The Oxford English Dictionary defines “obscene” as something that is “offensive or disgusting by accepted standards of morality and decency.”
Accordingly, this is how I define obscene: that in 2012 we live in a country, the only one in the industrialized word, that empowers 456 Catholic Bishops, theoretically celibate, misogynistic men to dominate public discourse on how we manage the health of 150 million women in the United States?
Misogyny, a cultural hatred of girls and women because they are female, is defined by its placing of women in subordinate positions with limited access to power and decision making. There is no clearer description of the Catholic Church, or as we so visibly saw last week, Congress, it seems. There are no women in the Catholic Church Hierarchy and only 90 of the 536 seats in Congress are held by women. Together, these two organizations paint a pretty clear portrait of misogyny in action.
Why are we not talking openly about what misogyny is and how it manifests itself in culture? Maybe because the media is also run by sexists?
These 456 bishops have no business defining women’s health or how it should be improved, maintained, provided and paid for. If they are clashing with secular culture and want to practice their religion freely then they shouldn’t be in the the business of providing health care for anyone. If you examine the roots of the church’s position on everything from the priesthood to motherhood, it is clear that women are fungible and disposable. Not even worth consulting on issues related to their own bodies. It seems to me, that instead of marginalizing the 150 million women in the country, we should be marginalizing the 456 bishops. And yet, here they are, completely delusional about sex , birth, birth control and women’s reproductive health, being given power by similarly misogynistic legislators. How else do you explain the nuttiness of last week’s all-male Congressional panels on women’s reproductive rights? It defies any other explanation.
It is entirely possible to have faith, worship God and build a religious community that does not inherently denigrate women. There are even Catholics doing this now. Roman Catholic Womenpriest, for example, are doing just that.
Any study of Church doctrine reveals the degree to which Biblical hermeneutics and theologies codifying attitudes of virulently anti-female Church Fathers continue to inform today’s Catholic hierarchy. In this way, even if priests aren’t quoting St. John Chrysostom or St. Jerome in Sunday masses, women are an “inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation…a fault in nature, ” and “the root of all evil,” who (according to St. Clement of Alexandria)”should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman.” These men lived during various dark ages, but so do the Catholic Bishops. Defending the contemporary Church’s position on women – in the priesthood, as human beings – from the perspective of what these theologians said and on their interpretations of divine truth is a serious and deliberate confusing of the “is” with the “aught” as a mandate for the future.
Why aren’t women angrier, and why do Catholics remaining Catholic given the level of ignorance, entitlement and bias demonstrated by religious leaders claiming corrupt divine inspiration? Especially since so many of them are not living according to the clear teachings of their faith. To stand by these bishops quietly is to tacitly give approval to their actions.
It’s hard to resist the crush of culture, especially when it is enveloped in paternalism, complementarianism and the threat of a punative afterlife. Sociologist Michael Flood, a gender and sexuality expert, notes: “Though most common in men, misogyny also exists in and is practiced by women against other women or even themselves.”
Deferring to the opinions of the aggressively all-male Catholic Bishops on the issue of women’s health is no different from asking a consortium of slave-holder what’s best for a slave. The relationship between Catholic bishops and women has all the complexity inherent in the paternalism, racism and complementarity of slavery – both systems based on entitlement, arrogance, privilege and divine right. And, although the brutal violence and degradation of slavery is more recent in our cultural memory, there is no denying its relatively recent gender (and race and ethnic) corollaries in the history of the church.
Catholic Bishops are awfully keen on talking about tradition and precedent, until it refers to the Church’s treatment of its female adherents and people of color. The most obvious manifestation of church-based, gendered hatred is, of course, witch burning, which took place late as 1750 and took the lives of between 40,000 and 60,000 people, 80% of whom were women. These women were often midwives and healers who were tortured and burned to death at the direction of priests because their authority in the communities they lived in challenged the power of an all-male church. That was only 300 years ago. That is nothing in the span of the history of the church, especially when you take into consideration the legacy of its Old Testament roots. The fundamental attitudes that legitimized witch-hunts, continue to inform Church policies towards women today.
Women, to these men, are only useful as long as they are fertile and even then, just barely. How else can they justify sacrificing the life of a woman whose life is endangered by pregnancy? What kind of perverted and warped theology mandates that a woman die in this scenario? And who can simultaneously believe in men and women being equally human and really believes this is OK?
Hundreds of millions of women have died as the result of Church policies. Hundreds of millions more will continue to have their rights abrogated as long as we fail to openly and publically debate the hatred of women that informs this religion.