out of touch nature of the male patriarchical hierarchy of the Church: “… more than two-thirds of Catholic women have practised officially prohibited contraception, and according to Gallup, 82 per cent find birth control morally acceptable.”

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Published on Sunday August 19, 2012

 
 

Farrell Deacon

Seth Perlman/ASSOCIATED PRESS Pat Farrell, left, outgoing president of The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, left, stands with president-elect Sister Florence Deacon, at St. Louis vigil Aug. 9.

 

Peter Sartain

Erika Schultz/ASSOCIATED PRESS Seattle Roman Catholic Archbishop J. Peter Sartain praised the nuns’ good works and promised to deal with their differences “in an atmosphere of prayer and respectful dialogue.”

 
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By Olivia WardForeign Affairs Reporter, Toronto Star
 
ST. LOUIS, MO.—In the packed ballroom of the Millennium Hotel, a serene-looking 65-year-old woman strides toward the podium. Alongside her, like disciples in an archaic temple, other women waft strips of flame-coloured gauze through the humid air, while a heavenly chorus floats above the crowd.

It’s no New Age drama revival, but a crisis meeting of more than 900 Catholic sisters of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, who represent some 80 per cent of America’s 57,000 nuns, a group attacked by the Vatican for harbouring “radical feminist ideas:” putting too much energy into social justice and too little into fighting abortion, contraception, gay rights and other traditional Catholic anathemas.

They have also dared to discuss women’s ordination, priestly marriage and hot-button political issues such as U.S. President Barack Obama’s health-care plan, to which the church is fiercely opposed.

When Pat Farrell, the group’s outgoing president, reaches the microphone, her message is loud and clear. Church criticism should not be met by “violence,” she tells the rapt female audience. But neither should it be accepted “with the passivity of the victim. It entails resisting rather than colluding with abusive power.”

Heads nod and smiles flash across tight-lipped faces in the crowd. “I believe the philosophical underpinnings of the way we’ve organized reality no longer hold,” Farrell continues, gaining momentum. “The human family is not served by individualism, patriarchy or competition . . . Breaking through in their place are equality, communion, collaboration, expansiveness . . . intuitive knowing and love.”

The words are like a splash of cold water in the face of the conservative church fathers. But the Aug. 7-10 gathering itself, with its free-form ceremonies and freethinking speakers, is also part of the problem, in the view of the Vatican’s watchdog Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In April, it issued a damning report, ordering the nuns’ leadership to correct its “serious doctrinal problems,” and submit to an overhaul under the direction of Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain. He is known, most recently, for opposing Washington state’s Marriage Equality Bill, on the grounds that same-sex couples, being “different” from male-female couples, do not deserve equal treatment in law.

Earlier this week, Sartain met with the nuns’ national board after praising their good works in “social, pastoral and spiritual ministries,” and promising to deal with their differences “in an atmosphere of prayer and respectful dialogue.” The sisters pledged the same. But the simmering anger beneath the nuns’ outwardly tranquil demeanour and the outpouring of support for them from Catholics across the country point to a confrontation that could rock the church for decades to come.

It’s a struggle that the Vatican may find hard to win.

While some American Catholics uphold the traditional views of the church and its ecclesiastical mission on earth, millions of others find its teachings less relevant and are privately going their own way.

Most tellingly, studies show that more than two-thirds of Catholic women have practised officially prohibited contraception, and according to Gallup, 82 per cent find birth control morally acceptable.

A recent University of Michigan survey said that by 2000, only 6 per cent of Catholics believed that divorce was never permissible, and 19 per cent that homosexuality was never justifiable. The book Just Love, on modern Catholic sexual ethics, became a runaway U.S. bestseller when the church campaigned against it.

As the ordination of women grows in other religions, the Vatican looks increasingly like King Canute trying to hold back the tide. Sexual abuse scandals have thrown the celibacy requirement for priests under a harsh spotlight, and allegations of Byzantine power struggles and corruption swirled after recent leaks of papal documents and arrest of the pope’s butler on theft charges. Some within the church say that 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI is out of touch and “isolated.”

Though the winds of change have raised scarcely a breeze behind Vatican walls, they have struck American nuns with cyclone force.

When 17-year-old Mary Ann Nestel left her middle-class home in Kansas City and entered a convent back in the 1950s, she took her parents’ names, draped herself in a standard-issue habit and became Sister Robert Catherine.

But with the meeting of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, convened by Pope John XXIII to review and renew the church, and inherited by his successor Pope Paul VI, the focus shifted from doctrine and tradition to community outreach. Priests and nuns were urged to stop setting themselves apart from contemporary life, and to wear clothing “suited to the circumstances of time and place” in which they worked.

“It was in the 1960s that I stopped wearing a habit,” recalls the ginger-haired, 72-year-old Nestel, sporting a scoop-necked t-shirt and comfortable flared skirt in the breathless summer heat. “At first we dressed very conservatively in navy or black. But our (leader) said we should look like the people of the day.”

Moving with the times was an act of obedience then, she says. But in the more reactionary era where nuns find themselves today, modernity has become defiance. It is this tension between an evolutionary church, and one that believes its teachings are immutable and eternal, that is at the heart of the sisters’ struggle.

