Sexual objectification and gang culture

IMG_2144
‘Girls used, abused & discarded’. In the Evening Standard or in gangs? Will that be the story of former child star Miley Cyrus who is allegedly ‘keeping her kit on’ here?!

Last night as a favour to some final year broadcasting students I participated in a live TV show streamed on the internet discussing the subject of female sexual objectivisation both in the media and in nightclubs who admit scantily clad women for free. (I hope the students get a first, their production was as slick, professional and as well run as any big-name media group as well as being an innovative concept).

It was quite timely, following on from public ‘revelations’ about the fact I had once had a bar job requiring me to wear quite a provocative uniform, which was admittedly mild compared with the job of the presenter who was a former ‘Hill’s Angel’.

One of the points made was that women are actually choosing to wear next-to-nothing in order for commercial gain in order to build a brand or image around a single, although one has to question how ‘free’ that choice really is, if making themselves sexually provocative is allegedly the only way to sell their music.  The point I made was that though women wearing their underwear is nothing new these days, they are having to go to more and more outrageous lengths to sell themselves, hence the outrage wasn’t so much over Miley Cyrus’ outfit rather her twerking. Lily Allen’s recent pastiche  video featuring sexually explicit images of attractive women ironically reinforced the very sexual objectification that she  was overtly rejecting to in the lyrics, although I find the word “b*tch”  objectionable and offensive as a point of reference to women, regardless of who is ‘reclaiming’ it.

I also worked as cabin crew, another profession which at the time I was a member of it, was solely concerned with the image of their female crew as fantasy sex-objects as opposed to anything else. Look at the adverts for Virgin Atlantic, capitalising on the nostalgia of the uniform worn in the late eighties/early nineties, with its tight double breasted bright red jacket, matching short skirt and bright red shoes, colloquially known in the business as ‘f-me pumps’.

Whenever I got on the tube in uniform ready to go to work at 5am in the morning, I would always attract an obvious amount of attention, some of it flattering, others not so, but it always centrered around my appearance. Working in a profession that puts a high value on appearance which presents you as an object of sexual fantasy (note today’s uniforms are a massive improvement) means that unless you are exceptionally strong-minded, that is the attitude that you subconsciously adopt and absorb about yourself – i.e. that your value or stock as a human being is entirely dependent upon your appearance, even if you have done so willingly. One of the motivations for the bar work was that it was comparatively well paid, compared to say other jobs available to 18 year old cash-strapped students. In many ways it was a free choice no-one forced or compelled me to do it, but I wonder how many women in similar situations are doing it for the sheer enjoyment, or for the extra money, in which case how free are they?

In the case of cabin crew, the role was not simply about sashaying up and down the aisles or mixing a celebrity passenger their favourite cocktail, but predominantly about safety, however your appearance as an object of male desire, completely undermines the function of your job. Cabin crew are there to ensure passenger safety but it’s hard to be taken seriously when you are viewed as a vacuous dolly bird, there only to satisfy the whims of male passengers. At the time of the British Midland Kegworth disaster, it’s very telling that Cabin Crew/Flight attendants were not listed as coming under safety or within the remit of operations, but were under the control of ‘marketing’. In the event of an emergency, no-one is going to care if your lipstick matches your nails and hatband, if your hair has wispy bits, you need a spot more blusher or if you are half a pound overweight and yet these were assessed on a daily basis, pay rises being dependent upon consistently scoring well  in these areas in assessments. Additionally, the tights that are a non-negotiable part of the uniform (I am racking my brains to think of an airline that lets its female crew wear trousers) are a hazard and will exacerbate terrible injury in the case of disaster. Set a pair of tights (pantyhose) or stockings on fire and see what happens. Now imagine wearing them and high heels while trying to operate a slide or in extremes of temperature, or while stepping around fuel spills.

The final straw for me was when a former colleague decided to strip off for one of the red-top Sunday magazines. Handing out sweets during boarding, I noticed a sea of men engrossed in photographs of a woman stripping down to a skimpy pair of pants, whilst discarding the identical set of clothes that I was wearing and became acutely aware of the appraising glances of men, comparing my appearance to the girl in the magazine. One didn’t need to be a mind reader to be know exactly what was on their minds.

In the long run working in professions which set a great store on sexual attractiveness was not helpful for my spirituality or psyche. As C S Lewis’ Screwtape observes “all mortals turn into the thing that they are pretending to be”; making your living out of being a sexually desirable object, even if on your own terms, will distort your own self-perception.

I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to determine whether or not one could or should identify oneself as a feminist if one works in the sex industry or in a profession which uses the female sexuality to sell sex as several self-identifying feminists do just that, however I would question whether feminism, which is about ensuring female flourishing, equality freedom and independence is best served by reinforcing the idea of women as sexual objects.

What caught my eye on the journey home last night was the dreadful story in the Evening Standard about the sexual violence and abuse of women endemic in gang culture, where women are passed from man to man and severely beaten and abused. Juxtaposed next to the story on the next page were several images of sexually provocative women at the American Music Awards ceremony, together with comments about their appearance.

While all sorts of measures were being proposed to combat gang culture (not least more sex and relationship education) how on earth are we supposed to stop women from being seen as only good for one thing, when we are ourselves subconsciously buying into this and are saturated by such images in the media, although to be fair, there is an increasing trend of the sexual objectification of men. Joey Essex being one such contemporary example who comes to mind.

It’s absolutely pointless telling girls what a consensual relationship is supposed to look or feel like (I think most inherently have a sense of this) when a wholly different message is being sent out by the culture. I am not sure that explicit sex education is going to stop men from wanting to sexually abuse women, or even relationship education, which could even enable men to be able to emotionally coerce women into abusive relationships, persuading them that sex is what they ‘want’. Most abusive relationships do not start out that way from the outset, it is a gradual process and yet no woman should assume that because a man may treat her well, be attentive and charming, it signals that he is a secret sexual psychopath who is no doubt going to abuse her later down the line. Besides gang culture is not simply about a manifestation of misogyny, but is indicative of the crisis facing working class young men in urban societies.

