Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Big Round of Applause to A&E For Doing the Honest Thing!

Well, it's about time. A&E has suspended Duck Dynasty's patriarch, Phil Robertson, for his frank Christian commentary on homosexuality.

The popular show, which is about evangelical Christians, has been a wildly popular, profitable venture for A&E.  Only now, with the dismissal of Phil Robertson, have they decided that their claim of "having always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community" actually requires them to air programs in line with that claim.

To see this as an entertainment-page drama over free speech is silly (sorry, Sarah Palin). Instead, this is yet another instance in which a major American entity has made it clear that in the fight between culture and morality, they are on the side opposite Christians.

As some people have pointed out, they were within their rights. Nobody insists that a private network allow anything and everything just because participants in their program wish to exercise their right to free speech. I'm not complaining that the network made this move. In fact, I'm grateful.

I prefer a fair fight. Make it clear where you stand, since I have made it equally clear.  Let us dispense with the obfuscating, trendy language of tolerance and openness, which really only masks a vast intolerance of all opinions but their own.

This is not the true tolerance, and ecumenism of Pope Francis, who says, "True openness involves remaining steadfast in one’s deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one’s own identity, while at the same time being “open to understanding those of the other party” and “knowing that dialogue can enrich each side”. (Evangelii gaudium).

This is the false-faced 'tolerance' of the "Co-Exist" generation, which, when it is revealed for the sham it is, evaporates into the privileging of one set of opinions over everything and everyone else, with a totalitarian silencing of any who think differently--or worse (and more commonly) the launching of a smear-campaign predicated on misquotes and caricatures.

Not to overquote Pope Francis, but he also said, of interreligious dialogue (which liberals and the 'Co-Exist' proponents claim to want):
"A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques. This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism. The respect due to the agnostic or non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority or ignores the wealth of religious traditions" (EG 255).
Yet arbitrarily imposing silence on Christians in the name of 'tolerance' is exactly what A&E, Starbucks, and others, are doing in the U.S.

Take for example, what Phil Robertson actually said (excerpted directly from the interview):
“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says. “Sin becomes fine.”

What, in your mind, is sinful?

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
Two paragraphs later, Phil continues:
“We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”
 Compare that to what is reported. Headlines include things like 'Duck Dynasty' star suspended for anti-gay remarks', and the articles, invariably, quote sparingly and manipulatively from the first paragraph I quoted above, where he lists homosexuality along with other sexual sins, but never from the second paragraph, where he speaks of forgiveness, evangelization, and non-judgment.  In fact, his original point in mentioning things like bestiality and adultery was to offer his opinion that, if you allow some sin, you end up having to allow all sin, but that at the end of it all, the right to judge hearts lies with God.

The way the media spins it, however, you'd think he'd said he hated gays or wished they were all dead.  Like this little gem of reporting from CNN:
"Phil Robertson, a star of A&E's "Duck Dynasty," has been suspended indefinitely after slamming gays in a magazine interview."

Then you have the response of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) to Robertson's remarks:
"Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe. He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans — and Americans — who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples. Phil's decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families."
Christianity has always been clear about homosexuality. It condemns it.  People who disagree with that tenet of Christian belief are not really Christian. So firstly, the GLAAD representative's remark is inaccurate. More importantly, Phil's comments were not stereotyping or even commenting on gay people themselves. He merely reiterated/paraphrased the Bible, and made an observation about the slippery slope of an all-inclusive relative morality.  Furthermore, for a group clamoring for an non-judgmental acceptance of others regardless of their lifestyle, GLAAD seems to be making some pretty sweeping judgments about the sincerity of the Robertsons' beliefs, and some pretty intolerant desires for 'public disdain' and rejection as their punishment for living a Christian lifestyle.

As I said before, I'm grateful. Thank you, A&E, for making it so clear what you think of Christianity.  Thank you for showing us all that the only reason you've aired Duck Dynasty to begin with was profit. Thank you for letting practicing Christians in the U.S. (millions of whom are Duck Dynasty fans) know that you consider them a 'stain' on the country.

Because, let's speak plainly.  Even though we are to fight evil with Christ and hatred with love, let us not describe such conflicts in honeyed terms, or pretend that there are not two sides.

This is war.

Dear Rush Limbaugh (et al): "This Exhortation is not a social document"

 Given that my title contains a quote as clear as the above, I shouldn't need to expand this post one sentence further. But I've encountered some confusion lately regarding Pope Francis' new exhortation, Evangelii gaudium, in regards to its intended message about economics.  Rush Limbaugh, most notably, offered a scathing rant on the topic on his radio program (later half-retracted), but I've heard the same types of concerns voiced by many people around me.

The exhortation is so rich, I couldn't begin to adequately explain all of the facets of merely the section on economies, but I think it's helpful to clarify a few points.

1. Clear and Consistent.

The Pope himself says, as my title suggests:
"This Exhortation is not a social document, and for reflection on those different themes we have a most suitable tool in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, whose use and study I heartily recommend. Furthermore, neither the Pope nor the Church have a monopoly on the interpretation of social realities or the proposal of solutions to contemporary problems" (EG 184).
 He means it, I am fairly certain, the way it reads: Evangelii gaudium is not intended to be a definitive road-map--especially not one to be globally applicable or even multi-nationally inclusive--for economics.  Quoting Paul VI, he says: "'It is up to the Christian communities to analyze with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country'" (EG 147). It is not an updated Catholic version of a little red book, or a Marshall plan.  It is a comment on economics from the perspective the social and the spiritual.  It is not concerned with dictating the structures, but is instead calling attention to the impact of the structure on the people.  This people-and-poor oriented lens is totally consistent with Francis' papacy so far, and to omit that is to miss the entire heart of the message, and the intent of its author.

2. What you do, not (dictating) how you do it.

One example of the kind of 'economic suggestions' Francis makes is that of the just wage.  Far from being radical, his statement is enthusiastic and optimistic, but hardly unreasonable:
"We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a “dignified sustenance” for all people, but also their “general temporal welfare and prosperity”. This means education, access to health care, and above all employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labour that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives. A just wage enables them to have adequate access to all the other goods which are destined for our common use" (EG 152)
I have heard people claiming that this means he is for the redistribution of wealth, or that he is for socialized medicine, or that he is calling for a kind of religious-Communism, and, perhaps because South America is so close to his heart, it is assumed that he himself endorses Socialism.

A problem that seems to be plaguing this Pope's words is the sound-byte mentality of our media culture. Nobody reads what he actually says, and if they do, they only read a snippet, out of context.  To quote him as saying that everyone should have access to education, healthcare, and a job, could indeed sound like Socialism if not fitted accurately and comfortably within the context of the rest of the exhortation.

But it is not a social document, and even the sentence that mentions the just wage itself offers clarity.  To offer a person a just wage, a living wage, with which they can adequately care for themselves and their family (and I beg your pardon, but minimum wage in the United States is not even close to a just wage) is not the same as socializing and federally subsidizing elements of everyday life that would otherwise be unaffordable to someone who is being underpaid.  Hallmarks of Communism and Socialism are the fatal poverty, yet also the touted equality.  A just wage is a simple, general concept that has no political attachments, no economic implications.  It certainly says nothing about taking from the rich to give to the poor.  It is merely a request for the care of human dignity, in ways, as the earlier quote from Paul VI suggests, that are tailored by each respective country to their cultural and economic structures.

 3. Income Distribution
The exhortation does treat with the matter of an imbalanced distribution of income.  Francis says that the suffering of the poor, resultant in part from a lack of just wage or equal opportunities, "seem[s] to be a mere addendum imported from without in order to fill out a political discourse lacking in perspectives or plans for true and integral development" (EG 203). 
He states point blank that "as long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills" (EG 202).
However--and this is an integral 'however'--nowhere does he offer an explicit or specific political or economic structure to supplement or replace any existing ones.  While he is very wary of the dire risk of "trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market" (EG 204), he does not target capitalism, or any other specific system, by name, nor does he say that any extant systems cannot or should not be preserved.  What he says is that it is time for citizens, governments, and politicians to focus the trajectory of their goals and efforts towards the care of the dignity of the population in their given locale.  He calls for deliberate "decisions, programmes, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality" (EG 204), but it is nowhere stated or even implied that a government (or any other entity) is solely responsible for, or should have total authority over such mechanisms.  A Communist or Socialist would seek to place the responsibility for these things in the hands of a completely centralized government, since they believe the populace incapable of administering any kind of justice or equality themselves.  Pope Francis, far from this position, suggests a tandem personal and communal accountability for the other, for the neighbor.

