Catholic nuns are not the prissy traditionalists of caricature. No, nuns rock!
They were the first feminists, earning Ph.D.’s or working as surgeons long before it was fashionable for women to hold jobs. As managers of hospitals, schools and complex bureaucracies, they were the first female C.E.O.’s.
They are also among the bravest, toughest and most admirable people in the world. In my travels, I’ve seen heroic nuns defy warlords, pimps and bandits. Even as bishops have disgraced the church by covering up the rape of children, nuns have redeemed it with their humble work on behalf of the neediest.
So, Pope Benedict, all I can say is: You are crazy to mess with nuns.
The Vatican issued a stinging reprimand of American nuns this month and ordered a bishop to oversee a makeover of the organization that represents 80 percent of them. In effect, the Vatican accused the nuns of worrying too much about the poor and not enough about abortion and gay marriage.
What Bible did that come from? Jesus in the Gospels repeatedly talks about poverty and social justice, yet never explicitly mentions either abortion or homosexuality. If you look at who has more closely emulated Jesus’s life, Pope Benedict or your average nun, it’s the nun hands down.
Since the papal crackdown on nuns, they have received an outpouring of support. “Nuns were approached by Catholics at Sunday liturgies across the country with a simple question: ‘What can we do to help?’ ” The National Catholic Reporter recounted. It cited one parish where a declaration of support for nuns from the pulpit drew loud applause, and another that was filled with shouts like, “You go, girl!”
At least four petition drives are under way to support the nuns. One on Change.org has gathered 15,000 signatures. The headline for this column comes from an essay by Mary E. Hunt, a Catholic theologian who is developing a proposal for Catholics to redirect some contributions from local parishes to nuns.
“How dare they go after 57,000 dedicated women whose median age is well over 70 and who work tirelessly for a more just world?” Hunt wrote. “How dare the very men who preside over a church in utter disgrace due to sexual misconduct and cover-ups by bishops try to distract from their own problems by creating new ones for women religious?”
Sister Joan Chittister, a prominent Benedictine nun, said she had worried at first that nuns spend so much time with the poor that they would have no allies. She added that the flood of support had left her breathless.
“It’s stunningly wonderful,” she said. “You see generations of laypeople who know where the sisters are — in the streets, in the soup kitchens, anywhere where there’s pain. They’re with the dying, with the sick, and people know it.”
Sister Joan spoke to me from a ghetto in Erie, Pa., where her order of 120 nuns runs a soup kitchen, a huge food pantry, an afterschool program, and one of the largest education programs for the unemployed in the state.
I have a soft spot for nuns because I’ve seen firsthand that they sacrifice ego, safety and comfort to serve some of the neediest people on earth. Remember the “Kony 2012” video that was an Internet hit earlier this year, about an African warlord named Joseph Kony? One of the few heroes in the long Kony debacle was a Comboni nun, Sister Rachele Fassera.
In 1996, Kony’s army attacked a Ugandan girls’ school and kidnapped 139 students. Sister Rachele hiked through the jungle in pursuit of the kidnappers — some of the most menacing men imaginable, notorious for raping and torturing their victims to death. Eventually, she caught up with the 200 gunmen and demanded that they release the girls. Somehow, she browbeat the warlord in charge into releasing the great majority of the girls.
I’m betting on the nuns to win this one as well. After all, the sisters may be saintly, but they’re also crafty. Elias Chacour, a prominent Palestinian archbishop in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, recounts in a memoir that he once asked a convent if it could supply two nuns for a community literacy project. The mother superior said she would have to check with her bishop.
“The bishop was very clear in his refusal to allow two nuns,” the mother superior told him later. “I cannot disobey him in that.” She added: “I will send you three nuns!”
Nuns have triumphed over an errant hierarchy before. In the 19th century, the Catholic Church excommunicated an Australian nun named Mary MacKillop after her order exposed a pedophile priest. Sister Mary was eventually invited back to the church and became renowned for her work with the poor. In 2010, Pope Benedict canonized her as Australia’s first saint.
