For twenty years, I've stuck to the topic of authentic femininity, but I've branched out a little. This fine group asked for an interview, and the old girl had a few thoughts about men. Find Chatty Cathy here!
A clear clash between feminism and multiculturalism has arisen at York University in Toronto, Canada:
After refusing to honour a male student’s request to be separated from his female classmates for religious reasons, a York University professor has found himself at odds with administrators who assert he broke their “obligation to accommodate.”
It's amusing actually, and the school is proving more obtuse than the student. When the professor refused his request, the student backed down "cheerfully" and joined the class. When the women in the school were told of the request, they were insulted. When the school found out what had transpired, their firm stance was to accomodate the [evidently ambivalent] young man and throw the insulted women overboard.
Very, very odd, and yet only a hint of what's to come with the competing claims inherent to our increasingly fragmented society.
This mother of twins (one boy, one girl) has changed her thinking on "gender stereotypes" by actually watching her children, and has some cute observations.
Boy/ girl differences aren't colour-coded but the distinctions are deep rooted and genetically programmed. From day one Agatha has been emotionally cute, screaming blue murder to be held and from her new, lofty position she would smile smugly at her grounded brother. Charm personified in front of visitors, dough-eyed and cooing, and always preferring to sit on a male knee. In short, she has learned how to adapt her performance in front of different audiences.
Multitasking comes naturally as she clings on to both walkers simultaneously, flitting from one toy to another in rapid succession, looking to us for entertainment. You might say, like most women, she's an attention seeker – it takes one to know one. Turning on the waterworks, being deliberately obtuse, or embracing strangers are all classic tactics that I've employed over the years. I can see her little mind whirring – how can I maximise the attention potential of this situation? That's ma girl.
Emotionally more straightforward, Benjamin spent the first three months eating and sleeping. He hit the protein shakes hard and got massive, at which point he started to compete and to make himself heard. Something that resonates for men throughout their life time – the association between physical prowess and confidence.
He can focus on one activity, albeit looking at his boardbooks (with which he's obsessed), watching a cartoon or happily playing by himself in the playpen.
That said, as a mother of more than one boy and more than one girl, I can attest to the fact that there is a tremendous range with both. I think stereotypes can be deadly (either clinging to them or obstinately rejecting them), and yet we can now attest to the fact that there are physiological differences in male and female brains.
What is marvelous, though, is that this mother has changed in her own thinking, taking the cues from her own children and acting on them:
"I don't care if my son grows up to become a cross-dressing star of musical theatre," I declared 18 months ago, determined not to force society's gender expectations upon them. "And if my daughter wants to be a 16st lumberjack, so be it."
But this Christmas I'll be listening to my maternal instinct and giving what I think Benny and Aggy want – a big red bus and a baby doll, respectively.
There's still a long way to go to discover the innate vocation of each--which is not as superficial as choosing toys--but at least she'll stop forcing square pegs into round holes. It's a start.
Social scientists are beginning to connect the dots on how the disintegration of the family is not only harming individuals, but is also at the heart of the growing wave of violence.
Another shooting, another son of divorce. From Adam Lanza, who killed 26 children and adults a year ago at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn., to Karl Pierson, who shot a teenage girl and killed himself this past Friday at Arapahoe High in Centennial, Colo., one common and largely unremarked thread tying together most of the school shooters that have struck the nation in the last year is that they came from homes marked by divorce or an absent father. From shootings at MIT (i.e., the Tsarnaev brothers) to the University of Central Florida to the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., nearly every shooting over the last year in Wikipedia’s “list of U.S. school attacks” involved a young man whose parents divorced or never married in the first place.
The social scientific evidence about the connection between violence and broken homes could not be clearer. My own research suggests that boys living in single mother homes are almost twice as likely to end up delinquent compared to boys who enjoy good relationships with their father. Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson has written that “Family structure is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, predictor of variations in urban violence across cities in the United States.” His views are echoed by the eminent criminologists Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi, who have written that “such family measures as the percentage of the population divorced, the percentage of households headed by women, and the percentage of unattached individuals in the community are among the most powerful predictors of crime rates.”
While broken families were rare fifty years ago, that is no longer the case. More children now live without their biological father in the home than with, which is stunning statistic. That means that not only do fatherless children not see their own dads, they don't see many of their friends' dads either.
So we have many children growing up fatherless. The girls are encouraged to excel in school and a lot of energy is spent on building their self-esteem. They find classrooms geared to their success, a sports culture that is enthusiastic for their participation, and colleges that believe in them.
But what about the boys? If they don't see their own dads, what do they see -- in the classroom, through the music industry, at the movies, on their ubiquitous screens? To put it mildly, the role models are lacking -- and often completely toxic. Where can they turn to understand the dignity of manhood?
