In defense of the sanctimonious women's studies set || First feminist blog on the internet

Confronting Bible-thumpers on their own terms

I’ve been too busy to read the Times for the past couple days, and I’m making up for it now… so please excuse all the Times-linked posts. I can’t help it. NPR may be next.

Anyway, Kristof (who I love, but know is disputed in many feminist circles for his paternalistic tendencies) is right on this week as he covers the new book, “The Sins of Scripture.” He goes after conservative Christians for clothing themselves in the Bible while not acting particularly Christ-like. Of course, this isn’t new stuff; “Christian” politicians and leaders have been selectively quoting from the Bible for centuries, using it to justify everything from slavery to mass slaughter to the virtual enslavement of women. Politicized interpretations of the Bible have also lead to the virulent anti-sex mentality that seems to have always been attached to the church. Kristof writes:

Christianity may have become unfriendly to women’s rights partly because, in its early years, it absorbed an antipathy for sexuality from the Neoplatonists. That led to an emphasis on the perpetual virginity of Mary, with some early Christian thinkers even trying to preserve the Virgin Mary’s honor by raising the possibility that Jesus had been born through her ear.

The squeamishness about sexuality led the church into such absurdities as a debate about “prelapsarian sex”: the question of whether Adam and Eve might have slept together in the Garden of Eden, at least if they had stayed longer. St. Augustine’s dour answer was: Maybe, but they wouldn’t have enjoyed it. In modern times, this same discomfort with sex has led some conservative Christians to a hatred of gays and a hostility toward condoms, even to fight AIDS.

One thing I think Kristof is particularly correct on is his suggestion to take on conservatives for their un-Christ-like behavior instead of insulting them or mocking religion (and this is something that I have certainly been guilty of). What are the basic tenets of Christianity? How did Jesus behave? With charity, love and kindness. He helped the poor. He treated women well. Yes, he made particular demands of his followers, but the most in need were given healing and real help, not just a promise of salvation (although that was certainly there too). It’s fair to ask, if Jesus was alive today, would he be waging an unnecessary war in Iraq, or would he be making sure that every kid has access to healthcare? Throwing billions at the Pentagon, or directing a fraction of that to battle world hunger, HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis? Dropping an exhorbitant sum on inaugural festivities, or urging world leaders to step in and end genocide in Darfur? Just some thoughts. I’ll let Kristof end it:

Some of the bishop’s ideas strike me as more provocative than persuasive, but at least he’s engaged in the debate. When liberals take on conservative Christians, it tends to be with insults – by deriding them as jihadists and fleeing the field. That’s a mistake. It’s entirely possible to honor Christian conservatives for their first-rate humanitarian work treating the sick in Africa or fighting sex trafficking in Asia, and still do battle with them over issues like gay rights.

Liberals can and should confront Bible-thumping preachers on their own terms, for the scriptural emphasis on justice and compassion gives the left plenty of ammunition. After all, the Bible depicts Jesus as healing lepers, not slashing Medicaid.

Know your enemy

I read anti-choice blogs, websites and op/eds often. Why? Not just to get mad, but because I think you have to really understand what you’re up against before you can properly counter it.

One thing I always find interesting about the anti-choice movement is their relative success in convincing the general public that stopping abortion is their only concern — when actually, mainstream “pro-life” groups oppose everything from sex education to contraception to invitro fertilization. Anti-choice blogger Dawn Eden writes a telling post about her views on invitro fertilization. For those unfamiliar with Ms. Eden, she was fired from her position as a copy editor at the Murdoch tabloid The New York Post a few months back for injecting her anti-choice views into a news article on IVF. She is ferociously anti-sex (unless you’re married, which she desperately wants to be), and really hates Planned Parenthood for giving out honest information about sex. I read her blog occassionally if I feel like getting pissed off, but generally leave just kind of feeling sorry for her. But this post is particularly interesting, as it further demonstrates that the most extreme anti-choicers (who usually are the ones running the major anti-choice organizations) aren’t just anti-abortion; they’re anti- any reproductive choice, including aiding women in having children.

