(Content notice: Misogyny.)
I hadn’t been planning to say much here about the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS ruling. Obviously you know I’m pissed about it; obviously you know I’m dismayed that five Catholic dudes who don’t seem to understand contraception have ruled about women’s access to contraception. Obviously I think Ruth Bader Ginsburg is da bomb of all bombs and loved her dissent and think it’s spot-on. But if I talk about something, I want to add something new to the discussion. I don’t want to waste anybody’s time.
Then I saw this thing about what Hillary Clinton’s take on the ruling was, and it changed my mind. It made me want to say something here that maybe hasn’t been talked about a whole lot. Here’s the quote:
Part of the reason I was so adamant about including women and girls in our foreign policy, not as a luxury but as a central issue is because they’re often the canaries in the mine. You watch women and girls being deprived of their rights, some of them never have them, some of them lose them. Among those rights is control over their bodies, control over their own health care, control over the size of their families. It is a disturbing trend that you see in a lot of societies that are very unstable, anti-democratic, and frankly prone to extremism. Where women and women’s bodies are used as the defining and unifying issue to bring together people – men – to get them to behave in ways that are disadvantageous to women but which prop up them because of their religion, their sect, their tribe, whatever.
This quote made me realize just how much the control of women’s bodies is used by the Religious Right as a unifying force to rally behind.
They may not agree on a whole lot, the right-wing of Christianity, its most toxic people, but they do agree on one thing if nothing else: this control of other people’s bodies is what really matters.
Only this gender expression is allowed. Only this sexual expression is allowed. Only this kind of sex is allowed. Only this kind of dress is allowed. Only this kind of contraception is allowed. Only this kind of private life is allowed.
They may argue about some of the specifics, like exactly which contraception should be allowed for women to have in order to control their fertility, or exactly what exceptions they’re willing to graciously grant to pregnant women who do not wish to be pregnant, but they can agree on a few basic things above all else:
* That they have the right, as total outsiders who are largely ignorant of the biological processes and individual situations involved, to meddle in another human being’s most private and intimate decisions, and–
* that they have the obligation to do so as a demonstration of their great “care” or even “love” for that person and–
* that they are far more qualified than the person in question to decide these things.
They genuinely believe that women are too stupid to drive our own bodies or make our own medical decisions or conduct our own sex lives. And whether they’re right-wing Mormons, right-wing Catholics, right-wing Muslims, right-wing Pentecostals, or right-wing atheists, and oh my yes those exist, they can all gather in the same big tent labeled “THE DESIRE TO CONTROL WOMEN.” And they can totally agree on this one thing above all else: controlling women.
And though this control hurts my gender enormously, though every grab for control is another setback for women, these moves are hugely advantageous for toxic Christians because it gives them something in common with a lot of disparate groups who might otherwise deeply resent their shameless, naked grabs for power.
I was shocked the first time I heard a Christian leader “joke” that he might not agree with Muslims on doctrine but they sure did know how to control their women, but I’m not shocked anymore when I hear that grudging admiration, that wonderment in the voice of the person “joking” like that. If you’re wondering why I used scare quotes, it’s because it’s not really a joke when people talk like this. Humor is actually funny and it punches up, rather than down. Here’s a great explanation of “punching down:”
Punching down is a concept in which you’re assumed to have a measurable level of power and you’re looking for a fight. Now, you can either go after the big guy who might hurt you, or go after the little guy who has absolutely no shot. Either way, you’ve picked a fight, but one fight is remarkably more noble and worthwhile than the other. Going after the big guy, punching up, is an act of nobility. Going after the little guy, punching down, is an act of bullying.
So when people “joke” about how awesomely hilare it is to see a culture viciously suppressing the rights of women, they are punching down, and it is not funny but rather an expression of equally vicious misogyny.
This awe is the same element of misogyny I hear in the voices of men who complain about “American women” and hold in much greater esteem the women of brutally suppressive countries. They are very critical of women with voices, with sure knowledge of their rights, with impatience for sexism, with disdain for the control tactics used by men like themselves. Out come the “jokes” about American women: How can we get our women that ground-under, that downtrodden, that submissive, that voiceless, I hear in these “jokes.” At the base of all of this chatter is a scheming whisper: How can we strip our women of all their rights and liberties like that? How did these cultures manage to do that and how do we repeat their success? Damn, wouldn’t that be great if we could do that?
Misogyny, you see, is a vaster tribe than any religion.
That’s why I think a lot of folks view feminism as an “us vs. them” thing when it isn’t really at all. It isn’t men vs. women. It’s humanity vs. ignorance. But some people can’t even conceive of a world where neither men nor women are superior to the other. If men are not superior, then it’ll be women, as far as they think. That women don’t actually want to be superior–or to perpetuate the same abuses against men that have been committed against women–doesn’t ping the radar at all because that kind of mentality is totally foreign and alien to trapped minds.
What feminism really wants is to opt out of the entire game that says there has to be one superior gender. When offered a blue or a green pill (sorry, you don’t get red ones anymore, blame the idiots at that Reddit for why you can’t have nice things), we want to do what one Redditor suggested and punch Morpheus in the face and say we don’t want either pill at all. We want to opt out of the whole game and start something new. We question the entire paradigm that says someone has to be in control of anybody else.
But that paradigm still controls our culture for a little while yet, though its dominance is slipping by fits and starts.