And what of contemporary men, those whose turn it is to create and care for the next generation? Who will there be to choose from when these [materially] successful young women wish to create families and build culture? Camille Paglia has some choice words for the current situation:
Is it any wonder that so many high-achieving young women, despite all the happy talk about their academic success, find themselves in the early stages of their careers in chronic uncertainty or anxiety about their prospects for an emotionally fulfilled private life? When an educated culture routinely denigrates masculinity and manhood, then women will be perpetually stuck with boys, who have no incentive to mature or to honor their commitments. And without strong men as models to either embrace or (for dissident lesbians) to resist, women will never attain a centered and profound sense of themselves as women.
It was always the proper mission of feminism to attack and reconstruct the ossified social practices that had led to wide-ranging discrimination against women. But surely it was and is possible for a progressive reform movement to achieve that without stereotyping, belittling or demonizing men. History must be seen clearly and fairly: obstructive traditions arose not from men’s hatred or enslavement of women but from the natural division of labor that had developed over thousands of years during the agrarian period and that once immensely benefited and protected women, permitting them to remain at the hearth to care for helpless infants and children. Over the past century, it was labor-saving appliances, invented by men and spread by capitalism, that liberated women from daily drudgery.
And yet feminism has heaped scorn on masculinity and decried the strengths natural to men. It has feminised the classroom, the workplace, and in many places the church sanctuaries. God the father has been replaced with gender-neutral imagery, and grrl power has been pumped into through the very pipes of most institutions.
So the men check out. They won't commit, they won't protect, and they won't father. Is it any wonder that so many of the boys go wild, sowing mayhem, taking out their aggression on a society who believes that their very masculinity is the problem. Those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind.
Honour men, masculinity, and fatherhood. Collaborate with men for the good of the children. Male and female He made them, and He saw that it was good. Let's do what we can to restore a healthy culture in which all children can thrive.
While I've been toying with theology a good while, and pondering the vocation of woman, I admit my blind spot is the popular culture which I avoid as much as possible. Thus, I admire this writer who has slogged through a vulgar rant to find some jewels about those who misunderstand femininity. The piece she read was called “The Case Against Female Self Esteem,” and the man who wrote it was fed up with the women he encountered. She summarises his response here:
In a nutshell, the author lists reasons why strong and confident women are repellant and unattractive. Women should be insecure, he argues, because insecurity is integral to femininity. Insecurity leads to vulnerability and vulnerability is paramount within relationships. Tell your feminist ideals to shove off! You ladies know that all this independence and confidence is not for you. He concludes with this quote: “There’s no such thing as a strong, independent woman, only shrews pleading for taming.”
The writer, Sarah Gould, then goes on to dismantle his caricature, highlighting three categories of women: the post-modern feminist (who seems to despise both masculinity and femininity) and the Jersey Shore babe (who only needs men for "sex and admiration"). Is it any wonder, she asks, that faced with these two monstrosities that he opts for the third type, which Ms Gould calls the "needy leech"?
If you are a woman and you see a little bit of yourself in each one of these stereotypes, don’t be alarmed. I see a bit of myself in each of them too and that, as I came to understand, is precisely my point. All caricatures contain a fragment of reality wrapped within scads of exaggeration. Real femininity, as God meant it to be, is a bit like all of these women. But only a bit. Women are meant to be hard and soft... I do believe that women are meant to be vulnerable. But vulnerability should never, ever be based in fear, self-doubt, or insecurity. Vulnerability should be anchored firmly in the Lord.
She has excellent insights and illustrations. I love seeing Christians take on their contemporary world to show--even in the unlikeliest of places--the ubiquitous thirst for God and for authentic companionship.
[Crikey! Looking for a modest picture of the JS ladies wasn't easy...]
They may have burned their bras, but that didn't mean that they really wanted to go natural. Natural fibers, yes; natural aging, no. Organic food, yes; organic fertility, no. Shunning the conventions of the traditional family and a God-centered society certainly didn't mean shunning their own conventions once they were established -- and their own included as much sterile sex as possible with whomever they chose. The sexual revolution has hinged on the belief that intimacy need not lead to babies, nor should it be reserved for life-long marriage. Unfortunately, that premise has utterly changed the landscape in our world -- and not for the better.
[She] wishes she’d “fought harder” for things she believed in. One of the choices she doesn’t regret, however, is not having had children.
“I was in Mumbai at a women’s center a few years ago, and they asked whether I regretted that,” says Steinem. “I thought, if I tell them the truth, I’ll lose them. But there was no point in lying, and so I said, ‘No, not for a millisecond’ – and they applauded. Because they don’t have the choice.”