Luckily, I think the anti-choicers are digging their own graves with their ridiculous opposition to stem cell research, IVF, and birth control. Those issues expose them for who they really are: extremists who only want women to have one choice (marriage and as many babies as God gives). The vast majority of people believe that women and men should have access to birth control and reproductive technology; stem cell research is also gaining a lot of support. So to the anti-choicers, I say, keep at it. And by all means, get louder. You’re only helping us out.

The Battle Over Birth Control

Notice that the fight over women’s health has lurched from a strict focus on abortion to an ever-increasing attack on contraceptives.

Does the pill prevent pregnancy or terminate it? Conservative Christians in my town hand out flyers at the county fair declaring that all forms of birth control are abortive in nature. They are sure to set up a booth directly across from Planned Parenthood’s booth, the one that hands out information on how to be safe if one is to have sex.

Are condoms an effective barrier-method or does AIDS seep through the “tiny holes” in the latex? Our beloved late Pope endorsed the idea that condoms “have tiny holes in them through which HIV can pass,” and lovingly passed this information to four continents worth of churches, effectively confusing those who reside in areas of a global pandemic. Some of these are areas in which the greatest contibutor to health aid is Oprah Winfrey and extra funds are spent on coffins because they “never have enough.” Praise the lord.

Is giving teens accurate information about their sexual health, and access to the materials necessary to do so, tacitly urging them to, you know, do it?

As pharmacists are gain support in their refusal to fill birth control prescriptions, the right to this legal medication is usurped by our ability to access it.

“I am deeply concerned that they have gone further than I have ever seen them. This is far past a woman’s right to make decisions regarding abortion to the point now that it’s about their right to make decisions on contraception,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., told Salon. Murray and her Senate colleague Hillary Clinton have blocked President Bush’s nominee to head the FDA, Lester Crawford, over his inaction as acting director of the agency to approve the morning-after pill for over-the-counter sale. An FDA advisory committee has given the drug overwhelming support as safe and effective, and Canada approved its nonprescription status last week. Publicly, Crawford says his indecision on the drug has nothing to do with ideology, but privately he told Murray it raises his concerns about “behavior,” apparently alluding to arguments that the pill will encourage promiscuity.

Crawford is clearly concerned about the behavior of rape victims, considering that they are the ones who suffer most from the lack of availablity to not only the medication, but medical centers who will prescribe it. And those harlots probably asked for it.

Opposition to Plan B is just the latest and most visible drive by conservatives to curtail contraception, according to Heather Boonstra of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research group for reproductive issues. “There’s a constituency out there that equates all contraception with abortion, and they’re organizing in concerted ways to denigrate it,” she says. That constituency includes a number of social and religious groups, but the one that takes the abortion-contraception connection perhaps the most literally is the American Life League (ALL), one of the largest antiabortion lobbyists. Founded 25 years ago, it claims 300,000 families as members.

“Many forms of so-called contraception work by preventing the implantation of an already created human being, and that kills a baby in the womb, and we consider that to be an early abortion,” says ALL’s vice president, Jim Sedlak. He says ALL’s main mission is to inform women that all hormonal birth control methods and the IUD “are actually causing abortions themselves” and to force manufacturers to put that description prominently on contraceptive labels.

ALL’s STOPP International campaign also seeks to cut government funding for Planned Parenthood, which it believes misinforms women about how contraception works. Sedlak says STOPP has been successful at the city level — closing over 100 clinics around the country in the last 10 years — and is now targeting state funding. He pointed to the Texas Legislature’s recent decision to cut Planned Parenthood’s state funding as one of ALL’s biggest victories. “It’s not as fast as we would like, but we’ll take it, and we believe it will have a snowball effect and that when people understand what they’re doing we’ll be closing clinics even faster.”

ALL’s three-stage action plan against Planned Parenthood is spelled out on their website.

  • Building community-based coalitions of churches and faithful citizens to oppose Planned Parenthood at the grassroots level
  • Training and mobilizing people to expel Planned Parenthood from their local schools
  • Empowering activists to strip Planned Parenthood’s tax funding at the state level

ALL uses excitable language in order to obscure that while Planned Parenthood advocates for sexual education, they are not literally in the schools. Hell, if you’re a girl in a public school health class, you’re lucky to find out that you bleed.

