Vilifying Feminism

Vilifying Feminism August 9, 2011

I have been thinking  about feminism and Catholicism recently.  First, a disclaimer:   I have, for a long time, thought of myself as a feminist, if only in the sense of the old bumper sticker “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.”  I was happy to wear a “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt  on International Women’s Day.  My feminist credentials have been challenged from time to time because of my pro-life views, and I am dismayed by the way in which feminism (in the U.S.) has focused heavily on abortion rights, but organizations such as Feminists for Life showed that I was not alone.

My recent ruminations started after reading and commenting on the recent post by my fellow blogger Pentimento on “Sola Skirtura” and Sexual Woundedness.  Reading about this “controversy”  (really a tempest in a conservative teapot) was eye opening:  I knew that many conservative Catholics had “old-fashioned” notions of gender roles, but I had never had any idea that there were Catholics who were so openly misogynist.  Further, in my reading, particularly of commboxes, I was dismayed by the way in which  “feminism” and “feminist” were casually tossed around as pejoratives.  Obviously, there are branches of feminism that are completely estranged from Catholicism; but there are also thoughtful and faithful feminists as well, and there is much room for dialog.

But this weekend I was quite dismayed by a column in my local Catholic paper:  Donald DeMarco, an adjunct faculty member at Holy Apostle’s Seminary, devoted his semi-regular column to “A time-traveler’s review of feminism.”  Reflecting on a taped interview of Betty Friedan from 1973, he comes to the conclusion that feminism was a failure and a “dangerous illusion.”  You can read his whole column, but it can be quickly summarized as:

  • Betty Friedan launched the women’s movement, whose main accomplishment was Roe vs. Wade.
  • Betty Friedan was a Marxist and her ideas are to be denigrated because they are Marxist.
  • Feminism promised to redefine gender roles and free masculinity from its ties with violence.  Football players and football in general are really violent, so feminism failed.
  • Betty Friedan had a failed marriage (because she was a Marxist).
  • Betty Friedan had an abrasive personality.
  • Women wanting to “control their own bodies” were talking nonsense since no one can stop the aging process.

This argument, or rather the lack of any meaningful argument, is risible:  the column consists of nothing more than ad hominem attacks, logical non sequiturs and guilt by association.

While the proximate cause of this post, I am less interested in this particular essay by DeMarco (though happy to discuss it in the commboxes) than I am in the general phenomenon it represents:  a fear and loathing of “feminism” that seems to b directed, not at the complexities of feminist discourse today, but rather at some construct that bears only passing resemblance to it.  What lies at the root of such a visceral response?  I want to suggest that Zizek’s analysis of ideology can provide some insight.  I began explicating his ideas in an earlier post; here I want to continue.   Zizek has argued that to understand the functioning of ANY ideological system, you need to understand its “libidinal economy”:  the unconscious enjoyment and fulfillment that an ideological system attempts to provide.   (It is important to note that any ideology functions on two levels:  the rational—Zizek would say “in the symbolic order”—and on an unconscious level.)  An ideological system is adopted and held because it provides a full explanation of who we are, both as individuals and as members of a society.  The problem, however, is that no ideology can provide a complete explanation:  there is a “gap”, something that cannot be encapsulated in the ideology.  (Zizek refers to it as the “real.”)  Thus the very strength of an ideology—that it provides an overarching explanation of the way things are—is also its weakness since any such explanation will fall short.

On the unconscious level this is intolerable, and on the rational level this translates into an attempt by the ideology to explain its own failure.  It does so (or at least it often does so) by positing the existence of some “other” who is preventing the ideology from being implemented and providing the promised wholeness.  In Zizek’s terms, the “other” has stolen our jouissance.  (This is a term taken from Lacanian psychoanalysis and refers to enjoyment.  It is closely linked to sexual enjoyment and orgasms.  The key idea is that it is not rational/conscious enjoyment or happiness.)  For Zizek, the classic example of the “other” is the role of the Jews in Nazi Germany.  The ideological construct of “the Jew” in Nazism bore very little relationship to the actual German Jews—indeed many if not most of the people who accepted this construct as “fact” had probably never met a Jew.  The libidinal function of this construct was to explain  away the failure of the ideology by showing why Germany and the German people had not attained their inherent and rightful greatness:  “the Jews” were poisoning their society from within.  If they were eliminated, Germany and the Germans would regain their wholeness.