“Let us be guided” by Sister Mary’s teachings, the pope declared then.
Amen to that.
By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, April 28, 2012
Until now, reclaiming the word “slut” never appealed to me. I fully supported the message of SlutWalk — that women don’t ask to be raped by dressing a certain way — but I had no interest in applying the slur to myself. But this Limbaugh thing has me singing a different tune.
I’m not exactly scrawling “slut” on my forehead, but suddenly, reclaiming the word seems potentially exciting. I’m not the only one recognizing a shift in the conversation about reclamation. Megan Gibson of Time wrote, “While the motivation [for SlutWalk] was inarguably sound … the protest caused controversy, in part because many were wary to associate themselves with the word slut.” She continues, “Remarkably, thanks to Limbaugh’s ignorant vitriol, we’re seeing a marked change in that wariness.”
That said, in identifying with Sandra Fluke, the target of Limbaugh’s rant, some women have instead chosen to distance themselves from the term, which perfectly illustrates how complicated reclamation can be.
This week, the hashtag “iamnotaslut” went viral. Jessica Scott, an Army officer who started the hashtag, tweeted, “I am a 35 year old mother of 2, an Army officer who has deployed. I use #birthcontrol to be a good soldier & responsible parent #iamnotaslut.”
Feminist activist Jaclyn Friedman points out that the message here is, “Just because I use birth control doesn’t mean I’m a bad girl” — which might imply that some women are bad. “The problem with the ‘iamnotaslut’ hashtag is that it creates a line,” she explains. “[It says,] ‘I’m a valid spokesperson on this but women who have lots of sex are not.’”
Fluke is such a sympathetic character in part because her testimony — contrary to Limbaugh’s bizarre interpretation — wasn’t about sex; it focused on women who need birth control for reasons other than pregnancy prevention (specifically, polycystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis).
“It’s a way to categorize and differentiate yourself, that you are deserving of respect,” says Leora Tanenbaum, author of “Slut! Growing Up Female With a Bad Reputation.” It’s not all that different from what she observed among teenage girls while researching her book: The slur was most often used by girls, not boys. It’s a way for girls and women to displace anxiety about their own sexuality. “It’s a classic scapegoating technique,” she says.
The Limbaugh affair is a perfect example of how reclaiming, or rejecting, the term is immensely personal and dependent on context — and it goes much deeper than either SlutWalk or SlutRush. As many have pointed out, the word “slut” comes with different baggage for many women of color. A letter written to the organizers of SlutWalk and signed by hundreds, read, “As Black women, we do not have the privilege or the space to call ourselves ‘slut’ without validating the already historically entrenched ideology and recurring messages about what and who the Black woman is. We don’t have the privilege to play on destructive representations burned in our collective minds, on our bodies and souls for generations.”
How individual acts of reclamation are understood by others is also dependent on context. “If you’re with a girlfriend and you’re like, ‘Yo slut,’ or whatever, everybody laughs and you all understand that you’re being ironic,” says Tanenbaum. “You can be ironic when you’re with people that get the irony.”
One of the major arguments against reclamation at this point in time is that not enough people get the irony. “It may sound funny for me to say, because I did write a book that’s called ‘Slut!,’ but I do have a problem with taking back the term,” says Tanenbaum. “In order to successfully reclaim the term ‘slut’ we need to be in a place where more people have their awareness raised and are cognizant of the sexual double standard and what that means for women’s sexuality and freedom.” It’s still “too much of an in-joke,” she says.
It also means different things to different reclaimers, depending on the context they use it in. Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna once explained her early-’90s performances with “slut” scrawled on her stomach, like so, “I thought a lot of guys might be thinking this anyway when they looked at my picture, so this would be like holding up a mirror to what they were thinking.” It was a way to preempt critics. Friedman gave a similar explanation for why she chose “My Sluthood, Myself” as the title for a personal essay she wrote about her experience with Craigslist’s Casual Encounters.