One has to ask where are parents in this mess. In the terrible story of the middle-class girl who spent five years being abused, the parents seem to be wholly absent, proving that it is not class that is the determining factor, but the quality of parental relationships.  It is not meant as blame, but parents seem to be assumed to be taking passive roles, whereas children need good relationships, trust and respect modelled for them as opposed to being taught in a purely didactic fashion. How is a young teenager with crazy unstable hormones supposed to absorb what a healthy relationship should look and feel, simply by being told. They need to be able to intuit and most girls can intuit that something is not right, but not until it is too late.

Parents need to be empowered and enabled to keep tabs on their children and each others, either forming groups to ensure that children are kept occupied after school and reinforce each others’ house rules and curfews. Should thirteen year olds be allowed out late at night, especially on a school night? It’s not just about helping children to keep themselves safe, but teaching parents to help keep their own children safe and impose boundaries, instead of acting like they are powerless in the face of their children’s inevitable rebellion and physical responses to puberty.

Ultimately if we object to sexual objectification in the media and world around us, which contributes to the culture of abuse, self-loathing and brings nothing but long-term damage, both on an individual and societal level, then we need to take steps not only to pressurise our media, film and music industry to clean up their act, but not buy into it ourselves and for our children.

If we object to women being used as worthless sexual objects then we should not surround ourselves with music and videos or newspapers or media that refers to them as ‘b*tches’ or further entrenches the culture, whether that be in the Daily Mail or on the X-Factor.

Nano Nagle – a beacon for 21st Century Catholic women

Taken from the Catholic Universe 10 November 2013

YoungNano

Having stated last week that it was possible to be both a Catholic and a feminist, my heart leapt at the announcement from the Vatican this week that Nano Nagle, the Irishwoman who founded the Sisters of the Presentation Order is to be declared a Venerable, the next step on the path to Sainthood.

Born to Irish Catholic gentry in Ballygriffin, North Cork in 1718, Nano (who was Christened Honora) was born against the backdrop of Ireland’s notorious penal laws, that were designed to subjugate and oppress Catholics, with the aim of wiping out the practice of Catholicism within Ireland. In the words of Edmund Burke, the Irish statesman, politician and philosopher, Nano’s distant relative, “Their declared object was to reduce the Catholics in Ireland to a miserable populace, without property, without estimation, without education”.

Eighteenth century Ireland banned the opening of Catholic schools and also forbade Catholics from travelling overseas to receive an education, therefore Nano’s family took some risks in smuggling her and her sister Ann to Paris where they were able to enjoy a full Catholic education.

It was witnessing the plight of the Parisian poor that inspired Nano to consider how she could best serve them and upon discerning a vocation, following advice from her spiritual director she decided to dedicate her life to providing an education for children in poverty.

The world is currently captivated by the story of the courageous Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai who was shot by the Taliban for her activism encouraging girls to attend school, against considerable cultural pressure and yet 250 years ago, a Catholic woman was displaying the same bravery and pioneering spirit in terms of overcoming a cultural bigotry and prejudice that was enforced by law. When Nano’s brother accidentally discovered what she was up to, his initial reaction was anger as she was placing herself and the family under considerable risk.

Embodying the spirit of the Gospels, Nano’s first school in Cove Lane, Cork, admitted thirty children, from the poorest and most deprived backgrounds, by the time she died in 1784, a whole network of schools had been established, teaching over 400 pupils in seven different parishes, all funded by her own inherited wealth. The schools taught basic reading, writing and arithmetic alongside fundamental catechesis. She also introduced classes in practical skills such as needlework and lace-making in order to enable girls to be able to earn their own living and lift themselves out of poverty.

When her personal fortune ran out, she began begging on the streets on behalf of her schools and eventually founded her own order of religious sisters with the constitution of educating the poor. As the penal laws were still in force, instead of being able to be called Mother Superior or wear a habit, Nano was known as Miss Nagle. A hundred years before the work of Florence Nightingale she became known as the the Lady of the Lantern and her sisters known as ‘Nano’s walking nuns’, her love of the poor not confined to the education of children, but she extended her work to visiting the homes of the poor and doing rounds in the backstreets of Cork.

At a time when the media, the Irish media in particular and public life is preoccupied with sneering at Catholic Religious Orders, it is worth highlighting their contribution to Ireland and the world at large. Presentation Nuns alongside other orders were the first to provide Irish people with the opportunity for an education when no Government or other public body was willing or able to do so and at great personal cost to themselves. Through the foresight of those such as Nano Nagle, and the thousands of religious who dedicated their life to this work, generations of pupils were given a first-rate education, equipped with skills and thus able to elevate themselves out of poverty and contribute to the common good.

Today, many Catholic religious orders continue to provide education, often the only education available in some of the poorest and most unstable parts of the world, such as in Africa, Latin America and in Asia, a fact that is sadly all too often overlooked or ignored, even by Catholics. Nano’s Sisters of the Presentation Order has spread as far afield as Peru, Chile, Ecuador, India, Pakistan, Slovakia, Pakistan, the Philippines, the United States, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Nano Nagle, set down the foundations of the education system in Ireland and inspired generations of educators to come, including a number of notable women who founded their own religious orders and network of schools. Those who so often rush to accuse the Church of misogyny ought to examine the history of Nano and her spiritual descendants, recognising and celebrating their contribution and the contribution of the Catholic Church to the education and empowerment of women.

Nano Nagle’s lantern became the symbol of the Presentation Sisters all over the world. Now her life has been officially recognised as being heroic in virtue, she continues to remain a beacon for twenty-first century Catholic women, showing that fighting for the causes of women and social justice do not need to be mutually exclusive.

There’s absolutely no contradiction between being a feminist and a Catholic

Taken from the Catholic Universe 3 November 2013

Syrian Christian women facing persecution

I was privileged to be asked to participate in the BBC’s 100 women conference this week, which was the culmination of a season of programming and online features designed to highlight and propose remedies for the inequality still faced by women around the world.