A similar phenomenon seems to be at work with conservative Catholics and feminism. Even a cursory reading of their work shows that they believe something has gone wrong with the Church.  Though they do not reject Vatican II (except for the small minority who are in schism with SSPX or the sedevacantists) they believe that something has gone terribly wrong with the Church since then.  To be fair, a number of them attempt to deal with the complexities of the Church since then.  However, many (perhaps more) finding that their vision of the church and the world is unrealized, and attempting to rationalize the gap between what is and what ought to be (the inevitable gap in any ideological system) must find someone to blame.  A convenient target are the “feminists”.   Like the “Jews” in Nazi Germany, these “feminists” are a caricature and a construct, built from stereotypes and half-truths and bearing little or no resemblance to most (or even any) self-identified feminists, particularly Catholic feminists.   This construct exists not to identify an opponent to challenge or to enter into dialog with, but as an external focus for an unconscious sense of anger and loss.

An major gap in Zizek’s work is any discussion of how such constructs should be dealt with.  He argues that since they serve a libidinal need, they cannot be dealt with rationally:  you cannot eliminate antisemitism (or in this case, anti-feminism) by carefully explaining why various stereotypes are false.   Zizek’s argument implies that blogging about this is not an effective response:  I will be preaching to the choir, since those who are invested in these particular ideological fantasies will not be swayed by brilliant arguments to the contrary (let alone by my more meager efforts).

Zizek does not, however, offer any suggestion as to how they can be addressed.  In fact, in at least some places he seems to imply that they cannot be addressed or eliminated except by extirpating the ideology that holds them, root and branch.    (See, for instance, his discussions about “universal partisan truth.”)  This is turn is closely linked to his fascination with revolutionary violence, an approach I reject.   A third option would be to address it through community and fellowship.  The community of believers (which oddly enough, Zizek praises) would seem to be the ideal place to address the fear and the lack which underlies ideological constructs.   But given the Church’s continued descent into tribalism (reflected in the divisions within the blogosphere), I sometimes feel at a loss as to where to begin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • A wonderful article to post today on this, the feast of St. Edith Stein (Teresa, Blessed by the Cross), feminist, philosopher, convert, nun, and martyr.

  • A wonderful article to post today on this, the feast of St. Edith Stein (Teresa, Blessed by the Cross), feminist, philosopher, convert, nun, and martyr.

  • I am at work and lack the time for an appropriate reply, but please let me begin with this- thank you for writing this.

  • I am at work and lack the time for an appropriate reply, but please let me begin with this- thank you for writing this.

  • Kurt

    “I am a feminist.” — John Paul II

    The most important part of that quote is not any of the words, but the period. It is unqualfied.

  • Kurt

    “I am a feminist.” — John Paul II

    The most important part of that quote is not any of the words, but the period. It is unqualfied.

  • wlindsaywheeler

    What lies at the root of such a visceral response?

    I point to the book by Leon Podles The Church Impotent, the Feminization of Christianity. In it he points out a fact. Men, masculine men, disdain weak things. Feminism attacks Patriarchy. It destroys it. It attacks the position of men.

    Again, David Pawson wrote a book on the biblical teaching called Leadership is Male. Feminism seeks to undermine the Natural Order by trying to supplant men.

    And I refer you to Yves Christian in his book Sex Differences, Modern Biology and the Unisex Fallacy.

    I have read all three of these good books. Men and women are different. Nature has assigned different roles to them.

    Even in Classical Antiquity, and in the myths, like Pandora’s box and in Genesis, the seat of evil is women. Feminism destroys masculinity. That is a fact which Leon Podles points out.

    And it is right that Donald DeMarco points that Betty Freidan was a communist. It is communist ideology to empower women. It is right there to “empower”. It is about empowering women into revolution against the Natural Order.

    Aristotle points out a very pertinent Law of Nature: “All things are either in Authority or in Subjection”. Democracy does not exist in Heaven or in Nature. Yet, Communist ideology is about creating a so-called equality of the sexes. Nature abhors a vacuum. You can not empower women without subjecting men. It is either/or. Either men are in Authority or Women are in Authority but nature does not allow two or none. Some one always rules. Feminism is about destroying the Natural Order of “Male Leadership” or “Male Headship”.

    • brian martin

      wlindsaywheeler…
      Might I refer you to the Appostolic Letter By Pope John Paul II entitled “Mulieris Dignitatem” or “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women.”
      Pope Benedict XVI, when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, expressed concern about competition between men and women and called instead for a collaborative relationship between the sexes (“On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World,” 2004). A collaborative relationship is one that is not about domination and submissiveness. Domination, authority and subjection do not speak of honor and dignity. Remember, God created humanity in his likeness and image. each has gender specific biological roles. As far as women being the “seat of evil” are you serious? That is about the most ignorant, not to say moronic thing I have read. Pandora’s box…a myth. In Genesis Eve offers the fruit to Adam…he exercises free will and takes it. Wow…my head is spinning at your mysoginistic blather. If one follows your logic, then within marriage man is the master and there can be no rape within the marriage bed.

