Oh Yes, Women Are Human Too

Thank goodness for Samantha Bee and Susan Thistlethwaite.

I had the privilege of taking a class with Susan Thistlethwaite when I was a graduate student in Chicago and when she was a professor at the Chicago Theological Seminary.  At The Washington Post faith blog this week, she provides an important follow-up to my recent theological post on Being Human.  A point that apparently needs to be made in light of the 2012 Republican Party Platform, with which its nominee for president may or may not actually agree.

Women are human beings.

Are you having a “duh” moment on that one?

Well, not so fast.  I noted last week in my response to Akin-gate that he never mentioned women:

Note that he mentions “the rapist,” “the child,” and “the female body.”  Not “the woman” …  “the female body.”  That pesky thing that gets in the way of protecting zygotes.  It’s like objectification to an extreme.  It isn’t a woman.  It doesn’t even sound like a human being.  The zygote has been elevated to the status of “child” but a woman has been reduced to “the female body.”

Thistlethwaite looks at it theologically, beginning with a foundational biblical claim for many Christians about what it means to be human:

“God created human beings in God’s image…male and female God created them.” (Genesis: 1:27) According to the Bible, women are created fully equal in the divine image and thus fully, and equally, human.

You’d never know that from reading the Republican platform, especially in regard to the anti-abortion language that asserts the “sanctity and dignity of human life.” That section affirms that the “unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed” and calls for a “human life amendment to the Constitution.”

She asks the most important question here:

Aren’t women’s lives included in the category of “the sanctity and dignity of human life?”

If the answer is yes, the GOP platform does nothing to make that clear.  Thistlethwaite goes on to ask:

Why doesn’t the GOP consider women as equal, or even worth mentioning, when it comes to preserving their lives? Aren’t women’s lives “human lives”? The omission of women’s humanity and its protection from the GOP platform is a serious theological error.

Some in the party may indeed consider women human, but they are clearly not the people crafting policy.

Raising, of course, the important point about who the decision-makers are in the party, the Congress, the country.  She connects this back to the theological point of her article, calling the Christian-dominated party to task:

As human beings created in the image of God, women are ethical agents. Women can make informed choices about whether to carry a pregnancy to term or not. A good moral precedent for “Ethics and Experience: Moral Theory from Just War to Abortion.” Women should be considered “competent moral authorities” per the Just War paradigm and thus capable of making difficult ethical choices. Trust women to know what’s best for them and their families. That’s why it’s called “choice.”

Because choice advocates are focused on preserving the individual liberty to make that decision for oneself, protecting families from government interference. 

Samantha Bee’s piece from the Republican National Convention on The Daily Show highlights the hypocrisy and misogyny inherent in the GOP platform (do watch the whole piece here):

“The purpose of government is to protect your individual liberties,” one convention attendee proudly proclaims. 

Another says, “Everybody gets to choose the path that they choose, because it’s their choice.” 

“EXCEPT in the case of abortion,” Bee responds.  The convention-goer nods, uncomfortably, “Well, its, ummm….”

Bee says to another:  “So my right ends where my uterus begins.”

The delegate responds “I guess I’d have to agree with you on that.”

Seriously?  Seriously.

Thistlethwaite sums it up:

There really is a war on women, and the front lines are women’s bodies, minds and spirits. My right to use contraception is part of my religious freedom, and any attempt to restrict or eliminate my health care coverage for contraception, or that of other women, places an unwarranted limit on all women’s religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

Just ask any GOP convention-goer.  They’ll tell you.


For Damaged Girls
A Feminist Religion Professor’s Valentine’s Weekend
A Merry Feminist Christmas, part three
Faith Leaders Issue Statement Opposing 20-Week Abortion Ban Bill
About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Smoore

    So let me get this straight? You are trying to defend abortion using Scripture on the basis that women are made in God’s image? Have you ever READ the Bible? Take passages such as Psalm 139:13-16, “For you created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
    My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”

    Or how about Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet kto the nations.” God seems to consider unborn babies to be human beings too.

    Then we look back to Genesis 9:6, where God institutes capital punishment for murder. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in His own image.” But in Exodus 21:22-25, He says the SAME EXACT THING in regards to the life of an unborn baby. “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

    Clearly God sees babies in the womb as equally valuable as women and men who are already born. That means that the baby conceived in rape is just as valuable to God as the woman who was raped. Rape is a horrible, disgusting tragedy, but killing a child to cover up a rape turns the victim into a murderer. There is ZERO Biblical justification for killing a baby conceived in rape.

