Monday, December 8, 2014

Feminism at Christendom

Last night, I went to my alma mater to participate in a debate.  John and I were involved in the debate society as seniors (when it was founded) and one of the main perks to John of living where we do is attending all the debates.  It's not a student-only organization, anyone can participate, and John is one of the shining lights on the floor.

But last night it was my turn, because the resolution was, I kid you not, Resolved: Catholic feminist is a contradiction in terms.  That's one of my favorite topics in the history of ever!

Of course it's typical of Christendom to phrase it that way.  The place is not exactly a hotbed of feminism.  And it's not really that strange -- I myself was pretty strongly anti-feminist when I arrived.  I associated feminism with "wanting to be just like a man" and I thought that the implicit implication in that was that being like a man was better, which was disrespectful to me as a woman.

And sure enough, that was the implication that most people there put on it.  The dictionary definition of feminism was tossed around -- roughly "the advocacy of political, economic, and social equality between men and women" -- but a lot of people insisted that feminism is more than that, it's Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and Margaret Sanger.  And of course none of them had read anything they'd written except a few quotes, but neither have I . . . I didn't think it was that relevant.  Feminism is a large, complex, shifting movement, and the only thing that stays the same about it, is that it's about equal rights.

After all, third-wave feminism has so many conflicting sub-types -- for instance, some feminists adamantly oppose beauty culture (as I do) while some call themselves "lipstick feminists" and think makeup is empowering.  There is no feminist pope, no magisterium that will excommunicate you for being the wrong kind of feminist.  There will be some people in the movement who will say you can't be a feminist and oppose birth control, but there are feminists who are more into a big tent and are happy to ally with anyone who cares about equal rights.

No one mentioned the really crucial problem with Catholicism and feminism, one which I'm struggling with: that birth control really is necessary for large numbers of women to participate in public and economic life.  Throughout the Middle Ages, there were empowered women scholars and leaders ... but they were a tiny minority, mainly just nuns, because the married women were too busy having baby after baby.  It's all very well to say that having a baby doesn't necessarily stop you from participating in things -- the reality is, for almost all of us, it does.  Babies have a lot of needs.  Even if you can afford a fulltime nanny, that baby is still probably going to prefer mama and so what are you going to do?  Women today who want to be successful in professional terms want to time their childbearing around their career.  Without birth control, the top level of professional and political success would belong only to those women willing to forego marriage . . . which would mean most of the positions of power in our society are still going to be men.

Of course, there is NFP and that's growing in popularity among "crunchy" types outside the Church, but I wasn't sure how the audience would take that idea.  Me, I'm glad to see non-Catholics trying something without chemicals and I don't really care if they follow the Church's teaching about good reasons for using it -- I mean, they haven't committed to our rules -- but I'm sure someone would call BS on that because they're not very comfortable with Catholics using it either.  (See: Andrea's comments on my Fair warning post.) 

And in any event, in a world where women can succeed, but only if they limit their family size, aren't you going to see a complete absence of Catholic women from spheres of power?  I should point out that the reason I want to see women in these spheres is not because power is fun to have, but because women have something valuable to add.  That was the main point I tried to make in my speeches -- that if men and women are so drastically different (and the body strongly believed they were), it's vital to get both voices in the public sphere.  Women are often the ones pushing things like concern for the poor, pacifism, eradication of the death penalty, and other love-and-mercy sorts of things.

But of course, to many people at Christendom that's a downside anyway -- someone suggested women should not be allowed to vote because too many of them vote Democrat.  Well, if that's so, let's also ban blacks and Hispanics, right?  Or, you know, you could try actually representing the sorts of things women care about and stop treating them like unwelcome intruders in your party.  So there's that.

Anyway, I don't really have a solution to the birth control issue, but I think at least we should recognize that it is an issue.  That just because perfect parity at the top for women isn't going to happen, doesn't mean women should be banned from the top.  There are still lots of things holding women back besides biology, so why not team up with feminism to work on those obstacles?

For the rest, I'm afraid we've got nothing to go on but reliance on men's better natures.  We have to trust them to listen to our voices and represent us . . . and we have to make sure they get a chance to hear us, by speaking out about those things that matter to us.  Harriet Beecher Stowe didn't have a vote, but for better or worse she was partly responsible for the Civil War.

My closing speech was about how everybody wins if femininity is valued for itself.  If the sorts of things women do weren't disrespected just because women do them, women wouldn't have to change to be accepted in society.  Think of things that women are disproportionately involved in: cooking, childcare, teaching, librarianship, literature, sociology.  None of these are intrinsically either less valuable or less difficult than male-dominant fields, but they are paid less and valued less by society.  I read a very interesting article recently talking about how every time a field becomes female-dominant, its status immediately drops.  For instance, biology has become a popular science for women, and now people consider it "not a real science."  What the heck, how more sciencey can you be?  (Biased, I love biology.)  Twenty years ago no one would have dreamed of calling it a lesser science, but now that women major in it, it's "oh, of course you would major in that, it's not a real science."  Pediatrics is a field of medicine just like others, only harder because children are in a constant state of flux -- but as women flood in, the status of the field falls.

Unfortunately the main response to that was, "But respecting femininity isn't feminism, it's the opposite of feminism."  I can't believe I didn't see that coming.

Here's the thing.  Femininity is not hated for itself.  It's despised because women have it.  That's provable by looking at things like biology or pediatrics.  There's nothing "feminine" about these fields, they are just associated with low-status people -- women.  People think, "Well, it can't be that hard if a bunch of women can do it."  Improving the status of women across the board is the only thing that is going to change "like a girl" to a compliment instead of an insult.

It's a tough job, undoing a prejudice at least 4000 years in the making.  Western civilization has always been male-dominated, and the feminine has always, always been seen as less.  I think Christ started to change that, in the way he treated women and the respect he gave them -- and in the general gist of his message, about how the greatest thing was service and how God favors those of low degree.  The Magnificat is no joke -- Mary praised God for "lifting up the lowly" because she was, in the eyes of the world, the absolute bottom.

But I think that work is not entirely done.  Women are still lowly, and our culture still does not value service.  People still whine about "the feminization of the Church" like it's the worst thing imaginable.  Things that women are good at -- nurturing, friendship, love, mercy -- are seen as weak and lesser.