Where ALL becomes a formidable force is in attempting to bring in coalitions of “churches and faithful citizens.” With the current political climate and three years left under Dubya’s kingly reign, the religious right has nearly effectively hijacked the Republican party. By saying that PP is an organization that “only makes money when our young people are sexually active” obscures the fact that the majority of those who enter the doors of a free clinic are there for routine visits that often have little to do with sex, but with general health issues that go along with having icky ol’ girly bits.

ALL is not the only threat to Planned Parenthood’s funding. In every one of his budgets, Bush has frozen funds for Title X, the 30-year-old program that pays for family-planning services for low-income women. Susanne Martinez, Planned Parenthood’s vice president for public policy, says that although Congress has restored some of that money, this “assault on family planning” has crippled Planned Parenthood’s contraceptive distribution — about 95 percent of the Title X funds it receives go directly to that service. She is also concerned Bush has appointed to agencies like the FDA and Health and Human Services “people who have very publicly said they opposed the use of birth control for the unmarried. It’s something [Bush] has been doing in a very strategic way.”

Several other groups support ALL’s views and its mission. The Family Research Council joined Republican leaders last Sunday on a national telecast blasting the Democrats for blocking appointments of conservative judges who could decide key reproductive-rights issues. And while the conservative Concerned Women for America (CFA) says it does not take a position on contraception, it does oppose abortion and has been vigorously defending the recent drive by anti-choice pharmacists to stop distributing emergency contraception, which CFA considers an “abortion pill.”

I personally am a big fan of ALL’s Rock for Life campaign, because teens are stupid enough to buy any message packaged in the Xtreme. Look, there are free downloads! And a blog!

This may be the final proof that rock n’ roll is indeed dead.

But back to the behavioral business again, the kind of business that shows that abstinence-only programs were ordered to be rated by the CDC on attendance, not effectiveness:

The abstinence-only programs — which have largely replaced safe-sex education — have not only curbed the distribution of condoms and birth control pills in school health clinics, but have entirely banned information about contraceptives and sexual health. The nonprofit Abstinence Clearinghouse, which promotes such programs, says few could argue that refraining from sex is the only sure-fire way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. And it dismisses repeated studies finding that abstinence-only programs are ineffective in either delaying sexual experience among teens or protecting them from disease. So does Alma Golden, Bush’s pick to head the Population Affairs department, which runs the programs. “One thing is very clear for our children, abstaining from sex is the most effective means of preventing the sexual transmission of HIV, STDs and preventing pregnancy and the emotional, social and educational consequences of teen sexual activity,” she says on the Clearinghouse’s Web site.

Read that again. Abstinence-only programs “have largely replaced safe-sex education.” It makes my hair curl.

It seems as well that there is federal talk of moving abstinence-only programs into elementary schools, thereby exposing yet another hypocrisy in the fight against doin’ it and doin’ it and doin’ it well, safe, and healthy, considering that one primary argument against comprehensive sex education is that it exposes children to sexual themes they aren’t ready for. Kansas, in the meantime, is in a legal battle over the existence of Adam’s navel. In the children’s best interest, my ass.

Amanda asks, “If you get pregnant on accident, should you be allowed pain medication during labor? Or is that part of your sentence?” Of course it is. No matter that it takes two to make things go right. If woman should slip up and experience prurient sexual desire, she should be punished.

Welcome to America. Don’t let the sun set on your female behind.

On Being a Breed Mare, Part II

The Well-Timed Period responds to the story about catholic hospitals who refuse to give emergency contraception to rape patients who may have ovulated:

If Catholic hospitals may ignore the standard of care, and treat patients based on religious doctrine, any and all hospitals should be able to do the same. This means we abolish the FDA, and any government regulation of hospitals and the practice of medicine, and allow anybody to set up and run a hospital according to whatever criteria they deem acceptable.

Bottom line: It will be most interesting to see what happens when men in this country manage to finally achieve equality with women, and can look forward to hospitals where only, for example, men with a sperm density greater than or equal to 20 million per milliliter are to receive adequate medical care.

Read the rest.

