People Who Don’t Listen To Women have been in the news quite a bit recently.
We had John Piper, with his silliness about a “masculine” God and wanting the church to have more of a “masculine feel.” And then we had the weeklong trainwreck of Pink Ribbons Inc.’s partisan attack on a vital, irreplaceable institution for women. And finally we have the U.S. Catholic bishops declaring that the core of their religion is opposition to gynecology in all its forms.
This is the sort of foolishness that comes from not listening to women. More than that, it’s the sort of foolishness that comes from entrenching oneself for years in a pattern of not listening to women, so that one comes to forget that they’re even there and thus to think that dismissing and discounting them won’t have any repercussions.
But one big problem with not listening to women is that there are several billion of them not to listen to. If you choose to ignore them, they may return the favor, but only for so long as you’re not actively harming them. One your ignorance leads to harm, they’re likely to remind you, forcefully, that they do in fact exist and that they don’t in fact have to take your abuse.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure was emphatically reminded of that last week. They seemed surprised to be reminded of it. That surprise is the hallmark of people who have stopped listening.
Piper, a big fish in the smallish pond of Neo-Reformed American evangelicalism, is probably better insulated against the unpleasant surprise that fatally wounded Komen’s brand. He’s ensconced in a patriarchal church subculture within which he will only be congratulated for defending its patriarchy. He can thus get away with not listening to women because his life is arranged so as not to include many women he might have to listen to. Those women he does talk to either know him well enough to know that trying to disabuse him of his notions would be futile, or else they’re in a context in which saying anything would have repercussions, so they keep silent to preserve their livelihood or their membership in that community.
So the only consequence for Piper in saying such foolish things is that he becomes the sort of person who says such foolish things. By creating a context in which he is not exposed to any women who trust him enough to tell him the truth he has also created a context in which he will be a man who cannot hear that truth and who does not know that truth. He becomes the enforcer of his own ignorance.
The U.S. Catholic bishops have made their ignorance a very public matter, so they will be much more exposed to its repercussions. They are more likely to experience the kind of harsh surprise that Komen encountered.
Ta-Nehisi Coates observes that Komen seemed ignorant of what he calls “Planned Parenthood’s Deep Bench“:
I don’t think that [ousted Komen VP Karen] Handel, or her allies, quite understood the nature of their adversaries. … It’s interesting to look at how Plannned Parenthood has weathered under targeting from the Right, as compared with other groups. This is not like ACORN. Whatever their significant work in poor communities and black and Latino communities, Planned Parenthood has touched women across race and across class, and thus indirectly, touched men across race and class too. …
The thing about Planned Parenthood is when you run against them you aren’t just fighting welfare, or chastising lazy food stamp addicts. And you aren’t simply bashing East Coast elites. You are making war against a free-floating nation with vassals, of all color and stripe, at the ready.
That last sentence sums up just what the bishops have done in staking their identity on opposition to health care coverage for women.
And let’s stop dressing this up as anything other than that. They’re opposing health care coverage for women. Cloaking this opposition in religious frippery by despicably dishonest appeals to “freedom of conscience” doesn’t change the bedrock fact here: Catholic bishops want to deny health care coverage for lady parts. Period. Full stop.
This is what the bishops have rallied behind as the core of their faith. Not the cross. Not the sacraments. But the insistence that they must never, ever be indirectly complicit in the provision of health care coverage for women’s reproductive organs. This is much ado about “nothing” in the original, raunchiest Shakespearean sense.
No matter how much the bishops and their evangelical “co-belligerents”* gussy it up with talk of conscience and liberty, the bottom line here is that they have staked their morality to something perverse and immoral. Liberty won’t serve as a mask for discrimination and oppression.
Yes, oppression. Those who pretend otherwise aren’t fooling anyone. If you provide preventive health care, but only for men, forcing all of your female employees to pay for their preventive health care out-of-pocket, then you are creating real and tangible and undeniable financial hardship for those female employees. That hardship will cause some of them to forgo this preventive health care, and for some that will lead to real, tangible, undeniable physical pain and suffering.
That is what the bishops are sowing. That is what they are promoting, advocating, defending and trumpeting in their cruel crusade against the newly invented cardinal sin of gynecology. That’s wrong. It’s frocked-up. It’s immoral, it’s cruel, it hurts people.
This is the sort of thing that men do when no women trust them enough to speak to them honestly. This is the sort of thing that men do when they have made themselves incapable of listening to women.
And, as the insulated and isolated execs at Komen discovered, this is the sort of thing that’s likely to spur women to compel them to start listening.
It may be too late for that, though. A long history of not listening won’t be easy to overcome. And much of what the bishops are about to hear will be silence. The silence of empty pews. The silence of the empty spaces left behind by the women who used to belong to their churches.
Those women will leave because they’ve been told one too many times that they’re not wanted there. They’re listening, and they hear exactly what the bishops are telling them.
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* See, for example, at Sojourners (!), Alec Hill staking InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s reputation on support for second-class health care for women. Thanks, Alec! I’m sure young women at colleges across the country will be lining up to join a group that wants to make sure they pay more than men for health care!