“I think that the fundamental faith of the Catholic Church is that there are objective truths and teachings. . . that really do come from revelation and are interpreted authentically through the teaching of the church. . . and are expected to be believed with the obedience of faith,” said Bishop Leonard Blair, who took part in the doctrinal assessment of the sisters. “Those are things that are non-negotiable,” he told National Public Radio.

But to the greying generation who took “Vatican II” to heart, as well as younger progressive Catholics, it’s the church fathers who are on the wrong side of history.

A visit to the south St. Louis suburb of Carondelet is telling.

Here, Nestel is a local hero, sharing the struggles of the community and offering hands-on help.

She is executive director of the Community Betterment Foundation and Carondelet’s housing corporation. The former supplements the meager budgets of the working poor with a storehouse of food and children’s clothing, a free health clinic, seniors’ centre and literacy program. The latter has partnered with the city to change the character of the place, from a dilapidated, drug-ridden marginal community to one that is bringing back working- and middle-class people to affordable renovated homes, safe playgrounds and attractive and accessible shopping and recreational sites.

Over the desk of Nestel’s spotless, sparsely furnished office, a cross-shaped graphic rather than a traditional crucifix is on display. It reads: “We the People + The Body of Christ.” It was taken from Network, the group of Washington-based activist nuns who recently made a national bus tour to drum up opposition to legislation that would dramatically cut spending on social services.

Nestel takes the people-centred message seriously. When the food pantry was almost empty last week, she phoned the media and declared an emergency. Now she smiles broadly as she walks through the narrow basement shelves, replenished with tins, packages and boxes of food. People from every walk of life responded to the call, she says, and a local bar offered free beer to donors.

Nestel’s work goes beyond charitable services. A few blocks away, she congratulates a crew of renovators who drip with sweat as they put the finishing touches on a trim, brick three-bedroom house that was reclaimed from a drug gang and rebuilt by the housing corporation. It will be marketed for $160,000, (U.S.) sweetened by a 10-year tax holiday for the new owners.

On a nearby street, bright, artist-designed murals decorate walls that were once eyesores, another urban renewal project. Blooming gardens and a fenced playground might have sprung from the film Meet Me in St. Louis. People on the street may not recognize a visiting bishop, but they know Nestel on sight.

The corridors of the conference hotel are a poor woman’s tour of the world. They are lined with tables and posters advocating for social justice in Guatemala, in Africa, in South Sudan — and for causes closer to home. Many of the sisters present here have done service in the world’s roughest neighbourhoods, ministering to the hungry, homeless and oppressed.

Farrell, the leadership conference’s retiring president, worked with the non-violent resistance movement in Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, and on the front lines of El Salvador’s bloody civil war, where four female Catholic missionaries were tortured, raped and murdered. Others have worked in U.S. inner cities where the lines between war and peace are blurred.

But harsh conditions are nothing new to North American nuns, nor is the heavy hand of the male-dominated church.

“In the 19th century, Catholic nuns literally built the church in the American West,” wrote Utah State University historian Anne Butler in the New York Times. They braved “hardship and grueling circumstances to establish missions, set up classrooms and lead lives of calm in a chaotic world marked by corruption, criminality and illness. Their determination in the face of a male hierarchy that then, as now, frequently exploited and disdained them, was a demonstration of their resilient faith in a church struggling to adapt itself to change.”

Since the early 18th century, more than 200,000 Catholic sisters have pioneered the country. But now their numbers have shrunk to less than 60,000, and threaten to dwindle by thousands more in the next decade as the older ones die or retire from duty.

That makes the struggle between the nuns and the Vatican all the more urgent, as fewer young women are interested in enrolling in what they see as an institution that imposes archaic rules. Many serving today fear that if they cannot move with the times, the times will eventually pass them by and their orders become extinct.

“Today individuals have the right to decide how to live their lives and craft their own morality,” says Jamie Manson, a lay minister and graduate of Yale Divinity School. “They are not hard-wired to live in community.” But, she says, many young Catholic lay workers are still hungering for spiritual mentorship. Allowing them to live in religious communities that are devoted to public service, along with their partners, might rejuvenate dedicated religious life.

It’s one more challenge for the nuns as they continue their mano a mano confrontation with the bishops charged with bringing them into line.

At best, the church may drag out the talks to prevent a perilous split, although the Vatican’s current conservative leadership seems to make that less likely. But officials can also see warning signs of strains within the church: the powerful Conference of Catholic Bishops has joined the sisters in speaking out against government budget cuts that would slash food and nutrition programs for the poor. Meanwhile, highly vocal Catholic social conservatives back widening state crackdowns on abortion and defunding of contraception.

At worst, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and its members may find so little common ground with their critics that they opt to defy the church’s authority and form their own organization. Some have pondered the ultimate threat of excommunication.

Can those who have lived at the sharp end of the world’s harsh realities retreat to an obedient quiet?

“Many of the foundresses and founders of our congregations struggled long for canonical approval of our institutes,” Farrell tells the sisters. “Some were even silenced or excommunicated.” And she adds with a fleeting smile, “a few of them . . . were later canonized.”

Obama’s woman problem December 8, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Health, Women.
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Thursday, Dec 8, 2011 4:58 PM 22:37:36 EST, www.salon.com

The president shamefully uses his daughters to justify limiting the healthcare options of America’s young women

obama knows best

     (Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster/Salon)

When will Barack Obama learn how to talk thoughtfully about women, women’s health and women’s rights?