I do commend her for fighting against female genital mutilation and for showing the dark side of Playboy's bunny ranches, but her advocacy for women obviously comes on her own terms, which is based on a zero-sum game. According to gender feminists, women can only succeed at the expense of their motherhood. That undermines both complementarity and healthy families.
Jane Fonda, another icon of empowered women, has made her own beautiful life of cosmetic surgery and artficial hormones -- so that she can still frolic with male friends despite her age:
In one of her most candid interviews, Fonda, 73, happily tells of taking the libido-boosting hormones and advises other women to try what is still a controversial treatment.
"Here's something I haven't said publicly yet: I discovered testosterone about three years ago, which makes a huge difference if you want to remain sexual and your libido has dropped," she says.
"Use testosterone. It comes in a gel, a pill or a patch."
But she adds: "I had to stop because it was giving me acne. It's one thing having plastic surgery, but it is quite another to have adolescence acne. That is going too far.'
Well, one must set some boundaries, I suppose. The trickle-down effect of examples like these is found all around us, in the promiscuity of youth, the broken families, the cohabitation (not only of the young, but with the parents of many children, who endure living with virtual strangers in their own homes). One might be confused by the seeming "good works" of Ms Steinem, who does go beyond herself to work on behalf of so many other women, but if you study the issues, her goal is singular: to free women from the shackles of culture, marriage, and children.
The heart of the difference is whether they advocate for persons or individuals. The former are social creatures integrated in a larger society, while the latter are atoms, floating freely and seeking their own goods. The Catholic message is always to remind us of the personhood of others, and through that prism to promote that which supports human dignity and a strong society. Ultimately, feminists have agitated for abortion, contraception, no-fault divorce, sexual license, micro-loans for women, and [many of them] for legalisation of prostitution. None of these things advance the dignity of the human person, nor do they strengthen relationships between men and women, and often they harm or kill children. But then, feminists don't think about the children, "no, not for a millisecond."
It's not over yet, and there is always time for repentance. God grant these two and their adoring fans the wisdom to see the truth about love, the rewards of selfless generosity, and the beauty of "man, fully alive."
Many people have commented on the picture above through a variety of lenses. While the story was originally broken on this blog, the Toronto Star, picked it up and published it with the caption: "At Valley Park Middle School, Muslim students participate in the Friday prayer service. Menstruating girls, at the very back, do not take part." (Perhaps what isn't visible is that there is also a barrier in the middle of the room, separating the boys in front from the girls, who pray behind them.)
Is this the Middle Ages? Have I stumbled into a time warp, where “unclean” women must be prevented from “defiling” other persons? It’s bad enough that the girls at Valley Park have to enter the cafeteria from the back, while the boys enter from the front, but does the entire school have the right to know they are menstruating?
School is for study. So why are they tolerating this violation of the Education Act, which bans religious services during school hours? The board spokesman referred the Star to its “duty to accommodate” and Dombrowsky’s people served up what I can only call a jargon pie.
I forget which brand of tampon used to advertise itself with the pitch “Now with new [whatever] you can go horse-riding, water-skiing, ballet dancing, whatever you want to do,” but perhaps they can just add the tag: “But not participate in Friday prayers at an Ontario public school.”
So among other reactions, we have commentary from those who are angry that schools are providing space for religious services, some are grumbly that boys and girls are treated differently, and others are galled that menstruating girls are visibly marginalised by their peers (yes, ick!)
Interestingly, a commenter on one thread (I forget where, there were so many) asked readers why they were so upset, since most of us support single-sex bathrooms. The obtuse inability to differentiate between the intimacy of washrooms and seating in public assemblies only indicates that this decades-old gender war has caused people to lose what little sense they were born with.
So, what's the deal? How should Christians approach this topic? Well, it's veritably moot to point out that Bibles are not welcome in schools, Scripture no longer has a bearing on academic study, and generic prayers before class were tossed out years ago with hardly a whimper of protest. Christianity as a source of ethics is passé in the public square, so what's left?
Christianity respects the difference between men and women. Our approach is called "complementarity," which means that men and women aren't interchangeable, but are fundamentally equal. While sin adds tension to their relations in a variety of ways, grace allows them to work together in a fashion that honours the anthropoligical truth about their essence;
This truth allows societies to draw certain parameters which safeguard modesty and purity, while respecting human freedom in its proper sense;
Jewish law contained divine decrees (chukkim) which were strictly spiritual (and thus neither rational nor ethical) in nature. These include the ritual purifications prescribed for women after menstruation or childbirth, which are based on the sublime realities surrounding the creative potential of women. While rites of purification can easily be misunderstood as an indication of uncleanliness, they should be understood more as special blessings in recognition of the woman's maternal gifts;
Jewish law, while based on a reverence for God, had subsequently created overwhelming burdens that became obsolete by God's own Incarnation in their midst. One parable stands out:
A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. She said to herself, "If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured. Jesus turned around and saw her, and said, "Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you." And from that hour the woman was cured (Matthew 9:20-22).
