Event: The Catholic Church Is Not a Force For Good in the World.

I’ve always thought religion is bullshit, so when I saw a debate with the topic sentence “the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world” as part of the Intelligence2 debate series, I bought a ticket with my friend Laura immediately.

Going in, we’d both had our minds made up that the Catholic Church certainly wasn’t a force for good in the world, as did 34% of our fellow debate-goers, a door poll reflected.

The affirmative side didn’t do much to sway anyone’s opinion, as lawyer Julian McMahon and Sister Libby Rogerson were pretty poor debaters.

McMahon spoke about how love is the driving force behind the Church and Jesus’ teachings, which has obviously been lost in a lot of hot-button religious topics such as gay rights, and instead we have the “language of The Simpson’s”. I’d say this was true even ten years ago, but the language of today is very much a cyber one, which is perhaps why the Church is losing influence and followers. (Albeit, speaker for the opposition, Anne Summers A.O., pointed out that followers of Catholicism have increased less than one percent in recent years.)

Sister Libby went on to talk about Catholics who volunteer and work in Indigenous communities and in prisons. I don’t know too much about how the Catholic Church has been more of a hindrance than a help in Indigenous Australia, but Laura was obviously upset by the Sister’s assertion, rolling her eyes and groaning. My beef with volunteering being a primarily religious domain is that yes, perhaps a lot of Catholics volunteer, but a lot of non-Catholics volunteer, too. For example, I’m agnostic and I used to volunteer at the RSPCA. As event facilitator Simon Longstaff said, quoting Thomas Aquinas, “Not even the pope has sovereignty over a well-informed conscience.” Amen to that.

In the face of criticism, Sister Libby said the Church is a “flawed, human institution” and makes mistakes just like anyone else. Where have we heard that before?

The affirmative’s only saving grace was Helen Coonan, who actually read from her notes instead of waffling on about dot points. She said there is no excusing the past injustices of the Church, but we need to focus on the present. Coonan spoke at length about the Occupy movement, using their non-hierarchy (un)structure and myriad of messages to undercut all anti-establishment movements. (SlutWalk comes to mind.) That’s the trouble with Occupy: those in opposition to it judge all movements by its measuring stick. But that’s another post for another time.

She spoke at length about wealth in the Catholic Church and using it as a metaphor for how the world should structure its monetary dealings. Hmm… To be honest, as well as Coonan spoke, her focus on economics kind of bored me.

To rebut this, Father Peter of the opposition said the Church favours the idea of “pray, pay, obey” and doesn’t give its followers a voice.

Still with the opposition—debating for the notion that the Catholic Church isn’t a force of good—consisting of Summers, the excommunicated Father Peter Kennedy and writer David Marr, they brought the house down with their poignant points.

Summers spoke about the women’s movement in relation to the Church which, when Summers and fellow Catholic school-educated feminists such as Germaine Greer were at school, consisted of either “being a nun or a mother of six”. She spoke about abortion, birth control and choosing whether and when to become a mother.

During the floor debate, one woman about my age tried to debunk Summers’ theory that women who subscribe to the teachings of the Church don’t make their own choices. The fact that her mother was born in the ’30s, has several (Catholic school?) degrees and NINE CHILDREN leads me to believe that she wasn’t making a choice to do these things so much as she was brainwashed to do them. As Marr said during his time, sex as a non-reproductive act is frowned upon by the Church.

Speaking of Marr, he was by far the best debater and is my new favourite person! He talked about sex as a sin and that followers of the Catholic Church are supposed to engage in “no sex at all, ever!” unless it’s between a married, heterosexual man and woman for the purpose of procreation. How boring!

