Justice For Women

In the Church. In the World.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

CNS Introduces a Kinder, Gentler Anti-V-Day Campaign

The Cardinal Newman Society, a self-proclaimed watchdog organization of Catholic higher education, has introduced it's Campaign to Stop the V-Monologues 2007. This year, instead of harassing college presidents (I'm guessing mostly because it didn't work to well), they are trying to show how much they care about women by offering support and funding to V-Day organizers who instead schedule "alternatives" to The Vagina Monologues. Please take note that only one of these "alternatives" are even tangentally related to violence against women and none of them are designed to be fundraisers for local and international anti-violence organizations, which is a major goal of V-Day.

CNS also quotes extensively from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Catholic writers on the "nature" of women and sexuality, but, as if to further prove my point that they really don't care about violence against women, leaves out this paragraph:
2356 Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed by parents (incest) or those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Blog For Choice Day: Why I am Pro-Choice

I'd like to begin by telling you a few stories. I will only use a first initial to identify these women:

When I was 19, a good friend told me the story of her mother's abortion. D. was homeless, living on the streets of San Francisco. She managed to hustle enough to eat a Quarter Pounder with cheese once a week. D. was malnourished and sick. When she found out she was pregnant, she knew that her body was not healthy enough to sustain a healthy pregnancy. Anyway, where would she live? How would she care for a baby if she couldn't even care for herself? D. chose abortion. She went on to marry and have two daughters, including one of my best friends. When she came to visit on spring break, I gave her a bumper sticker that said "Pro-faith, Pro-family, Pro-Choice." She also happened to work for her Episcopal church.

The next year, another friend told me her mother's story. L. was fifteen, a church-going Lutheran, and a normal high school girl. She was raped by a boy she knew, and since this was before EC, she became pregnant. L. chose abortion. She went on to also marry and have two daughters, including one of my best friends. I learned this because her daughter and I wrote a column for our college paper defending the right to choose (an exciting thing to do at a Catholic college), there was a terrible backlash, and L. (an employee of the college) wrote a letter to the editor telling her story. She never sent it in, but she wanted us to know how much it meant to her that we would continue the fight.

During my volunteer year, I had the joy of meeting a K., a friend of one of my volunteer-sisters. K. had a precious little boy, and they were frequent welcome guests in out home. Little boy had been an unexpected pregnancy, but K. chose to give birth. She is an art student, working hard, and being an incredible mom. She depends on some assistance, such as child care assistance from the state and ample student aid. One night, as little boy slept on his mom's lap (after a long day of bear hunting in our attic and warning me about the scary parts in March of the Penguins), she quietly told me the story of a second unplanned pregnancy, a failing marriage, and the demands of being a good mom. K. chose abortion this time, with no regrets.

Working the crisis line one night, a woman called and told me she was pregnant, and her boyfriend told her that if he found her at home and still pregnant, he would kill her. She was against abortion and needed a safe place to go. I told her to come into the shelter and I put her name on a room. She arrived that night with her two children, stayed for a month, and moved into a new apartment with an OFP to keep him away.

I tell these stories because what really brought me into the pro-choice movement were women's stories. The anti-choice movement alternately portrays women as promiscuous baby-killing hussies who should "keep their legs shut" or "deal with the consequences," or as easily duped, victims of everyone's desires but their own. However, when you enter into conversation with women who have faced unplanned pregnancy, they are none of these. Good women make good choices - for themselves, their families, and their future. I believe that women deserve to (and, right now, have the right to) make their own choices about their reproductive lives with dignity. I believe it is necessary to defend this right for the well-being of women.

I also use these stories to illustrate what I believe the scope of being pro-choice includes. Being pro-choice does not just mean abortion. Pro-choice means access to abortion, access to resources to have healthy families, safety and freedom from coercion, and access to birth control and sex ed. As these stories illustrate, the pro-choice and feminist movements benefit women and facilitate their choices even if they do not want an abortion.