And -- as I failed to prove to the body -- feminism helps with that.  Lifting women out of poverty is a start, so we're not missing a quarter of the female voices out there because they're too busy working their fingers to the bone to survive.  But what about feminist work in media?  The media brainwashes us constantly, not generally in any purposeful way, but it persistently shows women with a set of stereotypes that hold us back.  (The stereotypes for men aren't much better.)  When the highest-status women in this country are gorgeous actresses, is it any wonder women obsess over our appearance?  When women appear in movies, they are never the protagonist (unless it's exclusively geared to women), always the love interest.  (This is why Hunger Games is such a big deal.  Written, might I add, BY A CATHOLIC.)  Is the Catholic Church doing anything to fix it?  No, we've got too many other things on our plate.  But feminists are.

Here's a list of feminist issues:
Representation in politics
Representation at the top layer of business
Better treatment of women in the media
Acceptance of women in the sciences
Fighting the dark side of beauty culture -- fat-shaming, eating disorders, etc.
Reducing rape and improving the treatment of rape victims (when Bill Cosby's word is seen as more worth believing than that of dozens of women, it isn't hard to see why most rapists are never convicted)
Fighting female genital mutilation
Increasing the status of women in the third world, by helping them get an education and lifting them out of poverty
Ending domestic violence against women
Fair pay
Maternity leave and the ending of discrimination against pregnant women
Freedom to make choices about where and with whom we give birth
Birth control

I see one of these issues, ONE, which isn't exactly what the Catholic Church can and should get behind.  Are we really going to demonize the whole movement because of that one plank?

I issued a call for a new wave of feminism, one that demands respect for children, since openness to children means openness to the many women who have them.  It means fewer women will want birth control or abortion.  It calls for children allowed in public spaces and at work, for childcare to be a respected career instead of some of the lowest-paid jobs in the country.  And yes, maternity leave.

I took my seat amid thunderous applause.  And then the vote went against me, 33 to 13.  Oh well.  I can't say that was unexpected.  At least they liked my speech, right?

The especially nice thing about the whole event -- besides all the applause, I won't lie, I like being thought of as a good speaker -- was meeting several very nice, intelligent women who agreed with me.  Then they asked if I had a blog, so if any of you ladies made it out here, drop me a comment so I know you found me. ;)  Feel free to poke around.  You might like some of these posts.

What do you think, is feminism compatible with the Faith?  Why or why not?


Enbrethiliel said...


If the definition of feminism that we're going with is "the advocacy of political, economic, and social equality between men and women," then I'm really not a feminist . . . if only because I don't advocate for that at all! I agree with whomever said that feminism has become something much bigger than that; but because, as you pointed out, there is no magisterium, I'm always wary about entering conversations about it. You never know what the other person's definition is going to be!

But I do feel comfortable saying that I'm not a feminist, for two reasons. The first is my eventual agreement with a male friend of mine that women are not as good at judging men as other men are. I had asked him for "tells" that a woman could use in order to determine whether a romantic prospect was a good one. He said that I was already approaching it from the wrong direction, because a woman can twist the best list of "tells" if she tries to size up a man on her own. He said that any woman's best bet in that situation is another man's judgment. Now, while I can agree with him that "the letter killeth" when it comes to "tells," I'm not as extreme as he is: I think that an intelligent woman who accepted the basic premise could also ask herself, "What would ____ think about this guy?" and know almost immediately.

The second reason comes from the time I said something negative about feminism on my blog and you wrote in combox (and I paraphrase), "Isn't it a good thing that men can't beat their wives anymore?" Now, I gave that a lot of thought, even after the conversation had gone cold. And what I concluded was that although I do think it's a good thing that we as a culture are no longer so tolerant of domestic abuse, I also think it's a bad thing that we no longer recognise the husband as the head of the family. I do think that every body should have a head, that it should be a single person taking the final responsibility, and that in the body that is a husband and a wife, Scripture has definitely identified that one person as the husband.

Nor am I interested in "women" as a political class, in which an individual woman's milestone is celebrated as a victory for the entire group or an individual woman's grievance is treated as blow against the entire group. Now, I do believe that we're all connected, and that good things that affect one person can't help affecting everyone. But making it political, as feminism seems to do, makes women interchangeable with each other.

There was a Catholic article which came out about a year ago that argued a similar idea that "women" have something special to contribute to every part of society not because of what they do, but because of what they are. I didn't buy it at all: it seemed to me that the author wanted the dignity of motherhood (being) without actually having children (doing). But more to the point, the article failed to answer the question of just what it is that a woman's voice will say that a man's voice won't. And whether the message would be consistent, whether the woman were Catholic or Muslim, communist or fascist, Hispanic or Asian. I don't think it would--and I don't even think that "women" can speak in a single voice. If I must be represented by someone on a committee, I'd rather it be someone who shares my values rather than someone who shares my chromosomes.

As usual, I haven't said all that I wanted to say, but I really have to stop now and get back to the discussion later.

Katherine said...

Interesting article Shelia. The week of Thanksgiving Nathan and I had a discussion about whether feminism was needed in the current day. At the time I wasn't sure, but the more that I think about it, the more that I like your idea of a new wave of feminism that fosters greater respect for the child as well. I like how that is framed in a positive light. I think part of my emotional knee jerk reaction against the label of feminism is that it often emphasizes the tension between the sexes, rather than emphasizing the positives that come from complementarity and the different perspectives that women bring to the table.

As to the issue of birth control . . . it does raise interesting questions about how catholic women who have large families can be involved in outside work/projects/ministries. I think it is possible to do with large families, but it is going to be incredibly difficult. (Side note, I think you would love the blog, she has a series on balancing work/life as women and various unique and creative ways of doing it.) I get a little annoyed at conservatives who think that the whole notion of the SAHM as THE TRADITIONAL MODEL while the fataher works out of the house and spends much of his time operating in a totally separate sphere from his family. Really, that model is incredibly recent in man's history. Nathan wrote an awesome Senior Thesis on how historically men and women worked together as families most often usually on the farm or in small shops, and that even in the begining of the industrial era factories were at least somewhat accomodating to breastfeeding women. Now even in these days past there were divisions of labor along gender lines, for ex men doing most of the heavy lifting in jobs, women taking on more of the childcare, etc. but the lines were not starkly drawn.
So much more that I want to say, but the kids are needing attention. Will continue to think about this.