  • Frank

    Fortunately most women are smart enough to understand the rhetoric and hyperbole of the incorrect, overblown phraseology “war on women”. Does any woman really fall for this?

    • Kalico

      “Fall for”? How privileged you are to be able to see it that way.

      Females are brainwashed to take abuse and consider it normal from birth.

      The War on Women is real. If you pay attention, you will see the war that women have been fighting as invisible people for thousands of years.

  • Denise

    It does feel like there’s a “war on women” to me. My experience of discrimination, abuse (verbal, sexual, emotional) and dismissal does not feel like “rhetoric.” Rather, it feels like despair, paralysis and fear on the worst days. On better days, I am angry but when I read blog posts like this I begin to feel empowered and hopeful.

    I have read the Bible. I studied it in seminary, including the Greek text. I read it now and it is a guide for my life but it is not my idol. Nor is it my weapon for beating others into submission to my ideological perspective.

    I live in a society that does not value women’s worth and contributions as highly as men’s. I know this because I have experienced it firsthand through family, church and community. When I was a child, it was clear to me that I could not look on my future as wide-open, full of the same opportunities that were afforded to my brother. My male colleagues on campus never thought twice about their safety walking home alone from the library. I had to make sure I had a “buddy” to walk with because I was perceived as a potential victim by perpetrators. If I leave the mall at night by myself, I call on a security escort to my car. Men don’t have to think twice about it. These issues I mention are just symptoms of a larger disease that afflicts our culture, namely, that women can be and need to be controlled, whether by intimidation or legislation.

    It seems clear to me that some Christians want to keep women shut down, fearful, submissive, unable to make decisions for themselves. They won’t say that out loud, but they will quote scriptures to support their views that women should be controlled and confined. It is inconvenient to say the least for them to be convicted by the fundamental assertion of scripture that women were created equal to men. If they are equal in every way, they are necessarily equally free to self-determination, and that includes the right to determine their own reproductive choices.

    The abortion issue is complex because it involves fundamental questions about life, worth, and dignity — of all persons, not just a fertilized egg. I think we lend ourselves too easily to sound-bite arguments and delude ourselves into thinking that we can solve complex problems with simple answers.

    • Caryn Riswold

      I appreciate your comments and the time and thought you put into them, Denise.

  • magnificatlady

    Oh please, save it!
    Oh how empowering, I get to killed my own child in the womb!
    If that’s your idea of valuing women, then you should seek help, and lots of it!

    Having an abortion doesn’t make you UN-pregnant,
    It makes you the mother of a dead baby

    • Caryn Riswold

      This is a really crass and insulting reply to Denise’s comment which was thoughtful and substantive. You are free to disagree, but you don’t have to resort to personal attack and insult. I also doubt that you have to explain what abortion is to any woman who needs one.

  • Gayle

    Denise, you don’t say how old you are and I believe that is relevant to your argument. I’m 55 years old. I presently have 3 children in college. Security is a large concern at each campus. The escort services that those campuses are available to all. Men that chose to venture unescorted do so at their own peril. Men also are the victims of violent crime. The availability of the escort service to all represents the opinion of the institution (two of which are public institutions), and certainly doesn’t support any notion of a “war on “women.” To make your leap that a criminal might chose a female victim over a male victim is evidence of the notion of a “war on women” by those who disagree with those issues that are are identified as parts of the “assult” (abortion, forcing the Catholic church to pay for birth control against one of its most basic tenets, opposition to government-funded abortion and contraception) unfairly projects the actions of those criminals on people with whom you happen to disagree.

    I believe the government telling any church what it must and must not do with regard to any political issue is just wrong. How would you feel about the government telling a religious institution that it must pay for any other expense that supports something contrary to its beliefs? Is the refusal to pay for a man’s vasectomy a war on men? You might make exception for “social issues,” but where do you stop the exceptions? I believe there must be a strict interpretation of a church’s right to exist independent of government interference. Furthermore, I do not believe that a Catholic women’s choice to use birth control contrary to the belief of her church is justification for political action. If you want to keep questions of morality out of government policy decisions, then you must concede that a woman’s actions in violation of her church’s beliefs are between her and her church and her God – not her church and the federal government. Please stay out of their religious discussion. Frankly, I’m more troubled by what I see as a “war on religion” that is justified as being “inclusive” of those who disagree with Christian/Jewish beliefs. The Constitution tells us that our government is not supposed to support the establish religion and interfere with the free exercise thereof. The establishment-of-religion prohibition was adopted in response to England’s establishment of the Church of England. I’ve yet to hear anyone identify a religion that has been established by the federal government.