Apparently, not today.

On Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius unexpectedly overruled the Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation that emergency contraception be sold on drugstore shelves and made available without a prescription to women under the age of 17. The move came as a surprise blow to healthcare and women’s rights activists, the kinds of people regularly counted as supporters of the Obama administration.

Today, Obama doubled down on his disregard for the concerns of these groups, claiming that while Sebelius made her decision without his counsel, he agreed with it. Obama pooh-poohed the findings of the FDA, which had concluded that Plan B pills posed no medical hazard and supported Sebelius’ official argument, citing a lack of confidence that “a 10-year-old or 11-year-old going to a drugstore would be able to, alongside bubble gum or batteries, be able to buy a medication that potentially if not used properly can have an adverse effect.” The logic expressed today by the president, and yesterday by Sebelius, is ludicrous: Medicines like Tylenol – which have been proven to have adverse effects in high doses – are available by the truckload on drugstore shelves, at prices far cheaper than the $30 to $50 it would cost a preteen to purchase just one dose of Plan B, let alone go wild with it.

But part of what was most disturbing about Obama’s statement was his reliance on language that reveals his paternalistic approach to women and their health.

“As the father of two daughters,” Obama told reporters, “I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine.”

First of all, the president was not talking about “various rules.” He was supporting a very specific rule, one that prevents young women from easily obtaining a drug that can help them control their reproductive lives, at an age when their economic, educational, familial and professional futures are perhaps most at risk of being derailed by an unplanned pregnancy. “As the father of two daughters,” Obama might want to reconsider his position on preventing young women from being able to exercise this form of responsibility over their own bodies and lives.

But as an American, I think it is important for my president not to turn to paternalistic claptrap and enfeebling references to the imagined ineptitude and irresponsibility of his daughters – and young women around the country – to justify a curtailment of access to medically safe contraceptives. The notion that in aggressively conscribing women’s abilities to protect themselves against unplanned pregnancy Obama is just laying down some Olde Fashioned Dad Sense diminishes an issue of gender equality, sexual health and medical access. Recasting this debate as an episode of “Father Knows Best” reaffirms hoary attitudes about young women and sex that had their repressive heyday in the era whence that program sprang.

A question of who should be allowed access to a safe form of contraception is at its root a question of how badly we want to, or believe that we can, police young women’s sexuality. When Obama is talking about his daughters, we know he’s not really basing his opinion on an anxiety that they might suffer the adverse effects of drinking a whole jug of Pepto-Bismol or swallowing 50 Advil, things that any 11-year-old who walks into a CVS with a wad of cash could theoretically do. When he says that he wants to “apply common sense” to questions of young women’s access to emergency contraception, he is telegraphing his discomfort with the idea of young women’s sexual agency, or more simply, with the idea of them having sex lives at all. This discomfort might be  comprehensible from an emotional, parental point of view. But these are not familial discussions; this is a public-health policy debate, and at a time when “16 and Pregnant” airs on MTV, the fact that a daddy feels funny about his little girls becoming grown-ups has no place in a discussion of healthcare options for America’s young women. It is also nearly impossible to imagine a similar use of language or logic to justify a ban of condom sales.

Moreover, Obama’s invocation of his role as a father is an insult to the commitments and priorities of those on the other side of this issue. Are we to believe that those who support the increased availability of emergency contraception do not have daughters? That if they do, they care less about those daughters than Barack Obama does about his? And that if they do not, they cannot possibly know better than a father of daughters what is best for young women? Why should we be asked to believe that Obama’s paternity imbues him with more moral authority on the subject of women’s health and reproductive lives than the investments of doctors, researchers and advocates who – regardless of their parental status – have dedicated their lives to working on behalf of increased reproductive health options. This line of argument is no better than the Mama Grizzly argument developed by Sarah Palin during 2010′s midterm elections, in which she asserted that her band of super-conservative mothers were qualified for office because “moms just know when there’s something wrong.”

Barack Obama has long had a tin ear for language that has anything to do with women and even more specifically with women’s rights. While on the campaign trail for president in 2008, he waved off a female reporter who asked a question about the future of the auto industry, referring to her diminutively as “sweetie.” The same year, attempting to play both sides on the issue of reproductive freedom, he gave an interview with a religious magazine in which he asserted his support for states’ restrictions on late-term abortions as long as there was an exception for the health of the mother, but added that he didn’t “think that ‘mental distress’ qualifies as the health of the mother.” Attempting to recover from that line and reassert his pro-choice bona fides, Obama later clarified that of course he believed in a medical exemption for “serious clinical mental health diseases,” just not when seeking a late-term abortion is “a matter of feeling blue,” perpetuating a wildly irresponsible vision of the rare and difficult late-term abortion as a moody impulse-buy.