At times the conference felt surreal in that being part of what appeared to be a conference mainly perpetuated by prolific middle-class women, most of whom had achieved either professional or personal success, hence coming to the attention of the BBC, the idea that we were all still somehow unequal, being discriminated against or not being listened to by the world at large, seemed contradictory.

To give the BBC their due not every woman was a notable or big name and it was particularly humbling to meet women such as Joyce Ako Aruga, a Kenyan woman currently studying to be a teacher at university, who had to fight every step of the way for her education, only being able to attend school, once she had escaped from her marriage at the age of thirteen.

 The overwhelming narrative was that of women as victims, which when one listens to stories such as those of Joyce’s, or Feresheth, a blind Iranian musician whose parents have threatened to burn her if she sings in public, is hard to disagree with.

Which is where Western feminism needs a wake-up call. Upon introducing myself to fellow delegates as a ‘Catholic feminist’, the responses from fellow delegates and activists ranged from a politely raised eyebrow to open-mouthed horror, people being unable to process that the two were reconcilable, as indeed are many of my co-religionists, feminism being thought of as a total anathema.

But as I reminded the assembled women, Catholic social teaching demands that we listen to the demands of the marginalised and oppressed, which is complementary to feminism when it is women who are particularly targeted by poverty and who have their rights and dignity as human beings, continually violated, with practices such as female genital mutilation, child marriages, being sold into sexual slavery and gender selective abortion.

To echo the words of Cardinal Martino, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice Peace, ‘it must not be forgotten that today extreme poverty has, above all, the face of women and children, especially in Africa.’ Amongst the UN Millennium goals is the aim to reduce global poverty which identifies gender inequality and women’s access to employment, education and health care as economic problems. The majority of those who live on less than one US dollar a day are women and therefore putting food on the table, especially when it comes to feeding children, is predominantly a women’s issue.

There are many ways in which Catholic feminists can act in solidarity with these women, while at the same time explicitly rejecting the other Millennium goals regarding population control which are used to coerce women into taking potentially harmful contraceptive measures and in some cases act as justification for enforced sterilisation and abortion. Development efforts such as micro-loans for women, co-operatives and education programmes are key strategies for development which can all ethically be supported- it is a proven and widely accepted fact that economies grow where women’s conditions improve.

Another important issue when it comes to women’s rights is that of law enforcement for crimes relating to sexual and domestic violence. All too often in countries where the dowry system operates, various agencies turn a blind eye to dowry-related violence or so-called honour killings, with the perpetrators of such terrible crimes not pursued or given extremely lenient sentences. When sexual offences are treated as being of little consequence by the authorities, this further reinforces a culture of disrespect towards women, which is epitomized in the practice of gender selective abortion and the implicit acceptance that a girl’s life is of lesser value.

Where women are treated as a lesser species and denied basic human rights, then there is plenty of scope for Catholics to consider themselves as feminists. So why is this concept treated with such unmitigated horror by the contemporary feminists of today?

Part of the answer lies in the infallible teaching of the Church with regards to the male priesthood. The general public fails to get its head around the difference between job and vocation as well as the theology that disbars women from ever being able to be ordained. Being a priest is falsely perceived to be the only way of exercising any power or leadership within the church and the fact that a large proportion of the faithful are women who are completely happy with this state of affairs and not acting from a sense of oppression, seems to have escaped many.

But perhaps more crucially is that the feminist movement has rooted itself in the ideology of reproductive rights, despite the fact that abortion has done more than any other single measure to harm the cause of the woman.

 When it came to the final debate of the day centering around the issue of whether or not faith and feminism are compatible, thankfully most women were keen not to be seen to be excluding those of us who had a faith, particularly due to the many participants who were wearing the Muslim hijab. It’s a rum kind of sisterhood that is only open to those with a lack of religious belief and more like a club for self-identifying intellectual elites

 Ultimately feminism goes beyond albeit important issues of pay and workplace parity, frankly smashing the glass ceiling is irrelevant to the majority of women, for whom we should be ensuring that the floor is steady beneath their feet. By concentrating on the issues of reproduction and equal pay, the feminist movement have forgotten the deeper philosophical issues which should underlie the movement. Who is woman? What are her roles and responsibilities and what is going to lead to her freedom, happiness and flourishing?

 Which is why it is imperative that Catholics do not simply reject feminism as mere victim identity politics, but fight for more a more holistic and authentic movement.

An unlikely Catholic feminist icon

Winbledon BardotThe blogger Mrs Meadowsweet caught my eye yesterday with a post about Pauline Boty, the female darling of the sixties avant garde generation.  Boty was a key founder of the British Pop Art movement and the only British female painter of that genre – she produced bold bright canvases which both celebrated and critiqued mass cultural movements, exploring themes of female sexuality, gender, race and politics.

Boty’s work is currently being exhibited at the Wolverhampton Gallery, including some pieces that have not been seen for over forty years, having gathered dust in the outhouse of her brother’s farm, before art historian David Mellor chanced upon Boty’s appearance upon Pop Goes the Easel, Ken Russell’s first full-length documentary for the BBC and began a quest to track down her work. As a result of the recent renaissance and reappraisal of her contribution to the sixties art scene, her canvases have more than quadrupled in price since the 1990s,

Born in Carshalton in 1938, the youngest of four children and the only girl, Pauline won a scholarship in 1954 to study stained glass  at the Wimbledon School of Art, amidst her parents’ disproval. She had originally wanted to study painting, but was discouraged from applying as admission rates for women in the school of painting were extremely low.

She completed her studies in 1961 and straight away featured in what many describe as the first ever Pop Art exhibition at the AIA Gallery in London. The following year she appeared in Russell’s documentary and began an acting career alongside her work as a painter. A phenomenal beauty, often referred to as the Wimbledon Bardot, Boty was picked from hundreds of applicants to be one of the weekly dancers on the ultra-hip Ready, Steady, Go. 