    I also take exception to the notion that a young woman’s opportunities were limited in my generation. I didn’t experience any discrimination in law school in the late 1970s. Around 2000-2005, I recruited new attorneys for my law firm (consisting of over 200 attorneys in 5 different states). Fifty percent of the law school students and graduates were women. I can cite to you several of those years when we hired more women than men (or only women) because they were the ones who met our recruiting criteria. We didn’t discriminate against women who didn’t meet the objective criteria. The real issue present was one of compensation, and honestly, I struggle with an answer. We were compensated on the basis of the dollars we generated through billing and client development. We had a generous leave policy and didn’t really complain about when a female attorney worked, so long as the client was served. I suppose, statistically, those women with children were paid less over their careers than were their contemporaries who were men. However, speaking to my own situation, I chose to bill more in the neighborhood of the minimum required hours. I chose to attend the school Halloween party and field trip to the pumpkin patch. I chose to ensure that I never, ever missed a parent-teacher conference (except for the one that happened while I was I was in the hospital with pneumonia, which by the way, the Firm did not consider when determining the number of Firm shares I should own). Most of the male attorneys that were my contemporaries and older didn’t have or didn’t chose to have the responsibilities that I assumed and were able to bill more hours. I have a difficult time saying that they should not be compensated more when they can document that they billed 200 more hours a year than I did. It was all about choice. (And we’re in favor of choice, right?) I choose to have children and I chose to be involved in their lives. What I found toward the end of my professional career was that men were making the same choices. Change was coming with time.

    Those who bemoan the “war on women” are not consistent in their standard of government involvement in their bedrooms. On one hand, they say they do not want the government in their womb, but on the other hand, they want their government and employers to pay for the consequences of something that happens or might happen there. Abortion is a complicated issue. I wrestle with it. I do believe in the sanctity of all life – that of men and women, boys and girls, both born and unborn. I know that if I was confronted with the unwanted pregnancy of one of my daughters, I would do everything in my power to facilitate the birth and good future of that child – and yes – I would be in a better financial position to do than would many women. That reflects what I feel in my soul. On the other hand, if my son came home and told me his girlfriend was pregnant, I do have a difficult time saying that my beliefs should be put in front of hers, her mother’s and my son’s. I’m not living in their shoes. And yet, I wouldn’t identify myself as “pro-choice” because do not want to be lumped in with those who believe that a women should be able to demand an abortion, uninformed, at any time for any reason. That group includes some women who are reckless and I do not want to have my prayerful consideration of the issue lumped in with those who simply have not thought about it. I think I would like to be labeled (if you insist on labeling me) as “Pro-prayerfully considerate of a balance of the needs of the woman and her family with the needs of the unborn.” I also have a huge issue when the “woman” is under the age of 18. I get it – there are parents who would not handle news of an unwanted pregnancy well, but there also are girls who are mistaken in the support that they would receive from their parents. When possible, that discussion should take place at home. (I say this as I just heard Caroline Kennedy say that she was in support of women making decisions concerning their families without interference of the government.) In fact, one might say that a law giving a minor the right to independently choose abortion is a Constitution infringement by the government on matters that should take place behind my closed doors.

    To me, the religion of these issues is simple. I accept God’s unconditional grace, and am charged to respond to his gift as I venture though my life journey. We all can cite provisions of the Bible and other religious writings that support what does and does not constitute a “war on women.” I hark back to what I consider the easiest of all of God’s commandment and Jesus’ teachings to interpret and understand: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself. Add: Do unto others as you would have them to unto you.

