Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Sistas are doing it for themselves?

Listening to other people's radio choices can sometimes be quite an education. Before my Dad died it was always talkback (ZB) on at my folks' place, which used to raise everyone's blood pressure I'm sure. Until I was about 13 I literally did not know that you could listen to music on the radio. I thought ZB was all there was, and I absorbed Holmes' breakfast show every morning, on the pink clock radio I was given one Xmas. I could never understand why my school peers didn't seem to have heard a certain news item or interview. Finally one of the girls in my class pointed out that ZB wasn't the only radio station in town, and that if I wanted to I could even listen to music more often than Leighton Smith played his intro song.

Since then I've changed favourite stations several times, and currently when I'm in charge of the dial it's usually pointed to 101.4 FM. At the moment though I'm spending a lot of time at my Mum's and the first change she made after my father's death was to ixne the alkbackte and have pleasant music on at all times. So now I'm listening to Easy Mix 98.2 FM, which I think it's fair to say isn't advertising to my demographic.

Because if they were advertising to feminist new mums who work for unions (and who wouldn't want to monopolise that vital group!) they probably wouldn't be the station of choice for the Sistas Women's Conference 2008. Sandwiched between Simply Red and Michael Bolton was this funny little advert which spelt out it's funny little url, so I figured I'd have a look.

There's really not much info on what's on the agenda, but it's clear that it is centred around an evangelical Christian picture of womanhood. Pictures are provided, in lieu of a run-down of what's on, and a list of guest speakers, all of whom clearly have significant credentials in the area of charismatic Christianity. One profile mentions a guest's "real passion to see women become who God has designed them to become" but there's no explanation of what our design specifications might be.

Does anyone else have any further information? There is a promo video but I'm not able to download it on this computer. Reading between the lines I would suspect it's a particular, and peculiar, view of womanhood that sees us as helpmates and breeding vessels, but I could be wrong. Certainly not all Christian churches, or Christians, see women that way, however this conference looks like it might be organised by those strands who do?

Italics indicate an edit to address the concern raised by muerk in comments, and to ensure the post more accurately reflects my views on Christianity.


muerk said...

One of the reasons that I don't identify with the feminist movement is exactly this kind of attitude, "it's a view of womanhood that sees us as helpmates and breeding vessels...".

Many women enjoy being married and want to help their husbands. And unsurprisingly given biology, most women love babies and being mothers.

To deny these facets of womanhood really denigrates a lot of female experience. I'm an educated woman and I love being a mum and a wife. Heck, I'd even consider having baby number 5 :)

How could I be part of an intellectual movement that regards women having beautiful little babies as "breeding vessels"? Ironically, the women I do know who have large families (5+ children) are some of the most capable, assertive, empowered women I know.

The ex-expat said...

I think what July was trying to criticize is the view that being a supportive wife and mother is the 'only' view of womanhood that's seen as valid.

On the flip side, I will concede that some (not all) feminists tend to be very anti-motherhood and marriage.

so at the risk of sounding a bit cliched, I think there is room for middle ground and that we can all learn to respect and celebrate our life choices whatever they may be.

muerk said...

I too want respect of women's life choices, even if they are traditional.

I guess as a Catholic woman, we have a much wider view of a woman's role. We run the gamut from wives and mothers, to single women, religious sisters, nuns, or consecrated virgins. Marriage and motherhood is one option out of many vocations.

When I was at varsity I used to chat with older women who were doing feminist studies. They used to tell me how hard it was to see their life experiences of marriage and children being discussed by the lecturer and the young women students as oppressive.

Julie said...

muerk, I was trying to make it clear that I don't think all Christians, or all brands of Christianity see women as helpmates and breeding vessels, but obviously I failed, so I think I might rewrite that bit of the post when I get time.

I enjoy being married, and frequently help my husband. I love my baby son dearly and am enjoying being a mum. So I am certainly not going to turn around and deny these facets of womanhood as you allege.