With her huge luminous eyes, back-combed mane of blond hair, flawless skin, voluptuous yet slim figure, one can imagine Pauline Boty taking a starring role as the sidekick of Austen Powers, in the films that so successfully sent up the spirit of the sixties. Despite the fact that there was so much more to her than being merely eye candy, her looks (she once appeared in a Vogue photo-spread taken by David Bailey) meant that she was not taken seriously as she should have been as a painter. According to Sue Tate who has written a book about Boty and is co-curator of the exhibition in Wolverhampton  “Unlike her contemporary Bridget Riley who was careful never to present herself as a woman artist, Boty allowed herself to be seen as beautiful and sexy, and because of that she was received as just beautiful and sexy, and not as serious and intellectual.”

Pauline Boty

Her premature death in 1966 at the age of 28 meant that her talent was never developed to its full potential, but her work displayed startling originality, her palette consisting of vibrant colours like cobalt violet and lemon deep yellow, by contrast to the muted palette used in classical training. Many Pop Art painters tended to portray woman as passive and objectified, whereas Boty was keen to celebrate unabashed female sexual desire, such as her painting With Love to Jean-Paul Belmondo, in which the Gallic new-wave actor is portrayed as an object of lust, the rose, Boty’s frequent emblem of female sensuality, imposing itself upon the heart-throb’s head. Unlike other artists such as Warhol, Boty never approached her subjects with a cool detachment, her passion is almost tangible and leaps off the canvas.

Colour-Her-Gone-by-Pauline-Boty-web
Colour her Gone
The Only Blonde in the World 1963 by Pauline Boty 1938-1966
The Only Blonde in the World

Moreoever Boty was not only an artist, actor, model and dancer but a political activist, not only touching upon subjects such as the Cuban Missile Crisis in her work, but also actively engaged in the student politics of the era. She was secretary of ‘Anti-Ugly Action’ a pressure group who marched on the new Kensington Library, demonstrated at Caltex House and scattered rose petals on the coffin of British Architecture outside the new Barclays Bank head office. Later on, when she was beginning to make appearances in chat shows of the day, she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and displaying some of the morality with which she would have been brought up (Boty was a baptised Catholic) she challenged the esteemed historian A J  P Taylor who had been describing Hitler as a ‘great man’ in relation to the magnitude of some of his achievements. Pauline refused to countenance this view, passionately retorting, ‘The size of his deeds no more make him great than their nature makes him good’, an interjection which apparently briefly stopped Taylor in his tracks.

As perhaps might be expected, Boty lived the life of the avant-garde set, she lived a life of sexual liberation, was embroiled in a messy affair with the married producer and director Philip Saville, she dabbled in drugs, smoked pot and occasionally took Benzedrine, but apparently had a preference for Purple Hearts. Her house was a hive of activity, Ossie Clarke was a regular guest, she was close friends with Bob Dylan and friends remember parties, champagne and heated debates.   Several anecdotes abound about her unbridled sexuality, posing nude in front of her photo of Johnny Halliday, sunbathing topless in Ibiza, describing her genitalia in lurid and explicit detail in interviews,  behaviour that broke all social conventions and that would still be considered vulgar 40 years later.

So, with all this in mind, especially when one thinks of some of Pauline Boty’s more sexually explicit work, (one painting featured a naked female derriere, another had the words ‘oh for a fu’ enigmatically scrawled across the corner), why on earth should she be thought of as a Catholic feminist icon?

Firstly, as a sixties pioneer, someone who was interested in smashing the limitations placed upon women and not interested in conforming to society’s expectations, she unexpectedly got married to actor and literary agent Clive Goodwin, ten days after meeting him.  Speaking about the union, her friend Penny Massot says “He was straight and conventional and she was wacky, never quite knew whether she should be with Clive, you know . . . But I think they were dreamy together.” Their marriage was a happy one, in an interview in 1965, Boty spoke about marrying Goodwin because he made her feel secure. Not the sort of thing that modern feminists would be happy to promulgate and perhaps one of the reasons why her memory was until recently expunged from popular history. Why would a beautiful talented politically engaged woman who seemingly had the world at her feet choose to marry? It doesn’t fit in with images of an oppressive patriarchy, especially when we learn that as in all successful marriages, the benefits were mutual, Goodwin by all accounts was transformed as a result of his marriage.

Tragically upon a routine examination during the first trimester of pregnancy, it was discovered that Pauline Boty had leukaemia. She refused to think about abortion, which though still illegal would have been easy to obtain for a woman with her contacts and furthermore refused chemotherapy in case it harmed her unborn baby, a decision which would ultimately cost her life, her daughter was born in 1966 and Boty died a few months afterwards, although she was able to care for her baby for a short time after the birth. In circumstances in which pro-choice feminists would argue that an abortion is a necessity (modern medical research has proven that there is no risk to pregnant women undergoing chemotherapy after the first trimester) Boty stood up for the right to life of her own unborn child.

Interestingly for someone looking to smash gender barriers, amongst her political campaigning and affiliations she did not seem to have involved herself with the activities of ALRA, the Abortion Law Reform Association, established in 1936. While claiming her as a pioneer of the modern feminist movement, the feminists seem to have overlooked this key facet of her life.  A woman who had everything to live for, committed an act of ultimate generosity for the life of her child, not wishing to do anything that might cause her baby what she believed to be, untold harm.

While her life is hardly commensurate with that of the average hagiography, we should nonetheless note and pay tribute to one of the modern feminists who recognised that gender equality does not have to necessitate taking the life of an unborn daughter, even though this came at an enormous personal cost to herself.

Irrelevance of evidence

Nothing highlights more starkly the irrelevance of solely evidenced-based policy than the campaign to criminalise possession of pornography that depicts acts of rape.

A debate is currently raging as to whether or not there is evidence that such material causes people to commit this heinous crime. Two recent convicted child-killers, Mark Bridger and Stuart Hazell were found to have accessed this type of pornography as well as having viewed and downloaded sickening images of child abuse.

Louise Mensch highlights the inconsistency of the UK legal approach in a sensible fashion here, claiming that the UK law does not reflect the gravity of these crimes.

Some intellectual honesty is required. The link between the viewing of pornography (whether violent or not) and sexual crime remains unproven. It’s certainly fair to state that viewing pornography normalises deviant and niche sexual behaviour and can prove damaging to those predisposed to addictive behaviour as well as those who are having difficulty forming normal healthy relationships. There is a plethora of emerging data that suggests that pornography is having a deleterious effect on the psyche of society at large.