    I don’t believe I’m ducking the issues by relying on these teachings. Implementing them in a societal context is difficult. What they mean is that I should approach each individual I encounter – be it woman or man – and discuss and resolve the issues toward a resolution that addresses everyone’s concerns without calling that person a liberal or conservative or leftist or extremist or any other inflammatory label and without using the “sound bites” each political party generates to divide us (e.g., “war on women,” talking about rights stopping at a woman’s vagina – really?). Those discussions can take place in church, at home, in the office and even on the floor of Congress. I’ve yet to meet anyone who wants the mass murder of children, dirty air, dirty water, the pushing of granny over the cliff, or the anarchy of our society. Frankly, I’m insulted that any politician believes I’m so irresponsible as to make important decisions based on those soundbites. President Obama put GM and Chrysler into that type of bankruptcy that results in a restructuring (as opposed to a liquidation); that’s what Mitt Romney said he supported, too. They disagree on the necessity of the government’s involvement. And yet, the party-line attack on Romney is that he wanted to put those companies through bankruptcy – because “bankruptcy” is a scary word that connotes selling off assets and closing the doors. (I’m comfortable using this example because some would say there was a “moral” obligation to save jobs.) I’ve yet to meet anyone who disagrees with, “Thou shalt not kill,” one of God’s commandments, and yet still rejects the belief that “honor killings” are OK, a real religious belief held by a minority of US citizens. It’s an extreme example, I know, but it demonstrates that many of our laws are based on moral teachings and can be integrated into an accepted law that governs our society.

    I believe President Clinton was talking to all of us when he said no one can be right all of the time. I would add only the Trinity can do that.

  • Gayle

    I feel compelled to respond to one more of Denise’s statements:
    “It seems clear to me that some Christians want to keep women shut down, fearful, submissive, unable to make decisions for themselves.”

    I don’t feel the same way. For the most part, Christian religions have integrated women fully into their practices. Choices are available. I am a Lutheran. My church is a part of the ELCA, which has women participating and leading in all aspects of church life. They are not relegated to the church basement. There are synods of the Lutheran church not a part of the ELCA that don’t welcome women with such enthusiasm, but those women are welcome to choose to come and worship with me in my pew any time.

    I want to cut some slack to the Roman Catholic church to the extent it might be as progressive as you would like to see. While my branch of organized religion is governed by progressives living in Chicago and across the United States, American Roman Catholics receive their marching orders from Rome – from a culture that is not nearly as progressive as mine. It’s a difficult tightrope for the leadership in the American Catholic Church to walk. But people – women – choose to worship within the Catholic Church. It’s up to those women to effectuate change within their organized religion – not mine and certainly not the federal government’s.

    I don’t want to summarily dismiss your feelings – I have to allow you those. I would challenge you, though, to consider whether you are describing some Christians or Christian organized religion – or just men who happen to worship at a church affiliated with organized religion. After all, would “Christians” practice repression of women?

  • Mystere

    Smoore, no, there is no biblical justification for abortion after rape, but keep something very important in mind: not everyone in this country is Christian. It goes against my religious liberty for you to tell me that I have to keep a child of rape because it goes against the Bible when I’m a practicing Pagan!

    Do you know what the Bible says must happen in the eventuality of a rape? The victim must marry her rapist. But are you going to tell traumatized rape victims they have to marry their rapists because the Bible said so? Not likely.

    The point of this post, however, was not the abortion stance, though it is used as the prime example. The point is that, in the midst of all this debate, women are no longer human. We have had our will and rights and freedom to make what is usually the single hardest, most haunting decision of any woman’s life removed from us. We are objects. Walking incubators. An unborn life is deified while the woman who has already experienced life and has an ongoing part in life is reduced to an animated corpse.

    The fact that people make these arguments using the Bible shows utter ignorance of the concept of the separation of church and state and the fact that, by holding everyone to your pseudo-religious standard, you are violating free practice. You are making my rights end where your opinions begin. You aren’t allowed to do that.

    You may very well ignore me on the basis of my religion, but it is very well might right to practice it. I don’t agree with abortion, personally, but I understand that it isn’t as easy nor as flippant a decision as you and so many other “pro-lifers” think it is.

    It doesn’t matter what the laws are written to say. Women have been aborting pregnancies since there were pregnancies to abort for many and varied reasons. They will continue to do so, even if abortion is banned, just as they did before it was made legal. And it will be just as dangerous as it was.

    I would rather have it legal and risk abuse of the procedure than have it criminalized and go back to coathanger abortions and have women die.

    • Gayle

      “The point is that, in the midst of all this debate, women are no longer human. We have had our will and rights and freedom to make what is usually the single hardest, most haunting decision of any woman’s life removed from us. ”
      Roe v. Wade still is the law of the land. You have not had the decision to have an abortion removed from you.

  • Kalico

    Roe v Wade protects some and hurts others. Why do we need a ruling? How about teh menz just stay out of it. Completely out. They have no authority on gestation.

    Abortion IS pro-life. It saves the lives and *quality of lives* of women. If you are anti-choice, then you will find your own beliefs working against you very soon. If you are anti-choice, you are still a misogynist, regardless of your sex.