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm back with more thoughts!

I confess that one more issue on which we disagree is status, when status seems to mean perception. Fairer legal status: why not? Better economic status: ditto. And so on for everything that can be objectively defined. But if the goal is simply to raise the status of femininity . . . that's very fuzzy to me. How can we even measure that?

Now, I have also noticed that when women enter a field, something curious happens. I wouldn't be too quick to say that "its status drops," because such an interpretation of what does objectively happen--namely, men moving out of the field--equates status with the presence of men . . . a definition which I don't think anyone here likes very much! =P But yes, when women enter, men usually leave.

This shouldn't be a big deal, but it is, and so a past benchmark is getting moved. At least it seemed to me that the feminists of the 1960s had the simple goal of working toward women getting to enter fields formerly inaccessible to them. But now that we have precisely that, no one is happy and the new goal is to make men stay in fields that women are now well represented in. The implication is that the achievement of breaking into that field is diminished if there are no more men in it. Apparently, if a woman climbs a tree in the middle of a forest with no men around to see her, she didn't really climb the tree! =P And that is seriously silly. If you believe that paediatrics is tough (and I do!), then why does it matter that other people denigrate it? That women paediatricians are so bothered by it makes me suspect that they entered the field less out of a genuine attraction to it than out of a desire to be admired. Which reduces a medical degree to the level of makeup and a hairdo. But this reduction is due to women, and not to men.

(Granted, if people's reduced opinion of paediatrics led to fewer and fewer parents taking their children to these doctors, male or female, then perhaps we should care. But in this specific case, I also see a lot of women being "empowered"--if I may say so--by education, technology and the free market to take better care of their children's health without depending so much on doctors. So if someone told me that paediatrics is suffering, I'd say that it's because "domestic healthcare" is on the rise. But I'd also speculate, noting the irony, that one factor in why many women who'd probably not be able to get Science degrees, much less Medical degrees, are confidently treating their own children themselves is that the greater numbers of women in paediatrics had another sort of "Well, if a woman could do it. . . " effect. LOL!)

Sheila said...

E, I don't really disagree with anything you've said. Men can judge men better than women? Well, yeah, and women can judge women better than men. (How many men go out with a girl and *all the other girls* know she's just a gold-digger?) I don't think that's particularly un-feminist; most feminists do agree there is some level of difference, whether inborn or socially constructed.

Are women's voices consistent? I kind of just went with my audience, who claimed they were: women are more likely to believe in pacifism and social welfare, for instance. While true, it's a bit reductionist -- more women vote Democrat, but that doesn't mean *I* do. However, it infuriated me to hear, "If we let women vote, they will vote for bad stuff like ending the war or more food stamps, because they don't understand reality." Whereas it seems to me that if most women advocate for something, that isn't proof that it's dumb, that might mean there's something to it.

However, of course women are not a monolithic voting bloc -- men aren't, after all. It's just that when a difference is spotted, I hate the implication that the difference means that women are *wrong.*

You describe exactly the problem I'm talking about when discussing women's low status -- I don't quite see a difference between what you're saying and what I'm saying. Do I think that men should be forced to stay in "female" fields? Of course not! I think it's just a general proof of general disrespect for things women do. Fixing that disrespect is a much more complicated task -- it has to do with media (I would think we'd be DONE with airheaded female furniture, but we're not), parenting (as in, don't teach your sons that "boys rule, girls drool" or the opposite to your daughters), and so forth. I do see a lot of hope; many younger men and women don't even see gender as an issue because they haven't been affected by sexism and don't judge the other sex like older generations do.

There are ways to re-teach the brain and slowly undermine cultural prejudice. For instance, there was a study recently proving Americans are unconsciously racist (which is no surprise to me, and in some sense it's natural to have positive feelings toward people who look like you), but they also found that some simple exercises, like imagining oneself being helped by people of another race, or watching a movie in which people of another race were the heroes, helped reduce this "unconscious racism" sharply.

Sheila said...

So in other words, it is possible to do the same about sexism. When boys and girls both grow up reading books in which women do things they respect, watching movies with heroic protagonists of both sexes, and having real-life leaders and heroes of both sexes, it'll gradually become less of an issue, I think. That's part of the reason I go to debates. Most of the best debaters are men, and I was afraid that women wouldn't want to participate because it was so male-dominant. Every semester I try to go at least once, do a smashing job, talk up the women in the room (find out what they think and then say "why don't you give a speech, I think you could!"). And by now I am seeing fabulous speeches by women, which there rarely were when the society was started. And it hasn't produced "male flight," because the quality hasn't actually dropped.

And when people are well aware that women can succeed in all kinds of fields -- not just be admitted to them, because of course that's put down to political correctness (ugh), but have measurable achievements in them -- I'm hoping some of that will trickle down to stay-at-home mothers like me as well. John is always bragging about how smart I am and how I used to teach Latin, but I CHOSE to stay home. It both raises my status (because sadly the only way to get respect for anything these days is to get paid for it) and the status of motherhood (because a person as smart as me considered it superior to paid work). If I'd gotten married right out of high school and never had a job, I am pretty sure I wouldn't have raised the status of motherhood in those people's minds in the same way. You see what I mean?

Anna said...

Enbrethiliel: But status – social status – *is* about perception. Status isn't everything – it's obviously a very this-worldly thing – but that doesn't mean it's nothing. (As a side note, social status also tends to translate into measurable economic status and vice versa.)

If the status of pediatrics (or whatever field) sinks as it becomes female-dominated, this is an indication of women's lower status in general as compared to men. That is the problem.

It is desirable for two things of the same worth to be perceived as such. I do not believe there is any good reason to think that women are morally or intellectually inferior to men. Therefore I think it is a problem if femaleness/femininity has lower status than maleness/masculinity, because it does not correspond to the truth. (Apart from the fact that low status for women is associated with a host of social ills.)

In other words, I think we should strive for a society where the status and the actual value of activities are as closely related as possible. This has to do with much more than just women's issues.

Sheila said...

