Female machismo

You know how I keep saying the pope may talk a nice line about poverty and the global south and all, but what about women? Katha Pollitt says it too.

If the world consisted only of straight men, Pope Francis would be the world’s greatest voice for everything progressives believe in. He’s against inequality, racism, poverty, bigotry and, as his recent encyclical Laudato Si’ made eloquently clear, the rampant capitalism and “self-centred culture of instant gratification”—including excessive meat eating—that fuel climate change and may well destroy the planet.

Which makes a change, yes, but hello, he’s still the pope. The Catholic church is still the Catholic church, not MSF or Human Rights Watch.

I know I risk being the feminist killjoy at the vegan love feast, but the world, unlike Vatican City, is half women. It will never be healed of its economic, social, and ecological ills as long as women cannot control their fertility or the timing of their children; are married off in childhood or early adolescence; are barred from education and decent jobs; have very little socioeconomic or political power or human rights; and are basically under the control—often the violent control­­—of men.

This is one reason it’s a really bad idea to stop talking about women when we talk about abortion and contraception and reproductive rights. Women get forgotten and shoved aside and talked over and ignored enough as it is, we don’t need progressives doing that even more.

True, Pope Francis did say that Catholics needn’t breed “like rabbits,” but he waved away the need for “artificial” birth control. If only those rabbits would use natural family planning! Interestingly, he made that comment as he was leaving the Philippines, a largely Catholic country where the powerful church hierarchy has fought tooth and nail against realistic sex education and government funding of contraception. Not coincidentally, the Philippines has the highest fertility rate among the 10 countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

But the pope and his employees don’t need to worry about that, because they’re not women. It’s not their problem. It’s the problem of those other, lesser people, who don’t count the way men count.

It’s remarkable that the pope didn’t address a single sentence of his encyclical to these issues, especially since it otherwise deals so intelligently with the interconnection of so many disparate phenomena. Francis has often said that men and women have different gifts and “complementary” roles. He has spoken sweetly of motherhood and femininity and derided the movement for women’s equality as “female machismo.” Yet in Laudato Si’, the word “women” appears only in the phrase “men and women”—that is, people. Don’t women have anything special to contribute to solving climate change beyond serving their too-numerous children less fast food?

Not in the pope’s world. He lives in a world where women officially do not count and are barred from all the jobs that count. He’s lived in that world for many years. He’s been conditioned by that world for many years. The pope’s god has contempt for women.

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