It’s not just contraception and abortion; it’s even the prom

By Amanda Marcotte
Thursday, April 26, 2012 12:40 EDT
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When the Catholic Church and organizations are trying to exert influence over our laws, making abortion and contraception harder to access, they tend to portray their religious teachings against contraception as if they have nothing to do with misogyny. Instead, it’s talked about as if it were one of those harmless religious laws governing behavior that’s arbitrary, like eating kosher or praying before meals. In fact, the kosher analogy came up a lot during the debate over health care coverage of contraception, even though under that analogy, the benefit should be offered. After all, Jewish business owners aren’t allowed to forbid their employees from using their compensation for non-kosher food. 

Digression aside, the reason that this framing of contraception rules in Catholicism misses the point is that the rules are rooted in a very misogynist ideology, one that holds that women exist for no other reason as to be appendages for men. Contraception threatens that ideology, because it suggests women showing overly high levels of independence, that they may feel they have other things to do in life but producing a man’s babies. That men themselves often want contraception should disturb this viewpoint, but they kind of get around that problem by embracing the rhythm method*, which gives men a lot of control over reproduction. They’re counting, I think correctly, on the fact that men will cajole women for sex—and in the sort of patriarchal relationships where contraception is shunned—women don’t have a lot of right to say no. In fact, considering the taboo of women bothering men with their lady stuff, a taboo strongly reinforced by religion, a lot of women will go along with sex just to avoid upsetting their husbands with talk of periods and counting and ovulation and god forbid, mucus thickness. 

You can see this ideology about women in the choices that the Catholic hierarchy makes about their female followers, even when it’s not about reproduction or sex at all. A couple of examples:

Exhibit #1: Via Feministe, there’s been a crackdown on nuns for showing overly high levels of intellectual independence. 

A prominent U.S. Catholic nuns group said Thursday that it was “stunned” that the Vatican reprimanded it for spending too much time on poverty and social-justice concerns and not enough on condemning abortion and gay marriage.

In a stinging report on Wednesday, the Vatican said the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had been “silent on the right to life” and had failed to make the “Biblical view of family life and human sexuality” a central plank in its agenda.

Shorter Vatican: The role of ladies is to scold other ladies to know their place. But wait, it gets worse!

It also reprimanded American nuns for expressing positions on political issues that differed, at times, from views held by U.S. bishops. Public disagreement with the bishops — “who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals” — is unacceptable, the report said.

Needless to say, women can’t be bishops, precisely because the Church teaches women simply cannot have that kind of moral authority. After all, their job is to obey, and to be appendages. Attempts to rise above their station—even to do something as mild as to work against poverty—will get slapped down. The idea that a handful of women are getting uppity is such a concern that the Vatican itself had to be the ones to make a fuss over this. I hope those nuns quit 

Exhibit #2: Via Skepchick, a story of how a high school girl learned that in the eyes of her church, she’s nothing without a male presence to define her. 

The 17-year-old girl was all set to go to the prom, she was excited, but things took a turn for the worse this week when her date backed out. Then, the girl was shocked to learn that she is not allowed to go the prom by herself due to a rule by the Archdiocese…..

But when Amanda’s date cancelled on her earlier this week, she slammed right into a wall. She says she was told by school officials at Archbishop John Carroll High School she could not go to the junior prom next Friday without a date……

Amanda already paid the $95 for the prom tickets, add that to the cost of the dress, the shoes, flowers and she says it’s close to $1,000.

After the story came out, the girl did in fact get her invite to the prom restored. But not because the archdiocese changed their minds! Nope, it’s because she finally got a date. And a very valuable lesson was taught: That without a man to validate you, you’re nothing. Especially in the eyes of your god. 

To be clear, not all Catholic schools are this adamant about compulsory hetereosexuality. But with the Vatican crackdown, I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw more of this sort of thing. 

*I don’t like the “natural family planning” language, which indulges the naturalistic fallacy and is a non-subtle attempt to imply that it’s superior to other methods that aren’t described in loaded language. We don’t call the pill the “maximum convenience family planning” or condoms the “dual action family planning”. We stick to value-neutral terms.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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