Furthermore, it is not that he has an intrinsic hatred of or problem with, say, capitalism.  It is simply that, from the perspective of a shepherd concerned with the well-being of his flock, he is objectively noting a broken mechanism.
"I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded" (EG 204).
He can hardly be clearer than by his words in the preceding.  Populism--'the political doctrine that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite'--is the kind of umbrella under which falls other ideologies, including Socialism and Communism.  Thus, the Pope is definitively dismissing the idea of his endorsing any 'populist' ideals, which he sees as 'irresponsible'.
"Economy, as the very word indicates, should be the art of achieving a fitting management of our common home, which is the world as a whole. Each meaningful economic decision made in one part of the world has repercussions everywhere else; consequently, no government can act without regard for shared responsibility" (EG 206).
If his immediate words in the exhortation were not enough, he clarified even further in an interview a few days later (in which he stated unequivocally: "Marxism is wrong."), the translation of which you may read here if you are interested.

The take-away? It's the same as I could (and have) noted about Pope Francis before: Context. He is scintillatingly clear, but even the most eloquent, pithy individual would sound different, even opposite, if unmoored from any kind of context. At first I thought that it might be helpful to suggest this contextualization as a reading strategy for Francis; but on further thought I realize that this is a common courtesy we pay to so many others on a regular basis--the media is often criticized for taking soundbytes out of context, and we are incensed by the subsequent misappropriation and misapplication of someone's words. Why should this be any less or any different for our Pope?
"If anyone feels offended by my words, I would respond that I speak them with affection and with the best of intentions, quite apart from any personal interest or political ideology. My words are not those of a foe or an opponent. I am interested only in helping those who are in thrall to an individualistic, indifferent and self-centred mentality to be freed from those unworthy chains and to attain a way of living and thinking which is more humane, noble and fruitful, and which will bring dignity to their presence on this earth" (EG 208).

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Stripped: Against the Over, Under, and Asexualization of Women

 A friend pinned this cartoon via Pinterest today:

 She tagged it with a few things, like 'feminism' and 'oversexualization'. I do not intend to accuse her personally of necessarily thinking any of the following, but the way I took those hashtags in tandem with the picture was that it intended to convey something like this:
"Women/the female body have/has been oversexualized to the point where there are extant double-standards that allow men to dress and behave in ways that are condoned, while women are subject to harsh censure for the same or equivalent behavior and fashions. This is a bad thing."
Now, I understand that there is significant backlash to the modesty-culture rampant in Protestant and some Catholic circles.

Modesty culture places a very heavy onus of responsibility for modesty on women, asserting that it is their appearance and behavior solely that evokes men's lustful responses, and that if men are reacting to them with lust, they must be doing something immodest. Women are expected to be actively modest; men passively so--by not looking or by verbally correcting women in their lives who are not being modest. Advocates of these ideas post vehement articles littered with phrases like 'custody of the eyes' and warn of the beauty of the female body as though it is a detriment, not a God-given reality.  They also claim that women are assigned value as an inverse result of the valuation of modesty, which results in an inadvertent (or, intentional, depending on who you are talking to) devaluation of the woman as a person.

(Disclaimer: This post isn't endorsing the extremes of far-right modesty culture. It's taking issue with the mentality of the above cartoon, that male and female nudity--understanding 'nudity' as nakedness with a sexual connotation--should be defined on a one to one basis in Anglo/American culture).

The subsequent push-back against the modesty culture tends towards an opposite extreme.  Even if they are not condoning some kind of orgiastic response to right the injustices inherent in female-based modesty, they usually do call for a great equalizer: the flesh. Women are humans; men are humans. There is nothing innately sexual about the female body, they say, any more than there is about the male body.  All the sexuality associated with the female body is an arbitrary cultural construction.  Any and all exposure shows equality, not indecency. Flesh is flesh.

The seductive danger of the cultural construction model is that it is partially true. In Africa, it is not abnormal or overtly sexual for women to go topless. Indeed, when we see African women on a TV show, or African men in barely-there loincloths, here in the States, we aren't scandalized or incited to lust. It is understood that this is a cultural norm, foreign to ours.  But just because it is cultural does not make it arbitrary.

Furthermore, because our culture does associate sexuality with certain kinds of nakedness (whether or not you condone that), the way in which the counterarguments against modesty culture are phrased cannot be and are not non-sexual.
To uncover, as a woman, cannot be non-sexual in a culture so over-saturated with sex, and with such a historical underpinning of the mystery of the body.
More than that, however, I'm troubled by this apparent desire to erase the feminine qualities which started this whole debate in the first place. Boiling the whole thing down, the argument is over the oversexualization of the female body.  One extreme is the Miley Cyrus-style commodification of the female body.  The other end of the spectrum:  women's bodies should be such neutral territory that they could walk around topless or in revealing clothes and not one man would look at their bodies in a sexual way.  The problems with the former extreme are obvious; the problems with the latter are no less serious, if slightly more subtle.

Doesn't this insistent uncovering, and shrill 'equality'/homogenization do a grave disservice to women? However misguided or over-enthusiastically applied, the modesty culture is a result of a desire to preserve the dignity of women, and prevent them from being completely objectified for their bodies (and for men to be prevented from doing the objectifying).
In response to an oversexualization of women, people on the opposite extreme call for an asexualization--for the removal of the unique and--properly contextualized--beautiful aspects of the feminine form to be neutered as harshly as they accuse shapeless dresses and loose shirts of doing.
On a related level, it's as if proponents of the anti-modesty culture hate the female body and what it means to have one.  The kind of rebellious flaunting of everything without shame, without regard or reverence for the beauty and art of our bodies, as crafted by God, bespeaks a virulent devaluing of them.  You don't burn an effigy because you love the person it represents.  You make a public spectacle or public revelation in this way to bring shame and degradation on the object, or to remove reverence of it.  There is something inculcated in human nature about reverence for the unseen or the hidden, and a perpetual saturation and overexposure not only desensitizes but also debases it.

Finally, to return to the irony.  Part of what is so violent and disfiguring about the act of rape--so often linked with modesty culture as a so-called cause and horrible effect--is that a woman is forcibly uncovered and violated.  Somehow, when such uncovering is voluntary, and the violation is of the eyes and minds of men or children--this is laudable. Did someone mention a double standard?

I'm hardly excusing men from guarding their own purity. Just because a woman decides to walk naked down the street does not mean you have to stare at her and commit mental or actual impurities with her. But--and I've used this analogy before--knowing that we have something so appealing to men, to defiantly shove it in their faces while simultaneously demanding them ignore it is equivalent to knowing your husband is an alcoholic but surrounding him with the smell of alcohol and trying to hold his nose and pour it down his throat, all the while berating him for being tempted to drink.

What I'm getting at is this: if what is truly desired is an equal standard to regulate the relationship between sexuality and the human form, allowing women to go without a shirt because men can is not a solution.  Rather, asking both men and women to cover the sensitive, sexual areas of their bodies out of self-respect and out of respect for the eyes and minds of those around them would be real equality, and would indicate a true understanding of (ungendered) human modesty and sexuality.
Both modesty and sexuality are utterly deplorable influences when decontextualized or homogeneously, disproportionately applied. 