    • Dan

      (Ducks and covers)

    • I am glad you “I have read all three of these good books. Men and women are different. Nature has assigned different roles to them” — you should read more and write less.

  • wlindsaywheeler

    What lies at the root of such a visceral response?

    I point to the book by Leon Podles The Church Impotent, the Feminization of Christianity. In it he points out a fact. Men, masculine men, disdain weak things. Feminism attacks Patriarchy. It destroys it. It attacks the position of men.

    Again, David Pawson wrote a book on the biblical teaching called Leadership is Male. Feminism seeks to undermine the Natural Order by trying to supplant men.

    And I refer you to Yves Christian in his book Sex Differences, Modern Biology and the Unisex Fallacy.

    I have read all three of these good books. Men and women are different. Nature has assigned different roles to them.

    Even in Classical Antiquity, and in the myths, like Pandora’s box and in Genesis, the seat of evil is women. Feminism destroys masculinity. That is a fact which Leon Podles points out.

    And it is right that Donald DeMarco points that Betty Freidan was a communist. It is communist ideology to empower women. It is right there to “empower”. It is about empowering women into revolution against the Natural Order.

    Aristotle points out a very pertinent Law of Nature: “All things are either in Authority or in Subjection”. Democracy does not exist in Heaven or in Nature. Yet, Communist ideology is about creating a so-called equality of the sexes. Nature abhors a vacuum. You can not empower women without subjecting men. It is either/or. Either men are in Authority or Women are in Authority but nature does not allow two or none. Some one always rules. Feminism is about destroying the Natural Order of “Male Leadership” or “Male Headship”.

    • brian martin

      wlindsaywheeler…
      Might I refer you to the Appostolic Letter By Pope John Paul II entitled “Mulieris Dignitatem” or “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women.”
      Pope Benedict XVI, when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, expressed concern about competition between men and women and called instead for a collaborative relationship between the sexes (“On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World,” 2004). A collaborative relationship is one that is not about domination and submissiveness. Domination, authority and subjection do not speak of honor and dignity. Remember, God created humanity in his likeness and image. each has gender specific biological roles. As far as women being the “seat of evil” are you serious? That is about the most ignorant, not to say moronic thing I have read. Pandora’s box…a myth. In Genesis Eve offers the fruit to Adam…he exercises free will and takes it. Wow…my head is spinning at your mysoginistic blather. If one follows your logic, then within marriage man is the master and there can be no rape within the marriage bed.

    • Dan

      (Ducks and covers)

    • I am glad you “I have read all three of these good books. Men and women are different. Nature has assigned different roles to them” — you should read more and write less.

  • SAF

    Sigh. There’s no point, is there?

  • SAF

    Sigh. There’s no point, is there?

  • wlindsaywheeler

    Women should not vote, be lawyers or be politicians. Nature did not fit a woman to take over the place of the man. If we are for feminity, why are schools masculinizing women for? To “empower” them. Feminism is an ideology for undermining Western Culture.

    Women had respect in Christendom. They were not allowed to do male jobs or masculine projects. The US Supreme Court back in the 1850’s ruled that women can not be lawyers citing not only biblical justification but also the natural law. So why do Catholic colleges accept females in the law today?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Okay, this has moved beyond tragedy and into farce. You clearly want to keep women barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen and any philosophy you disagree with is marxist. There are no grounds for engaging you and you seem to be inadvertently making my point.

      As traffic cops say when directing traffic around an accident: “Let’s keep it moving here, folks.”

    • Dan

      I have to think this is simply baiting. This can’t be an actual position held by anyone reasonable.

      In the off chance Lindsay is serious, then please answer one simple question: If women were happy and fulfilled in their “natural roles”, as you say, then feminism should never have emerged, right? What, then, was the cause and catalyst in women’s lives that demanded such change?

    • Dan

      Also, why on earth would “lawyers” be singled out as prohibited for women? That is puzzling even from a misogynist perspective.

    • You’re certainly entitled to your opinions, but they can’t in any way be identified as Catholic, since they diverge completely from the teaching of the Magisterium and seem, rather, to originate from a reactionary social and political ideology that has nothing to do with Catholic teaching.

      [Let’s make this the last comment on Mr. Wheeler’s reactionary views. There are some substantive issues here I would like to discuss if anyone wants to take them up.]

      • R.

        Pentimento,

        I am interested in taking up whatever substantive, non-Wheeler issues you would like to discuss.

        R.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        The final comment in [..] was an editorial comment from me! Feel free to take up any issue in the post, either relating to Catholics and feminism or my application of Zizek’s theory of ideology to anti-feminist thinking.

