Just over a week ago I was reading this here blog when I came across an article that shocked me. It was a response to a feminist blog that stated that the Catholic Church disrespects women. The response was supposed to demonstrate that “[the Catholic Church is] one of the few places in the modern world where women can find true acceptance and respect.” I almost choked when I read those words. Surely a Solidarity Salon or feminist society would be a more accepting place.
The Catholic Church has systematically stripped away women’s rights from the outset. Before people go asking for evidence, permit me to quote the Bible:
“That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discrete, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” Titus 2:4, 5 (emphasis mine).
According to this, women are subservient to men, must marry, have children and behave in a particular way—chaste, pure, with loving eyes only for him. The most important point here, however, is that wives must be obedient to their husbands. This indicates that women are viewed as being unequal to men. I cannot see how we can possibly feel respected if we do not feel equal.
Women in the Bible, and therefore in the eyes of the Catholic Church, are always presented in one of two ways: the Madonna or the whore. The Virgin Mary (mother of Christ and most famous of all biblical “vessels”), Priscilla (devoted wife of Aquila who extended her hospitality to St. Paul when he was in need), Ruth (loyally took care of her sick mother-in-law) and Elizabeth (who bore a son, John the Baptist, despite being well past child-bearing age) are all examples of the Madonna; the virtuous woman in the Bible.
So some of the examples are a little stretched for goodness—I’ll gladly look after my mother-in-law but I doubt that alone makes me a good person. That is because women are painted as sinners and whores far more frequently in the good old pages of the Bible. A small list of examples include: Eve (duh, she started it all by defying God and eating some fruit), Jezebel (worshipped false gods and murdered her husband and sons), Delilah (betrayed Samson, lured him with her sexuality and maimed him by cutting off his hair in which his strength lay, effectively leading to his death), Salome (flirted and danced seductively for her step-father to persuade him to execute John the Baptist—at the age of thirteen! [Early Bird note: so the sexualisation of children isn’t just a raunch culture, Internet-age thing!]), Mary Magdalene (one of Jesus’ most reliable disciples, however she was painted as a prostitute until 1969 when the Pope recognised her as a true disciple). I could go on. Is it just me, or are the stories about the “evil” women just so much more fun? Now that we’ve had a who’s who of female biblical figures, I’d like to address some of the points that were made in the article.
The first point, predictably, is abortion. Apparently, because a high percentage of women having abortions reported using contraception and it failing “there is a huge problem with contraception—something the Church has said all along.” The Catholic Church is against contraception because they believe that every union between sperm and egg is a life and that only God has the right to give or take away life. Jennifer Fulwiler’s argument seems to be more centred on the science of contraception, an aspect of the argument that the Catholic Church has never really looked into being clouded with the morality angle. There were a few comments written in response asserting that if feminists want to be environmentalists as well, they shouldn’t pump their bodies and waterways with chemicals that inhibit pregnancy. Aaah, psedo-science! As both a feminist and an environmentalist, I endorse the use of the Pill. All medication carries a risk, even aspirin. I received a very competent education on the menstrual cycle and how the pill works to inhibit the release of an egg by adding more oestrogen and progesterone, hormones that are naturally produced in the body, at a particular time in the cycle. If you are educated on how it works, you won’t be afraid of it. I would like to ask a question about sperm, though. If the church posits that the union between egg and sperm is a human being, do they believe that individual sperm and unfertilised eggs are also people? If this is the case, how can they condone the reproduction process, considering how many poor innocent sperm die in the hostile environment of the womb? [Early Bird note: Or in “masturbatory emissions”, as Elle Woods would say?! Oh, that’s right: masturbation is evil.]
The article goes on to say that—shock, horror!—women are having sex for pleasure, not procreation. Really? In 2011? I had no idea! This is blamed on being “bombarded with about a zillion messages a day that portray sex as… pleasure and fun” and that you only have to “turn on the E! Network or flip through an issue of Cosmo” to see this message being touted and lauded as positive. I must admit, I always go to Cosmo for the best sex tips! The hyper-sexualisation of society is something that religion in general often uses as a way of renouncing feminism. In a Google search of feminism, the third option is a website called Feminism is Evil. Not only is the sheer ridiculousness of the “argument” against feminism laughable, the only evidence appears to be quotes from the Bible. Feminism is Evil also blames the media for the unfeminine behaviour of women:
“The television is about as false and misleading as can be nowadays… People are being indoctrinated, especially our youth, to have a false view of reality. Television nowadays is being used as a weapon to promote agendas that go 100% contrary to the Word of God; such agendas as homosexuality, feminism and abortion.” (Original emphasis removed.)
At one point, the site makes the argument that men are more pure than women because “not one man has ever had an abortion”! I still believe that the mainstream media presents a patriarchal, homophobic lifestyle as the norm. Whilst there may be more divorced characters on television, they still promote impeccable family values. In CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, I would argue that Catherine works extra hard on her relationship with her daughter, Lyndsay, insisting on things like eating dinner together at the table and having movie nights. If anything, she is the most family-oriented character on the show. Similarly, Glee deals with a gay character, Kurt, by placing him in a highly supportive family. He has a great relationship with his father and becomes integrated into a full family unit with the marriage of his dad to fellow Glee clubber Finn’s mum.