Really quickly: I realize I've begun many of my posts with 'I read something a friend posted' or 'On a classmates' facebook'... This is not to say that I'm attacking those friends/coworkers/classmates. One of the primary forces that sparks me to write about a topic is seeing something I strongly agree/disagree with via people I know. So don't take it personally ;)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Rhetorical Questions: In Defense of Pope Francis

I read an article from the Washington Post yesterday called 'Like Pope Francis? You'll love Jesus.' Basically, it's a tongue in cheek notation of the way in which so many left-leaning politicians, celebrities, etc, are all enthused over Pope Francis for what they perceive as a shift in Church policies and attitudes.  The author of the article points out that all Francis is really doing is reiterating ideas that have been innate in the Catholic Church since its founding by Christ.  So, to all those non-Catholics or fallen-away Catholics who are suddenly finding this papacy a reason to be invigorated by their Faith again--this isn't new. Your Faith has always been this invigorating!

I think the article makes an excellent point, and it's nice to see it somewhere like the Washington Post.  More importantly, however, it offers already-faithful Catholics, who probably love Francis because he is renewing and living the tenets of Faith given to us by Christ, some rich food for thought.

Obviously, Catholics aren't out to please the entire world. But there is something to be said for the interest Francis has sparked from so many diametrically-opposed groups.  Nor has he garnered such support by somehow compromising Catholic morality or Catholic teaching.  So what has he done that has suddenly made the Catholic Church and its Faith more palatable to people who wouldn't have touched us with a 15 foot pole before?

First, I think there's something to be said for his demeanor on the most superficial level.

From the very beginning of his papacy, when he stopped by his hotel to pick up his bags personally, or when he called the newspaper vendor from his former diocese, Francis has impressed the world with his affability, his humility, and his humanity.  Not that all our other popes have been stiff or vain--but Francis has such an air of approachability.  We must imagine that Christ had this same air; people from all groups felt able to approach Him without fear of judgment or exclusion, and, upon approaching Him, to feel that He was truly looking at them, listening and speaking to them.  This is the impression people have gotten from Pope Francis.

Secondly, it's his method of delivery when speaking, preaching, or writing.  Having fostered with his manner an openness to dialogue in many people who might otherwise have ignored him, he next tends to demonstrate a corresponding gentleness in how he says what he says. That is not to say that he is weak, ambiguous, or abstract (he's been accused of all three).  But everything he says is uttered simply, logically, and charitably.  He sets an example of the things he talks about, especially in regards to love of neighbor, and is so unassuming that you find yourself listening, I think, even when you don't intend to.

But that brings us to the third aspect of Francis' appeal, which is the content of his message. I find it interesting that Francis has been frequently called 'naive', cast by Catholic and secular media alike as though he stumbled into the papacy an inexperienced Diocesan official, and hasn't quite caught the hang of using precise language to express himself on a global scale, or hasn't noticed that what he says off the cuff is broadcasted and can be twisted by the media.

On the contrary, I think Pope Francis is very savvy indeed.  In the new Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel) he emphasizes the importance of evangelizing the culture on its own terms, not by compromising our values to fit the times, but rather, by speaking a language that the times can comprehend and will gravitate towards.  

It is obvious that he does not have a problem being extremely explicit when he wants to be; take, for example, this quote from the Exhortation: "A preacher who does not prepare is not “spiritual”; he is dishonest and irresponsible with the gifts he has received." (Paragraph 145). He has spoken clearly and firmly on moral issues like abortion, homosexual 'marriage', and the challenges facing the family.  When he talks about female roles in the Church in Evangelii gaudium, he says "The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion" (Paragraph 104). Boom. End of story. Pope Francis is not afraid to be clear, nor is he incapable.

So why is he accused of naivete, or why do left-leaning individuals think, at least at first, that he might be on the brink of an overhaul of Catholic morality?

I see it in terms of a song by M. Ward, one of my favorite artists.  The song "Fisher of Men" says:
"He tied a feather to the hook for to get you to look
And by the time you know what took you, you already took
He's got a line in the water, he's a fisher of men

And he put the thorns on the rose for to get you to bleed
And by the time you know what stuck you, the pain's in deep
He's got a line in the water, he's a fisher of men
He's got a lot on the line, he's a fisher of men"
Similarly, Francis' 'feather on the hook' is his tendency to begin speaking on common, general topic.  He uses the buzzwords to get the attention, like a teaser trailer for a movie, then reiterates the pith of Catholic teaching in a careful, gentle way that highlights its freshness and appropriateness for our time and culture.

For example, let's look briefly (very briefly) at the portion of Evangelii gaudium on multiculturalism.

Francis' method of dealing with this topic is not the accident of an inexperienced Pontiff.  Rather, it is conscious rhetoric.  Aware of "our difficulty in restoring a mystical adherence to the faith in a pluralistic religious landscape" (Paragraph 70), Pope Francis quotes John Paul II in calling for "the faith and the life of the Church [to] be expressed in legitimate forms appropriate for each culture" (Paragraph 118).  He doesn't merely dump this in the middle of the Exhortation, to form an ambiguous glob of multiculturalism that can be applied at the whim of the reader--that would be the result of inexperience or naivete, or even of misdirected good intentions.  Instead, he qualifies his statement with the understanding that cultural diversity must be "properly understood" (Paragraph 117) in order to be useful to the Church's work of evangelization, and develops the idea that "We would not do justice to the logic of the incarnation if we thought of Christianity as monocultural and monotonous" (117).    (This may potentially yield a post soon on the complex issue of Pope Francis and the Extraordinary Form)  This might seem radical, but it is actually only an old tenet of Catholicism phrased anew.

St. Paul puts it this way
“What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you," (Acts 17:23)
while Francis says
"As part of his mysterious love for humanity, God furnishes the totality of the faithful with an instinct of faith – sensus fidei – which helps them to discern what is truly of God" (Paragraph 119).
What I'm getting at (without getting further carried away breaking down specifics from the Exhortation) is that Francis is clearly very intelligent, very well educated, and very methodical.  He knows the Truth, he wants to speak the Truth, and he has discerned the best possible way for him to do so in a way that will bear the most fruit in this time and place.  Sometimes his words may come across a little jarring to Catholics--perhaps because we are used to what he would call "fixed formulations learned by heart or by specific words which express an absolutely invariable content" (Paragraph 129), but given the clear and courageous way in which he delineates our morals and tells the world that 'they are not open to discussion', I don't think we need fear (not that we need to anyway, since of course the Holy Spirit protects the Papacy).  Rather, perhaps these jarring moments are an invitation to look closely at what the Pope is saying, and to learn from his example in how he is saying it.
"He's a fisher of men, he's as wise as a prizefighter"

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Roots, Fruits, and Feminism

Briefly, my thoughts on an article entitled "I'm a Feminist Because I'm Not a Hypocrite."

Laura's post on her blog, Catholic Cravings is about her understanding of the term 'feminist' in light of her self-characterization as "a pro-life, anti-contraception, mantilla-wearing, submission-preaching, chivalry-loving woman".  At first blush, it seems like a reasonable argument: as a Catholic who has embraced her God-given femininity, she understands and appreciates feminism in its various forms for the good it has done for women over the decades, while still more than comfortable criticizing it for the numerous moral evils it has heralded.

The post does a great job breaking down three apparent stages of feminism in the US: Suffrage, the Sexual Revolution, and modern Feminism. Laura argues that, having achieved 99.9% of the legal goals that Suffrage asked for, and many of the (destructive) 'reproductive rights' that the second stage of the 1960's vociferously demanded, feminists now are forced to turn inward on their own bodies, to fight for things like the 'right' to dress scandalously or engage in all kinds of unnatural or promiscuous sexual experimentation on the grounds of a gendered 'self-expression'.

Laura notes that she doesn't think we should "jettison feminism simply because the feminist cri de guerre at the moment is that murdering babies in the womb is pro-woman".  Because she has had the opportunity for a college education and equal pay, etc, she sees a reason to try to reclaim the word 'feminist', or at least to hold out hope that its application or meaning will morph again into a morally-acceptable entity.

