Monday, January 14, 2013

Yesterday Was The Trees, Today Is The Forest

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.


  1. Perfect timing on this post.
    I have been pondering why it is so unseemly for publicly celibate (and possibly) chaste men to be so obsessed with pregancy and abortion. And this morning I was able to refame it with the correct tone.

    It is actually pornographic for celibate men to be so obsessed with women's sexual organs.

    THAT expresses the context of celibate men getting so worked up over who is pregnant, why and if she will stay pregnant. Pornographic.

    There is an entire priests' group dedicated to LIFE. Have they called on the Supreme Court judges to end executions? No but they are passionitlly concerned about pregnant women (not about born babies and food stamps or health care mind you.)
    I think it is a clerically acceptable form of porn.

    1. Not only that Sue , I find some of what these Theology of the Body seminars I had attended in the past struck me as acceptable porn. A writer I read a day ago likened some of what speakers like Christopher West promote is like a Catholic straight male counterpart to Evangelical Prosperity Gospel; a man can learn to gaze at all the women he wants without demeaning them and still be holy! You can have it all with "mature purity!" Dawn Eden recently critiqued an article by Matt McGuiness of Communion and Liberation regarding some of the slick sophistry these guys have spread.

      Granted, I don't agree with some of what Dawn Eden and others say about Humana Vitae I'be found much in her critique that was spot on.Between the ordained fetishing pregnant women and motherhood and TOTB ideologues telling straight adult men to develop mature purity it seems like modern Catholicism talks to us men as if our psychological and sexual attitudes were still stuck in adolescence.

      John Fremont

    2. I think your last sentence is real truth John. Why can't society let men mature beyond the sexual notions that came with their first sexual experiences. Why enshrine a teen age view of male sexuality. This probably has a whole lot to do with Sue's point about this fixation with women's bodies and pregnancy, and gay sex acts as opposed to the reality of the existence of the gay orientation. It is an acceptable form of pornography. It's an addiction to 'sinless' porn.

  2. Sue, you are right to be disturbed by priests who focus pathologically on criminalizing non-procreative sex among straight couples and honest gays, while ignoring the child- and adult-molesting misdeeds of colleagues like "Father" Tom Euteneuer who exploited "exorcisms" to grope women. I have concluded that such marriage-eschewing, child-free men are misogynist looksist playboys at heart, who fear marrying aging imperfect women with expensive, squalling brats like their own mothers and siblings. Such priests with their TEEN "Virgin" centerfold are far more harmful to women, marriage, children and society than Hugh Hefner who at least advocates safe motherhood and using condoms to avoid deadly STDs. I don't believe most of these priests are chaste -- they simply hide behind their collars to avoid being stuck with expensive non-centerfold women. Really, if they care so much about saving traditional families, why don't they have their own families instead of swearing off fidelity to and fatherhood with one woman? Demonized women and gays need to shout back to child-free adulterer Rush Limbaugh and his "celibate" buddies: "YOU go have the children if they mean so much to you! If you won't have kids, why should we? You first!"

  3. Excellent points. I doubt that the hierarchy got the message that the first "Fortnight for Freedom" turned out to be a bust.

  4. Awesome writing. This article brought it home for me in a way I never thought of before!

  5. quote:
    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.

    Maybe it is my personal worldview here, but I don't see - at this point in human history with a population of 6 billion and counting - such a profound 'need' to reproduce, not on a societal level anyway. It has always struck me as another method by which the conservative Christians publicly demonstrate their compliance with God's Will - in this case to be 'fruitful and multiply' - out of a rather false piety and hidden selfishness. To follow on Sue B's comments, this becomes pornographic even in the context of marriage when the child conceived is not so important to the parents as the as is the social acceptance they seek by way of their constant state of fecundity.

    1. Veronica, the under current of this need to reproduce is racist and is aimed at white women. We have not, and are not doing, our part to insure that there are enough whites to maintain white male domination of the planet.

      It seems that the white male masters who finally decided blowing up the planet was not in their best interests, now have turned to increasing their numbers to maintain their hegemony. Until they decided not to blow up the planet, having oodles of white children was not a priority.

    2. Exactly. There's a racist subtext to all of this that is rooted in the belief that white women have to reproduce more. That's the real reason for the obsession with women's reproductive capacities.

  6. To me the real meaning of marriage is when two strangers bond to increase their own single creativity. This creativity has many expressions and children are only one possible outlet. Many marriages occur when people are post menopausal or sterile or have very difficult professions and can not, should not bare the responsibilities of birthing multiple children or even one child. How can the major purpose of marriage be child birth in an overpopulated world with diminished resources that is poisoning itself in its own waste? The problem for some celibate minds is one of having no creativity at all. Seems that the RCC leadership is stuck in the mess of failing to recognize the whispers of the Holy Spirit to our society. They are stuck in their own omnipotent delusion that She only speaks to men of the cloth. Tell it to that to the women and men of science who develop often through serendipity the new scientific ideas of our day. No, the men of the cloth fear them as they fear they have feared the thoughtful Catholic theologians of the past 40 years, and call them Satan. The people know, however, that it is the Satan in these very men's leadership that causes so many problems and so much suffering. To Shame on the RCC leadership from the current and last Pope on down. Too shame on these MEN who lack the wisdom whispered by the Spirit. This is evil, this is sinful. dennis

  7. Does this sound familiar :) ?

    It seems likely that the bishops are imitating their "American cousins".

  8. Replies
    1. I just read about this case this morning, so no I haven't posted on it, and probably won't. Somethings are just too bizarre and out of control. I do think the official response is utterly lame.

  9. Note that he was one of Edward Egan's protégés. That tells me volumes.

  10. I don't really care for the linking of the homosexuality issue with the abortion issue. As a pro-life person I am pro-life for gay and for children, including the unborn. I think people who are truly pro-life should also be for treating gay people as human beings of value and worth and pro-life people should also be against the death penalty and such things as torture. Thus respecting the sanctity of all life. The Church pretty much has a good record here, better than the record of many Catholics. I hope that the Church never gives up its protection of the unborn. If the Church became pro-abortion it would lose all credibility with me. The Church needs to be stronger in speaking up for all children, born and unborn.