“Slut” can also “denote an uninhibited, adventurous and celebratory approach to sex for both men and women in all their magnificent diversity,” says Dossie Eaton, author of the classic “The Ethical Slut,” which was published in 1997. She says, “In the wondrously explorative ’70s, I learned that gay men use the word ‘slut’ as a term of admiration and approval, as in ‘What did you do at that party? Oh, you slut!’” Similarly, the organizers of SlutWalk Seattle wrote in a blog post that “slut” serves as a “sex-positive” term for individuals “who have and enjoy frequent consensual sex, especially with multiple partners.”
In reaction to Limbaugh’s remarks, saying, “Yes, I’m a slut!” feels to me like saying, “Yes, I’m a woman!” My comfort in this case might speak to a lack of daring: It’s certainly less bold to align yourself with “sluts” who use birth control and testify before Congress in conservative professional attire than with “sluts” who raucously march through the streets wearing fishnets and bustiers. Maybe on an emotional level I buy into the notion of good girls and bad girls.
The truth is that, as a slur, “slut” is used to control the sexuality of all women. It can be leveled at any woman, regardless of sexual experience or dress. There is no strict definition of what a slut is — there is no set partner count, no percentage of exposed skin. Part of the difficulty of reclaiming “slut” is that it’s such a divisive term, but that’s also part of the argument for reclaiming it.
By: Tracy Clark-Flory, Staff Writer, Salon, March 10, 2012
One of the most enduring myths about feminism is that 50 years ago women who stayed home full time with their children enjoyed higher social status and more satisfying lives than they do today. All this changed, the story goes, when Betty Friedan published her 1963 best seller, “The Feminine Mystique,” which denigrated stay-at-home mothers. Ever since, their standing in society has steadily diminished.
That myth — repeated in Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly’s new book, “The Flipside of Feminism” — reflects a misreading of American history. There was indeed a time when full-time mothers were held in great esteem. But it was not the 1950s or early 1960s. It was 150 years ago. In the 19th century, women had even fewer rights than in the 1950s, but society at least put them on a pedestal, and popular culture was filled with paeans to their self-sacrifice and virtue.
When you compare the diaries and letters of 19th-century women with those of women in the 1950s and early 1960s, you can see the greater confidence of the earlier mothers about their value to society. Many felt they occupied a “nobler sphere” than men’s “bank-note” world.
The wife of the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sophia, told her mother that she did not share her concerns about improving the rights of women, because wives already exerted “a power which no king or conqueror can cope with.” Americans of the era believed in “the empire of the mother,” and grown sons were not embarrassed about rhapsodizing over their “darling mama,” carrying her picture with them to work or war.
In the early 20th century, under the influence of Freudianism, Americans began to view public avowals of “Mother Love” as unmanly and redefine what used to be called “uplifting encouragement” as nagging. By the 1940s, educators, psychiatrists and popular opinion-makers were assailing the idealization of mothers; in their view, women should stop seeing themselves as guardians of societal and familial morality and content themselves with being, in the self-deprecating words of so many 1960s homemakers, “just a housewife.”
Stay-at-home mothers were often portrayed as an even bigger menace to society than career women. In 1942, in his best-selling “Generation of Vipers,” Philip Wylie coined the term “momism” to describe what he claimed was an epidemic of mothers who kept their sons tied to their apron strings, boasted incessantly of their worth and demanded that politicians heed their moralizing.
Momism became seen as a threat to the moral fiber of America on a par with communism. In 1945, the psychiatrist Edward Strecher argued that the 2.5 million men rejected or discharged from the Army as unfit during World War II were the product of overly protective mothers.
In the same year, an information education officer in the Army Air Forces conjectured that the insidious dependency of the American man on “ ‘Mom’ and her pies” had “killed as many men as a thousand German machine guns.” According to the 1947 best seller “Modern Woman: The Lost Sex,” two-thirds of Americans were neurotic, most of them made so by their mothers.