Katherine, I absolutely agree with you. But I see hopeful signs in things like etsy and other small internet businesses. It's possible to run a home business while nursing a baby (I'm nursing right now, lol) and it can be a whole-family proposition.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- I don't think that women automatically vote for "bad" stuff, but I do think that women will skew socialist more often than not. And it makes sense that men, who generally lean the opposite way, would be against that and find it "wrong." Not because it's feminine, but because it supports a kind of politics that opposes the status quo, which we can controversially describe as masculine. So of course they're going to push back: their structures are being threatened! =P

Now, we could make the case that those "male" structures are actually unjust, in which case, conserving them merely because they were always there is the real wrong thing to do. And this does seem to be what many feminists are fighting for. But then we come up against the problem of status. It's one thing to say that women should also have the vote. Everyone knows what that means. It's another thing to say that we should have respect. How do we measure respect? This is the fuzzy bit that I have a problem with.

I must also confess that I'm not keen on the brain reteaching that you've described. It seems too much like social engineering. If there is actually no reasonable basis for racism or sexism, then interactions with someone of another race or the opposite sex should be enough to convince us all of it. (Isn't that what happens in the movie plots anyway?) The fact that the media needs to get in our faces is a major red flag to me. Indeed, the implication that those interactions--of which there seem to be a lot of in real life--are so unsuccessful in getting the job done that people need to resort to mental conditioning with idealised imagery seems to suggest that there is a reasonable basis for racial and sexual discrimination; we just don't want there to be.

Anna -- The problem with making this about "perception" is that "perception" is not measurable. If you say that a drop in the perceived status of paediatricians means that they end up earning less money, then there's something to talk about. But if it means that people talk smack about them while the doctors themselves laugh all the way to the bank, then there isn't really a problem. I'm sure that Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus don't care about all the respect that they're not getting. Because $$$ and magazine covers!

But seriously, how would we know if we've achieved a society in which "the status and the actual value of activities are as closely related as possible"? What would the measure be?

Laura said...

I did debate for one semester at CC back in the stone age. I don't know if it technically was the same debate society as exists now or not. I think it had been dormant for a while and some people started it back up my first semester. My debate partner was a girl who left after first year to be a RC consecrated. (She later left and got married. Good for her!) We debated whether dropping the atomic bomb was a good idea. . . .

Anyway, I think a lot about one of the points you raise here: the idea of being married with kids AND having a career is a really recent thing b/c we're so limited by biology. And no wonder so many more women went into religious life b/f birth control readily available. It was the only way to pursue a profession, or an intellectual life, or just to have time to hear yourself think!

But it is sad b/c now Catholic schools are too expensive for so many families b/c there aren't enough nuns to teach. For that matter, Catholic healthcare is totally different now, too, now that there aren't many religious sisters to be nurses.

I agree w/ your point that women have something valuable to add. I don't know that it's feasible for mothers of young children to be heavily involved in the public sphere though, as much as I would like that.

I don't know that there's any "solution." Feminists for Life had this slogan: "Women have babies. Get over it." That isn't very helpful, IMHO.

Okay, my comments were completely random here. And I'm probably coming off as anti-feminist, which is NOT my intention.

But I enjoyed your post! And congrats on your speech!

Sheila said...

On politics -- I think that politically, rather than simply saying "what women vote for is 'women's politics,'" we should ask ourselves why women vote for the things they do. And the commonality I've found is that women are very concerned about no one getting left behind or mistreated -- we are perfectly willing to sacrifice our own wealth (by taxation) or really almost anything if we perceive that the weakest in society need it. Women have championed causes from abolition to school lunch, but that same thread is apparent.

My professor agrees with this assessment, only he puts it negatively: "I think there is a link between every wave of feminist politics and liberal desire to ensure no one gets hurt or has others mistreat them, even if that means severe restrictions of liberty. I gave MADD [Mothers Against Drunk Driving] as a modern-day example. The virtue that protects children in the home fares miserably in public policy compared to the manly liberty of the founding fathers."

I just fail to see why making sure no one is mistreated is NOT one of the chief things that should be on our minds when we go to the polls! The problem is that libertarianism is seen as this heartless system (thank you Ayn Rand) which is about ditching your responsibilities to the weakest in society so that you, hardworking talented person, can have zero restrictions on your wonderfulness. And often libertarianism continues to bill itself this way, even though it doesn't necessarily have to be like this, because almost all libertarians are men. They complain that women don't like their message, but it never seems to occur to anyone that they need to adapt it to women -- to explaining, for instance, how liberty helps the poor or how children will be provided for or in what ways oppression is caused by the government itself. I think there would be a lot more libertarian women if they would explain stuff like this -- clearly and in a way that's possible to find. You know my sentiments are pro-liberty, but I often feel conflicted because I can't find what they intend to do about poverty. They always throw out "private charity" but without any evidence that this would even WORK. (With great struggle I have managed to find some answers, which I've slowly been sharing here as I figure them out, but geez, it should not take months of effort to find out how a party intends to help the poor.) And I think this often comes from actual ignorance on the part of libertarian men -- they don't realize that this is why women don't like them.

And boy is insulting to hang around with libertarian dudes who say in front of you, "Women are all liberals because they aren't capable of being responsible adults" and expect you to AGREE with them! No, being a libertarian doesn't make me an honorary man! I believe in small government for the same reason other women believe in socialism -- because I honestly do think it works best to help those who most need help.

Sheila said...

On status -- I agree with Anna (I didn't see your comment before, sorry) that it's a good thing for the status of something to echo its true value. The problem with, for instance, the low status of pediatrics, isn't that women will be sneered at at medical conferences but make lots of money -- it's that now the best and brightest, the really serious doctors of both sexes, will avoid pediatrics at all. So it winds up being the children who suffer, as it generally is when women aren't respected.

And, of course, the net result is that the very top heroes in front of young people guide them in certain directions. When young men grow up thinking, "If I want to be the biggest possible success, I should play football," and young women think, "If I want to be a success, I should writhe around half-naked," that changes their values significantly. Of course a lot of this is the job of parents, to put GOOD heroes -- virtuous and intelligent people who changed the world in positive ways -- in front of their children. But Miley Cyrus doesn't help.

And might I tentatively suggest, Enbrethiliel, that your implication that non-measurable things don't matter is a patriarchal notion in the first place? No, we can't say how many "prestige points" women are losing, but we know they're losing *some,* and that this is a bad thing.

