Wednesday, March 28, 2012

From The Contraception Debate: Is Misogyny on the Rise?

by John Shelby Spong

Here is some of the evidence:
In Virginia, the State Legislature was poised to pass and Republican Governor Bob McDonnell to sign a bill requiring a vaginally-invasive medical procedure be performed on any woman seeking an abortion until a massive demonstration of female voting power caused them to “modify” it very slightly.

In the United States Congress, Republican representative Darrell Issa of California called to order a House of Representatives hearing on women’s health care, but only men had been invited to testify at this hearing. A 30-year-old female law school student at Georgetown University named Sandra Fluke, whom the Democrats had invited to appear before this committee, was ruled by Mr. Issa not to be “a competent witness” and so was disqualified.

Is this a debate about religious liberty and keeping the government from violating religious freedom as the political right suggests? I don’t think so.  The abortion debate, always emotional, fueled as it is by the religious zealots in both Catholic and Evangelical lobbies, has now revealed itself to be equally opposed to birth control, an issue not debated in this country for almost half a century! So a new assault has been launched on the rights of families to plan and space children. Freedom from unexpected pregnancies has been the major factor in opening career opportunities for women in business, politics and religion, freeing them from the traditional male control over their bodies. There is now ample evidence that this new equality of opportunity is resented by a significant number of males. This is the counterattack.

The hostility unleashed in these attacks reveals its virulence.  Women are personally trashed whenever they challenge male power. When the aforementioned Sandra Fluke was finally allowed to testify, not before an official House Committee, but before an informal, yet well publicized Democratic hearing she was called a “slut and a prostitute” by Rush Limbaugh, a well known, four-times married, right-wing radio talk show host, whose Viagra, I note, is covered by his health insurance. The pattern is consistent.

The only birth control a woman was allowed until relatively recently was abstinence and this fact actually encouraged the role of mistresses and the use of prostitutes, since abstinence did not appear to be desirable to men. Wives encouraged both mistresses and prostitutes to minimize the number of children they would be forced to bear.

It was not until 1724, for example, that Western science discovered that women have an egg cell and thus are the equal co-creators of every life that has ever been born. This fact challenged the prevailing male “wisdom” that the woman’s only function in procreation was the secondary role of nurturing the male seed into maturity, as mother earth nurtured the farmer’s seed into a new crop each year. The old understanding turned out to be ignorance, but not before it had taken deep root in Western religion and was used to put “God’s” imprimatur on the second-class status for women that marks vast parts of our religious heritage, whose traditionally all-male hierarchies still suppress women’s rights in the name of an overwhelmingly male deity.

It is time to stop seeking to mandate politically that women’s bodies be subject to male control, whether that control be exercised by their husbands, their bosses, the members of the United States Senate and perhaps above all by the misogynist, all-male hierarchies of medieval religious organizations.

Are we now to follow Senator Santorum’s 17th century idea that Church and State ought not to be separated? Are we to ignore his assertion that Catholic President John Kennedy’s attempt to draw a distinction between personal belief and public responsibility made Santorum want to throw up? Is the current debate the last gasp of a dying patriarchy or the opening debate in a new dark age?

I find it a frightening time through which to live, and it calls out to women and to men alike to flush, yes to flush, out of public life this “religiously perfumed,” but cruel, continuing oppression of women. It needs to be flushed equally by an aroused constituency of both Democrats and Republicans, and the Christian Church needs to climb out of the Middle Ages and begin to call “sin” that which some still call “ancient truth,” or “sacred tradition.”


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