Today also isn’t the first time he’s used references to members of his family to make a larger offensive point about women. Back in 2009, when charges that his officially female-friendly administration included some boys’ club tendencies hit the front of the New York Times, Obama dismissed the claims as “bunk.” Reporter Mark Leibovich noted at the time that the president “often points out that he is surrounded by strong females at home,” an argument that not only mimics an old saw about how being henpecked by women is equivalent to respecting them, but reflects a dynamic as old as patriarchal power itself and sidesteps the question of how strong females are treated at work. In 2010, while appearing on “The View,” Obama made a creaky Take-My-Wife-Please joke about how he wanted to appear on “a show that Michelle actually watched” as opposed to the news shows she usually flips past. The joke being that his missus, the one he met when she mentored him at a high-powered law firm, just doesn’t have a head for news delivered by anyone other than Elisabeth Hasselbeck.

It should no longer come as a surprise that the president of the United States is, on perhaps an unconscious level, an old-school patriarch. What’s startling is the degree to which Obama seems not to have learned from any of his past gaffes, how no one seems to have told him – or told him in a way that he’s absorbed – that the best way to address a question of women’s health and rights is probably not by making it about his role as a father.

This might be an especially valuable chat to have with the president as he moves into 2012 and toward an election in which he is going to be relying on the support of people he has just managed to anger, offend and speak down to — women. The least he could do is learn to address them with respect.

Rebecca Traister
Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of “Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women” (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.More Rebecca Traister

The Virgin Joseph? November 29, 2009

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Roger Hollander, November 29, 2009

“If men could have babies, abortion would be a sacrament.”

I buy 99% of my reading second hand at thrift stores.  I get some really good deals, and after a careful browsing of the back cover I almost invariably pick reading that I enjoy.  I find the best buys at the Bibles for Cambodia thrift shop in Guelph, which is why it is ironic that it was there that I inadvertently chose a “Christian” novel (“Deeper Water,” Robert Whitlow).  Its blurb suggested it was a “legal thriller,” which I love, but I missed the small print that read “Christian novel.”  So be it.  I decided to read it, I made it to the bittersweet end (the crime is solved, but the morally pristine heroine has not yet been able to chosen between her two born-again suitors), and I have no regrets.  The work was well written, the plot and the characters were believable, including the protagonist’s Evangelical family and her Evangelical lawyer associates.

Having once myself fallen into the throes of Evangelical Christianity (back in the early 1960’s, after which I took the message of Jesus seriously, left the hypocritical church and dedicated myself to Marxist humanist revolution), I felt the portrayal to ring true.  The author’s point of view was both Evangelical and fundamentalist, but mercifully lacked the narcissistic and jingoistic neo-Fascist political outlook of contemporary American Fundamentalism.

Two things about the novel struck me.  One was what I consider to be the ingenuous belief that the Christian god of the literalist interpreted Christian Bible concerns himself with the daily minutiae of each and every believer (imagine the mega giga’s on the dude’s computer).  But, beyond that, the obsessive preoccupation with the female protagonist’s virginity.  This we take for granted, but I decided to do some critical thinking on the theme.

First of all, I remember from my theological studies (Princeton Theological Seminary, 1963-1964) that some scholars use “maiden” instead of “virgin” for the original Hebrew and Greek word that traditional Bible translators translate as “virgin.”  “Maiden” would refer to an unmarried woman who is not necessarily, well, virgin, as we understand the word (that is, intercourse-free).

Contemporary Evangelical Christians, not to mention fundamentalist Muslims, Jews, etc. consider that their god is cognizant of the various marriage rituals, secular and religious, that constitute “marriage” in modern society, and that he insists that women shall not have had sexual intercourse prior to entering into that arrangement.  But hey, what about men?  Why not the Virgin Joseph?

Granted that if you asked a believer should a man be “virgin” before marriage, she or he would probably say yes, perhaps however with a sly wink on the side.  To the credit of the author of my Christian novel, he had his female Christian protagonist equally obsessive about her dress and manners so as not to tempt members of the opposite sex into sinful thoughts and desires.  What he doesn’t address, however, with respect to our heroine’s two Christian suitors, is the sexual attraction I would expect to be included in the attraction that induced them to become suitors in the first place (the author does constantly refer to her physical beauty).  Are we to believe that the attraction is strictly limited to the woman’s character and beliefs?  That certainly wasn’t my experience when I fell in love and married when I was an Evangelical Christian, and I cannot believe that I was an exception.  Where is Jimmy Carter when you need him?

Neither did my author give any mention to his heroine’s sexual desires or fantasies.  Does he want us to believe that she was entirely an asexual being?  That Christians have no sexual drive until marriage, at which time it somehow automatically it pops into gear?  I don’t think so.  I think Evangelical Christians acknowledge sexual drives and categorize them as sinful (an offence against their god) before marriage but suddenly somehow transformed into a gift from god after marriage (to be used however, only according to the instructions from the manufacturer that come with the product; that is, with the approved partner, with anyone else we’re back to sinning).

Now let’s go back and look at what it means for a woman to be “virgin,” to abstain from sexual intercourse before marriage.  If she does not have sex with single or married men, then with whom are these men to have sex?  Well, for married men that’s a no-brainer, their wives.  But if unmarried virgin women are not to have sex with single men, and single men are not to have sex with either single or married women, then there is no escaping the logic the Christian god wants good Christian men as well to be “virgins” prior to marriage.