I understand your feeling that trying to engineer the media to be more inclusive is, in some sense, dishonest. However, I think the media currently is more dishonest. For instance, black people are heavily under-represented in film -- there is one token black character in every show, and they have no personality other than being the token black character. Or women are shown as being stupid (the only exception is daytime TV and sitcoms which only women watch) or window dressing. In crowd scenes, only 10-20% of the crowd is generally female .... and this is common enough that both men and women, when asked, say that it looks like 50% women. If you get up to 30% women, men start saying the crowd has more women than men!

When American media gets exported to other countries, skin lighteners and cosmetic surgeries start becoming popular -- because we are exporting our standard of beauty, to the point that people who don't look like us start to think they are ugly.

TV affects us, sometimes on purpose, more often because people just aren't paying attention -- but I think they should.

I am a person of low status in society, as a non-working mother. If I say something, people will say "what do you know? you're just a mom with an internet connection." They don't say, "Well, clearly, as a professional caregiver, you must be an expert in children's development." Or even, "What are your qualifications for making this claim?" Nope, it's "you're just a mom." I think this is one of the chief reasons why mothers get jobs -- because having your work respected and appreciated is one of the things that makes work worthwhile and so important to a person's self-respect.

Of course there's huge resistance to changing the media. Plenty of people thinking "adding more women" can be translated "adding more suckiness." (Which proves my point.) Google Gamergate if you haven't heard of it. Short summary -- woman wants to do a study on women in video games, receives death and rape threats. This has got to change.

Sheila said...

Oh, and as far as real life interaction goes -- American society is pretty segregated so we don't get as much as perhaps we should. And we watch SO MUCH TV, especially as kids. TV winds up being more of an influence. (However, you do see that Millennials are less racist and sexist than our elders, and mainly because we were more likely to have black and opposite-sex friends than they were.)

Sheila said...

Laura, it's not the same club. CBDS was founded from scratch my senior year, and it's parliamentary-style debate, not with teams or anything.

Throughout human history, there have always been women who didn't get to have children and did the work that society needed. There's the maiden aunt, the poor nanny who never marries, the nun. Part of their purpose was to make it possible for the married women to be able to manage with so many kids (couldn't you use a maiden aunt around the house? I know I could!). Nowadays we don't like that idea, because we don't want anyone to have to forego children (and marriage) for the sake of others. And most women aren't having so many kids anyway, so they don't need the help. But that leaves Catholic women in a bind -- we don't have the help, but we also don't have the birth control.

I do think the single vocation is insufficiently encouraged these days. Not all women who aren't called to marriage are called to a specific order either -- perhaps they feel a strong call to be scientists! This *may* limit their ability to commit to a married vocation. But priests don't say that. They like to pretend we can be scientists and mothers too ... and honestly I don't see how that can be done, not in any field where it takes your whole life to get to the top.

Though for the less-challenging jobs, there's always working before you get married (and perhaps getting married later than most) or having a second career after childbearing is over. Not a complete solution, but it's all many women want. (It's all I personally want; I feel no call to those high-commitment professions.)

Anonymous said...

YES, feminism is compatible with Catholicism.

My Catholic grandparents were born in 1904 near Syracuse, NY. My grandfather died in 1960, leaving my grandmother a widow in her 50's. When grandpa died, grandma, like many women of her generation, had never gone to college, worked outside the home, voted, driven a car, written a check, read a bank statement, paid her own taxes, or worn pants.

By the time she died in 1988, she'd risen up from cashier to manager of a chain of stores that sold luxury goods. She learned about the stock market and invested her tiny inheritance so wisely that she died wealthy. She volunteered with the county board of elections. She became a Notary Public. She traveled all over the world. She wore beautiful linen trousers. And grandma zoomed around in a bright red car paid for with what she called her "mad money."

What was the difference between 1960 and 1988? Feminism. Not abortion or birth control. A brand of feminism so old we take it for granted today. A change in society that allowed an Italian Catholic widow to drive! To not only write a check, but earn and control her own money! To find interests outside of cooking and sewing (both of which she did wonderfully). To travel: first with other widows, later alone. ("Those ladies slow me down, dear. I like to hustle!")

She was the most devout, by-the-books, scapular-wearing, Mass-going Catholic I'd ever met. She was pro-life and a staunch Republican. But it was feminism that allowed her privileges women take for granted today.

Feminism is more than birth control and abortion. Do the people at Christendom who hate feminism really believe women shouldn't go to college? Drive a car? Ever earn money?

To the man at C-dom who asserted women shouldn't be allowed to vote because they always vote democrat: Grandma would have slapped him! Better yet, she would have hit him over the head with her Daily Missal.

Enbrethiliel said...


The issues seem to increase exponentially with each comment, don't they? I can barely keep up! LOL!

On politics: I think that you've defined exactly what "women's causes" all have in common. Women generally don't want anyone to be mistreated or left behind. And while I can also get behind that in an abstract sense, that doesn't mean that I agree with how it is applied in specific cases. Abolition was a terrible idea, for instance. And mandatory helmets for cyclists are very nanny state.

It has been a long time since I read any libertarian articles, so I don't know if anything has changed. But from what I recall, libertarians ignoring the plight of the poor is a built-in feature. They are all aware of how their proposals would benefit the poor, but that's secondary to them. And while you're right that women would like their message better if they changed it, if they changed it, it also wouldn't be their message anymore!

On status: I don't think that I'm saying that non-measurable things don't matter. Obviously, love matters a lot. And I personally put a high value on feminine beauty. But I do think that if an objective is non-measurable, then you'll never be able to say if you've achieved it or not. I have some idea of what is meant when there is talk of raising the "status" of women, but since no one can actually define what status is beyond "the presence of men" (which is already vague), it just seems to me that people are going by their feelings. Prestige will have been gained when it feels prestigious.

On the other hand, I thought I was pretty open about my support of patriarchal systems.

Enbrethiliel said...


On the media: if we're talking about entertainment media, I don't think it's dishonest as much as it's capitalist. That is, it will sell us a lie if the lie sells. So if any group is underrepresented in TV or movies, that's probably because those groups don't bring in the box office bucks that the overrepresented groups do. But now we have a chicken-and-egg question. Are people lightening their skin because of American movies or are they loving the movies because they already thought light skin was more attractive? I don't know the answer to this, but I am very suspicious of mixing the making of fortunes with the enlightening of the masses. (Pun totally accidental!) They tell me how to think and I must pay them???