Benedict XVI

Apologies to Lauren for jumping in, but this is very important. The conclave has chosen Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to be the next pope. He is going to call himself Pope Benedict XVI.

I have nothing to say. A woman who was watching with me has gone out of her mind, and I’m about to.
Lauren edited to add:
The implications of the name are very important, and Ratzinger has invoked the name of a series of moderate Popes, though he himself is considered to be a fundamentalist. As a Catholic fundamentalist, one of his efforts will probably be an attempt at further codifying Catholicism in Africa and China as he has repeatedly called for, areas of large Catholic growth that have morphed Catholicism into their own pidgin religions. Both regions have unusually high incidences of sexually-spread diseases, and a stricter Catholicism in these areas will likely have dire consequences for educational and medical efforts.

The choice of name is probably in reaction to the war in the Middle East, as the previous Benedict outlined a five point peace plan in reaction to WWII. This is the only reason I can think of that Ratzinger would choose the name Benedict considering his stance on myriad world issues.

The Wikipedia is already updated with info on Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, including his involvement with the Hitler Youth. From WaPo’s profile, “Guardian of Orthodoxy“:

He wrote a letter of advice to U.S. bishops on denying communion to politicians who support abortion rights, which some observers viewed as a slam at Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry. He publicly cautioned Europe against admitting Turkey to the European Union and wrote a letter to bishops around the world justifying that stand on the grounds that the continent is essentially Christian in nature. In another letter to bishops worldwide, he decried a sort of feminism that makes women “adversaries” of men…

…Ratzinger was active in stamping out liberation theology, with its emphasis on grass-roots activism to fight poverty and its association with Marxist movements.

He once called homosexuality a tendency toward “intrinsic moral evil” and dismissed the uproar over priestly pedophilia in the United States as a “planned campaign” against the church.

And aren’t the Italians stoked about today’s papal progress? You would have thought Mick Jagger walked onto that balcony. Norbizness has a prurient theory about their excitement.

Sex and Carnality

Jesse at Pandagon writes on the debate over the morning-after pill in Illinois. He has a point in saying that pharmacists are speading bad science as pro-life propaganda, but concludes that this denial of medical treatment is about the fear of sex.

The more I read these kinds of stories, the less I think the debate over sexual morality is about sex itself. The notion of carnality involved in sexual relationships, specifically those sexual relationships deemed immoral, seems to be what these pharmacists and pro-life groups have a problem with.

According to Christian doctrine, the only sexual relationship endorsable by the Bible is the model of married coupledom (the kind in which a woman is the man’s property to be “taken” by adulterers and all other women are seductresses) and those who don’t comply are the “polluted spring or …poisoned well.” Moral folks “run from anything that stimulates youthful lust,” including homosexuality, pornography, sadomasochism and all other models that the contemporary churches consider prurient.

I don’t even think the pro-life stance is so much about the protection of fetuses, embryos, or any of the rest of it. Abortion and birth control are carnality manifest. That sex is and can be carnal, and that a “good” woman can enjoy the carnality without physical or emotional consequences, is what gives them goosebumps, and thus they find anything they can do to stop this degradation of their moral code based on a fear of sexual freedom.

Carnality gives me goosebumps, too, but in an entirely different way.

Related Reading: Religion & Sex, Christianity
Bondage, from Preacher’s Files

Newsflash: Non-Threatening Sex Talk Increases Readership

The Village Voice notes a trend: college newspapers running female sex advice columnists. What are these columnist saying? Apparently, nothing:

Hyper-feminine, even reactionary, most articles read like giggly guides for good manners. We imagine these writers much like Carrie Bradshaw: on their beds with a shiny white laptop, typing, but also taking plenty of breaks to paint their toenails, peer out the window (is there a hot man on the stoop?), and fluff up their hair.

Now, frankly I don’t know if this is fair or not. But this has the ring of truth to me:

Yvonne Fulbright, the 29-year-old author of The Hot Guide to Safer Sex (Hunter House) and a columnist for NYU’s Washington Square News, says she too was disappointed with the Spectator’s final selection and takes offense whenever she’s clumped together with the rest of the sex-writing “pack.” “They make things so Mars-Venus. It’s nonpolitical and nearly always silly,” she says. “No one steps out of the system, because if they do, they think they’ll be called perverts.