I totally understand the mentality, but something kept nagging at me as I read it.  For example, it seemed to make perfect sense when she wrote,
"Irony of ironies, feminism is the reason I could go to university to write essays arguing against feminism. And feminism is the reason that I could do so with all the assurance that my opinion was as important and valuable as anyone else’s. The truth is that no woman can argue against feminism without biting the hand that fed her."
But on further thought, I asked that really the case? Is it true that we ('we' = women) can or should try to selectively appreciate or reclaim a term that has warped so much of our culture? And is my college education (or Laura's) the result of feminism, or the result of something else that has been appropriated as a victory by feminism?

The Vote: While I personally don't have a problem with a system in which the head of a household votes for his household, since we have been granted it, I also fully support, treasure, and exercise my right to participate in the electoral process. But did 'feminism' give me that? Honestly, I say, no. Women's suffrage did.  Suffrage--which by definition is 'the right of voting')--is focused on, well, voting.  It's a narrowly defined, narrowly applied category of activism.  Furthermore, the 'right to vote' is a definable one, found in the amendments to the Constitution, namely the 12th, 15th, and 19th.  For women as citizens of the United States to lobby for this kind of equal right was justified. 

So, is it reasonable to include suffrage in feminism at all? I'd argue that it isn't. Suffrage is light years away, in specificity and parameters of acceptable results, from 'feminism'.  Equating suffrage with feminism is like equating geology with neurology: both fit under the category of 'science', but they are clearly nothing to do with one another.

Similarly, but to a lesser degree, the ability to sit in a college classroom and the ability to kill your child are miles apart, yet both get labelled a feminist concern.

University Admission, Equal Pay, Consequence-Free Sex, Abortion on Demand, etc: None of these are rights, and all of these are associated with the kinds of feminism that are not suffrage. A right is as narrowly defined as suffrage--it isn't anything and everything to which you feel entitled. A right is a human being's claim on their identity as a child of God.  In secular terms, it is 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness', where 'life' is the right to live at any age or circumstance, 'liberty' is the freedom to do what is right, and 'pursuit of happiness' is the search for the good and the true (aka, God, or, in secular terms, justice/morality etc).  True rights are few. Privileges are many, but they are not innately deserved or owed, and a privilege cannot hyper-extend outside of morality. The right to kill your unborn child is no more a right than being 'entitled' to own a cell phone, and it is no more a privilege to be awarded than slamming into your neighbor's new car because you're jealous.

Christ said that you know a tree by the fruit it bears. I would argue that in examining what is blanketed as 'feminism', we are actually looking the fruit of two different trees. One that results in a fuller realization of female participation in society, and one which champions an array of perverted sexual license(s). To circle back to Laura's supposition in her post: As Catholic women, do we really owe anything to 'feminism'? As Catholic women, is there anything to be gained in reclaiming the term?

I myself have invoked the phrase 'new feminism' for the sake of convenience, meaning by it an authentic femininity that embraces its God-given role(s). But having read this article and thought about it, I feel like we need something that doesn't have the connotations 'feminism' has.  The term is too closely knit to the activist portion--that's the fruit-producing part that has yielded abortion and the like--to try and salvage any semblance of anything else. Since, as I have tried to demonstrate, suffrage is a totally different beast, feminism as we know it has roots only in the Sexual Revolution, and what Catholic would want to be tied in any way to that movement? 

(As an aside: By admitting that female activism has, on some level, yielded some good things to women, such as college education etc, does that mean I'm conceding the point? Definitely not. The ends don't justify the means, and while I can appreciate the results, I am under no obligation whatsoever to be beholden to the cause, if the cause is innately of the world, the flesh, and the devil.)

Now I'm not attacking Laura personally, because everything about her post indicates that she is an articulate, sincere, Catholic young lady.  But it is abhorrent to me that Catholic women like her feel a compunction to compromise with the feminists and somehow give them credit for misappropriated victories.  Feminists didn't accomplish those things; women did. I reject the idea that women and feminists are interchangeable terms. There is nothing womanly about what we know as feminism. We are under no obligation to align ourselves on any level with feminists, unless it is by the starkness of our contrasting lifestyle and example. And despite Laura's optimism that since it has changed twice already maybe it will change again, I don't think we need to waste anymore time on a cultural identifier that has at its very root things that we as Catholics claim to want to do away with. Be a suffragist, be a woman, be feminine. But don't try to perform moral and intellectual gymnastics to try and contort feminism into something you can get behind. You can't.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Series Post--It Takes Three: Solipsistically Enslaved

Once again via the social networking grapevine, I read the following article, entitled A little note to my younger self about sex and relationships by a Dr. Ruthie Neustifter, faculty at University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Somewhat disturbingly, Dr. Ruthie's areas of expertise include "a doctoral degree in Child & Family Development with specializations in Couples and Family Therapy and Qualitative Research".

I will quote a few snippets of the article:
 "Everyone has a right to pleasure and joy, as well as the responsibility to pursue it in ways that don’t inflict negativity on others. And that means that we each have the right to expect others not to hurt us as part of their own pursuits."
"We can each define gender for ourselves, and should respect others’ definitions of how they wish to live their own genders."
"Virginity can’t be lost because it doesn’t even exist. Try thinking of it all as a natural, normal process of human sexual development that includes many different experiences with ourselves and with partners over time."
"Very few people will be a good fit for a longterm relationship with you, and that’s ok. Enjoy yourselves and grow during the time you have together, then part ways as positively as possible when the natural end of the relationship happens. Try to leave each other better than you found each other, if at all possible. Don’t cling to a relationship that met its natural end already."
I'm currently enrolled in a grad school class which is covering Puritan and Transcendental American Lit. It occurred to me that transcendentalism, puritanism, and modern culture all have one huge, corrosive thing in common: selfishness predicated in the name of freedom.  A selfishness so complete, and so utterly and greedily consuming that it is compelled to create an entirely new world to validate the horror and revolting realities that would otherwise be apparent.
  • The Puritan cleavage from Protestant England was a result of their belief in a personal interpretation of Scripture, and a personal experience of God, the absolute Truth of which would transcend individual human frailty and unite the priesthood of believers by leading them all to the same conclusion.  
  • The Transcendentalists removed "God" and "Scripture" from the equation, and the definition of belief now read "a personal interpretation of a personal experience of absolute Truth, which would transcend individual human frailty and unite all by leading them to the same conclusion". 
  • Finally, modern American culture has removed the "absolute Truth'", which leaves us with "a personal interpretation of personal experience". Aka, relativism, or the 'the doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context, and are not absolute'. In layman's terms: anything goes, as long as you feel good about it.
So what does this depressing trajectory have to do with the specific article I was addressing, or with sex/relationships?

Look at where the dignity of the human person fits within each dynamic:
  • Only some matter: In the Puritan worldview, every person was valuable insofar as he/she authentically and correctly interpreted their encounter with the Divine.  Due to the belief in the utter depravity of sinful human nature, grace was believed to be offered to some, but not all, to enable them to have that encounter in the first place. 
  • Only one matters: Transcendental theorists like Emerson and Thoreau argued for the removal of the distinction between the individual and the Divine. Everyone was Divine, if they engendered an authentic participation in the world around them, embracing the present moment fully.  In this dynamic, while human dignity--or rather human divinity--was considered to be potentially universal, there was no personal accountability to respect others, because the focus was on the Self-Divine. 
  • Only you matter (right?): Now, with the removal of the Divine, of personal accountability and of appreciation for human dignity, we are left with nothing but fallible experience/experimentation and subjective pleasure. In a worldview that is utterly relative and turned inward on the centrality of individual experience, anything and everything goes as long as it makes you [the individual] happy. (And happiness simply means surface-level pleasure, physical or emotional...aka, arbitrary and transitory)
Of course, the catch for the last one, for our modern world, is that if you've devalued everyone around you, chances are, you've devalued yourself.  Nobody that truly 'loves himself' does not love his neighbor, and vice versa.  The great lie of modern culture is that it prizes individuality and self-sufficiency/self-interest. If it's all about you and your pleasure, then all it really is about is pleasure's enslavement of you. In a culture that is repulsed by Puritan morality because it was 'too limiting', we are more in bondage then they ever were.

