Mouse rant blog vent mouse.

Monday, August 02, 2004

The Church and women

A bunch of my favorite bloggers have tackled the odious, misogynist letter that the Vatican thought was appropriate to release. Echidne has some brillant and touching comments on how awful it is to say that the face of god can only be reflected in the faces of men. Ross at This Space for Rent thinks that this does not bode well for those who hoped the Catholic Church would refrain from joining the American religious war on democracy and secularism. Lauren at Feministe hates the way that they have picked up the annoying anti-feminist habit of decrying sexism right before spouting sexism. Jessica at Feministing knows that this is a problem but seems a bit unsure of what the impact will be, an uncertainity that we all share, no doubt.

The thing that alarms me the most is the comments Echnide singled out that argued that women were somehow spirtually less than men. It reminds me of medieval debates over whether or not women even had souls. Often the conclusion was no, of course they did not, since Jesus was a man, blah blah. One can imagine how women were treated by men who regarded them as soul-less animals.

I read and commented on a lot of these blogs on this issue, because I thought everyone's take was really interesting. And I felt a little guilty for not sticking my snout into the trough because I realized that for once I might have a unique-ish take on this. I didn't grow up Catholic, but I grew up in the shadow of that church, since most of the people in my hometown were Catholic. I get the impression that a number of people struggling to make sense out of this haven't ever been to Mass, but god knows I have snoozed my way through many. Most of my friends grew up Catholic and I went to a Catholic school for college. None of this means that I have some sort of fantastic handle on what Catholics make of all this, but it does mean that I have an inside track of sorts.

But I will admit, my research methods were shoddy. I read all these blog entries and the infamous letter and walked into the living room where my boyfriend, who, to be fair, regards the Church with a disturbing loathing. Noticing that the motorcycle race du jour was an American thingie and not the big-time, no-interrupting Euro-stuff, I asked him what he thought of this letter. He snorted and said that's why he left the Church. He informed me that his mother sang the loudest in Church and put on the most pious act before taking the kids home and smacking the crap out of them in a way that Jesus would likely not approve of. He is estranged from his family because they disapprove of his choice in women. God doesn't want men to go for outspoken, independent women, but these are the kind of women he has fallen for consistently. After fighting over and over with his mother about how God wants him to make a home with a more submissive mother, he finally decided to blow off Mom and God and stick with his loud-mouthed broad who will do the laundry tomorrow. And now back to watching a bunch of young men from predominantly Catholic countries race the hell out of their motorcycles in no small part to wow the best-looking women from aforementioned Catholic countries. The Church has struggled against human nature for a long, long time now.

From The Guardian article:

Such confrontational thinking was 'leading to harmful confusion ... which has its most immediate and lethal effects in the structure of the family'.

My boyfriend expressed regret that his family couldn't accept him and the woman he chooses to love in part because of their religious dedication to the fantasy of the submissive woman. One wonders what is really tearing at families--feminism or the rejection of it?

All this is to say that the Catholic Church has held the eternally self-sacrificing Virgin Mary over the heads of its followers for a long time. She is a figure of admiration and strangely is an erotic figure. She is also the gold standard in impossible female standards--a mother who is also a virgin. It's really no wonder that so many Catholic women either reject the Church's teachings on sex or suffer for accepting them.

Pretty much all Catholics cherry-pick which Church teachings they will follow. Most have premarital sex and most use birth control. More than you would think believe that the celibacy requirements put on the priests are nonsense. A good friend from back home attended a church with a non-celibate priest (he married and then joined the priesthood) and no one thought the less of him for it. But the cherry-picking means that Catholic men are all too happy to rub women's noses in teachings that prescribe that women are good for sex and housework and motherhood and nothing else. And this will be used to reinforce those problems.

But the Church is like any other institution. The only reason that men have any ability to rub women's noses in anything is because male power is reinforced on every level. We have little to no control over whether or not a bunch of elderly men who have little contact with women can grasp how their proclamations create an atmosphere of cruelty for the women they are supposed to help. The ugly truth is that the Church is going to kiss up to men as long as men pull the purse strings in Catholic households. Guilting them will not cause changes. But threatening them will.

Women's economic equality is still the key. When women get hold of the purse strings, the Church will start singing a different tune or start losing money and volunteer hours. As long as women are economically inferior, the Church can feel comfortable declaring that their entire purpose is making more Catholics, uh, being mothers. But when money beocomes an issue, things will change. So it's best not to be discouraged. Keep working for what's important--women's independence--and the institutions will follow.

21 Comments:

Blogger Rev. Elreta Dodds said...

Hello,
My name is Elreta Dodds and I am a Christian minister who has experienced quite a bit of chauvinism and sexism in the church. You might like to know my take on things. I've written a book titled: "Is God a Chauvinist? The Bible and Women: A Complete Look." My website address is www.elretadodds.com and my weblog address is: www.thechurchandwomen.blogspot.com. Feel free to visit. Thanks.

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