(emphasis mine.)
The Voice ends on a weak high-note:

As Grantham puts it, “There’s politics in the act itself. It’s just like, Hey, look! I’m a woman. I enjoy sex. I’m talking about it. Isn’t this cool?”

I’m left unsatisfied, and I’m not sure what bothers me more, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

On the one hand, these columnists seem not to reflect the diversity of the sexual expression of their own peers. Either because they are scared to admit to too much knowledge or acceptance, or because the papers don’t want to go out on any limb. Assuming the latter is the lion’s share, what bothers me is that the papers get the cheap titilation of having a female columnist writing about sex, without having to deal with her saying anything that would rock the boat. Empty calories. I suspect this is at play a fair amount because it makes so much sense, and that the columnists selected fall within this mold because that’s the role they are meant to fill.

Maybe the thought that bothers me more is that these papers really are not chickening out, but are instead delivering exactly what their audience wants: reinforcement of a heterosexist, PV-intercourse dominated juvenial, stunted sexual culture. “Rules”-like rules for dating and hooking up, Cosmo-prescriptions instead of personal answers. Maybe they are preaching the religion of stupid to hordes of sheeple, who expect no less and demand no more.

I remember my undergraduate years as ones of profound self-discovery, for myself and my friends. But maybe I was just luckier than most, and universities out there are still marginalizing everybody but the straight overgrown high school kids fucking in the approved way.

James Baldwin

In my African American Experience class, we have begun talking about the “Double V” campaign (victory over Hitler and Jim Crow), the post-World War II era, and the beginning of the modern civil rights movement. One of the great writers of the civil rights era was James Baldwin. As we were discussing World War II and its effects on the civil rights movement, my professor put up a paragraph from Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. Unfortunately, I am a slow writer, so I did not get the entire paragraph down. I did, however, get what I thought was the key line:

From my own point of view, the fact of the Third Reich alone makes obsolete forever any question of Christian superiority, except in technological terms.

The United States still has not figured this out. There may be some hollow ecumenical statements made by leaders, but none of them (and few of the general public) really understand that Christianity has no moral high ground to stand on right now. Many of the worst human atrocities over the past 65 years have been committed by people who proclaim themselves to be Christian. Speaking as a (mostly) Christian, I think that until Christians, and especially American Christians, humble ourselves before the world, own up to our many, many transgressions, and give up our claim as the sole possessors of the moral high ground, we will be unable to be taken seriously as peacemakers in the world — which, by the way, is one of the things we are called to do by our god.

Robert, aka randomliberal

PS — My professor will be posting the notes online, so as soon as he does that, I’ll find the entire section and quote it.

Cardinal Law

I believe this headline from the Kansas City Star says it perfectly: “Disgraced Law celebrates Mass for pope”.

Over the past week, I have often found myself coming to the defense of Pope John Paul II on liberal blogs. While I am no big fan of the Roman Catholic Church (I’m too Baptist to like church hierarchy very much), I always had a certain amount of respect for the pope because of his feelings on many social issues. Although his views on gender issues and contraceptives were terrible, he worked hard to fight poverty and to oppose war. I thought that those stances were enough to redeem him.

Until I saw how exactly he reacted to the sexual abuse cases, especially those in the Boston archdiocese.

I did not follow the cases very closely when they first were brought to light. I’ve always had an aversion to stories about scandal, especially when they are blown up to the proportions that they tend to be when sex is involved. I did remember hearing about how the archbishop in Boston had covered up for some priests, and even moved them around from parish to parish, but I did not know what had become of the archbishop until this weekend, when I heard that he would be leading today’s funeral Mass.

The decisions to first make Bernard Law a Cardinal, then to allow him to lead a Mass for the late pope were incredibly insensitive to the feelings of the victims of the scandal. It shows a total lack of compassion — indeed, almost contempt — for those who were affected by the abusive priests and by Law’s actions. For someone who has long admired John Paul, it is totally unexplainable for me. I cannot understand how someone who seemed to have so much compassion for those in need could act with such callousness towards these victims.

Robert, aka randomliberal