I'm also pro-choice because I recognize my position of privilege. I'm lucky enough to have health insurance that covers birth control, I have a good partner, and I know that if I became pregnant, it would be more of a cause for celebration than for dread. I hope that I will never need an abortion, but if I do, I live in a place where it is legal. I know that not everyone is so lucky. There are many countries where abortion is illegal, pregnancy and birth can be deadly, and contraception, even condoms, is hard to come by due to international pressure and the unfair influence of the Catholic hierarchy. I believe that the privilige I have in my life, thanks in large part to the pro-choice movement, should be extended to all women everywhere. Even if they make very different choices than I do, they should have the opportunity to make those choices for themselves in an environment where it won't cost them their life or freedom.

Finally, I am pro-choice because of religious freedom. It's not talked about much in the pro-choice movement (except in talking about freedom from religion), but different religious traditions have different teachings on the legality and morality of abortion. For instance, in the Jewish tradition, the fetus does not have the same legal status as the women, and when a woman's life or well-being is in danger, the woman's life is always put first. In Catholicism, abortion is never considered acceptable. Should I, as a Catholic, be able to force a Jewish woman to break the commandments of her own religion? No, never. (However, there is still room in Catholicism for pro-choicers, links at the end of the post.) Each woman should be able to make her own reproductive decisions in line with her faith, without the interference of the state.

For more on my post . . .
Abortion Stories:
I'm Not Sorry
Speak Out: I Had an Abortion

Global Women:
Harvard Global Reproductive Health Forum

Faith and Choice:
Catholics for a Free Choice
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Pedophile Blames Eight-Year-Olds for Conspiring Abuse Against Them

Convicted sexual predator Charles Sylvestre blames other clergy, a school principal, and the victims for his sexual abuse of nearly fifty little girls.

Lawyer Paul Bailey interviewed Sylvestre to show that pedophilia is not a "mere moral failure" but rather a "distinct psychological pathology."

Even more disturbing, Sylvestre was sentanced to only three years for the sexual abuse of forty-seven girls and was apparently not defrocked. A failure of church and state, and a disturbing commentary on how little both value the safety of children.

Via Pandagon.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Hug this Jesuit.

Bex, I hope you are reading this. ;)

I did a random search on Busted Halo with the keywords "domestic violence" (yes, I am looking for places to freelance), and up popped, This Is What a Feminist Looks Like? by James Keane, SJ - a beautiful defense of The Vagina Monologues at Fordham University. And that doesn't mean one necessarily has to like it to defend it:

Unlike the vast majority of the protesters, I have actually sat down and read the Vagina Monologues. It ain'ít Shakespeare. Truth be told, I didn't even find it to be very compelling. Then again, I'm a thirty-year-old man with a vow of chastity, and I doubt that Eve Ensler and I fish in the same literary ponds. But its popularity on college campuses quite clearly has nothing to do with its artistic merits; what the staging of the Vagina Monologues is almost always about is a chance for female students to celebrate womanhood and speak out against domestic violence and sexism.

And a particularly stunning hallelujah moment:

The Tuesday night before the play opened at Fordham, I was delighted to see two female students at the Latin mass on campus wearing pink t-shirts that read "This is what a feminist looks like." Hallelujah! I'd wear one myself, but the other scholastics in my house look at me funny if I dress in pink. But is this not exactly the message we want to send to young Catholics? That the gospel is empowering to women, that their voices are heard in the Church, that the Church is better off if they express themselves and cherish their womanhood?

With a comment on the state of our future priests:

And who made up a significant portion of the protestors outside the Vagina Monologues at Fordham University? You guessed it, a gaggle of local Catholic seminarians

And the ramifications of their actions:

For the length of the protest, every student entering and exiting the dorm came face to face with that crucifix and that painting, used not as signs of hope and charity but instead as instruments of division and intimidation. The typical student response, that it looked like what you might find outside an abortion clinic, is perhaps the most heartbreaking news of all. In the students' minds, the protestors (some in Roman collars) had equated a real and menacing evil, the slaughter of unborn children and the mutilation of their mothers, with a student-produced play put on to encourage women's empowerment. And that , in case you're wondering, is a perfect example of why many young women take official Church teaching on sexual morality with a grain of salt. The line between divinely inspired teachings and misogynist threats is, in such circumstances, tragically blurred.