Typical of the invective against homemakers in the 1950s and 1960s was a 1957 best seller, “The Crack in the Picture Window,” which described suburban America as a “matriarchal society,” with the average husband “a woman-bossed, inadequate, money-terrified neuter” and the average wife a “nagging slob.” Anti-mom rhetoric was so pervasive that even Friedan recycled some of this ideology in “The Feminine Mystique” — including the repellent and now-discredited notion that overly devoted mothers turned their sons into homosexuals.
For their part, stay-at-home mothers complained of constant exhaustion. According to the most reliable study of all data available in the 1960s, full-time homemakers spent 55 hours a week on domestic chores, much more than they do today. Women with young children averaged even longer workweeks than that, and almost every woman I’ve interviewed who raised children in that era recalled that she rarely got any help from her husband, even on weekends.
In the 1946 edition of his perennial best seller, “Baby and Child Care,” Dr. Benjamin Spock suggested that Dad might “occasionally” change a diaper, give the baby a bottle or even “make the formula on Sunday.” But a leading sociologist of the day warned that a helpful father might be suspected of “having a little too much fat on the inner thigh.”
Not surprisingly, these social norms led to widespread feelings of inadequacy and depression among stay-at-home mothers. “The female doesn’t really expect a lot from life,” a mother told pollsters from Gallup in a survey in 1962. “She’s here as someone’s keeper — her husband’s or her children’s.”
Study after study found that homemakers had lower self-esteem than women who took paid employment, even when it came to assessing their skills as parents. They experienced higher levels of stress and greater vulnerability to depression than women with paying jobs. And they had few legal rights: wives had little protection against abusive husbands, and only eight states in 1963 gave a homemaker any claim on her husband’s earnings.
Contrary to myth, “The Feminine Mystique” and feminism did not represent the beginning of the decline of the stay-at-home mother, but a turning point that led to much stronger legal rights and “working conditions” for her.
Domestic violence rates have fallen sharply for all wives, employed or not. As late as 1980, approximately 30 percent of wives said their husbands did no housework at all. By 2000, only 16 percent of wives made that statement and almost one-third said their husbands did half of all housework, child care or both.
Most researchers agree that these changes were spurred by the entry of wives and mothers into the work force. But full-time homemakers have especially benefited from them.
From 1975 to 1998 men married to full-time homemakers increased their contributions to housework as much, proportionally, as men whose wives were employed. And from 1965 to 1995, homemakers decreased their own housework hours more than did wives in dual-earner families. As a result, most stay-at-home mothers now have shorter total workweeks than their husbands.
There also seems to have been a significant shift in the relationship between depression and homemaking. Stay-at-home mothers still recount more feelings of loneliness than working mothers. But in a new Council on Contemporary Families briefing paper, the sociologists Margaret Usdansky and Rachel A. Gordon report that among mothers of young children, those who were not working and preferred not to have a job had a relatively low risk of depression — about as low as mothers who chose to work and were able to attain high-quality jobs.
Mothers who want to work outside the home but instead are full-time homemakers, however, have a higher risk of depression. This is a significant group: in 2000, 40 percent of full-time homemakers said they would prefer to be working at a paid job. So telling women who want to work that they or their children will be better off if they stay home is a mistake. Maternal depression is well known as being harmful to children’s development.
These findings suggest that it is time to stop arguing over who has things worse or who does things better, stay-at-home mothers or employed mothers. Instead, we should pay attention to women’s preferences and options.
Feminism has also fostered increased respect for men’s ability and desire to be involved parents. So we should also pay attention to expanding men’s ability to choose greater involvement in family life, just as we have expanded women’s ability to choose greater involvement in meaningful work.
While stay-at-home mothers may not have the aura of saintliness with which they were endowed in the 19th century, it’s indisputable that their status and lives have improved since their supposed heyday in the 1950s. On this Mother’s Day, it’s too bad that nostalgia for a golden age of motherhood that never existed still clouds our thinking about what’s best for mothers, fathers and their children.
By: Stephanie Coontz, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, May 7, 2011