But I do think for many women there are other elements to their lives, and in fact they may not be wives or mothers at all, at any point in their lives. Which is why I get annoyed at the particular brand of Christianity which reduces women to wives and mothers, compulsorily.

Sorry I seem to have failed to communicate that properly in the original post.

muerk said...

Julie, fair enough, and thanks for the wider explanation. :)

Hugh said...

We run the gamut from wives and mothers, to single women, religious sisters, nuns, or consecrated virgins. Marriage and motherhood is one option out of many vocations.

True, but are Catholic women really unique in this diversity? Isn't this true of most faith communities? (And non-faith communities, for that matter?)

muerk said...

Hugh: I was specifically thinking of women in evangelical Christianity. That kind of Protestant denomination doesn't have the variety of female roles because they have rejected religious orders.

Catholicism, like the Orthodox and other faiths like Buddhism, has a wider path for women, especially those who don't feel called to married life.

Think of Sr Hildegard von Bingen, or St Teresa of Avila. These are role models of female achievement that evangelicals have rejected because of the Reformation.

Anna McM said...

Muerk, I kind of agree with you and kind of don't. I think the Catholic Church has an ambivalent attitude towards mothers. On one hand, Mary is a powerful symbol of courage, compassion and strength. On the other, most of us know Catholic women who have had unintended pregnancies (and when pregnancy makes you as sick as it does me, and you have births as traumatic and crappy as mine, that really is a terrifying prospect). And I do think that some Catholics and members of other Christian denominations do focus bizarrely on women's sexuality/reproductive capacity - eg those who oppose the HPV vaccination because it might encourage girls to have sex.

You state that most women love babies and being mothers, but I think this is true for those women who have control over their sexuality and fertility. I'm thinking of my Irish sister-in-law's great grandmother who had 22 children, only 6 of whom lived to adulthood. I can't imagine that this was the life she wanted to lead.

On the other hand, I completely agree with you that it is crucial not to denigrate the work of women as mothers. I don't deny that some feminists think this way, but I don't think it's typical of the women's movement either. Many feminist campaigns (eg for childcare, the DPB) have been predicated on the idea that society should support women in our mothering work.

Also, I've got a question I'd love an answer to! Why does the Church prohibit artificial contraception but give the OK to natural fertility control, when the intention of both is to avoid pregnancy? :-)

Hugh said...

Muerk, you say evangelicals have rejected role models like Hildebrandt because of the Reformation. Firstly, I think the evangelical movement significantly post-dates the era of the reformation. Secondly, I know of several protestant women, evangelical and otherwise, who don't have children and don't AFAIK plan on having them. It's possible for a religious woman to choose not to have kids, or not to marry, without embracing the ascetic tradition.

Finally, I think the virtues of Hildebrandt (not so familiar with St Teresa and don't intend to fake it with a wiki reference) arose more from her unique personality than her ascetic lifestyle.

muerk said...

Hugh: these are pretty fair points.


It all has to do with how God views sex (as far as the Catholic Church teaches).

Sex is a sacred union, where a man and a woman share their complementary bodies to become "one flesh". This union mirrors the Trinity, where the Father and the Son love each other so deeply that this love becomes its own person - the Holy Spirit.

Because sex is so special and so intimate, God's will is for us to only share ourselves with someone who is totally committed to us for life. Hence the no sex outside of marriage ideal.

When we make love, we are to give our self totally to the other. Nothing should be held back. Sex is both unitive, drawing couples together, but it is also procreative. These two aspects of love making shouldn't be separated - sex is a holistic union.

However, God has given women a menstrual cycle, we can only fall pregnant 24 hours out of a cycle. If a couple chooses to avoid sex in a fertile period, that is fine. There is no obligation to have sex at certain times. However when we do have sex, we must always be aware that a baby may be made, since there's always the faint possibility.

Artificial contraception OTOH is a direct way of limiting the fullness of what sex means. To make it sterile, when it could be procreative. The couple directly choose to stop the possibility of a baby.