While I disagree with Fr. Keane's thoughts on abortion (but I will say, he certainly sounds like a pro-life feminist I could have a very thoughtful and intellectually honest conversation with), I think he strikes on a very important point. I've commented on the use of such imagery outside of abortion clinics as the same - instruments of division and intimidation - which drive women and men away from the Christian community instead of inviting them in to conversation. And Fr. Keane is right on about one of the reasons it is so difficult to take Chruch teaching on sexuality seriously, that women's lives and experiences are seen as dirty, heretical, or worthless. And perhaps it's not strictly the fault of official Church teaching, but of fundamentalist interpretations of it.

My favorite part, though, was the counter-protest by students:

A group of student counter-protesters chanted one night, "Who's Catholic? I'm Catholic!" And they're right, being Catholic has little to do with obsessive heresy-hunting and much to do with the joyful celebration of Christian life. The students radiate such joy in abundance. Could the protesters say the same?

That's right! Who's Catholic? I'M CATHOLIC! :)

While this article was written in May 2005, I'll be forwarding this onto the women I know organizing at my alma mater. Please pray that all the performances of The Vagina Monologues will educate, bring healing to many, and bring abundance to the organizations it funds.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Women in the Developing World: Quick Round-Up

Two topically related bits from two very different places, focusing on the status of women in the developing world.

First off, Kevin Clarke for US Catholic, "They Can Do It":
Poverty and the status of women are inextricably bound according to economic development experts. Too often the talents and potential contribution of women go unrealized because of insufficient or nonexistent educational opportunities, widespread inequality, sexual exploitation, and patriarchy’s sometimes vicious instinct for self-preservation. A vast, vibrant tool for poverty mitigation and community-based economic development remains ignored because of patriarchal prejudice and prerogatives. That means that any comprehensive approach to the problem of global poverty cannot be fully realized without an effort to address the status of women.

Next, Feminist Wire reports on the new WHO director and her agenda:
Margaret Chan, the newly-elected Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), recently announced an agenda for her term centered around women’s health. Dr. Chan is focused on achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals, which include the promotion of gender equality and female empowerment, as well as improving maternal health.

For more on the Millenium Development Goals, click here!

"New" Feminism, Old Sexism?

Nicole, a fellow member of WOC's Young Feminist Network, sent a link to the listserv from US Catholic, "Redesigning Women". The article explores the "new feminism" promoted by John Paul II:
Last spring at the University of Notre Dame a heated debate about campus performances of the controversial play The Vagina Monologues made national news, provoking widespread debate not only about academic freedom at Catholic universities but also about the compatibility of Catholicism and feminism. While the debate surrounding Monologues took center stage, inciting lively debates in the op-ed pages of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, another forum on campus quietly attracted more than 300 people. A weekend conference organized by three Notre Dame undergraduates, “The Edith Stein Project: Redefining Feminism,” attempted to respond to the late Pope John Paul II’s call for a “new feminism” in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), tackling such issues as abortion, pornography, contraception, eating disorders, and rape.

First off, a small disclaimer as to how I approach this topic and this article. As an undergraduate at a Catholic college, I brought the firestorm that is The Vagina Monologues onto campus. Interestingly enough, I took Edith Stein as my confirmation name when I was in high school. Some nine years later, my personal philosophies have taken a different route than Edith's, but I chose her because at 15 I knew I was a feminist, and she was a brand new saint (I'm gunning for my little sister to pick Mother Theodore this spring) who was not only a feminist, but who was educated, encouraged women's education, and struggled with God and religion as I did and continue to do.