This relates specifically to Dr. Neustifter's article because her whole message is that sexual fulfillment is the primary component of a relationship, and that it is a universal right, regardless of your state in life, and regardless of who you use or damage along the way. "Try to leave each other better than you found each other, if at all possible", she says. Her pseudo-apologetic tone suggests that the best you can do as you bulldoze over someone else in your blind pursuit of your own [impermanent, never satiated] pleasure is to try not to destroy someone else's psyche, heart, life, etc. 

But didn't she also say this? "And that means that we each have the right to expect others not to hurt us as part of their own pursuits."  How can you simultaneously expect others to look out for you while also assuming that most relationships consist of two people using each other selfishly "during the time you have together"? 

On the other hand, there's a very different kind of mentality to consider:"Friendship, as has been said, consists in a full commitment of the will to another person with a view to that person's good.” (Pope John Paul II)

Friendship. Not even a relationship, but friendship, asks us to put aside ourselves for someone else. Friendship asks us to 'lay down our lives for our friends'. How much more serious should be a relationship? But Dr. Neustifter says "Enjoy yourselves."

I don't know about you, but I'll take the friendships and the relationship(s) that look out for my best interest, not ones that consist of a gladiator-style emotional battle for how much temporary pleasure we can exact from each other.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Quick Addendum: What Love is NOT.

 Just in case this wasn't self evident:

1. Love is not a feeling.
2. Love is not about your happiness.
3. Love does not equal sex, nor vice versa.

Series post--It Takes Three: What is Love?

...Baby don't hurt me...

Sorry, couldn't resist.

It seems like the most foundational thing I can address in this series is what 'love' is.  Here, dump the ocean in this hole, said the little boy to St. Augustine.

I am not equipped to discuss 'Christian love' in a general sense. But hopefully I can clearly demarcate what 'love' means to a Christian relationship or marriage. To start, however (briefly), Christians believe that God is love. Not to sound like Bill Clinton, but that word 'is' is integral to what I just said. Because God is love, all manifestations of real love in this world are imitations of or reflections of Him and of His love for us. So what are some qualities of Godly-love?

1. Real Love is Sacrificial--If God is love and Christ is God, then the sacrifice of the Cross tells us that love is integrally sacrificial, and has as its end the good of the other. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they committed an infinite offense because they offended an infinite God (if you offend a King, your offense has more weight than if you offend a Mayor, which has more weight than if you just offend your mailman).  As finite creatures, we couldn't begin to make up for an offense that reached beyond our existence. God could have just written us all off as a bad job, (which would have been infinitely just) but instead, because of His love for us, He offered us Christ.  He sacrificed Christ, His own Son.  That's like the victim of a violent crime offering themselves in place of the perpetrator on Death Row.  There is no sense to be made of such an action unless you read it in terms of sacrificial love.

Whoa now. We're talking about life and death sacrifice here. You're telling me that kind of love is/has to be present in a marriage? Yep. Which sorta brings us to the next quality of love.

2. Real Love is Faithful--Ok, so God is love, and God as the Father sacrificed His Son out of love, while Christ as God sacrificed His life.  Within moments of Adam and Eve's sin, God promised them a Savior.  When mankind continued to offend Him, again, and again, and...again... (you get the picture), He did not rescind His promise. Being God, and knowing all that was, is, and will be, He also knows that we are going to continue to offend Him, even after He has offered His own life in exchange for our salvation.  And yet He never has, does, or will break His promise.  When God committed His life, He meant it.  Real love, as a reflection of God's love, is faithful when it promises itself to its beloved.  God did not decide, halfway through the billionth time the Israelites strayed, that He was no longer 'fulfilled' by His beloved, or no longer 'happy', and therefore packed up half of the earth and went on His way.  Because He is infinitely perfect, He never once 'needed' the love of humankind, and never looked for what we could do for Him as a reason to give or withhold His love.  He promised His life and His love, and He gave and continues to give it.

3. Real Love is Personal--One thing that I think is sadly missing from the understanding of God today, even by Christians, is how personally God loves us.  When this concept first really sunk in for me, it blew my mind.  Watch the movie The Passion of the Christ and every single ounce of the suffering you see Christ endure, think to yourself 'He was thinking of me as if there were no other person alive.'  St. Augustine tells us as much: "God loves each of us as if there were only one of us to love."  This makes the love story of the Cross better than any Pride and Prejudice or Romeo and Juliet. Why? Because this one is about you. If your boyfriend or husband came to you, ladies, and said "I love you so much that, in order to secure your happiness for the rest of forever, I'm going to suffer the worst torture and death imaginable," what would you say? That's not like what God says to us; that is what He says and what He did.  Similarly, real love in a relationship is personal. It adapts to the needs of the individual, all the while having as its only goal the eternal happiness (i.e., salvation) of that person.

4. Real Love is an Act of the Will--In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve experienced their emotions through the total control of their wills. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ exemplified that this harmony between emotion and will that they had possessed was a Godlike quality: He did not pray 'Thy feelings be done' but 'Thy Will'.  And we've already discussed that God's offering of His own Son was an act of love. So Christ here is showing us yet another facet of Godly-love: it isn't about emotions. It's a commitment of the will.

I was going to immediately start translating these qualities into Christian marriage, but I'm going to hold off. Each one deserves its own post. Hopefully I can also encapsulate some common critiques as I address each one as well (like Sarah Over The Moon's accusation that the Christian marriage dynamic requires such self-sacrifice and submission that it fosters, nay engenders, abuse).  This list of qualities is by no means exhaustive, but I think it's a start, and encompasses some of the more complex traits.

Series Introduction--It Takes Three (Posts on Christian Love, Sex, and Marriage)

A quick note about this username, Speranza: I used to have another blog that was associated with my primary email account, and while it's now defunct, rather than add a new blog to the same email when I created 'Forgetting the Cat', I felt inexplicably compelled to make a whole new email/google profile. I have no idea why I did this--I guess it didn't occur to me that I could just add a blog. :-p Anyhow, for the sake of convenience, I added my old profile to this blog, so both profiles that contribute to it are 'me', Meghan. Now, onward.
One of the Patheos bloggers a few of my non-Catholic friends share on Facebook from time to time is 'Sarah Over the Moon'. She has a series of posts called the 'You Are Not Your Own' series, which focuses on what she considers to be an innate Christian premise present in the understanding of gender/gender roles/marriage--specifically as found in many popular Christian dating books--that invites and tolerates rape and abuse.

I don't really want to go through her posts serially and respond to them, nor would I argue with her 100%, since I'm sure there are some women who misunderstand the message of Christian marital relationships.  But I would like to try and post a kind of general series-length response that dispels some common myths about Christian relationships, and covers some authentic truths about Christian love and marriage, maybe to help clarify what is heard versus what is actually said/actually meant.

I feel like the most common sense approach to this extremely broad, extremely inclusive topic is perhaps to choose a common myth each post, and respond to it directly as well as by providing the contrasting and more accurate reality.

I've chosen the title/theme of 'It Takes Three' to illustrate as succinctly as possible one of the most fundamental diseases that afflicts love and marriage today.  It comes from the Fulton Sheen quote that says:
“It takes three to make love, not two: you, your spouse, and God. Without God people only succeed in bringing out the worst in one another. Lovers who have nothing else to do but love each other soon find there is nothing else. Without a central loyalty life is unfinished.” 
Look for the first post before the end of the weekend. :)

Monday, November 18, 2013

"Unsex me here": A Response to Micah Murray's 'How Feminism Hurts Men'

 Come, you spirits
  That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
  And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
  Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
  Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
  That no compunctious visitings of nature
  Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
  The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
  And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
  Wherever in your sightless substances
  You wait on nature's mischief! Come, thick night,
  And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
  That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
  Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
  To cry 'Hold, hold!'
--spoken by Lady Macbeth in Act 1, Scene 5

I apologize for not posting part 2 of my diatribe against literary studies, but it is going to be a very involved post, and I frankly don't have the time to write it at the moment. Maybe after the semester ends.