      • R., the comment in brackets was actually from David, the OP, not me, but I’d also be happy to discuss.

    • WOW — dummmmm

  • wlindsaywheeler

    Women should not vote, be lawyers or be politicians. Nature did not fit a woman to take over the place of the man. If we are for feminity, why are schools masculinizing women for? To “empower” them. Feminism is an ideology for undermining Western Culture.

    Women had respect in Christendom. They were not allowed to do male jobs or masculine projects. The US Supreme Court back in the 1850’s ruled that women can not be lawyers citing not only biblical justification but also the natural law. So why do Catholic colleges accept females in the law today?

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Okay, this has moved beyond tragedy and into farce. You clearly want to keep women barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen and any philosophy you disagree with is marxist. There are no grounds for engaging you and you seem to be inadvertently making my point.

      As traffic cops say when directing traffic around an accident: “Let’s keep it moving here, folks.”

    • Dan

      I have to think this is simply baiting. This can’t be an actual position held by anyone reasonable.

      In the off chance Lindsay is serious, then please answer one simple question: If women were happy and fulfilled in their “natural roles”, as you say, then feminism should never have emerged, right? What, then, was the cause and catalyst in women’s lives that demanded such change?

    • Dan

      Also, why on earth would “lawyers” be singled out as prohibited for women? That is puzzling even from a misogynist perspective.

    • You’re certainly entitled to your opinions, but they can’t in any way be identified as Catholic, since they diverge completely from the teaching of the Magisterium and seem, rather, to originate from a reactionary social and political ideology that has nothing to do with Catholic teaching.

      [Let’s make this the last comment on Mr. Wheeler’s reactionary views. There are some substantive issues here I would like to discuss if anyone wants to take them up.]

      • R.

        Pentimento,

        I am interested in taking up whatever substantive, non-Wheeler issues you would like to discuss.

        R.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        The final comment in [..] was an editorial comment from me! Feel free to take up any issue in the post, either relating to Catholics and feminism or my application of Zizek’s theory of ideology to anti-feminist thinking.

      • R., the comment in brackets was actually from David, the OP, not me, but I’d also be happy to discuss.

    • WOW — dummmmm

  • brian martin

    David…sorry, I shouldn’t have bothered. Thanks for a thoughtful post, I enjoy stopping by here. seriously though…is there chance that the above posts are sarcastic and i’m just slow?

  • brian martin

    David…sorry, I shouldn’t have bothered. Thanks for a thoughtful post, I enjoy stopping by here. seriously though…is there chance that the above posts are sarcastic and i’m just slow?

  • Paul Boman

    I shouldn’t pile on, but David you are absolutely correct, Lindsay’s comments are exhibit A in proving your case. I’m presuming that, if Lindsay is serious, it is an indication that he is still reeling from being turned down by his presumptive prom date. In any event, his reasoning does point out a major flaw in the anti-feminist line of thought (beside the obvious moral abhorance of misogyny): all of the arguments for the preservation of patriarchy are deeply entrenched in cultural contexts which no longer exist. “Masculine men disdain weak things…” also sounds vaguely homo-erotic, but I won’t carry that any further. Having taught for the past 17 years in a school founded by the Religious of the Sacred Heart, whose whole raison d’etre is the formation of young women who are faithful, strong, and smart as hell, I must echo and endorse David’s view of feminism. I share his view and I still watch football. Now, if some of our sisters over at Women in Theology would please chime in and bail us out of the absurdity of a bunch of guys arguing feminist thought.

  • Paul Boman

    I shouldn’t pile on, but David you are absolutely correct, Lindsay’s comments are exhibit A in proving your case. I’m presuming that, if Lindsay is serious, it is an indication that he is still reeling from being turned down by his presumptive prom date. In any event, his reasoning does point out a major flaw in the anti-feminist line of thought (beside the obvious moral abhorance of misogyny): all of the arguments for the preservation of patriarchy are deeply entrenched in cultural contexts which no longer exist. “Masculine men disdain weak things…” also sounds vaguely homo-erotic, but I won’t carry that any further. Having taught for the past 17 years in a school founded by the Religious of the Sacred Heart, whose whole raison d’etre is the formation of young women who are faithful, strong, and smart as hell, I must echo and endorse David’s view of feminism. I share his view and I still watch football. Now, if some of our sisters over at Women in Theology would please chime in and bail us out of the absurdity of a bunch of guys arguing feminist thought.