Fair enough.  But why then all the obsessive preoccupation with the Virgin Mary and absolutely no mention of the Virgin Joseph?  You cannot bring in the Old Testament patriarchal values or what Saul of Tarsus (who later became Paul the sexual moralist) wants us to believe about his god’s view of the different roles of men and women, to explain this.  Yes, Christian women are to be submissive and obedient to their husbands, but definitely not to either a single or married man who asks for sexual intercourse while she is still single.  She must remain virgin, and therefore logic allows for no other option for the Christian male to remain virgin as well.

While the Evangelical Christian (as well as Roman Catholics and other religious fundamentalists) will probably acknowledge this to be true, again what they cannot explain why in all their discourse, female virginity takes on the color of an absolute while male virginity hardly deserves a mention.

For me the answer is obvious, especially in light of the patriarchal (man controlled) structures, theologically and institutionally of virtually all organized religion.  It can be summarized in a single word.

Misogyny.

In looking for an image to go with the article, this is what I found on Google under “male virgin”

Time for Men to Make a Sacrifice November 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Religion, Women.
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Published on Saturday, November 14, 2009 by The Nation


Women are being asked to shut up and accept the ban on abortion funding in the US healthcare reform bill. We won’t

by Katha Pollitt

You know what I don’t want to hear right now about the Stupak-Pitts amendment banning abortion coverage from federally subsidised health insurance policies? That it’s the price of reform, and pro-choice women should shut up and take one for the team.

“If you want to rebuild the American welfare state,” Peter Beinart writes in the Daily Beast, “there is no alternative” than for Democrats to abandon “cultural” issues like gender and racial equality. Hey, Peter, Representative Stupak and your 64 Democratic supporters, Jim Wallis and other anti-choice “progressive” Christians, men: Why don’t you take one for the team for a change and see how you like it?

For example, budget hawks in Congress say they’ll vote against the bill because it’s too expensive. Maybe you could win them over if you volunteered to cut out funding for male-exclusive stuff, like prostate cancer, Viagra, male infertility, vasectomies, growth-hormone shots for short little boys, long-term care for macho guys who won’t wear motorcycle helmets and, I dunno, psychotherapy for pedophile priests. Men could always pay in advance for an insurance policy rider, as women are blithely told they can do if Stupak becomes part of the final bill.

Barack Obama, too, worries about the deficit. Maybe you could help him out by sacrificing your denomination’s tax exemption. The Catholic church would be a good place to start, and it wouldn’t even be unfair, since the blatant politicking of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on abortion violates the spirit of the ban on electoral meddling by tax-exempt religious institutions.

Why should anti-choicers be the only people who get to refuse to let their taxes support something they dislike? You don’t want your tax dollars to pay, even in the most notional way, for women’s abortion care, a legal medical procedure that one in three American women will have in her lifetime? I don’t want to pay for your misogynist fairy tales and sour-old-man hierarchies.

Women Democrats have taken an awful lot of hits for the team lately. Many of us didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton in the primary because the goal of electing a woman seemed less important than the goal of electing the best possible president. Only a self-hater or a featherhead didn’t feel some pain about that. And although women are hardly alone in this, we’ve seen some pretty big hopes set aside in the first year of the Obama administration.

The Paycheque Fairness Act, which would expand women’s protections against sexism in the workplace, is on the back burner. Meanwhile, the Office of Faith-Based and Neighbourhood Partnerships is not only alive and well. It’s newly staffed with anti-choicers like Alexia Kelley of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which, as Frances Kissling notes in Salon, has compared abortion to torture.

I know what you’re thinking: conservative Democrats like Stupak took Republican districts to win us both houses of Congress. Thanks a lot, Howard Dean, whose bright idea it was to recruit them. But those majorities would not be there, and Obama would not be in the White House, if not for pro-choice women and men – their votes, talent, money, organisational capacity and shoe leather.

We knocked ourselves out, and it wasn’t so that religious reactionaries like Stupak – who, as Jeff Sharlet writes in Salon, is a member of the Family, the secretive rightwing Christian-supremacist congressional coven – would control both parties. Elections have consequences, you say? Exactly: Obama, the pro-choice, pro-woman candidate, won. Stupak didn’t put him in the White House, and neither did the Catholic bishops or the white anti-feminist welfare staters of Beinart’s imagination.

We did. And we deserve better from Obama than sound bites like “this is a healthcare bill, not an abortion bill“. Abortion is healthcare. That’s the whole point.

What makes the Stupak fiasco especially pathetic is the fumbling response from pro-choicers. Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill would not be in the Senate today were it not for pro-choice and feminist supporters like Emily’s List. How does she thank us? By telling Joe Scarborough that Stupak isn’t so bad, that it won’t affect “the majority of America” – just low-income women – and that it’s “an example of having to govern with moderates.”

So people who’ll tip healthcare reform into the trash unless it blocks abortion access are the moderates now! (McCaskill took it back later, but the damage was done.) If I ever give that woman another dime, shoot me.

The big pro-choice and feminist organisations are up in arms – Now and Planned Parenthood want to see healthcare reform voted down if Stupak is retained – but writing in the Daily Beast, Dana Goldstein nicely captures the bewilderment of leaders caught by surprise. “It’s the feeling that you’ve been rolled,” said Eleanor Smeal, of Feminist Majority. Or haven’t been paying attention.