On #Gamergate (Don't forget the hashtag! LOL!): my understanding of it is that a game developer was involved sexually with game journalists and competition judges, which cast doubt on the positive things that they said about her game to people who trusted them to be impartial. Then she doxxed the first people who criticised her for it, using other insider connections. That doesn't mean that she deserved those rape and death threats, but I'm basically in agreement with the idea that people shouldn't sleep with the journalists who write about their businesses and that journalists shouldn't be donating money to the people they're supposed to be covering objectively.

On housewives, with the understanding that I'd commit multiple murders to be one: they may have low status everywhere, but in a developed country, I don't see how others' lack of esteem does much more than ruin their mood for the day. I've also felt the embarrassment of admitting that I have a "low status" job--and maybe it causes people to dismiss my opinion, too. But that doesn't change the fact that, come election time, my vote counts for exactly as much as theirs does. (Ironically, this is why I don't believe in democratic elections and don't vote. LOL!) Not to discount the impact that mood has on a person's well-being, but it's a bit much to say that it takes a consensus from an entire country to make someone feel better about what he has freely chosen to do.

(And I guess it's worth saying that I'm anti-status in general because I think that status can be gamed with signals. If you send the right signals, you can totally fake it. Hence the popularity of designer knock-offs from China.)

Finally, on paediatrics: I don't think that we can have it both ways. How can we identify some doctors as the brightest and the most brilliant, and not see their decision to specialise in something other than paediatrics as equally bright and brilliant? That is, if we're saying that smart people will avoid fields with a lot of women, aren't we also saying that it's smart in and of itself to avoid those fields? Much better to say that status-conscious idiots avoid those fields.

Along those lines, it's dangerous to your point to imply that children will suffer when only women are becoming paediatricians. That seems to suggest the very point you're arguing against: that women make such bad doctors that we don't feel safe entrusting our children's health to them.

Sheila said...

Yes, I did know you as an agent of the patriarchy. ;)

I want to address the other things that you said, but I'm afraid one sentence of yours made my wheels lock up and I went skittering off the rails. Can you guess what it might have been?

Oh, yes, this: "Abolition was a terrible idea, for instance."

You can't really throw that out there without explaining what in the WORLD you mean by that.

Sheila said...

Well, I will TRY to address some of the other stuff you said ... though as you say, we are suffering from a multiplication of issues.

I disagree with you about libertarianism. There is such a thing as a pro-poor-people libertarianism.... and while the Libertarian Party is a thing, it's not necessarily what most people think of when they say the word "libertarian." Senator Rand Paul, for instance, is often called libertarian although he's a member of the Republican Party. And he talks sometimes about how libertarian policies help the poor. You see the policies are the same whether or not you care about the poor -- just reduced regulation and bureaucracy.

And I think you misunderstood me about pediatricians. I wasn't saying *men* were abandoning the field. I was saying the best and brightest of both sexes were, now that it's a low-status field. You don't care about status, but most people do. Even smart people do. I think one of the reasons housewives flooded into the workplace in the 70's was that their work was so low-status, having had all the skilled and creative work removed from it already.

About media, didn't you know that I don't at all believe that capitalism can be separated from other values like truth and goodness? It doesn't matter if the lie sells; if it's a lie, you shouldn't sell it.

.... I think that's about it, for issues that I can reasonably address right now.

Enbrethiliel said...


Wow. Did I mess up or what? When you wrote "abolition," I was thinking of alcohol. I literally had to type "abolition" into a search engine to be reminded that it was about human beings. #EPICFACEPALM

I've derailed dialogue with odd vocabulary choices before, but this is the first time I missed the mark THAT badly! Of course I think abolition was a great idea. Prohibition was the terrible idea. (They don't even look like each other. HOW did I mix them up???)

Anyway, I'm not so unrealistic that I believe status doesn't carry any weight. But I do think that it's futile to chase after it because: a) it will always move away; and b) after a certain point, if you ain't got it, you ain't got it. I've also noticed that when women move into a field, men move out--and that no matter where women chase the men, the men always move. But I think that this happens not because men see women as inferior but because women see women as inferior. That is, the chasing happens because the benchmark that women have set for themselves is men. And that's simply impossible to reach. Men will never want what women have the way women want what men have. Men often do admire it and respect it, but they would never trade what they have for it.

If this seems unfair, that's because it kind of is. =P But I also think that the ways in which we determine status are like the ways in which we determine beauty: not necessarily set in stone, but ultimately beyond our control. In fact, I believe that both beauty and a high-ranking position in a social hierarchy (which is status I can get behind!) are graces. I don't know why God gave ten talents to some and only one talent to others, but I do know that the field can be leveled only so much before we turn into Communists.

Sheila said...

OH, what a RELIEF!

Prohibition had a lot more going into it than just women's groups -- it had the backing of anti-Catholics, anti-immigrant groups, the Ku Klux Klan, and so forth. The first prohibition law was passed in 1919, before women could even vote. So I'm not sure I really count that as a "women's issue." Of course there was a woman-friendly argument for it -- the reality that so many men were drinking away their family's livelihood and then beating their wives and children while drunk -- but no one realized at the time the bad effects it would have, even those "rational" men who passed it. Constitutional amendments are passed by state legislatures, and so far as I know there was not one single woman in a state legislature at that time.

I do agree with you that status is something of a moving target and there's no way to say when you've solved the problem. I just think there are small ways in which we can increase women's status, and the status of things considered "feminine." For instance, when home crafts become a fad -- as has been the case in recent years -- you take away some of the stigma on those specific things. Take this for instance:

Heck, even writing a book with real female characters -- rather than either prizes for the men to win at the end, or unrealistic sword-swinging babes -- can help.

I'm not trying to overturn our entire culture, really I'm not. I'm just saying "women and feminine things are undervalued, and I think we ought to value them more." As you point out, part of the problem is that *women* don't value them. If I got a dollar for every time I met a woman who hates either women-in-general or femininity itself, I'd be a millionaire. So isn't education likely to be helpful here?

Enbrethiliel said...


I like a lot of feminine things, too. I wear a veil, remember? ;-) Their status doesn't bother me personally, but I get your point that they shouldn't be denigrated just because they've been associated with women.