He pointed out four main problems with the view the Catholic Church has of sex:

1. Celibacy as purity. And we all know how damaging that is to young sexuality, in particular.

2. Condoms being outlawed. When Marr asked the affirmative panel if they support the banning of condoms to stop the spread of disease, like HIV/AIDS in Africa, McMahon awkwardly and roundaboutly agreed with the Church’s position. He said that abstinence and sex only within marriage would stop the spread of disease in Africa, forgetting that in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo rape is rife and abstinence only sex education doesn’t work. His response was laden with racism and rape-apologist attitudes, in my opinion. For all his accomplishments, this debate illustrated that McMahon is severely out of touch with the realities of our world.

3. Homosexuals are bad, okay? I think we all know the Church’s stance on homosexuality, despite most Catholics, according to Marr, believing in granting the right of marriage to the gays.

4. Shame. That sex, being sexual and looking sexy is shame-worthy. I would argue that this attitude has permeated secular society, but that secular society also laughs in the face of point #1, and also prude-shames those who aren’t having sex, being sexual or looking sexy. You can’t win either way.

By the end of the debate, in which Coonan rebutted that “ordinary Catholics”—those who acknowledge and agree with most points from both sides of the argument, and who aren’t caricatures of fanatical militant Catholics—“need a voice”, which I certainly agree with, 57% of the audience was against the Catholic Church as a force for good in the world. Hope for atheism—or at least agnosticism, which is the philosophy I subscribe to—isn’t dead yet, which is more than I can say for the Catholic Church.

Related: Feminism Respects Women More Than Anything, Including the Catholic Church!

“Who The Bloody Hell Are We?”: The Sentimental Bloke at the Wheeler Centre.

Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Slutty Stride.

The Underlying Message in Glee‘s “The First Time” Episode.

Elsewhere: [The Telegraph] Tiger Woods Says “I’m Only Human” After Mystery Crash.

Event: Melbourne Writers’ Festival—A Long Long Way to Go: Why We Still Need Feminism.

We’re in a post-feminist era. Feminism is dead. Has feminism failed?

From the arguments presented by Sophie Cunningham in her Melbourne Writers’ Festival address, titled after the line in Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman” (and the title of a book I thought Cunningham mentioned she’d had/is having published, but upon further inspection, this doesn’t seem to be the case), these post-feminism assertions are null and void.

While Cunningham stated at the beginning, after her introduction by Monica Dux, that she’d be focusing purely on feminism as it relates to Western women, but to keep the big picture in mind, I was disappointed that she kept her key points to the lack of women (or recognition of women) in writing, music, film and the arts in general.

Having said that, though, she made some pertinent points: that in 2009 and 2011, the Miles Franklin Award shortlists were all male; that for a woman in Australia to be paid the same as a man in the same job, she would have to have a PhD to his Bachelor degree; that a 25-year-old woman will earn $1.5 million over the next 40 years, whereas a male will earn $2.4 million (to which Dr. Anne Summers responded, “There’s a $1 million penalty for being a woman in Australia today.”); it’s safer to be a soldier in one of the most dangerous countries in the world, the Democratic Republic of Congo, than to be a woman; women do two thirds of the world’s work for 10% of the pay; that when literary submissions are read blind, the inclusion/choosing of women increases sevenfold. (This is epitomised in The Big Issue’s latest fiction edition, in which six competition pieces were read without names attached, and five [possibly six; it isn’t clear if Nic Low, whose piece Slick appears in the anthology, is male or female] are from women writers.)

To really illustrate the “invisible woman” syndrome in the “writing culture crisis”, and amongst many other industries, Cunningham used an anecdote about a female reporter who attended a Liberal rally organised by Tony Abbott and was taunted by the crowd for daring to question Malcolm Turnbull (I think; don’t quote me on this)*. To escape the abuse that threatened to get physical, she disappeared into the crowd, becoming “invisible”. If only Lara Logan, whom Cunningham spoke about, was able to do this in Tahrir Square.

Cunningham brought up the notion that in terms of women’s equality and feminism, our society is regressing somewhat. This is a contention I agree with. Therefore the “invisibility” of women has become “normalised”.

Aimless Panther writes on Feminaust:

“Yay, Aussie women now make up 12% of board members! Wait… seriously, is 12% something to CELEBRATE?!?!”