But until this can be definitively quantitatively proven debates will rage centred around civil liberties, censorship and the consenting individuals involved. In all likelihood there are those who can view rape porn and not go on to commit crime. Pornography does not turn people into automatons, we still retain free will even in the midst of the most terrible addictions. An addiction to porn may require much strength to break free from, it may increase the desire to commit sexual crime to those inclined that way, but it won’t in and of itself cause someone to take the conscious physical step of forcing oneself upon another. Pornography should not be used as a mitigating factor when considering how these crimes should be dealt with and viewed by society.

Instead of pouring over evidence and data, policy-makers should have the courage to admit the question of porn should be purely one of morals and values, not one of gradation of different levels of harm. All porn is degrading, seedy and harmful or damaging. It desensitises and cheapens both participant and viewer. It will always exist, but the question is whether or not it should have an overt place in society. Should porn be a matter of moral neutrality, should we sanction it, turn a blind eye or should we be brave and bold enough to state that it has no place in a civilised society, even if people then chuck glib insults or labels our way?

The evidence of the dangers of porn will take considerable time to consolidate, as with tobacco. By that time it will be too late. Whether or not we want a porn free society is entirely a value judgement. Evidence has little to do with it.

I know it’s only RocknRoll…

You can be blasé about some things Kate, but not about marriage...
You can be blasé about some things Kate, but not about marriage…

There’s been something of a brouhaha following the publication of an admittedly acerbic article by Judith Rogers in the Daily Telegraph that called the oscar-winning actress tacky, after her announcement that she is expecting her third baby by her third husband, later this year.

In typical fashion various feminist commentators laid into Ms Rogers and the Telegraph with accusations of misogyny and the ubiquitous ‘slut-shaming’ label. A second article was then hastily churned out by the newspaper’s Wonderwoman section, in condemnation of the first.

A few observations. While sharp, the original article had a point in that it highlighted the folly of having three children by three different men. Before I go any further I am well aware that I lay myself open to charges of blatant hypocrisy as my relationship history has not been unblemished. I too attempted a marriage not in possession of a full understanding of what that meant and lacking the emotional maturity to realise that my judgement was flawed. Mea maxima culpa.

I would not attempt to justify, promote or validate my past as being ideal, nor would I seek to deny the devastating effect that divorce has upon children of a marriage, even if matters are resolved in a civilised fashion and former partners manage to avoid the trap that so many fall into of using their children as weapons or co-opting them into taking a particular side. It is painful and unsettling for children when their biological parents are not living together, they are subject to regular disruption, forced to live in two different homes, and always feeling slightly apart or different from their parents’ new families, a separateness that is reinforced by the fact that they may not even share the same surname as their mother or father’s families. When one of the parents re-marries, the child has to bond with and accept an additional parental figure of authority in their home, the new spouse, like it or not, bears an element of responsibility for the child living under their roof. We are fortunate as a family, there is no question for my eldest daughter that she is an equally valued and loved member of her stepfather’s family, she enjoys a close and loving bond with her stepfather alongside her relationship with her adoring biological father but there are still moments of pain and tears when visits end. It is a better situation than various alternatives, but it is not the ideal that all children deserve. It would be deceptive to claim otherwise.

The ‘problem’ is not one of sexual ethics, credit where credit is due, Kate Winslet is expecting a baby within a marital relationship, the ideal context. The difficulty lies not in her pregnancy, but that she does not appear to treat the bond of marriage entirely seriously. Either that, or she’s been incredibly unlucky, but from what was reported in the press, the break-up of her first marriage came entirely at her instigation with her former husband , Jim Threappleton joining the pressure group ‘Fathers for Justice’ as he seemingly does not get enough access to their daughter.

Multiple marriages or serial monogamy have a devastating effect on children and my eyebrows were raised not at the prospect of her pregnancy but at her third marriage which came after a relatively short courtship to a man who had recently changed his birth name to ‘Rocknroll’ by deed poll. It’s not indicative of maturity, each to their own, but with two children by different fathers and having ditched her previous model boyfriend upon meeting her spouse, it’s certainly doesn’t give the impression of a man who is giving much thought to responsibility and is an interesting choice for mother of two in her late thirties.

Perhaps having amassed considerable wealth as a result of her career, Kate is none too concerned about permanence as she has financial stability and is able to financially support herself should things go horribly wrong, but it seems fair to question the effect of the emotional stability upon her children. That will be the third father-figure in her eldest daughter’s life and doesn’t exactly model marriage in a good light as being a lifetime permanent stable commitment for her children.

This isn’t a misogynist attitude either, I have as little time for men who indulge in similar behaviour, I know I’ll cause gross offence if my former colleague Yvonne reads this, such is her passion for Rod Stewart, but he’s one such offender. Charlie Sheen is another who comes to mind. There will be plenty more.

 It’s fair to note that women celebrities are more prone to being singled out for this disapprobation than men, so perhaps there is a slight element of misogyny, but of more concern is the element of class here. I don’t see the feminists rallying round to the defence of Katie Price, who has open season declared on her private life, (not helped by the fact she aids, abets and positively invites comments with her regular magazine spreads and reality shows) but the general consensus seems to be that La Price is trashy and vulgar for being on her third husband and expecting her fourth baby by her third different man, whereas Kate Winslet should be above judgement, because she is a beautiful and talented, Oscar-winning actress from a middle-class family.

Where's the sisterhood sticking up for the other thrice married Kate?
Where’s the sisterhood sticking up for the other thrice married Kate?

This isn’t about money, but about class. Society does still stigmatise those who have multiple children by multiple men and women but the difference is whether or not they have the funds not to be a burden on the taxpayer. Transfer Kate Winslet into a tracksuit on a council estate, aged 37, expecting her third child by her third husband and the moral neutrality and relativism would vanish.