Smeal was onto something, though, when she told Goldstein: “Here we are playing nice guy again, we didn’t want to make a fuss.” Consciously or unconsciously, by not organising in advance to insist on coverage of abortion, pro-choicers set themselves up to be out-manoeuvred. In fact, as Sharon Lerner reported on TheNation.com, Democrats stood by while anti-choicers kept contraception out of the reform bill’s list of basic benefits all insurers must cover. So much for the “common ground” approach where we all agree that birth control is the way to lower the abortion rate.

Enough already. Pro-choicers have been taking one for the team since 1976, when Congress passed the Hyde amendment, which Jimmy Carter would later defend with the immortal comment: “There are many things in life that are not fair.” Time for the theocrats and male chauvinists to give something up for the greater good – to say nothing of the 20 pro-choicers, all men, who supported Stupak out of sheer careerism.

After all, if it weren’t for pro-choicers, there wouldn’t be much of a team for them to play on.

© 2009 The Nation

George Tiller, A Hero for People Who Care About the Humanity of Women June 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Religion, Right Wing, Women.
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george tiller

by Debra Sweet (Posted by Elaine Brower)  

www.opednews.com, June 1, 2009

A hero who wore a button saying “Trust Women,” was shot down and killed today, in a devastating attack on the right of women to control our own bodies.  Dr. George Tiller began providing abortion care in 1973, as soon as it was legal in Kansas, and continued until yesterday.  He endured, and rose above, the constant picketers of his clinic and home; the vandalism; the baseless lawsuits and political/legal trials.  He survived being shot by another anti-abortion would-be assassin in 1993.  He gave compassionate care to thousands of women, and mentored colleagues and medical students, and was a source of last resort for women with fetal/maternal complications in his Wichita, Kansas clinic.

George’s murder is a heavy, almost unbearable blow, and not only for his family and friends, who deserve our deep gratitude for supporting him in his life’s work. 

A wonderful person by all accounts, he is not at this time replaceable as a highly skilled teacher and courageous physician who knowingly took the risks he did to do what we believed in.  The anti-abortion movement, from its origins with “abortion is murder” in the 1970’s, through the clinic-bombing 1980’s, and the murderous attacks of the 1990’s, has successfully shrunk the ranks of doctors and hospitals who are willing to risk providing abortions.  They’ve poisoned the minds of a generation of women, permeating them with feelings of shame over unwanted pregnancies and for having the audacity to want to control when and if they bear children.

Having been nose to nose with anti-abortion leaders in front of clinics, and sometimes between them and doctors, for decades, I know them as the active base of a deeply dangerous, Christian theocratic, and fascist movement.  They believe, as Randall Terry screamed in my face in 1987, that women must be kept subservient to men.  Their god is a vengeful god, they remind us, and we deserve death for not obeying him.

They’ve got the scripture, memorized from both the Old Testament and the New, and the worldview to enforce that male supremacy in their homes and in their movement.

They believe that this country’s laws should be based on their interpretation of their God’s law, so you, too, would have no choice in the matter.  And they want to kill us; the women who aren’t subservient, and the doctors who foster our agency.

For 8 years, these groups had easy access to the levers of power in this country, right into the White House, and not just through the smug political operative, Karl Rove.  The whole Bush regime, from the “Decider” who believed he was on a mission from God, to the thousands of political appointees who re-wrote government websites, rules and laws restricting abortion access, is responsible for a leap in the way government stopped women from accessing abortion.  These legal and political attacks on women’s access to abortion – and birth control – changed life for millions of women.

They gave the mainstream media the idea that it’s OK to quote anti-abortion organizations as a legitimate voice in the matter of what women have the legal and moral right to do with their lives.

The Rush Limbaughs, Pat Robertsons, and Ann Coulters have responsibility for Dr. Tiller’s murder too, by creating a political climate leading to his murder.  9-11 was the fault of “abortionists” according to Pat Robertson.  The clever Rush comment “Tiller the Killer,” drawn straight from the constant street protesters around George’s clinic, and Coulter’s comment that previous abortion doctors were killed by a “gun used in a procedure” all fuel the climate that it’s OK to murder doctors.

But it’s not only the ravings of the right wing that are dangerous to women’s rights.

What about the “leaders” of the Democratic Party who counsel us to find common ground with these fascists and religious fanatics?  You have a president who invites an outspoken homophobe to give his inaugural prayer, citing “common ground” with this as somehow a step forward.  You have a president who won’t come out in favor of gay marriage, tacitly encouraging many of his supporters to vote FOR Proposition 8 in California.  You have a president who bends over backwards to give legitimacy to the anti-abortion cause, to the honesty of their leaders’ convictions.

If you watched the scene developing in May, weeks before Barack Obama’s appearance at the Notre Dame commencement, as Randall Terry and hundreds of others were getting arrested on the campus, and working themselves into a frenzy – all carefully covered by the national media – and you saw Obama give a speech that didn’t confront them for being wrong, you knew a murder like this would happen.  The “pro-choice” movement, for its part, has surrendered its activism and resources almost completely to the Democratic Party and its “common ground” strategy.