  • Melody

    David, thank you for this well-reasoned post. Like you I don’t have any idea how one deals with the “…fear and loathing of “feminism” that seems to be directed, not at the complexities of feminist discourse today, but rather at some construct that bears only passing resemblance to it.” Perhaps it would help to look at where some of this visceral reaction originates. Some of it is cross-pollenation with the Fundamentalist Protestant culture, such as the “spiritual headship” thing. I never heard that spoken of in Catholic circles until about 10 years ago. Then there is the madonna/ loose woman paradox in which women are placed on a pedestal at the same time they are mistrusted. And there is the “zero sum” theory, which wlindsaywheeler defined for us in this way: “You can not empower women without subjecting men. It is either/or.” This “them vs us” dichotomy ultimately wounds both men and women.

  • Melody

    David, thank you for this well-reasoned post. Like you I don’t have any idea how one deals with the “…fear and loathing of “feminism” that seems to be directed, not at the complexities of feminist discourse today, but rather at some construct that bears only passing resemblance to it.” Perhaps it would help to look at where some of this visceral reaction originates. Some of it is cross-pollenation with the Fundamentalist Protestant culture, such as the “spiritual headship” thing. I never heard that spoken of in Catholic circles until about 10 years ago. Then there is the madonna/ loose woman paradox in which women are placed on a pedestal at the same time they are mistrusted. And there is the “zero sum” theory, which wlindsaywheeler defined for us in this way: “You can not empower women without subjecting men. It is either/or.” This “them vs us” dichotomy ultimately wounds both men and women.

  • hazemyth

    Sorry, I know this will rile people, but this sounds an awful lot like the official Catholic position against gay marriage (or homosexuality in general). It little resembles gay people as they are and treats their lives, and the legitimization of such, as responsible for a startling range of social decline. And one needn’t approve of homosexuality to see this.

  • hazemyth

    Sorry, I know this will rile people, but this sounds an awful lot like the official Catholic position against gay marriage (or homosexuality in general). It little resembles gay people as they are and treats their lives, and the legitimization of such, as responsible for a startling range of social decline. And one needn’t approve of homosexuality to see this.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    I think I am missing something here: what “sounds an awful lot like the official Catholic position against gay marriage”?

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    I think I am missing something here: what “sounds an awful lot like the official Catholic position against gay marriage”?

  • hazemyth

    I’m suggesting that the anti-feminism that you describe resembles some aspects of Catholic anti-homosexual policy, in that it turns gay couples into an ‘other’ that threatens social order, and perhaps that it does so in part to fulfill a libidinous impulse that exists apart from and is more extreme than any rational disapproval of or disagreement with homosexuality.

    I say this knowing that people here will disagree, but it has always struck me that there is a noticeable dissonance between the actually theology of homosexuality (so to speak) and the politics that surround it. I wonder if Zizek’s framework could explain the latter.

    But perhaps we shouldn’t get into this, here, it may be too tangental. Your call.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Okay, I understand, and I think that you are on to something. I have also noticed that there seems to be a disproportionate level of anger attached to any discussion of homosexuality. Having gotten flamed pretty hard for asking an honest but somewhat naive question, I realize that the debate is heated on both sides, but I felt that there was something “constructed” about the image of homosexuality that was part and parcel of much of the public debate on the Catholic side.

      This returns us, from a slightly different direction, to the gap I identified in Zizek’s writing: how, as Catholics, do we respond to this “libidinal gap” among our brethren while at the same time addressing the legitimate issues raised by Catholic teaching?

      And, at the risk of turning this thread into a free-for-all, I think it is also worth asking if Zizek’s perspective might help explain why the hard core of the Catholic pro-life movement turns with such vitriol on Catholics who are pro-life but do not march in lock-step with them? I never understood their anger and attacks, especially since we are on the same side. However, if there is something in my stance (and the stance of several of my fellow bloggers here at Vox Nova) that points to or highlights a gap in their own ideological identity, then their reaction would make more sense. But, at the moment, I do not see what this gap could be.

      [Okay, I have opened the door to both homosexuality and abortion as well as feminism. But I am going to keep it on a leash to the extent that I would like to keep this more closely tied to Zizek’s analysis of ideology. DCU]

      • hazemyth

        The right to life is both of fundamental importance and self-evident clarity to most pro-life advocates. It’s difficult to explain how it could be opposed by ordinary, basically decent people. This gap could be occluded by constructing an indecent, disingenuous other. Once the difference between these two ideas also becomes the difference between good people and bad people, anyone who differs from you is instantly suspect as a villain. Just an idea.

  • hazemyth

    I’m suggesting that the anti-feminism that you describe resembles some aspects of Catholic anti-homosexual policy, in that it turns gay couples into an ‘other’ that threatens social order, and perhaps that it does so in part to fulfill a libidinous impulse that exists apart from and is more extreme than any rational disapproval of or disagreement with homosexuality.