Articles such as Judith Rogers’ may be the literary equivalent of pursing one’s lips into the shape of a cat’s bottom, but it’s noteable that the Daily Telegraph have attacked Winslet, one of their own, as opposed to Katie Price who they would not normally sully their pages with. Here is a middle-class publication casting judgement on a middle-class woman, one to whom many would aspire on account of her ability to look good when taking her clothes off in films, dazzle in glamourous gowns on the red carpet and her undeniable talent as an actress. The Kate Winslet brand previously exuded class, a few errors of judgement and the lustre is beginning to look a little tarnished.

Bearing in mind that as Christians we need to speak the truth but with charity, I wish both of the Kates, Winslet and Price well. We have to remember that people are not means to an end, but human beings with feelings. Being hated on for the crime of being pregnant by one’s new husband cannot be pleasant and doesn’t do much to spread Gospel values, although Christ was clear about the importance of marriage. Jesus doesn’t simply reference marriage but talks about it as God’s plan for humanity from the very beginning, as John Paul II reflected upon in his Theology of the Body.

In all societies since time immemorial, people who have deviated from societal norms or indulged in patterns of behaviour to the detriment of the common good have been ostracised. Fortunately these days we have moved away from public shaming practices lacking in compassion and mercy and are more tolerant and open to the prospect of forgiveness.

Newspapers reflect the interests and views of their readership nonetheless, which is why the Daily Telegraph will be passing judgement on Kate Winslet, the Daily Express or the The Sun, on Katie Price. We can but hope that it is third time lucky for these two women, not least for the sake of their children. It is perfectly acceptable to note that neither seem to possess much wisdom in terms of choice of spouse and/or value the commitment of marriage.

 There are those who, in the absence of any spiritual or moral formation take their cues from the rich and famous. Multiple children by multiple surviving former spouses is not in the best interests of individuals, children, families or society as a whole. It is neither misogynistic,  narrow-minded or judgemental to point this out. It shows that public disproval can still be a powerful tool. Kate Winslet is no victim, despite the clamouring of the feminist lobby to claim her as their latest figurehead. Their silence over the similar press treatment of Katie Price,  for her sexual antics, speaks volumes. They are as elitist as the patriarchy they claim to despise.

Solely a female issue?

I logged into Twitter yesterday to change some of my settings (never a good idea) and instantaneously the following came up on my timeline:

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I instinctively re-tweeted it and Jill kept us updated:

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Somewhat predictably Jill was then attacked by some angry pro-choicers, but as her avatar indicates, she doesn’t take any prisoners.

A few thoughts. Firstly, thank God for people like this who give care and support to those who may be grieving. No doubt she will be accused of lying or interfering but they saw a man sat in his car crying over the imminent loss of his child and went to comfort him. Note there’s no ‘judgemental’ attitude towards the mother but support for a grieving man in his hour of need.

What would the feminists say to this man? ‘It’s not really a baby? Her body, her choice. It’s between her and her doctor’? Or would they eschew their ideal of a man in touch with his emotions and tell him to ‘man up and be strong’.

There can be no better illustration of the fallacy that abortion is solely a woman’s issue, centred around the bodily autonomy of an individual. The unborn child is not a part of the woman’s body, the baby and the placenta have a unique DNA wholly separate to that of the mother. Does this man not have a right to grieve? Is it really fair not only to deny him the chance of fatherhood but also the baby the chance of life? How can one person take a decision that will decimate the lives of at least two others?

The notion that abortion is solely a woman’s choice is even undermined by the abortion lobby themselves. Consider the following from the Education for Choice ‘Abortion education toolkit’. 

If a young man has or goes on to have experience of unplanned pregnancy with a partner, it is important that he knows who he can talk to and where he can go for help and support, as well as being able to signpost his partner to appropriate agencies. This is especially important when a couple are not agreed about what the outcome of a pregnancy should be, which can be a very difficult situation for a young man to face. Signposting to young men’s services is an important part of abortion education. 

So it isn’t solely a woman’s issue after all then? If Education for Choice are concerned about how to support young men whose partners decide to keep a baby against their will, presumably they wouldn’t have any objection to them being referred to pro-life organisations? One can only imagine the outcry.

If men are allowed to moot abortion as a solution to women and should be encouraged to support, encourage and facilitate otherwise reluctant women in their decision to abort, then there should be no problem with them doing all their power to persuade and facilitate women who may be considering abortion, to change their minds?

But this is where the angry and often facile slogans about a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body come in to play, the baby’s inability to give consent to having their bodily autonomy violated is now  irrelevant and unimportant. As is the man’s right to decide what happens to 50% of his DNA. Rhetoric evoking violence, about a woman being ‘forced’ to be pregnant and give birth, is employed.

But how many women really are ‘forced’ to give birth against their will, compared to the amount of women who are forced to abort? It’s a bizarre concept, that the absence of an invasive surgical procedure amounts to physical force. The reality is that most women feel forced to abort through a combination of personal and economic circumstances. Most women testify that they did not feel able to mother a child due to a lack of support. That’s a very different prospect to ‘choosing not to be a mother’. Upon seeing the two blue lines on the pregnancy test, the first reaction of  a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy  is not a ‘shall I/shan’t I keep it’. She doesn’t toss a coin or choose an abortion as a ‘lifestyle choice’ because motherhood is currently in or out of vogue. Women who end up outside the abortion clinics are there because they see it as their only option, and frequently because its very existence enables others to put pressure on them to take a ‘responsible’ option. 64% of women having abortions said they had felt pressure to abort.

It is a known fact that domestic abuse either commences or escalates during pregnancy. Are these really the actions of men who are forcing their partners to give birth, or more likely, immature and resentful men lashing out because they will no longer be the focus of attention? Whilst its clear that domestic abuse in pregnancy is due to a bully picking on someone at a time that they are vulnerable, a woman who is having a baby against the will of her partner is at far more risk of domestic violence, than one whose partner wants to nurture and support the pair of them.