While I agree that education would be helpful, I don't think that's the media's job. In fact, I think that it's the very thing that the mass media should not be doing. It's not their job at all, but we've outsourced it to them, the way we've outsourced childcare to the TV. YA novels aren't any better, despite that sacred aura books still have around them: something is very wrong when mass market paperbacks written by people barely out of their own teens are given the moral authority that properly belongs to the collective experiences of one's parents and communities. (It's like Chairman Mao's Red Book, only capitalist.) I'm still a little amazed at any YA novelist who says that he wrote his books to change the way people think and doesn't realise that he just admitted he writes propaganda.

Having said that, those tactics do seem to be really effective. There's a good chance that a teenager raised by a mother who thinks that cooking is slavery would see it differently if the Disney Channel started airing a sitcom about a teen girl who starts her own catering business using her good-witch grandmother's recipes. (I'll never be able to pitch a show, will I? LOL!) Ironically, the teen's mother probably learned to hate cooking from the media as well. Mass media isn't a trustworthy baby-sitter or teacher.

Another point on which you and I differ is that if I wanted to convince women that feminine things are undervalued, I'd say that we should stop equating power and status with things that are outside the domestic sphere. That is, stop seeing it as a bad thing that some women might not be able to participate in politics because they're too busy raising their children. In reality, they're out of the loop in only the most superficial sense. Behind the dismissive insult, "You're just a stay-at-home mother," is the impotent anger of realising that a stay-at-home mother has the greatest power and influence in the world and that there is nothing (beyond police state tactics) that the person who doesn't like it can do about it.

Cojuanco said...

Yes, feminism, in its most basic definition, ensuring, as far as practicable, political, economic and social equality of men and women, is compatible with the Faith.

Because the feminist movement is a borad church, as it were, there is nothing that stops you from being against birth control, or against abortion (someone already mentioned FFL).

Cojuanco said...

Yes, feminism, in its most basic definition, ensuring, as far as practicable, political, economic and social equality of men and women, is compatible with the Faith.

Because the feminist movement is a borad church, as it were, there is nothing that stops you from being against birth control, or against abortion (someone already mentioned FFL).

Sheila said...

Sorry I've taken so long to respond to your comment, E .... first I had to think about it, and then I was putting it off because explaining things is HARD, man.

I think calling fiction that teaches something "propaganda" has a negative connotation, but we're in denial if we think there could *ever* be a work of literature (or drama, in the case of TV and movies) that does not teach. We hate it when it's laid on thick, but even when a story doesn't have a "moral," it's teaching lessons in the details. It sounds like you imagine authors just being oblivious to those lessons and letting the chips fall where they will, but it seems to me that would be irresponsible. I mean, of course your worldview will seep in. I don't think Stephen Lawhead was meaning to be sexist in the Pendragon Cycle, but I can tell that he IS sexist, because the female characters are all cardboard cut-outs who fall in love with the men just because the men have finished their quests. And if you have strong feelings against violence, whether you mean to or not, you will wind up having characters avoid violence and agonize a bunch about it ... because that's what *you* would do.

So, sure, this doesn't have to be intentional. But what about those beliefs and assumptions you carry around with you unreflectingly, which you have absorbed unconsciously by your culture? For instance often male writers think they are being pro-woman when they show women abandoning the kitchen and being kick-butt swordfighters or something .... but that isn't always pro-woman, it's more anti-femininity. Or worse, shaping imaginary women into the perfect men's dream -- badass AND wearing bikini armor.

TV and movies are particularly prone to this because they're so desperate to make money and are written by committee. The original author might have written a female character as how *they* see women, but by the time the character appears onscreen half her lines have been cut and she's given a massive rack because, well, that's what the committee thinks the viewers want. (It may actually not be. Hard to tell when no one tries it the other way. Hard to have courage when writing a big-budget movie, when so much money is at stake.)

So I think it's very admirable in a story writer to question stereotypes and write the world the way they *actually* see it, rather than the way the audience expects them to write. And I also think it helps if you are conscious of it, asking yourself, "Is this really the way things are? Is it the way things should be?"

In Hunger Games, the (Catholic!) author doesn't actually have any pacifism in there, and yet there's a pacifist message simply in the reality of the situation -- that the rebellion DOES hurt innocent people, that its leaders DO go too far, and that bad effects DO happen when they do it. That's not propaganda, that's her using her wisdom about how war actually goes to inject a little realism. But does it teach? Of course it does. And it teaches a truer message than what an unreflecting author might have written, in which the heroes blow up obviously military targets and everything ends up perfect and glorious. Doctor Who does the same thing by not giving the Doctor a gun. TV stereotypes say he should have one, and we feel at first that he really ought to have one, but after awhile we realize why he doesn't have one ... and it teaches something. Because if he *did* have a gun, that would have also taught something -- it would have reinforced our idea that heroes have to have guns.

Perhaps I should have cut out all the examples and just said: Everything teaches. You're more likely to teach good things if you do it consciously instead of just throwing in what you think people will like (aka pandering to the lowest common denominator).

Sheila said...

About politics, I used to share that view of it, which I got from Chesterton: insisting on votes for women as if it were something important is suggesting that the male sphere (politics) is better than the female sphere.

The trouble is that politics really does matter a great deal. For instance, this week it came out that the CIA had been torturing people, and 75% of the men talking about it on my facebook were defending it. I think torture is morally wrong and am sickened by it being done in my name, and said so .... and the answer was, "This is why women shouldn't vote."

If a vote is a means to stop people from breaking people's bones and leaving them out in the cold soaked in ice water and so forth, I think I need to have one. Because politics IS vitally important, at least nowadays, and therefore can't be something men do on their own without reference to women. (In the same way, I think it's appropriate for men to have input in how their kids are raised, because it's just that important -- we need every mind we've got working on that issue.)

Does that make sense?

Enbrethiliel said...


Oh, explaining is awful! Why can't people just know, aye? ;-P

I'll probably be back to add more later, but here are my initial thoughts to your reply.

When I say that some books are propaganda, I mean that the authors who wrote them made the hype or the reactions of readers their main consideration. (Their wanting to get a rise of out of people is the cousin of that other thing writers do that you've noticed: toning things down so as not to shake the boat.) This seems like only a few degrees removed from putting the moral first (which, for the record, I have no quarrel with), but they're actually quite different. The latter involves thinking that people are wrong about something, while the former is betting that people whom you think are wrong will be really mad if you push a certain button. They're not throwing in what they think people will like, but what they know people will hate. And it's precisely because I agree that books will teach no matter what that I don't care for those who make them vehicles for controversy.