This will inevitably get our abortion doctors killed, and drive others from practice.  A courageous woman physician, who provides abortion care to rural, young and poor women, even if they have no money, is one of the successors of Dr. Tiller.  She wrote today:

“Abortion has been legal in this country for 36 years and it is harder for a woman to access this vital medical care now than it was when I started providing abortion care 21 years ago. The combination of fewer feminist women’s health clinics, restrictive laws and the hijacking of the rhetoric surrounding abortion has made for an empty promise of “choice” for many women. Even our pro-choice President in his speech at Notre Dame said that “abortion is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make.”

I so strongly disagree. For the bulk of my patients it is a moral, responsible decision to make. The most common emotion expressed directly after an abortion and again at the follow up exam is one of relief. If anything, they express guilt for not feeling guilty. Why is the “pro-life” movement so intent on putting out a message to women that they should feel guilty and remorse and shame for taking control of their lives? Why do we LET them define who we are and tell us how we should think?

And then there is the issue of “common ground” between those that support and those that oppose legal abortion. I say this; until those that oppose abortion will agree with and support the notion that the best way to PREVENT unintended pregnancies in the first place (isn’t that the goal?) is to provide ALL women of childbearing age with scientifically accurate, comprehensive information about, and ready access to birth control of all types, there is no common ground. The notion that sexual relations can and will happen only between married, heterosexual couples that wish to conceive is absolutely ridiculous. Abstinence-only education results in higher STI rates, more teen pregnancies, more teen births AND more abortions. Letting religious based individuals and organizations with a totally unrealistic view of teen sexuality into our schools has been a huge mistake. It must stop.

Unfortunately, there is not, to my knowledge, a single “pro-life” organization that supports women using any method of birth control except natural family planning. And what do I call couples that rely on natural family planning?  Pregnant.”

This woman gives me hope.  We-everyone who cares about the humanity of women-should form a solid wall of support around her and other abortion providers.

But I am very angry, and sad, today at the utter injustice of Dr. Tiller’s death.  I’ll be out on Union Square in New York City today, Monday, June 1, at 4:00 pm, joining others to speak out against this murder, and to rally more people to act.

Women’s Liberation Through Submission: An Evangelical Anti-Feminism Is Born January 12, 2009

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true-women-2008Weeping at True Woman ’08

Kathyrn Joyce, www.religiondispatches.org, January 11, 2009

 Six thousand evangelical women gather to support biblical womanhood, and hear from theological leaders about the great influence wielded by “a woman on her knees.”

This October, more than 6,000 women gathered in Chicago for the True Woman Conference ’08: a stadium-style event to promote what its proponents call “biblical womanhood,” “complementarianism,” or—most bluntly—“the patriarchy movement.”

Women gathering to support the patriarchy movement? It’s evangelical counterculture at its most contrarian.

The Associated Baptist Press explains the relationship of biblical womanhood to feminism, highlighting an ambitious initiative that arose from the meeting: a signature drive seeking 100,000 women to endorse its “True Woman Manifesto,” which, the ABP writes, aims “at sparking a counterrevolution to the feminist movement of the 1960s.”

To outside observers of the patriarchy movement, the starkness of the calls for gender hierarchy often seem amusingly outdated (not to mention historically misleading: feminist blogs Feministing and Pandagon have deftly dismantled some of the speakers’ Leave it to Beaver idealizations of the 1950s as a time when women were universally protected).

Though only just under 3,000 women have actually signed the document since its unveiling on October 11, the fact that it exists, and the campaign to gather such a large showing of public support, reveals something important about this movement: that its followers don’t view themselves simply as a remnant of polite, churchy women, holding out against a crass culture, but rather as a revolutionary body waging “countercultural” rebellion against what they see as the feminist status quo.

“We are believing God for a movement of reformation and revival in the hearts and homes of Christian women all around this world,” one organizer, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, said at the close of the conference. “I just believe there is a massive women’s movement of true women in those millions of women who are able to capture all kinds of battlefronts for Christ.”

The terms of the manifesto (downloadable here) serve as a good shorthand description of the aims and principles of the submission and patriarchy movement. Signers affirm their belief that women and men were designed to reflect God in “complementary and distinct ways”; that today’s culture has gone astray distinctly because of its egalitarian approach to gender (and that it’s “experiencing the consequences of abandoning God’s design for men and women”); and that while men and women are equally valuable in the eyes of God, here on earth they are relegated to separate spheres at home and in the church.

The “countercultural” attitudes that signers support include the idea that women are called to affirm and encourage godly masculinity, and honor the God-ordained male headship of their husbands and pastors; that wifely submission to male leadership in the home and church reflects Christ’s submission to God, His Father; that “selfish insistence on personal rights is contrary to the spirit of Christ”; and, in a pronatalist turn of phrase that recalls the rhetoric of the Quiverfull conviction, their willingness to “receive children as a blessing from the Lord.”

Finally, in a reference to the importance of woman-to-woman mentoring within the conservative church, they affirmed that “mature Christian women” are obliged to disciple the next generation of Christian wives, training them in matters of submission and headship, in order to provide a legacy of “fruitful femininity.”

The speakers at the conference were the A-list of complementarian celebrities: Pastor John Piper, Christian radio personality Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor and antifeminist author Mary Kassian, J. Ligon Duncan III, chairman of the board for the Council for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW), Susan Hunt, an author and consultant to the Presbyterian Church in America’s Women in the Church Ministry, and others. The conference was organized by DeMoss’ St. Louis-based ministry (and eponymous twice-daily radio program), Revive Our Hearts, a women’s ministry that stresses submission as a militant discipline that will alter the culture.