If abortion was not just another ‘choice’ open to pregnant women, I wonder how many women really would feel that they were being ‘forced’ into pregnancy and childbirth against their will? If abortion was not an option then surely men would begin to see the duty of care that they owe to their sexual partners as potential mothers of their children?  If abortion was not an option then how much more pro-life, child-friendly and family-centric would we be as a society? If women were genuinely terrified about the consequences of pregnancy then we would see far fewer unplanned or crisis pregnancies. If men knew that sex could land them with a lifetime of moral responsibility towards the women they casually chose to sleep with, not to mention eighteen years of financial responsibility, then they would be a lot more circumspect in their attitudes.

By deeming abortion a woman’s issue the entire responsibility for the consequences of mutual sexual activity is dumped on her doorstep, regardless of her decision. The only time she should have to pull the bodily autonomy card is when it comes to resisting the pressure from others to abort.

I’d love to know what the response of radical feminists would be to the tears of the poor man above who faces a journey of healing. His comfort must lie in the metaphysical and entrusting his baby to the Lord’s gentle and severe mercy.

www. fatherhoodforever.org run a healing ministry for fathers who have lost their children to abortion.

Ages of motherhood – missing the point

If Diane Abbot is correct in her observations that there is a crisis of masculinity in the UK, and indeed the western world, nothing exemplifies this better than two very different campaigns, both predominantly aimed at women and motherhood.

The first is an American campaign called ‘No Teen Pregnancy’ which aims to stigmatise teenage mothers. The campaign is, as Prymface notes, virulently anti-mother, with posters such as these.

Motherhood sucks right?
Motherhood sucks right?
Changing the world, one glossy lipsticked pout glance and smouldering at a time. Motherhood is so unsexy....
Changing the world, one glossy lipsticked pout and smouldering glance at a time. Motherhood is so unsexy….

The inference is clear, motherhood is unsatisfactory and unfulfilling, no great achievement and only a valid choice later on in life when you may have fulfilled greater, more important goals. Motherhood is, according to the geniuses behind this campaign, a chore, only something to be embraced when you are otherwise tired of life in the fast lane and possess plenty of cash to lavish upon one’s beloved offspring. What does ‘changing the world’ consist of when you are a teenager, in any event? Going out, getting hopelessly drunk, having numerous sexual relationships and emerging battle-scarred, world weary and wiser? Going to University? Why can’t you go to University and be a mother at the same time? Why does motherhood ‘suck’.

Whilst the adverts seek to speak to those teenagers on their level, they are offensive in as much as they seek to appeal to the basest instincts of materialism, consumerism and selfishness.

Yes it is actually. Nothing for the baby to get entangled in and no risks of strangulation or suffocation. Plain, simple and safe. Perfect.

Admittedly splashing out on consumer goods for your precious little bundle is fun and pleasurable pursuit when pregnant, the idea that the baby needs luxury or designer goods is one dreamt up and promoted by the retail industry. Whilst the latest designer pram or gadget might be fun, the baby knows absolutely no different – so long as they are safe, dry, warm, fed and held, they couldn’t care less whether or not they have co-ordinating crib sheets in a shade of pink or blue, and as a point of safety, the cot in the photo above looks ideal. Drapes, fripperies, pillows, quilts or even soft toys are superfluous in a cot with a newborn baby and all pose potential hazards. Expectant parents who go out and flash the cash do it predominantly for their own pleasure, whilst persuading themselves it’s an altruistic gesture and measure of love.

The message is clear. If you are a teenage mother then you are a failure, you have let yourself and your baby down and should be utterly ashamed of yourself. No-one should be encouraging teenagers to become mothers, but in a society which has failed our young people in terms of the mixed messages that it imparts, seeking to punish and marginalise teenagers who have been sold the lie that sex can be safe and that all choices are equally valid, for not aborting their unborn baby or for getting pregnant in the first instance, is not the answer.

Moreover adverts such as these are a total gift to the abortion industry. This, they say, is the real attitude towards teenage mothers and why abortion is necessary. Teenagers will have to face so much stigma for becoming pregnant in the first instance or not giving their babies up for adoption, that abortion has to be the kinder option. The posters reinforce the notion that unless a pregnancy is planned with ruthless efficiency to occur at a time when a woman is financially and emotionally ‘ready’, she is not capable of being a good mother and doing what is best for her child.

The really insidious agenda here is one which seeks to promote and assert children as having consumer needs which blend into ‘rights’. According to this logic, unless a child can be given a very specific, middle-class start in life, then he or she is going to endure a life of poverty, deprivation and misery and it would be better and kinder if they were not born in the first place, forgetting that the right to life is the most basic of all human rights and supercedes every other consideration. A right to life, is not the same as the right to a comfortable Guardian-reading, middle-class life and should not be confused as such. Furthermore such patronising attitudes display total contempt and arrogance towards those of a different social strata, forgetting that concepts such as joy, happiness, contentment, fulfillment and spirituality transcend man-made social constructs.

The second campaign is one fronted by the TV presenter and journalist Kate Garraway, called Get Britain Fertile which aims to improve chances of conception for couples and stop women from ‘sleepwalking into infertility’ as  according to a YouGov survey, 70% of women believe that women having a baby in their forties is too old.

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Let’s not fool ourselves here, this campaign is not one of altruism, it’s sponsored and promoted by First Response, a company who manufactures ovulation and pregnancy testing kits and therefore has much to gain by increasing women’s awareness of their fertility.

Like the No to Teen Pregnancy campaign, Get Britain Fertile is based on a sensible premise. Just as it isn’t advisable for most teenagers to become pregnant, we should also not be encouraging women to wait until their are in their late thirties or early forties, before they think about becoming mothers. In the same way that teenage mothers can be a massive drain upon the country’s resources, older mothers can also cost significantly more, not least in terms of cost to the NHS.

Of course cost shouldn’t really be a consideration when we are talking about the welfare of individuals but we also know that becoming a mother at a significantly younger or older age is likely to put additional burden on the individuals involved. In the case of teen mothers these burdens will as likely be financial, in the case of older mothers, the burden will be physical, but both will have psychological knock-on effects. Both ages of motherhood can be ethically problematic, an older mother being more likely to resort to IVF and encountering more health issues,  a teenage mother being more likely to be without a partner and/or stability.