Whilst I am the first to discuss the objectification of women in advertising that portrays them as sexual objects, it’s strange how we actually agree on something but think that it’s wrong for completely different reasons. I still maintain that most adverts place women in domestic spheres. This is completely compliant with the church, according to Feminism is Evil, as “biblically a woman’s place is in the home.” If I have to see one more advertisement for cleaning or cooking products in which only women appear, or in which they are exasperated at the incompetence of their husbands (and they are always husbands), I feel I might scream! The media systematically proliferates society with these wholesome messages of propaganda for “traditional” gender roles as a response to the increasing feminist and homosexual rights movements. People just don’t see it, as the message is more subtle than the ads of the ’50s and ’60s.
Back to the article at hand, and Fulwiler falsely states that “secular feminists are not willing to stand up for all women.” This is a sweeping generalisation. She cannot speak for everyone, and neither can I, however I was offended by this statement. I, personally, am willing to stand up for all women, even ones who, like her, are victims of the patriarchy. I actually feel that women who have been indoctrinated into a repressive and unequal culture need to be represented more, as they have lost their own voices.
As the article goes on, however, I realise that I don’t represent all women, if Fulwiler is to be believed:
“Pro-choice feminism only respects women once they’ve reached a certain age, usually about 36 weeks; the ones who are younger than that are not considered worthy of consideration as human beings, let alone worthy of respect. The Catholic Church respects all women, no matter how small and voiceless.”
Oh, right, I see what she means. I could not disagree more. This issue is, undoubtedly, highly subjective based on when one considers a foetus becomes a person.
I am not speaking for any other secular feminist at this point but I don’t consider an aborted foetus a woman that I have failed to represent. This is not about neglecting women here; this is about terminating a pregnancy, not a life. I believe that the person to focus on is the woman who should be given the choice as to whether she wants to continue the pregnancy and eventually give birth to a fully-fledged human, or terminate that pregnancy and not bring an extra child into the world. Each case is individual and should be treated that way, however, at the end of the day, the choice should only ever be that of the woman’s.
Once again, there is a misconstrued notion that the Catholic Church educates women on abortion better than pro-choice organisations or abortion clinics. I disagree, and I went on quite a few websites to discover what they say the procedure consists of. According to Better Health Victoria, two types of abortion are currently available:
- Surgical abortion: a low-risk procedure most commonly used for first trimester (7–12 weeks) abortion in Australia. Known as suction aspiration or suction curette, it involves removing the lining and contents of the uterus (womb). A range of other surgical techniques are used for abortion later in pregnancy.
- Medical abortion: a low-risk alternative to surgery used for terminating pregnancies earlier than 7–9 weeks (depending on the clinic). RU486 (mifepristone), also known as “the abortion pill/drug”, is the most widely known medication used for this procedure. It’s available in some clinics in Australia and is up to 98 per cent effective when used in the first nine weeks of pregnancy.
This seems to be the general consensus on most abortion websites I visited. I did come across several problems, though, as most of the sites had been hijacked by religious pro-life propaganda. One website, called Pro-Choice.com, was full of pictures of foetuses and religious messages. If you can’t go to a site labelled “pro-choice” without it being corrupted by religion, where can you go? I find it quite insulting to read that apparently the Catholic Church provides more accurate information on abortion. Women undergoing the procedure are given accurate and thorough information regarding the process just like any other medical procedure. The Church’s scare mongering and twisting of the facts are not scientifically- or medically-based enough to be considered “information.”
Now, Ms Fulwiler is not saying that “secular feminists intend to disrespect women”; she thinks we “mean well but are simply misguided.” How nice of her to be concerned! She says she knows how we feel because she used to be the same until she found God was brainwashed. She then says that she started “questioning assumptions.” For someone who questions assumptions, she sure makes a few herself. the first being that the Catholic Church has moved into a modern world in which Eve and Jezebel are not real but allegorical so that women are really seen as respectable in the eyes of the Church. According to Feminism is Evil, even female ministers are going against the word of God and should get back to the kitchen!
The second assumption she makes is that women are being blindly led to the abortion clinic the second they get pregnant. As I stated earlier, every case is different and I feel that there is a tendency to sweep over that and assume that pro-choice women relish in the devilry of their abortive practices.
The third and final assumption is that God exists. I understand that this is a faith-based claim, as there hasn’t been an awful lot of concrete evidence that He has spoken to anyone of late, yet the whole church system relies on the fact that he’s real. If the assumption is wrong, as I believe, then the reasoning behind the oppression of women and the pro-life argument go completely out the window.
Oh, and one final assumption: that secular feminists care what you think.
Related: On Stalking.