DeMoss’ fellow speakers shared her faith. Striding to the stage to the soundtrack of Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman,” Mary Kassian riffed on a common biblical womanhood theme: that the queasy unhealthiness of the vintage Virginia Slims slogan, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby,” was representative of feminism’s unhealthy promises to women: appealing to women’s desire for independence, but selling a dangerous product. Kassian’s premise—that feminism took women a “long way” in the wrong direction—echoed that of Mary Pride, submission and headship advocate and author of the homeschooling mother’s cult classic book, The Way Home: Away from Feminism, Back to Reality, published some twenty years earlier.

Pride made the case in the late ’80s for submission as a revolutionary calling, and Kassian’s evocation of Reddy’s old feminist fight song was as deliberate a declaration that the “True Woman” movement was as revolutionary as feminism had been. “I’m praying that God is going to raise up a counterrevolution of women,” she told the crowd, “women who hold the knowledge of our times in one hand and the truth and the clarity and the charity of the Word of God the other; women whose hearts are broken over the gender confusion and the spiritual and emotional and relational carnage of our day and who, like those men of old, know what to do.”

DeMoss has collaborated with a number of her fellow speakers before. In 2002, she edited a compilation of essays on submission and headship entitled Biblical Womanhood in the Home, which drew contributions from Kassian, Hunt, and other complementarian matriarchs, such as Dorothy Kelley Patterson, who with her husband, Paige Patterson, created the homemaking degree and curriculum introduced at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2007 and P. Bunny Wilson, author of anti-feminist Christian books such as Liberated Through Submission. In her introduction to the collection, DeMoss wrote of her culture-transforming ambitions:

 

I began to wonder what might happen in our day if even a small number of devoted, intentional women would begin to pray and believe God for a revolution of a different kind—a counterrevolution—within the evangelical world… Unlike most revolutions, this counterrevolution does not require that we march in the streets or send letters to Congress or join yet another organization. It does not require us to leave our homes; in fact, for many women, it calls them back into their homes. It requires only that we humble ourselves, that we learn, affirm, and live out the biblical pattern of womanhood, and that we teach the ways of God to the next generation.

 

To that end, DeMoss has worked with the CBMW, Campus Crusade for Christ’s Family Life, the Moody media empire, Moms In Touch International, and other organizations—pushing not just the familiar list of Christian right demands, but a more subtle, and more thorough, transformation of Christian family life and structure, from which to wage a more effective culture war.

The imperative of such a return to “biblical” gender roles is even farther- reaching though, as Kassian explained. Feminism, she argued, in a paraphrase of the argument in her book The Feminist Mistake: The Radical Impact of Feminism on Church and Culture, is a multistage process that begins with feminism’s insistence on self-definition and self-determination, and ends with feminism’s declaration that women can interpret and decide for themselves who or what God is: a statement of theological relativity that threatens to undermine biblical literalism completely. In The Feminist Mistake, Kassian explained this slide more thoroughly:

 

Feminism begins with a deconstruction of a Judeo-Christian view of womanhood (the right to name self); progressed to the deconstruction of manhood, gender relationships, family/societal structures, and a Judeo-Christian worldview (the right to name the world); and concluded with the concept of a metaphysical pluralism, self-deification, and the rejection of the Judeo-Christian deity (the right to name God).

 

To the age-old question of “who is God,” Kassian complained, feminism answers, it’s up to you. And this, to Kassian, is a blasphemous statement of authority in and of itself, and even a sign of self-worship. “According to feminism, women decide, and ultimately, that means that they themselves are God.”

This is the charge of complementarian’s biggest advocates. The Southern Baptist seminary where Kassian teaches is also the location of the SBC-affiliated CBMW, the preeminent institution of complementarianism and publisher of the most authoritative book on the subject, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, co-edited by theologians John Piper and Wayne Grudem.

“Wimpy theology makes wimpy women,” Piper told the audience. Reinforcing a common message that biblical womanhood, true womanhood, may look meek, but is actually fierce, Piper, who spreads the complementarian message not just through his writing and affiliation with the CBMW, but also through his church-planting Desiring God ministry, explained, “Wimpy theology does not give a woman a God big enough, strong enough, wise enough, good enough to handle the realities of life in a way that enables her to magnify Him and His Son all the time… Wimpy theology doesn’t have a granite foundation of God’s sovereignty underneath.” Non-wimpy theology gives women both a God strong enough to see them through the worst of life, Piper continued, and also a set of non-negotiable mandates for life. Namely that submission is a wife’s divine calling, and truest form of power. “I distinguish between authority and influence,” he said. “A woman on her knees sways more in this nation than a thousand three-piece suited Wall Street jerks. There is massive power in this room, so I do not take lightly this moment.”

Neither should observers, however laughably retrograde the True Woman prescriptions and manifesto might seem. What a conference of this size means—along with the publicly-declared ambition to gather exponentially more women—is that the biblical womanhood movement is getting organized.

Kathryn Joyce is the author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, a study of conservative Christian women’s movements forthcoming from Beacon Press in Feb. 2009. Her articles have appeared in The Nation, Mother Jones, Newsweek, and other publications