Which is why Catholics see contraception and abortion in the same category - it's that choice to deny life. When I make love with my husband, we accept without reservation, that we may make a baby. In our act of love, we have already made welcome the possibility of a new life.

I'm a natural planning teacher and user (the Billings Method), and I can tell you it's a very reliable method of avoiding pregnancy. Also, no side effects, which is wonderful.

From personal experience, this way of spacing children is great for marriage. For a start couples have to talk and both have to take responsibility for thinking about babies. The husband can't just want sex, he has to really communicate with his wife about her needs and respect her body.

I know one couple who maintain it saved their marriage, because both had suffered sexual abuse as children and having to talk about sex made them open up to tell the other what had happened to themselves.

Sometimes the abstaining sucks... But then it help stoke the fires for when you aren't fertile ;)

The intimate self knowledge of NFP is also wonderful. I know what my body is doing. I know how my hormones are changing from day to day. I know my cervix is healthy. I know when I'm ovulating.

So to recap.

- Couples don't have to have sex at any proscribed time.

- If couples choose to avoid fertile times that's fine, we weren't made to be fertile 24/7 anyway.

- Nothing is actively done to render sex sterile, robbing it of its fullness.

- Art. contraceptive is a choice to avoid babies, and that attitude may lead to an abortion if the contraception fails.

Yikes, and if you have read all the way down to here, well done :) I hope that's covered it.

Anna McM said...

Thanks for that Muerk. Is this reasoning found in Humanae Vitae?

Azlemed said...

mmm feminism and christianity are an interesting mix at times..... I am anglican and pretty liberal on my views about things, I was a 5% non preference student at a catholic high school, interestingly it was attending that school that strengthened my feminist views. I disliked what I perceived to be a bias towards men and that women were only good enough to bear children.

I am married and do have children and in no way see my feminist views as denigrating how i live.

What i find hard is that I dont always identify myself as christian because the evangelicalist side of it claims the label for themselves and give others a slanted view of what being christian is...

muerk said...

Anna, yes, mainly H.V, but also the Catechism and other writings such as JPII's Theology of the Body.

Lucyna Maria said...

Muerk, I love that summary that you've done on Catholic teaching on sex and marriage (and the whys of no contraception). In my journey back to Catholicism, the whys of no contraception was what tipped me over the edge, back to the Church. The vision of what we as women are called to really be was just too beautiful to be ignored.

Anna, here's a link to JPII's Theology of the Body talks made over 5 years. They are initially difficult to understand (spend quite a while on the first when I first started reading them), but now I have no trouble understanding them.

But if they are too much, this audio CD by Christopher West explains it more simply: Woman: God's Masterpiece: Understanding and Living the Feminine Genius

muerk said...

Lucyna Maria:

I think the thing I like the best about Catholic teaching in this area, is that a woman's body isn't something to be controlled. My fertility isn't a disease, to be treated with drugs that have side effects.

My fertility is a celebrated thing, not something to be got rid of. I feel loved and respected. My husband has to work with my body.

And my husband can't divorce me, he's made a life long commitment, in sickness and in health etc. We're joined to one another. :)

Anna McM said...

I find that vision of marriage kind of appealing but pretty impractical. There is certainly something special about the level of trust you and your other half share when you may be making a baby. It can be a commitment to take on whatever life throws at you together, unselfishly.

But life's not like that a lot of the time. The thing about taking someone for better or worse is that you might get a big steaming pile of worse. People's personalities can change for a number of reasons, including the maturing process and health. The husband who loved you and respected your right to say no might start coming home pissed and putting pressure on you for sex.

Also, I don't think it follows that sex using contraception is necessarily hedonistic, or indicates partners' lack of respect for one another.

Muerk and L-M, thanks for your contribution to debate at THM. I can't see us agreeing on reproductive stuff in the near future, but I always enjoy reading your two cents' worth and appreciate the goodwill with which you offer it!