    I say this knowing that people here will disagree, but it has always struck me that there is a noticeable dissonance between the actually theology of homosexuality (so to speak) and the politics that surround it. I wonder if Zizek’s framework could explain the latter.

    But perhaps we shouldn’t get into this, here, it may be too tangental. Your call.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Okay, I understand, and I think that you are on to something. I have also noticed that there seems to be a disproportionate level of anger attached to any discussion of homosexuality. Having gotten flamed pretty hard for asking an honest but somewhat naive question, I realize that the debate is heated on both sides, but I felt that there was something “constructed” about the image of homosexuality that was part and parcel of much of the public debate on the Catholic side.

      This returns us, from a slightly different direction, to the gap I identified in Zizek’s writing: how, as Catholics, do we respond to this “libidinal gap” among our brethren while at the same time addressing the legitimate issues raised by Catholic teaching?

      And, at the risk of turning this thread into a free-for-all, I think it is also worth asking if Zizek’s perspective might help explain why the hard core of the Catholic pro-life movement turns with such vitriol on Catholics who are pro-life but do not march in lock-step with them? I never understood their anger and attacks, especially since we are on the same side. However, if there is something in my stance (and the stance of several of my fellow bloggers here at Vox Nova) that points to or highlights a gap in their own ideological identity, then their reaction would make more sense. But, at the moment, I do not see what this gap could be.

      [Okay, I have opened the door to both homosexuality and abortion as well as feminism. But I am going to keep it on a leash to the extent that I would like to keep this more closely tied to Zizek’s analysis of ideology. DCU]

      • hazemyth

        The right to life is both of fundamental importance and self-evident clarity to most pro-life advocates. It’s difficult to explain how it could be opposed by ordinary, basically decent people. This gap could be occluded by constructing an indecent, disingenuous other. Once the difference between these two ideas also becomes the difference between good people and bad people, anyone who differs from you is instantly suspect as a villain. Just an idea.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Very interesting idea. But I think we need to probe deeper to understand what the emotional investment in this construct is—because I think that is what needs to be explored to explain why pro-lifers who don’t follow the party line are treated with such anger and contempt.

        For future commentators I think that your use of “gap” is somewhat different from (my understanding of) Zizek’s use of the term. For Zizek a “gap” always refers to something internal: the difference between your perception of who “you really are” and how your identity is articulated in your ideological framework. For instance, in my world view I am a Catholic, Franciscan, husband, father, mathematician, college professor, blogger, etc. But on a non-rational level I perceive that I am more than the sum total of these rational categories; this “excess” is the “gap” in Zizek’s terms.

      • hazemyth

        Thanks for the added clarification. I transferred this aspect of self-perception to our perception of others. Which might not be entirely unwarranted, upon consideration, but might stray to far.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        I agree this is a grey area in understanding Zizek, who can be vague and inconsistent at regular intervals. Nevertheless, this idea of projecting onto others has merit.

  • Anne

    Melody makes a good point about cross-pollenation. Fundamentalist Protestant thinking seems to have had a profound influence on many conservative Catholics in the US today. I’m constantly amazed at conservative Catholics in their 40s who seem completely at home with the Christian Right, from their Republican politics (not just antiabortion, but anti-Muslim, anti-Medicare, anti-Obama and anti-immigrant to boot) to their misogyny (not just no women priests, but no altar girls, no women on the altar at all; not just no contraception, but no NFP; not just a male magisterium but “male headship” everywhere, beginning in the home). Some think this started on the anti-abortion picket line, where Catholics and Evangelicals met, but it clearly didn’t end there. I sense a cable TV component (not just EWTN, but Fox News) and a whole lot of home schooling fundamentalism (not just Great Books, but pro-creationism,
    anti-global warming “science”) thrown in.

  • Anne

    Melody makes a good point about cross-pollenation. Fundamentalist Protestant thinking seems to have had a profound influence on many conservative Catholics in the US today. I’m constantly amazed at conservative Catholics in their 40s who seem completely at home with the Christian Right, from their Republican politics (not just antiabortion, but anti-Muslim, anti-Medicare, anti-Obama and anti-immigrant to boot) to their misogyny (not just no women priests, but no altar girls, no women on the altar at all; not just no contraception, but no NFP; not just a male magisterium but “male headship” everywhere, beginning in the home). Some think this started on the anti-abortion picket line, where Catholics and Evangelicals met, but it clearly didn’t end there. I sense a cable TV component (not just EWTN, but Fox News) and a whole lot of home schooling fundamentalism (not just Great Books, but pro-creationism,
    anti-global warming “science”) thrown in.