When Mitt Romney was running for President, his religion–Mormonism–was a real issue for a lot of non-Mormon religious leaders in the United States. Some of those leaders had written extensively about how Mormonism was a cult and Satanic and whatever else. But now here’s a Mormon running for President on the Jesus Party ticket. Fundagelicals had a choice of either the scary black Muslim Kenyan space alien, or else a Mormon. That Mr. Obama had repeatedly stressed that he’s Christian didn’t matter. That his form of Christianity probably looks a lot more like theirs than Mr. Romney’s did was also immaterial. They went with the guy with the Satanic cult. Even Pat Robertson, who’d come out against Mormonism in general before the elections, called Mitt Romney an outstanding Christian when elections loomed closer (he also said that his god had informed him that Mittens would win, so I’m not sure his judgement is really that great).
Besides the race issue–which was a big one, don’t get me wrong, with many people voting against Barack Obama purely because he was black–Mr. Romney and his party are way into controlling women and Others. For a guy who wants small government and personal responsibility, he sure did stress (after flip-flopping on the issue, of course) his desire to expand governmental control of women and to make life even harder for us. He wanted government small enough to fit in my panties, as the saying goes. Mr. Obama said that I owned my body, so he got my vote. It’s really that simple, and yes, I resent the fact that my vote was manipulated by my desire to retain my rights. I’d really rather vote based on economic plans and foreign policy and all that, carefully weighing the pros and cons of each candidate’s suggested plans, but I view human rights as fundamental to the entire American way of life. It doesn’t matter to me what a candidate’s foreign policy is if he or she thinks that what America really needs is a nice shiny theocracy that controls everybody’s intimate decisions and private lives. That desire to control others and meddle in individual citizens’ lives and negate their consent will inevitably infect everything else that candidate thinks and does post-election day.
I resent that it’s come down to that deciding factor. But as it becomes glaringly apparent that Republicans talk a very big game about economics and jobs but concentrate solely on negating and erasing people’s rights and advancing right-wing Christian Dominionism in service to their corporate masters, that’s how it’s going to have to be till they figure out why they keep losing national-level elections and stop trying to use the control of my body as a pandering tactic to get votes from angry, scared misogynists.
There needs to be more attention paid to this controlling aspect of Christianity–and religion in general no doubt. As a blogger named PostMormonGirl has written about her post-Mormon life, it’s all about control. The women who don’t keep in line get excommunicated, while others get hounded about returning. The only common element to all of our experience is that nothing we do is good enough unless we are totally compliant with these misogynists’ wishes–and often not even then.
It’s all about control. My body, my essential rights, my liberties, my dignity are all just collateral damage–just bargaining chips for this huge Christian machine as it grabs for the power and dominance it’s lost, as a way to gather hugely-disparate elements under one big tent so that grab is easier to make.
As PostMormonGirl has written: “I’ll find a way to get past my failed resignation attempts and see the manipulations of the Mormon Church for what it really is – the futile attempts of a church that is desperate to avoid facing its own impotence and irrelevance.”
She could have been writing about the entire Republican Party at this point, about the entire Christian church as a body politic, about misogynists in general too. The system is breaking down, that much is apparent. I don’t think they have the sheer numbers they need at this point to sustain themselves. Twenty percent of Americans–and 1/3 of people under 30–are now Nones, which means they don’t subscribe or affiliate with any particular religious ideology. Along with that disinterest in organized religion comes an equal disinterest in conservative politics. And these Nones are only increasing in number at this point. Already they outnumber fundagelicals and a number of other voting blocs.
That means that if Dominionist Christians want to install their theocracy after all, they’re going to have to find a way to appeal to people way outside their tribe.
It’s as simple and as evil as this: if these right-wing toxic Christians want control, they will have to pander to misogynists, racists, and other such elements. They’ll have to convince these folks that their shared base, their ideology, and their worldview transcend religious labels. This isn’t a new strategy; back in the Nixon days, right-wing Catholics figured out that they needed to get in bed with right-wing Protestants if they wanted their favorite candidates to win elections, and Republicans figured out very quickly thereafter that race-baiting and misogyny were winning tactics to get everybody into the right mindset and voting together. That tent is still rocking with the party going on inside it. What we are seeing now is nothing more than a decades-old plan finally seeing fruition.
And everybody in that tent can agree on this one thing: how important it is to control women’s lives and keep the old system of patriarchy going.
Ms. Clinton is quite correct: as women’s rights go, so goes the culture. She’s certainly not the first to say it that way, but she is one of the most visible people to make that connection. If women’s rights get rolled back to appease power-mad Christians, it’s going to be that much harder to move forward in any other way. They see the rollback of women’s rights as the necessary first step in reproducing their gauzy, error-filled notion of a Godly Christian Culture. And they’ll happily take votes from anybody at all to suppress women’s rights, though many of these voters may not realize that once they’ve accomplished that goal, they’ll be moving on very quickly with the rest of their agenda.
Please make sure your voting papers are in order, if you’re American. November’s knocking on the door.
One way people try to dominate the future is to rewrite the past. Christians are especially guilty of committing this fraud, and at this point I have to think their constant overuse of this tactic is studied and deliberate. Even many of the “nice” Christians really think that there was this magical time in the near past when men were men, women were women, and fundagelical dominance was complete–and their leaders’ revisionary tactics are a big part of why they mistakenly believe in this mythic past. We’re going to talk next time about why revisionism is so dangerous as we talk about yet another major Christian entertainer who turned out to be nothing but a bag of lies.
* Birth Control and the Religious Right’s War on Women – interesting blog piece I thought you’d like.
* Why the Red Pill Will Kill You Inside – where I found the phrase “punch Morpheus in the face” and an excellent analysis of the entire anti-feminist movement. If you’ve never clicked on any related post I’ve ever linked here, please click on this one and read it. It’s that important (and not nearly as long as my blog posts).