In the meantime, I want to respond to an article that's been making the rounds among my online friends' social networking pages. Originally posted on the author's blog, here is the link to the HuffPo iteration of it.  It's called "How Feminism Hurts Men" and Huffington says of the author: "Micah J. Murray is a writer, creative director, social media manager, and video guy. He blogs at about church, faith, politics and family."

The down and dirty, before I tackle specifics: "How Feminism Hurts Men" (let's call it HFHM) is a satirical piece that highlights female oppression by applying the biggest feminist complaints to men instead of women.  For example:
"Because of feminism, church stages and spotlights are often dominated by women. Men are encouraged to just serve in the nursery or kitchen. Sometimes men are even told to stay silent in church."
Basically, Mr. Murray is saying that while some have suggested feminism is a social ill that is actually hurting men and destroying the family, the real problem is that all the things feminists complain about are still going on.  While men whine about being emasculated, women aren't allowed to have free birthcontrol. Or something like that.

As you may be able to tell, this article makes me livid.  The attitude--which is frustratingly common--is that hardly any feminist concerns have been addressed, and women are still living in the Stone Age while men lounge around, wallowing in their unfairly disproportionate advantages earned by an 'arbitrary' body part.

Mr. Murray, feminism IS hurting men, and destroying the family as a result.

Let's take a look at the claims HFHM makes (ironically) about women's rights.  Anywhere you see 'men' 'us' or 'he', switch the gender, since that's the pith under the sarcasm.
1. For men, the rise of feminism has relegated us to second-class status. Inequality and discrimination have become part of our everyday lives.
Is this remotely realistic? There are women who are abused or ill-treated in certain contexts, but does every woman wake up feeling like she can't live her life to the fullest because of all the opportunities society won't let her have?  Inequality and discrimination? Is this about water-fountains or lunch-counters? Are women forced to the back of the bus? No? Hmm. This is a very general point, so I'm not going to try to respond at length, because the rest of his 'points' are more specific. But for real. This is not an issue of segregation. Women aren't being gassed or lynched for their gender. Let's be clear on what it means to be 'discriminated against'.

2. Because of feminism, men can no longer walk down the street without fear of being catcalled, harassed, or even sexually assaulted by women. When he is assaulted, the man is blamed -- the way he dressed he was "asking for it."
There are two parts to this point, I think. Firstly, freedom does not mean debauchery.  Fashions and trends that came, quite literally, from the brothels, have their roots in an erotic desire to seduce.  Whether or not that is your intention, if you dress like a slut, no matter how modest your behaviour or how respectful your male friends/fathers/brothers etc, the underlying principle behind fishnets, miniskirts, midriff T's, and plunging V's is to reveal the sexual.  For a generation fixated (pun intended) on Freud, we seem reluctant to acknowledge that human sexual desire is often rooted in the subconscious, and often triggered without our intent.  So in this sense, my answer to Mr. Murray is that I would not want a man to walk around in nothing but a thong, either. For me, modesty is not an issue of gender, it's an issue of human dignity, and of not revealing that which does not need to be revealed.

Secondly, again allowing for the minority of ignorant bigots in the world, I must say that I have never met a thinking, reasonable individual, no matter what their faith background or upbringing, who would look at a rape victim and be insensitive to her wounds because the pervert who hurt them was triggered by their (lack of) clothes.  Rape happens to the fully clothed and to the scantily clad. While I would no more ask a pedophile to babysit my child than tempt a rapist by wearing a see-through shirt and booty shorts, nobody with reason and charity is going to write off a rape victim because of how she was dressed. Are there people who do? Most certainly. Do I count them among people who are a. reasonable, b. kind, or c. my friends? Absolutely not.  There is no excuse for bitter ignorance, no matter which side it's coming from.

[By the way, to play devil's advocate, if I exercise my 'right' to violate a man's eyes, mind, and desire by walking around half naked (because I think it's a tenet of history that men are generally aroused by naked women), why isn't it ok that he exercises a similarly constructed 'right' to violate my body?]

On a surface level, men don't (generally) walk around in immodest clothes because there just isn't the market for it. The female body, let's face it, is way more beautiful and interesting than the male body, so seductive clothes primarily come in the girly sizes and styles. If men did walk around in immodest clothes, I'd call them out too. Let me reiterate what I said a few lines earlier: this isn't an issue of gender, it's an issue of human dignity.
3. Because of feminism, there are no major Christian conferences about how to act like men, where thousands of men can celebrate their manliness and Jesus (and perhaps poke fun at female stereotypes).
There seems to be a double-standard here. On the one hand, feminists don't want to be forced into the Christian stereotype of 'feminity' that defines them as mothers, wives, and the complimentary sex to men's manliness. On the other hand, they gripe because there aren't any conferences in Christian spheres about how to be 'Christian-ly' a woman? Which is it? Or is the real complaint here that Christianity supports a womanly-feminism that highlights and adulates motherhood and a very gendered womanhood that flies in the face of the contraceptive, asexual, pants-suit-wearing, feminism that vociferously demands utter and total equality with men? Sorry, ladies (or is 'ladies' too offensive a term?). Christianity endorses authentic womanhood, based on God's specific gifts to women.  Just because they don't pander to perspectives that are not part of their particular creed doesn't make them discriminatory.  By your logic, do you also expect PETA to have a branch of its organization that raises cows for slaughter just to represent the portion of the population that eats meat--even at the expense of its values?

On a smaller note, I also don't think that the claim that there are no large-scale church groups that serve women is true--at least in the Catholic Church we have lots of women's organizations, from the CCW to CRHP to Regnum Christi that have specific branches for men and for women, which include gender as part of their specialized approach to whatever the topic of the retreat or meeting is.  I personally go on retreats and have been involved in groups that are tailored for women, or for young adults, etc etc. If there is one major organization that has gotten 'special interest group' ministry-making down to an art, its the Catholic/Christian churches.
4. Because of feminism, church stages and spotlights are often dominated by women. Men are encouraged to just serve in the nursery or kitchen. Sometimes men are even told to stay silent in church.
This point is closely tied to the preceding. I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine from school about this very thing: she feels that women are underrepresented in Christian churches, and that the roles they are given are discriminatory (i.e., women are discouraged from being pastors, and are, as the article says, asked to 'serve in the nursery or kitchen'.)

This is far too big a topic to take on in this post, for the sake of length, but let me say this: Clinical psychology as well as many hard sciences posit that the male and female brain function differently. One is not better or worse than the other, but, as this article (just as one example) says, "Women tend to be intuitive global thinkers. They consider multiple sources of information within a process that can be described as simultaneous, global in perspective and will view elements in the task in terms of their interconnectedness" while Men "tend to focus on one problem at a time or a limited number of problems at a time. They have an enhanced ability to separate themselves from problems and minimize the complexity that may exist". In other words, on many levels, men and women have different strengths and approaches to problems. This naturally and logically makes each gender better suited for certain types of jobs. Does this mean no women can be a CEO? No. Does this mean no man can raise a child? No. What it means is, play to your strengths.