According to Jewish law, the woman was ritually unclean -- through no fault of her own, and thus an "untouchable." Perhaps his disciples, after grasping what had happened, thought, "If this man were a prophet, he would know that she is unclean" (just as his dinner companions remarked among themselves when a public sinner washed his feet).The point is that the Jewish people at the time of Our Lord's coming easily categorised people as ritually impure and unfit to interact with polite society, and yet the early Church knew well enough that such thinking was no longer appropriate.
In "the fullness of time," which was aligned with his sojourn with us, Jesus curtailed these laws -- the very laws to which his own immaculate mother had submitted, and yet he left a more perfect paradigm by which to understand male-female relationships: Mutual submission of bridegroom and bride, a relationship which reflects Trinitarian love, and each offering total oblation for the other when necessary. Deeply challenging, but worth the daily effort!
This brings us to the Christian response to this picture. We cannot help but be saddened to see that there are religions that still categorise any members of their lay faithful as "untouchable," literally or figuratively. This is a chance to look further at Islamic texts, on which this behavour is based:
Men have authority over women because God has made the one superior to the other (Quran 4:34);
Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri: The Prophet said, "Isn't the witness of a women equal to half that of a man?" The women said "yes." He said "This is because of the deficiency of the women's mind" (Bukhari 3:48:826);
Narrated 'Aisha: The things which annul the prayers were mentioned before me. They said, "Prayer is annulled by a dog, a donkey and a woman [if they pass in front of the praying people]" (Bukhari 1:9:490);
"A menstruating woman is not allowed to recite the Qur’an" (Abu Dawud, vol. 1 footnote 113);
"They question thee [O Muhammad] concerning menstruation. Say: It is an illness, so let women alone at such times and go not in unto them till they are cleansed. And when they have purified themselves, then go in unto them as Allah hath enjoined upon you. Truly Allah loveth those who turn unto Him, and loveth those who have a care for cleanness" (Quran 2:222);
“Allah said, ‘It is My obligation to make Eve bleed once every month as she made this tree bleed. I must also make Eve stupid, although I created her intelligent.’ Because Allah afflicted Eve, all of the women of this world menstruate and are stupid (Al-Tabari 1:280);
Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Umar: I heard the Prophet saying. "Evil omen is in three things: The horse, the woman and the house" (Bukhari 4:52:110);
Narrated Usama bin Zaid: The Prophet said, "After me I have not left any affliction more harmful to men than women" (Bukhari 7:62:33).
There is so much more, but I think you get the picture. Thus, regardless of the fact that Islamic laws concerning ritual impurity are derived from the Jewish laws that preceded them, as Christians we patently reject the notion that
women's prayers are any less efficacious than those of men, or
external elements can nullify anyone's prayer.
For this, we refer to the specific teaching of Our Lord: "He summoned the crowd and said to them, 'Hear and understand. It is not what enters one's mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one' " (Matthew 15:10-11). Likewise, it's not what walks past a man or where he is seated in the congregation that determines whether God is pleased with his prayer.
Now we fully respect the decision of a group to segregate its members for a particular reason. The Old Testament says:
And the land shall mourn, every family apart: The family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart. The family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of the Shimeites apart, and their wives apart. All the remaining families-every family apart, and their wives apart" (Zechariah 12:12-14).
The Eastern Orthodox deliberately continue this tradition, but make sure that the men and women are side by side, so that neither is nearer to the altar (which could be easily misconstrued).
So ultimately, the only lens that will make sense of this deplorable situation is the Christian lens, and in that light we can see that the very dignity and honour that Our Lord came to offer women is lost when a society doesn't understand complimentarity. Only a complimentarity understanding of men and women will allow them to be equal and yet remain distinct.
The most ironic element, though, is the righteous anger of those who took such issue with this situation in the first place. While they easily intuited from the picture both the inequality between boys and girls and the indignity attached to broadcasting one of the most private details of a woman's life, what they will not admit is that they have imbibed an essential element of the Gospel without recognising it. Indeed, two millennia of firm Christian witness have cast their hue over the landscape of their world, so that they expect women to be treated as fully equal to men with a rightful honour before God. That was fundamental to Our Lord's mission -- and even though his name may not be mentioned in these secular halls, that part of his message has permeated Western civilisation and formed a critical part of its very foundation. Let's be sure not to squander it in a benighted effort at diversity.