My sentiments exactly.

In film, Cunningham talked about the Bechdel test and how the feminist movie of the year, Bridesmaids, makes the cut, whereas Cowboys & Aliens doesn’t. Not to toot my own horn (okay, I’ll toot away!), but has Cunningham been reading The Scarlett Woman?!

She also mentions Pixar’s first film featuring a female protagonist, 2012’s Brave, about a strong, assertive and “brave” (duh!)—hence “ugly”—redhead. My, how far we’ve come!

Where Cunningham saw a sort of “bottleneck” in modern feminism, where white, privileged feminists like myself don’t understand the problems facing feminists of colour, feminists with sexual orientation other than straight, feminists with gender other than cis, and feminists with disabilities, she praised the “grassroots” feminism sprouting in the young feminist community, epitomised by SlutWalk. (SlutWalk has been criticised by non-white, non-middle-class feminists for excluding them. Cunningham defended the protest, but by only speaking about issues that affect the feminists SlutWalk caters to, perhaps she could be seen as contributing to this bottleneck?)

She longs for a fourth wave feminism, and finished the talk with this. Some would say we are in/entering a fourth wave, where sexual liberation and reproductive rights still reign supreme, but there is more of a focus on the needs of different types of feminists, as mentioned above, and “serious”, Third-World feminism, where some view the movement is most needed.

Those who are instigating these grassroots movements; this fourth wave; these feminist blogs; are arguably the 25-year-olds who “don’t get feminism”, as Cunningham asserted. While I don’t wish to demonise her for questioning my, and my peers’, motivations and understanding of the movement we so lovingly work towards, I was thoroughly offended by this comment. If Cunningham, and an elderly audience member who spoke up during question time by reiterating that young people don’t “get” what “real” feminism is all about, took a look around the function room at BMW Edge at Federation Square, they would have realised that the majority of people in attendance were under or around 25. Some of them were men, which signifies that yes, while we do still have “a long long way to go”, there are people on our side.

Furthermore, I remember last year there was a bit of tension in the ranks between second- and third-wave feminists, which has also contributed to the bottleneck Cunningham speaks of.

I think we, as feminists, need to be careful about who we call a “real feminist”. Is she the man-hating “HLL (Hairy Legged Lesbian)” stereotype? The woman who shuns all pain-killers to have a natural, home birth, and shames all those who don’t? The “expert”? The grassroots SlutWalk organisers? According to Cunningham, perhaps it’s not the young, beautiful women who “don’t understand” the real issues of concern for feminism because, well, they’re 25 and still have men drooling at their feet. (I’m paraphrasing here, but this is basically the gist of what I interpreted Cunningham to mean). There’ll be more on this to come throughout the week. In the meantime, what do you think?

*Updated 05/09/11: It was actually Alan Jones, at the Rally of No Confidence in Canberra, who lead the crowd in a verbal barraging of journalist Jacqueline Maley after she asked him if he had been paid to speak. I have added the link to this information below.

Related: Has Feminism Failed?

“Who the Bloody Hell Are We?”: The Sentimental Bloke at the Wheeler Centre.

Witch Trial: Burning at the Stake on Charmed.

Bridesmaids Review.

Cowboys VS. Aliens & Indians… Does it Really Matter? They’re All the Same Anyway, According to the New Movie.

Rachel Berry as Feminist.

Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Slutty Stride.

Melbourne Writers’ Festival: Never, Ever, Again—Why Australian Abortion Law Needs Reform by Caroline de Costa Book Launch.

Surfing the Third Wave: Second-Wave VS. Third-Wave Feminism on Gossip Girl.

Elsewhere: [ABC’s The Drum] A Prize of One’s Own: The Case for an Aussie Orange.

[Feminaust] Welcome to Monday August 29 2011.

[Sydney Morning Herald] The Fee, Me & Alan Jones: How Question of Money Turned Crowd Nasty.

Image via Melbourne Writers’ Festival.