In a Christian worldview, where the sexes use their strengths in a way that combines their attributes to make a solid, unified and almost in-conquerable whole, there are 'traditional' roles given to each gender that is intended to make the most of their gifts.  Being asked to run the nursery is not a statement of a woman's inadequacy to preach; it is an attempt to utilize her ability as an organizer, nurturer, and global problem solver.  Furthermore, in a worldview that also sees children and the future generations of Christians as important, beautiful gifts to be nurtured and strengthened so they can succeed in life and attain salvation, a woman's job is arguably the most important.  I am boggled by the feminist argument that motherhood is somehow a lesser or 'simple' job, lacking in value, or the leftover job in a man's world. Female roles are absolutely integral to the functioning and continuation of the human race, especially if we want a future generation that progresses and gravitates towards peace.  Meanwhile, men's ability to hone in on one point and think of the group as a unit (where women focus on the group with special attention to individuals' needs) makes them more suited for conventional 'leadership' roles. This is not a social commentary on male/female ability. It's just a factual, scientific reality of what they're each better at.  You don't hear people lobbying for us to use dogs for transportation and horses for a guide-animal for the blind. Each has its own strengths, and each performs best when allowed to draw on that strength.
5. Because of feminism, women make more money than man in the same jobs.
The glass ceiling? Really? Last I checked we aren't in 1980 anymore. Where/If there are places where women are making less, it isn't because they're women. It's because they either aren't as good at the job as a parallel male in the same job, or because they are newer. If I complained that I didn't make as much as my boss on the grounds of discrimination since he's a man and I'm a woman, you'd laugh. I'm a receptionist. He's a business owner. Please show me one REAL example of widespread salary differentials that are not so vague as to ignore the specifics of each situation. It's all well to show a chart that seems to show that female football players make less than male football players...but...wait. I'll just let you finish that one for yourself. I really just don't have the time of day for that glass ceiling garbage anymore.
6.  Because of feminism, it's hard to find a movie with a heroic male lead anymore. Most blockbusters feature a brave woman who saves the world and gets a token man as a trophy for her accomplishments.
I read an article recently (unfortunately I can't remember the name) about this very thing. It frustrated me, because it was contingent on yet another double-standard. First, it complained that there weren't enough strong female leads. Then, it complained that there were too many strong female leads that were the wrong kind of strong female lead, because all they were doing was saving the world.  What exactly does a strong female lead who is not doing male things, but is also not stereotypically 'feminine' look like? Mystique from X-Men, maybe? I really don't know what proponents of feminism want to see in cinema. If Angelina Jolie plays a feminine role, she's a trophy wife, or the token female character that permits directors to include a sex scene. If she's Tomb Raider, she's just a woman given a man's strong lead. What do you want?  I'll give you a movie with a strong female lead: The Passion of the Christ. But that isn't what you're asking for, is it? That features a woman who embraces her feminine qualities utterly and perfectly, and ends up Co-Redemptrix of the entire human race for all eternity as a result. Yeah, you're right. That's much too weak.

7. Because of feminism, women's professional sports are a massively profitable enterprise where women are globally idolized. Men only appear briefly, before commercial breaks, when they're objectified for their bodies.
.....Swimming. Soccer. Hockey. Lacrosse. Diving. Volleyball (no, not the kind where they wear bikinis). Tennis. Golf. Basketball. Equestrian events. Softball. Please, explain to me again how women are being reduced to breasts and reproductive organs in the sports world?

(I'm not saying women aren't objectified in our culture in many contexts, but please, Mr. Murray, at least try to use somewhat-real examples.)
8. Because of feminism, all birth control is covered for women without question or debate, while men have to fight to get insurance companies to pay for their Viagra prescriptions. When men do speak up about this, leaders of the "family friendly" right wing labels them "sluts" and "whores."
 Because of feminism, United States citizens are being forced to pay for birth control and abortion on demand with their taxpayer dollars and insurance policies. So firstly, this statement is just untrue. Secondly, the wonderful world (heavy sarcasm) of Planned Parenthood etc make birth control readily and cheaply available. Plus, last I checked, Viagra is not a form of male birth control. :-p  Thirdly, proclaiming to the world that you want an active sex life, free of charge, and with no natural consequences, does at least make you a hedonist.  While it's wrong to call someone a 'slut' or judge their character, a person who believes in the sanctity of marriage and the unique and exclusive role of sex within marriage does indeed have the right--and the moral obligation--to call you out on your promiscuous behaviour.

Yup. Totally articulate and classy.
9. Because of feminism, the male body is constantly under public scrutiny. If a man appears topless on TV, it's a national scandal resulting in huge fines and boycotts. Bloggers regularly write about how we need to be more mindful of the ways our clothing choices tempt women to sin. Satirists insist that shorts "aren't really pants" and then men should cover up because "nobody wants to see that."
This is almost a reiteration of #2.  There's little to say to add to what I have already said about modesty and human dignity except to reemphasize that if men were walking around with no pants on, I'd have a problem with that too. The fact that women have more sexual parts and more sexually and physically beautiful bodies hardly makes it discrimination to ask them not to put it all out there for everyone to see. Just because you have no respect for your body doesn't mean society shouldn't.  If a man was publicly exposing his 'junk', he'd get arrested. Equal rights and equal treatment, remember?
10. Because of feminism, men are not represented in the White House, and women hold over 80 percent of the seats in Congress. When a man runs for office, his physical appearance and clothing choices are discussed almost as much as his policies and ideas.
 I've heard this argument many times, and it always amuses me. Hilary Clinton ran for president. She performed well in the debates. And she lost, through due process and fair voting. Now, while I would argue that political leadership is a role better suited to men, that is my personal opinion, and I don't believe it has anything to do with why there aren't more women in government.  I think there are fewer women in government because there are fewer running or interested in running for election. Maybe I'm wrong. But women have the vote, and so women have representation, correct? I fail to see where the discrimination lies, if a disparity exists at all.
11. Because of feminism, men must fight for a voice in the public sphere. In issues of theology, politics, science, and philosophy, the female perspective is often considered default, normal, and unbiased. Male perspectives are dismissed for being too subjective or too emotional. When we speak up, we are often dismissed as angry, rebellious, subversive, or dangerous.
Watch TV. Just regular TV. 75% of commercials feature a woman telling us about a product while a man makes the mess that requires her to use the product. The man can't fix his computer; his wife calls PCMatic for him. A man left alone with his messy toddler asks 'Where is your mother?'.

Look at hot button social issues like abortion. Who has gotten the law passed that 'they' called for (I'd argue that the group of women that wants abortion on demand is not representative of the whole) in regards to an issue like that? I'm sorry, Mr. Murray, but women have a voice, often to the detriment of this country. As a woman, I hold my gender highly accountable for the destruction of moral culture and the family in the United States. Not solely responsible, but certainly heavily involved.  Whether or not there exists a stereotype of women as a more emotional sex does not have any weight whatsoever on whether or not they have a voice, anymore than the stereotype of men being better drivers impacts the number of male drivers who get in accidents. Stereotypes don't define reality, thankfully. Look at all of the feminist 'issues' that have come to influence the way we live. Women do have a voice, and I would go so far as to question how that voice is being used.

Murray closes the article by saying this:
Whatever you do, don't read Jesus Feminist. It's full of ideas that will continue to oppress and harm men -- ideas such as "women are people too" and "the dignity of and rights of women are as important as those of men".
 The attitude here is that we live our lives as though women aren't people, and as though their dignity doesn't matter. I could write a whole new post on this point alone. But I'll try to be succint.

First, we abort girls. So in that sense, yes, women in the womb are discriminated against, especially in countries like China. Just do a google serach on 'sex-selective abortion'.

Second, and I can't stress this enough, how dare American women put themselves in the same category as Jews, Blacks, Christians, and other groups that have been killed for being who they are? American women, who have all the rights and freedoms that being an American citizen entails--and who have even more privileges touted as 'rights' that they shouldn't have (like abortion and contraception)--and then look into the eyes of Anne Frank, or Rosa Parks. Excuse me, but I don't think you (modern feminists) know what discrimination is. I don't think you understand what it means to have society as a whole refuse to acknowledge your personhood.

The sickening irony of women, who have no idea what discrimination is, clamoring for 'acknowledgement of human dignity' while in the same breath advocating for the 'right' to end the life of their child is mind-boggling.

I was talking to my boyfriend about this a little bit ago and he also noted that if there are places in the world where the oppression of women exists, it surely isn't here. Visit Africa, South America, China, or a Muslim country, and ask the women there if American women are 'oppressed'.  The arrogance and utter selfishness of such claims is just...unspeakably disgusting.  I am ashamed, as a woman, that such lies are being told in the name of my gender.

As I said, I could post at length about just this part of the article. But I need to bring it full circle instead. The title of the article is "How Feminism Hurts Men", and the whole purpose of it is to suggest that feminism doesn't hurt men, and in fact, men hurt women and women's rights.  I take issue with your very premise, Mr. Murray. Feminism does hurt men.