  • Dale Price

    Just to defend the Supreme Court’s honor on this one:

    Ms. WLW misrepresents the decision in Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. 230 (1873), which indeed upheld the State of Illinois’ decision to deny Myra Bradwell a law license on the basis of gender. However, the majority opinion did so on the basis of the privileges and immunities clause of the Constitution, stating that that provision of the 14th Amendment did not confer a right to the practice of law. The majority was not concerned with Bradwell’s sex at all, and did not rule on that basis.

    The language Ms. WLW is citing comes from the concurring opinion of Justice Bradley, which was only supported by a total of three justices. In 1892, the Supreme Court granted Ms. Bradwell a law license retroactive to 1873 after Illinois changed its law.

  • Dale Price

    Just to defend the Supreme Court’s honor on this one:

    Ms. WLW misrepresents the decision in Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. 230 (1873), which indeed upheld the State of Illinois’ decision to deny Myra Bradwell a law license on the basis of gender. However, the majority opinion did so on the basis of the privileges and immunities clause of the Constitution, stating that that provision of the 14th Amendment did not confer a right to the practice of law. The majority was not concerned with Bradwell’s sex at all, and did not rule on that basis.

    The language Ms. WLW is citing comes from the concurring opinion of Justice Bradley, which was only supported by a total of three justices. In 1892, the Supreme Court granted Ms. Bradwell a law license retroactive to 1873 after Illinois changed its law.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Anne and Melody, I think you are both right in identifying this cross-pollination with conservative American evangelicals. But I would suggest that conservative Catholics and evangelicals, share the same vocabulary because both are attempting to cope with the same gap in their worldviews. Melody touched on something important, I think: this idea that one can only empower women by disempowering men. My wife, who read through a lot of the “sola skirtura” stuff with me, was quick to point out this zero-sum thinking. Could the gap be that while their ideology tells them they are empowered (as men, as Americans, as Christians) their economic and social lives show them to not be in control? This gap between who they are and who they think they are needs to be blamed on someone, and in this case, the “other” who has stolen their power is a “feminist woman”.

    I need to be careful here, as it is very easy to come up with facile readings that are little more than pop-psychology. But the more I read Zizek, the more I think that there is value in this approach.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Anne and Melody, I think you are both right in identifying this cross-pollination with conservative American evangelicals. But I would suggest that conservative Catholics and evangelicals, share the same vocabulary because both are attempting to cope with the same gap in their worldviews. Melody touched on something important, I think: this idea that one can only empower women by disempowering men. My wife, who read through a lot of the “sola skirtura” stuff with me, was quick to point out this zero-sum thinking. Could the gap be that while their ideology tells them they are empowered (as men, as Americans, as Christians) their economic and social lives show them to not be in control? This gap between who they are and who they think they are needs to be blamed on someone, and in this case, the “other” who has stolen their power is a “feminist woman”.

    I need to be careful here, as it is very easy to come up with facile readings that are little more than pop-psychology. But the more I read Zizek, the more I think that there is value in this approach.

  • At this point I only wish to comment on Dr. DeMarco’s article. The article is badly written. It is a collection of misrepresentations and lies. Dr. DeMarco teaches at the college level. People read this stuff and believe it — that is why there is hostility to feminism.

  • Anne

    Well, David, I think you’re right that Zizek’s theory seems to work here, at least on the surface. Many men undoubtedly feel disempowered in their economic and social lives — and Catholics, possibly in their religious lives as well, considering conservative resentment over what happened in the Church after Vatican II. Scapegoating is a pretty universal phenomenon. So their anger at feminists and feminism may be rooted in disempowerment.
    But how these men (and women as well) ended up spouting Protestant language and ideas about “male headship” and so on would still be a mystery to me except for the Protestant-Catholic cross-pollination (I had to work that word in again, if for no other reason than to prove I can spell it correctly ), that’s recently taken place both on the ground and in the air (mostly the broadcast air emanating from talk radio and Fox News, but also the homseschooling air a lot of conservative families breathe). Still, I don’t know that you can explain everybody’s thinking by either who they hang out with OR the social and economic forces that shape their world…or for that matter, self-interest. Otherwise, why do all those middle-class Tea Partiers so passionately favor tax policies that serve, not them, but the upper classes? Why do any women buy into male headship and sola skirtura? Ideologies come from somewhere, but why individuals will hate one and adopt another is often as hard to understand as, well, the individuals themselves. As they say, go figure.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      I think your idea of cross-pollination fits perfectly here: an ideology that cannot cover a gap trys to paper over it, and I suspect that those who hold to the ideology will adapt such elements as are present in the broader cultural milieu to try to do the job.