Your description of Stephen Lawhead's books reminds me of a couple of Roger Corman B-movies that I watched earlier this year. Basically, the women really just do fall for the heroes. =P It was especially funny in one flick, because the actor cast in the lead is not conventionally attractive, and yet women throw themselves at him and the audience is just supposed to accept that. LOL! I didn't mind because I saw it as an innocent male fantasy and appreciated the insight into the male mind. Now, I don't care for the same fantasy when it is on steriods, as we see in the indulgent James Bond movies; but in this understated case, the psychological truth behind it was much clearer.

As for politics, now you see that it's really not clear to me what you mean by status or what you want for women. You already have the vote, and I doubt that the men who think that you shouldn't will ever be able to take it away. In that sense, there's nothing that they can really do to you except make you angry. Even if all the men in the US start making their decisions without reference to women, it won't matter when both sexes go off to the polls.

I really wish that I could write more, but I have to go or be late for the dawn Mass!

Sheila said...

Well, of course I hate *that* sort of propaganda! ;) But when Joss Whedon writes strong female characters, people don't get mad. They eat it up. That's because he's *good* at it.... and he's not trying to score points. Kind of the same as the difference between a comment on the internet that is intended to convince the opposition, and one that is intended to make the people who already agree with you cheer for you because you scored a hit on the other side. (Seems there is perpetually more and more of the latter, and less and less of the former.)

The "women fall for dweeby guys" thing is a male fantasy; I wish it didn't happen *quite* so often. I mean, read this:

If the lesson learned was "women don't really care all that much what men look like," it would be great. But instead it seems to have come across as "men don't have to *deserve* to date a 'perfect ten.' They ALL should date tens." And then you get men furious that "all the girls" (meaning, all the very hottest girls) refuse to date them because they aren't high-status enough themselves. There's a *serious* dearth of the opposite situation -- hot guy falls head-over-heels for frumpy girl in glasses. And it's hard to change because there ARE no frumpy girls in TV. When they want to have a story about an ugly girl, they get a hot actress and give her bad hair and glasses. Actresses are never fat. They are never actually ugly. (I make an exception for the BBC. I don't know what it is about British TV, but they are capable of casting normal-looking people. Smaller pool of possibilities? Or the difference in culture where Brits don't think bad teeth make you ugly, but Americans do?)

Anyway that does lead to men completely ignoring less-attractive women because they don't seem to notice they exist, and less-attractive women feeling like they are worthless because they never see any in real life.

Well, I *am* thankful I have the vote! Politics is awfully important. But on the other hand, it's not the only thing that is. There are tons and tons of "spheres of power" that I think could benefit from more women in them. Take the fashion industry. Did you know most mid-price women's clothing is designed by men? At last I understand why it all seems to be designed to look good outside while being hopelessly uncomfortable and impractical. Or banking, or computer science, or (like I've been talking about) Hollywood. Something like 5% of movies are directed by women ... and it shows. Films made by women aren't necessarily disliked by men, but it is very hard to break into the field if you're a woman.

This method of debate is awfully tedious and I'm sure we could get it all figured out in about an hour over a cup of tea if only we lived on the same continent. Typing is slow and I leave so many examples and ideas out because I don't want to write an essay here. But I hope you understand what I mean.

Enbrethiliel said...


How typical that after I went offline for the night, I thought of a great example of the difference between challenging literature and what I call propaganda. Take the author you've described who has her own ideas of "ideal women" for her characters. She'd write a book to the best of her ability and hope that it would be received well. And I'd support that. But now imagine a writer who is also critical of the world but who thinks that the best way to change is would be through shocking people or making them so used to something different that they don't notice it any longer. Now, the first type of writer would be distressed if her book were banned or burned anywhere--because it meant that people were misunderstanding her intention. The second type would be thrilled about getting that sort of publicity--because for her the point is not so much the book itself as the effect it will have on others. We can't ignore that books will have effects, but it is backwards (and in many cases, has been outright villainous) to consider the effects before everything else.

Enbrethiliel said...


I waited until forever to publish that comment, so we ended up cross-posting. Let's see what I can dash off before the dawn Mass beckons again . . .

Joss Whedon's women actually leave me cold. The male screenwriter whom I'd say creates consistently strong female characters is James Cameron, with the caveat that I haven't seen Avatar yet.

I think I've read pretty much everything David Wong has written for! =D It was he who introduced me to The Last Psychiatrist, and I tend to agree with Wong most strongly when his message is closest to TLP's. So I think he's right in that article, which is a reworking of what TLP wrote in this one:

But I do have to say that what Wong and TLP are saying doesn't apply to the movie I was thinking of, which was Bloodfist IV. Its leading man is Don "The Dragon" Wilson, who is hardly a dweeb! (He's just not handsome, poor guy. =P)

You're right that this way of commenting is really inefficient. Sometimes I think I made a point when I actually didn't. LOL! I can be like a dog with a bone about things, so if we're still discussing this when my Christmas vacation starts this weekend, I'll be better at replying. But if we've moved on to something else, well, I'll be happy to discuss that, too!

Sheila said...

I'm afraid Christmas break will leave me online less and not more!

I read your post about banned books (can't remember if I said anything about it) but I agree with you on that -- the point of the book is the book. Not the controversy. Not, for a real artist, selling the book either. Which is why I was quite upset when I showed my novel draft to an author and editor of Catholic books, and she said "you should dwell on the abortion part a lot more; the Catholic audience eats that up." Ew. To me that's just pandering. In the end I wound up abandoning that book because it was written for a Catholic audience (as in, it was about people within a very Catholic subculture) but wasn't preachy. And apparently you have to be the right kind of preachy to sell a Catholic book. I'm sure the same is true of feminist books or gay books or whatever subculture you're counting on marketing your book for you, with the outrage and counter-outrage it will generate.

I should look up James Cameron; I don't know what he's done. I've seen Avatar, but was only impressed with the visuals ... character development was near nonexistent and the plot was Fern Gully all over again.

Enbrethiliel said...


I don't mean to set you up or anything, but I don't know if you'll have the same reaction to Cameron's characters as I did. One of the actresses whom he directed has been critical of how he wrote her character, and I admit that she has a point, although Cameron's vision is, in my opinion, superior to hers. (Yes, this is vague, but I don't want to spoil too much!)

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