|In the States the War on Women can generate a little humor. Not so in other parts of the world where the reality is much different and far bloodier.
As the Vatican continues to ramp up opposition to gay marriage in France and England, and in the US the USCCB continues to plan for another "Fortnight for Freedom", violence against women in more traditional cultures is increasing. On Friday there was another gang rape of a woman on a bus in India. This time the woman lived and reported the rape. The police have arrested six of her attackers. The following excerpt is from Salon. It's part of an extended interview with David Jacobson, a University of South Florida sociologist, whose book "Of Virgins and Martyrs: Women and Sexuality in Global Conflict" will come out later this month. The article was written by Tracy Clarke-Flory. I have started the excerpt at the end of her introduction to Mr Jacobson's book.
It’s chiefly an ideological divide of “honor” versus “self-possession” — or, as he puts it in the book, “who owns and control’s one’s body, especially when it comes to women: is it the individual herself or the community, through enforced practices of honor, virginity, veiling, and marriage?”
What Jacobson does beautifully in his accessibly academic book is differentiate between politicized Islamist patriarchy and “the broader Muslim community,” the former being “a core expression of a deeper global ﬁssure,” he explains. “In an honor society, patriarchal and tribal traditions dictate that a woman’s body belongs to and serves the community. … An interest-based society privileges self-determination, the sovereignty of the individual over her body, and ownership of one’s own capital, be it economic, cultural, or social.” As globalization improves the status of many women, it also incites a ferocious backlash against them.
..... Why is female sexuality at the heart of some of our most significant global conflicts?
It’s extraordinary. What we’ve seen in Delhi recently is a horrifying symptom of this broader global phenomenon. The more patriarchal a society, the more vicious the backlash to the integration of women, not just in the labor market and education but to the growing autonomy of women in areas from fashion to consumerism to marriage. I think what’s happening is that women’s sexuality and women’s status has really become the hinge of two very different visions of society and visions of morality. What we’ve seen in recent decades is that women have been making these extraordinary strides in the aggregate. As a consequence, women’s sexuality has become this battleground and this backlash of the most patriarchal elements that control it. We can see women’s progress in these areas is dramatic, but it’s much more muted in the most patriarchal corners of the world from Southeast Asia, including India, down through the Middle East to North Africa. India’s an interesting case because, as has been seen in Delhi, it captures both the modern India and the patriarchal India, which get juxtaposed in what we’ve witnessed in these last weeks.
I have to admit I have had a very difficult time understanding why Roman Catholicism has made such a big deal about gay marriage, abortion, and birth control. I fully understand how these issues undercut a great deal of Catholic theology based in Genesis, and I understand that women's progress is perceived to be coming at the expense of men's rights and gender expectation. I also think all this forward progress for women directly impacts the rights and justifications of Catholicism's insistence on a completely male centric hierarchical church. Unfortunately while I wandered amongst these trees, I had lost sight of the forest. The forest is truly all about whether women will be allowed to determine their own reproductive life, or if it really is in the best interests of families, cultures, and nations to force women's reproductive compliance for the 'greater good' of the community. And of course, if women's reproduction is going to be subservient to the needs of the community that means the traditional method of forcing that subservience--male domination--must continue unquestioned.
In the West this is being played out in Roman Catholicism quite loudly over abortion, gay marriage, and birth control. This is happening over birth control even though the conflict was resolved fifty years ago in the minds of most men and most women. Western culture has mostly accepted that women are indeed capable of determining their own contribution to the future of the community and actually have a right to do so. However, this idea of women's sovereignty over their own bodies has not been accepted in the same way in the developing world. Since the Roman Catholic Church is experiencing growth in these areas, it makes a certain amount of sense to loudly castigate Western notions of female autonomy in order to have a palatable message in these areas and be seen, not as another destabilizing Western influence, but a champion of traditional values. It makes sense to rail against gay marriage as if it has an ability to harm cultures and threaten world peace, not because two people loving each other is a threat, but because it's the inherent gender freedom implied in gay marriage which is the threat and it specifically threatens the most patriarchal and political of the Islamic strains. This is no different than in the West, where the most conservative Christians are also the most ardent proponents of gun rights, the most anti abortion, the most gay phobic, the most likely to insist women belong subservient to their 'loving' husbands, and very much the most political. They are also the most fearful of change on this profound a level because reproduction is the bottom line which determines the survivability of the community. In this view, women must have children and it's so profound a need, that those that can't have the children MUST control those who do.
Religions have been important in maintaining the idea women's bodies are the property of the community and they have developed all kinds of rationales to support this 'truth'. In Catholicism this has moved from teaching that women are agents of evil in a way men aren't, to blaming women for the pain and death associated with child birth, to fostering the idea that their lives are subordinate to their fruit of their wombs and that the sacrifices inherent in providing children are the means with which women repay humanity for the sin of Eve. Lately the language has changed to 'women are equal but complimentary to men with the genders having different 'roles'. It's the same thing, only different less demeaning language. It is an improvement, at least in the language and rationale sense. The irrational logic and demeaning language has now shifted to, and is reserved for, homosexuals, but 'homosexuals' really means gay men.
It would be nice if we could debate this issue of whether women have a higher calling to the community to provide children, or have an equal right to provide for their own individual development. Women in the West have shown it is possible to do both, if one limits the amount of children they have, but for some reason in Catholicism this is still not an option, even though it was the exact option we are taught that Mary herself opted for in raising Jesus. It's doubtful that she could have been one of Jesus' followers and at the foot of the cross if she had other children to take care of back in Nazareth.
At one level this idea of women being the property of the community is really a statement about men not trusting women to make legitimate decisions about their own reproductive and child raising capacities. In that sense it's a story about male domination of women through a need deficit form of motivation. They need children for various reason, they can't provide them alone, they will force women to do it for them. It's all for the good of the community. Their community. Their community that women are allowed to build and serve, but not have autonomy within as individuals. Sounds like the Catholic Church to me, which is why the Catholic Church is sounding more and more out of touch with post modern society.
In the meantime the war against women is a hot war in too many areas of the globe and I wish it was possible for Pope Benedict to address this as loudly as he has gay marriage and abortion, but I doubt he can.