Feminism suggests that men should be ashamed of their masculinity.  And don't tell me this isn't true. This isn't an issue of 'Men are fine as they are, we just want some of the same opportunities'.  The very root of feminism says "Step aside, men, and let women be in charge".  But this is disordered. Men are, as I have at least hinted, suited for leadership.  They are physically, mentally, and emotionally suited for being providers and protecting the safety and well-being of their family or a business etc.  Again (and I feel I must stress this repeatedly or someone will ignore everything preceding and accuse me of delusions), women are certainly capable of doing these things. But they are not innately made for it. So to ask a man to stop being a man--to let a woman do the things he was made to do--renders him useless.

Furthermore, as women encroach further and further into the spheres of life that were originally the purview of men, men become ashamed to participate in them.  It's the same kind of dynamic at work in the feminist mind, except reversed and subjugated.  Feminists aggressively express irritation at male involvement in work spaces and leadership roles; men find a hostile, antithetical female usurpation at work in pursuits that define their very purpose.   Do you wonder why we have a growing divorce rate, fatherless families leaving single mothers to fend for themselves, and disrespectful, bestial men seemingly driven solely by sexual desires? Obviously, feminism is not all to blame. But it plays a huge role.

Men no longer want to be men, or feel that this occupation--manhood--is no longer theirs.  When men must share manhood with women, they become disenfranchised wanderers.  Why work hard, why strive to be a gentleman or a moral creature, when you have no purpose?  This sounds melodramatic, but take a long hard look at a man who is, to use the colloquial term, 'whipped'.  Think of the sexless marriages, which fall apart and end in unfaithfulness and bitterness because the wife, emboldened by what feminism tells her is her 'right' to power and equal standing with her husband, witholds herself from him as a strategy of revenge and abuse.

Women are oppressed? Today's men are abused, cruelly. The feminist idea of gaining 'equality' for women has resulted in a total reversal of the kinds of thinking (equally wrong) that applied to women in the antebellum South or the Victorian age.  Then, women were mistakenly assumed to be stupid, weak, and to be used as a kind of currency or adornment.  Today, men are automatically presented as stupid, monochrome beasts who have no capacity for any endeavor of worth, and serve only to bolster the ego of the women in their lives.

So in closing, Mr. Murray, and feminists, I say, look in the mirror.  The chimera that you were battling when this all began, the monolithic enterprise that you called 'man' that you claimed was so oppressing you, that you wanted equality with? You are it. You have succeeded.  You have gained such equal footing with the mythical creature you were fighting against that you have transformed into it.  You are the oppressors now, and you are destroying social order. So don't you dare, Mr. Murray, satirize the demise of the family, of functional marriage, of complimentary and harmonious gender roles. Don't try to ironically champion the perverted movement that has inverted our society.  What's sad is that you're a victim of the very ideal you're pushing.  The more deeply ingrained in society feminism is, the more you lose, Mr. Murray.

Oh, and PS, Mr. Murray: Christianity, you know that oppressive patriarchal institution that peppered your article with oppression?  It's founded on a God-made-Man who chose before all time to be born of a Woman.

I'll close with this thought from Pope John Paul II, who spoke so eloquently on gender and human dignity:
 "Womanhood expresses the "human" as much as manhood does, but in a different and complementary way...When the Book of Genesis speaks of "help", it is not referring merely to acting, but also tobeing. Womanhood and manhood are complementary not only from the physical and psychological points of view, but also from the ontological. It is only through the duality of the "masculine" and the "feminine" that the "human" finds full realization....

...The Church sees in Mary the highest expression of the "feminine genius" and she finds in her a source of constant inspiration. Mary called herself the "handmaid of the Lord" (Lk 1:38). Through obedience to the Word of God she accepted her lofty yet not easy vocation as wife and mother in the family of Nazareth. Putting herself at God's service, she also put herself at the service of others: a service of love. Precisely through this service Mary was able to experience in her life a mysterious, but authentic "reign". It is not by chance that she is invoked as "Queen of heaven and earth". The entire community of believers thus invokes her; many nations and peoples call upon her as their "Queen". For her, "to reign" is to serve! Her service is "to reign"!"

For the full text of JPII's Letter to Women (it isn't a long read, and is so worth it--and I think liberal women will be surprised how much they find in it to agree with), go here.

For more reading on what is known as 'New Feminism', check out this excellent article, which incorporates much of JPII's beautiful explanation of femininity and the complimentary of the sexes.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The End of the Affair: My Disillusionment with Literature (Part 1)

So much for blogging regularly. But, in my defense, I've been really busy. I am in graduate school full time (as I probably mentioned), and I work 40 hours a week.

And therein lies the rub, and the topic of this post.

I am at a crossroads in my life where I have come to consider entering into graduate school as a mistake. I realize that it was an unnecessary, overambitious step that I took without real thought to the ways in which it would interfere in and overexhaust my life. I also thought I could 'do it all' and work full time while in grad school, and that has come to be my biggest mistake of all.

All this would be worth it if I were studying something I truly loved, or something truly worthwhile.  But the nightmarish reality that I find increasingly more apparent is that the study of Literature or writing at a post-undergraduate level is not only a fruitless endeavor from a practical standpoint; it is also an objectionable, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting one.

To those who know me, this probably sounds anathema. I have always been so wrapped up in reading, writing, and thinking about books, poetry, and other kinds of literature, that it has been an almost-obsessive passion.  My attempts at poetry as a teenager and my bordering-on-worship of the Lord of the Rings can attest to that.

And I suppose in that sense, I still love certain books or works of lit that are beautiful or interesting to me.  But what I have discovered very abruptly, like hitting a wall going 75mph, is that Literature as an academic pursuit is a monstrous, atheistic, morally perverse thing.  As such, any joy or benefit I might have gleaned from any worthwhile texts we read for class has been sucked away, and just sitting through the two-odd hour long classes becomes a mental and emotional struggle.

Let me explain.

An undergraduate degree in English Lit (at least at my school) requires you to take such and so a class on this type of poetry, and a class on writing, and a few classes on theory. Every now and then you come upon a theory or an author that is really just garbage, like Toni Morrison and other sex-charged, race-baiting feminists, or the very rudimentary coverage of Roland Barthes' Death of the Author that you read in 'Intro to Literary Theory and Criticism'.  But the majority of your time is spent on relatively 'safe' literature--the Romantic period poetry, classical philosophy, Chaucer, and T.S. Eliot.  Certainly, in their own ways, and depending upon the agenda of the professor in each class, all of these texts have their pitfalls for a practicing Catholic, but generally, with an informed understanding that not everything you read or hear in class is gospel-truth, you get by with your Faith and your passion for Literature intact, having honed your writing skills and written several papers you're proud of.  I guess I signed up for the graduate program expecting more of the same, but with more nuanced explorations of the texts, and a little more attentiveness to modern criticism and theory.

Most importantly, I came away from my undergraduate studies with an impression of work in the field as a relatively innocuous 'you read a text, you analyze it, you interpret it, you write a paper' process.

In some ways, this is true, although I have yet to take a class that did not somehow involve sex, race, and the debate over gay marriage in its discussions.  But while I could write a whole 'nother post on the offensive topics harped on in my classes, what I am most shocked and heartbroken by is the discovery of what this field really is.

I hope I can explain this clearly. People who can truly be said to be professionals in the academic study of Literature and writing create, accept, and operate upon a system of beliefs and principles that utterly and completely fly in the face of Catholicism--or even just theism--and morality.

Maybe I was just naive, but this was news, devastating news, to me.

And let's be clear--this is not a pocket of the field, or an anomalous result of having to read a handpicked series of articles by scholars who happen to all fall on the liberal side of the scale.  This is a reality that permeates the very definition of the field by those who have been granted the implicit authority to define it since at least the 1960's, but further back than that, I think.  Let me also be clear--I do understand that I, personally, can still read and appreciate worthy literature without all of this destroying my experience.  What I am upset about is that I am financially and temporally invested in something that offends and contradicts the very core of my belief-system.

The second half of this post will contain some concrete examples proving what I have just claimed about the field, so if you don't care about Literature, you may want to skip. ;)