      With regards to your later points about why people choose some ideologies (seemingly at odds with their interests, as in the case of women who support sola skirtura or middle class folks who support tax breaks for the wealthy) Zizek comes back again and again to the point that ideology is adopted and functions on a non-rational to meet unconscious needs and desires, and the rational part of any ideology is a superstructure on top of this.

  • I started to write a very long comment, but wrote a blog post instead:

    Can you be anti-choice and still be a feminist? Thoughts here: bit.ly/qrJlb3

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Good question: but since I am opposed to abortion and consider myself a feminist, then I guess the tent better be big enough for me and those who think like me.

      • Melody

        Me too, David. It seems to me that nobody can make a definition of feminism which would exclude people such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, who were pioneers of feminism and also pro-life.

      • I certainly think the tent is big enough 🙂

        I just like to challenge my own beliefs now and again and justify them.

  • Anne

    I know many Christians — for example, me — who reconcile a pro-life (or anti-choice) position with feminism, but what seems even more difficult (IMO) is reconciling a pro-choice position with Christianity. Yet, there are Christians, esp. Christian feminists, who do — for example, the writer Anne Lamott. In one of her essays (“The Born”) in a book of “thoughts on faith” called GRACE, she recalls being on a panel made up mostly of “progressive Catholic” pro-life speakers: “I wanted to express calmly and eloquently, that people who are pro-choice understand that there are two lives involved in an abortion — one born (the pregnant woman) and one not (the fetus) — and that the born person must be allowed to decide what is right…I also wanted to wave a gun around, to show what a real murder looks like.” This is a mindset I have to admit I really, really don’t “get,” an exemplary case of “Go figure.” I know what many pro-lifers would say, but judgmentalism doesn’t enlighten. This is probably fodder for another topic, and somewhat out of place here. Still, many Christian feminists share Lamott’s point of view. It’s the other side of the pro-life, pro-feminist coin. Would Zizek’s thinking shed any light?

    • Melody

      Anne, I don’t get that mindset either. It’s kind of a hierarchy of rights that doesn’t set well with Christianity. Though it has taken some Christians a long time to understand the whole spectrum of human rights; and we’re still working on it in many ways. Even already born children in times past (and in some places still today) were not seen as having rights or status independent of their status as sons or daughters of their parents. Did that whole mentality play a part in the difficulty we have had dealing with the abuse crisis in the Church? (Definitely off topic, sorry, David!).

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Anne,

      Perhaps. Zizek is concerned with constructing a general theory of ideology with the ultimate goal of explaining why capitalism (which in his view is the ultimate ideology) is regarded nearly universally as “just the way things are”. Any ideology: conservative Catholicism, liberal Christianity, etc. is grist for his mill.

      While it is a useful analytical tool for exploring or explaining certain phenomena (in this case the fear and loathing of feminism) I caution that it should not be reduced to a cudgel to beat ones opponents about the head. As I tried to do in my first post, one needs also turn it loose on one’s own ideologies: what are our hidden enjoyments that propel allegiances? What are the gaps we cannot fill?

  • I believe feminism and abortion are two separate and distinct issues. What I see in this discussion is the use of abortion as a pretext to avoid a meaningful exploration of feminism and the attitude of some people abouit feminism. Why can’t the human rights of a woman as a person be discussed as simply that — just for a change. Just this once.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      I tend to agree, but given the broader context of current feminist thinking, I fear that abortion is going to be with us in this discussion. I opened the door to it because I thought it was relevant to the original post, but my original interest is in why conservative Catholics loathe feminism so much. I advanced a Zizekian argument; I would be interested in hearing alternative explanations, or even a defense of their attacks on feminism (albeit one that did not premise that women should not be lawyers).

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    A recent editorial in the National Catholic Reporter raises similar questions to what I originally wrote:

    http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/vatican%E2%80%99s-fear-women

    However, I fear that it falls into the kind of facile psycho-analyzing that I want to avoid when I try to use Zizek.

  • Anne

    David, I’m sorry. I knew wondering how feminists can be both pro-choice and Christian flew afield of the subject at hand. My bad. Maybe another day. Why conservative Catholics seem to loathe feminism is a hard enough nut to crack, and I think it’s fair to extend the phenomenon to the Vatican’s apparent (at least to me) over-reaction whenever Catholic clergy advocate women’s ordination. For a Vatican spokesman to have called that a “crime” on the same level as priestly pedophilia is just bizarre. I understand that many believe the matter is “closed,” and that even talking about it is heresy, but a “crime” as bad as pedophilia? Come on. It’s hard not to resort to pop psychology when confronted with such a mentality. It just seems that something unhealthy is going on here, something beyond the mere theology involved.