This article, by Renee LaReau, highlights some of the more troublesome aspects of the "new feminism" for me. While it cozies itself up close to cultural feminism with talk of uplifting "women's work," recognizing the value of nurturing, and so forth, it diverges quickly because it is a feminism that was created by and for the maintanance of a patriarchal structure. At least one nun agrees with me:
Some women theologians are wary of a “new feminism” initiated by a male Catholic hierarchy. Part of the problem, says Sister of Mercy Mary Aquin O’Neill, is that the church hierarchy is defined by having a teaching role, rather than a listening role, which may inhibit their ability to learn from the experiences of women.

“It will always mean that men are defining women and telling women what it is like to be a woman,” says O’Neill, director of the Mount Agnes Theological Center for Women in Baltimore. “It’s not particular to the pope, it’s particular to the system.” O’Neill also says that, as long as women are excluded from higher-level leadership church positions, sexism within the church itself can go unchecked.

Another troubling aspect is that many of the women who espouse the "new feminism" seem to have a very poor understanding of what feminism is and where it came from.
“For a long time, feminism has been about doing: Can I build a skyscraper the way a man can? Can a man do half the housework? Can a woman break through the glass ceiling?” says Pia de Solenni, a Washington, D.C.-based moral theologian. “It hasn’t been about who I am.”

Maybe. I won't make assumptions on Ms. de Solenni's feelings about feminism, but she clearly doesn't know the whole story. Feminism is about equality between the sexes at it's most rudimentary level, which includes some of what Ms. de Solenni speaks of. However, feminism has also always been tied up in giving women more choices about their lives and giving more respect to the work women have done and continue to do. For feminists, caring for children has always been as honorable as running for office, as long as each woman could make that choice for herself.

Another "new feminist" who is interviewed for this article, Madeleine Ryland, is senior at University of Notre Dame and one of the organizers of the aforementioned Edith Stein Project had this to say, and I hope beyond hope she was incompletely quoted:
“For my generation the word feminism has more of a negative connotation now,” says Ryland, 22. “Feminism was important then, but do we really still need to be talking about this stuff? Women have equal voting rights—isn’t that all we needed from that? It’s kind of a dead horse people are still beating.”

She and her peers care about feminism to the extent that they don’t want to go into job interviews and be discriminated against.

Uh, what? Do we really still need to be talking about this stuff? As a matter of full disclosure, I will say that I disagree with some of the basic beliefs of the Edith Stein Project and the speakers they bring in, but both last year's conference and this year's discuss eating disorders, rape, domestic violence, and immigrant women's rights. We need feminism because this stuff is still happening. Feminist.com has done a stellar job of compiling facts about the violence women face on a national and global scale. It was the secular feminist movement that brought violence against women out of the home and into the national spotlight, created domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers. What the "new feminists" seem to forget when they deride the secular feminist movement for some imaginary slight against the stay at home mom is that feminists are on the front line every day saving women's lives.

Another related problem I have with the "new feminism," along with pro-life feminism, the ease and eagerness with which the term "feminism" is co-opted by individuals and groups who align themselves with anti-woman fundamentalists. The Edith Stein Project links to the group One More Soul who famously link condoms with lethal experimentation and cohabitation with multiple health problems, Feminists for Life have been courted by the Christian media opened the door for even the most radical anti-shoice groups to claim a "feminist" connection by citing Susan B. Anthony. I've encountered people who tell me they are "feminists" in one breath and say that contraception is immoral and women should "keep their legs shut" in the next.

Is the "new feminism" anything "new" really, or is it the old gender determinism, now masquerading oppression for liberation? As Aisha Taylor, executive director of WOC says in the article's sidebar, "But ‘new feminism’ falls down when it says women are meant to be mothers and are more nurturing because they are women. Then instead of doing something because of your gifts or because you feel called by God to do it, it’s because of traditional gender roles."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

Catholics for a Free Choice unveils the beginning of a discussion on how Catholics view sex and sexuality. Click here to read the first installment. You can also submit your own thoughts from the page.