Being a younger mother or an older mother has its advantages and disadvantages and one shouldn’t cast generalisations about either group of women. I know plenty of inspirational women who fall into both categories. Friends of mine got pregnant at seventeen, had their children and have wonderful lives and careers with almost grown up children of their own at a stage when I am still knee-deep in feeding and nappies. Other friends have conceived their first child in their forties and have a wealth of wisdom, experience, not to mention enough money to be able to become full-time mothers. Some older mothers I know are total control freaks, used to being in charge of every element of their lives and unable to cope with the sheer unpredictability of an infant, some younger ones have a tendency to irresponsible or feckless behaviour. Mothers aren’t a species apart from the human race, age does not confer or remove an ability to parent, it simply presents a different set of barriers.

But both campaigns are equally frustrating, in that by and large they hone in upon the woman, her needs, wants, desires and physical abilities. In focusing upon age, both campaigns miss the point. The most important thing about having children, is neither age, nor even family income, but family stability. Of far more significance to the overall wellbeing of a child is not the age of their mother, but that they have a mother and a father. The greatest barrier that women face in being mothers, is a lack of support from their children’s fathers. Being a single mother (or father for that matter) is one of the hardest jobs in the world. What mothers need is for the fathers of their children to support and encourage them in their attempts to fulfill their potential as great mothers. What fathers and men need, is for women to support and encourage them in their attempts to be good fathers. Not having a biological parent with an equally vested interest in doing the best thing for the child, to emotionally and financially support mother and child is the biggest obstacle that exists to motherhood – age is utterly immaterial.

A poster campaign isn’t going to change hearts and minds, most younger or older mothers find themselves victims of circumstances, but policy-makers wishing to prevent teen pregnancies and single mothers, need to axe the various government quangos that validate feckless sexual behaviour and disincentivise marriage, misinforming young people that sex can be ‘safe’ and consequence-free.

Equally vital is informing men about the duty and respect that they owe to women, the inherent dignity of motherhood and the importance for children that they are supported by two loving mutually supportive parents. If men are suffering from a crisis of masculinity, it is precisely because sex has been decoupled from procreation and issues related to romantic relationships, parenting and childbearing have been advocated as being solely in the realm of women’s rights. Men have been left out of the equation and seem to be relegated to the role of mere sperm donors.

If it is in the interests of society that women begin to start their families earlier then men need to buy into this concept and learn about their responsibilities towards women as  potential and actual mothers of children, as opposed to co-workers, rivals for promotion or recreational sexual partners or objects.

Speaking as one who has had children in her twenties, thirties and will in all probability have another child in her forties, I would state that as long as one is biologically capable of naturally bearing children, one’s ability to mother should not be judged in terms of age. Women of all ages and in all situations are capable of being good mothers. It’s the lack of a father, not the digit on a birth certificate, that needs the most compensating for.

It’s not the age of mothers we should be concerned about, but the role of fathers. Get the importance of families, commitment and stability straightened out in the minds of politicians, alongside the vital and crucial work of motherhood, the average age of the first-time mother will plummet as will the teenage pregnancy rate.

Women as Witnesses

For those who haven’t seen it over there, here’s my thoughts on the remarks made at Pope Francis’ General Audience today. This theme of women and motherhood and what that means, is going to need much more analysis and apologetics.

Quite early on in this blog, I had several non-denominational Christians as well as general enquiries, wanting to drill down a bit further into the notion of women as mothers. The inherent dignity, importance and value of motherhood needs to be emphasised, whilst taking care not to alienate women who are not physical mothers, as being some sort of lesser beings, or somehow lacking in innate femininity. It’s a tricky tightrope, whilst the goods of motherhood must be reclaimed, care must be taken not to fetishise mothers in an unhelpful way either.

Here’s the post anyway.

Speaking in his General Audience today, Pope Francis emphasised the importance and role that women have to play within the Catholic Church, as unselfish communicators of the Gospel.

The women are driven by love and know how to accept this proclamation with faith: they believe, and immediately transmit it, they do not keep it for themselves. They cannot contain the joy of knowing that Jesus is alive, the hope that fills their heart.

Contrasting the implicit faith of the women who are the first human witnesses to the Resurrection with that of the male Apostles, Pope Francis says:

The Apostles and disciples find it harder to believe in the Risen Christ, not the women however! Peter runs to the tomb, but stops before the empty tomb; Thomas has to touch the wounds of the body of Jesus with his hands.

The very act of returning to the tomb, to anoint the body of Christ is a manifestation of this faith and also trust. Why did they return to the tomb? They would have been aware that the tomb entrance was sealed by an enormous boulder that would have been impossible for them to roll away without some assistance, as well as the fact that guards were posted at the tomb’s entrance, who were unlikely to have been amenable. And yet still they trusted.

Reinforcing the historicity of the Gospel accounts, Pope Francis reminds us of Christ’s radicalism. Women were not considered credible or reliable legal witnesses in first century Palestine, this was a role reserved to Elders or men over thirty, and yet it was to women that Christ first manifested his Resurrection, as a reward for their faith and in recognition of their love.

This is beautiful, and this is the mission of women, of mothers and women, to give witness to their children and grandchildren that Christ is Risen! Mothers go forward with this witness! What matters to God is our heart, if we are open to Him, if we are like trusting children. But this also leads us to reflect on how in the Church and in the journey of faith, women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord, in following him and communicating his face, because the eyes of faith always need the simple and profound look of love

Beautiful and inspirational. What can be more important than being witnesses to the Resurrection and the love of God? Those very first witnesses, who were so convinced by what they had seen and so determined to spread the Good News, to the extent that they would lay down their lives and suffer the most excruciating and painful deaths, played a crucial and key role in the development of the faith. Women are called to witness, whether that be as physical or spiritual mothers, to pass down and impart the joy of the faith to their children and in their families, in a way that only they know how. That the Pope has chosen to affirm and link women with motherhood should not be overlooked.

Christ called Mary Magdalene by name in the garden in acknowledgement of her simple and uncomplicated love, faith and trust. Furthermore Mary Magdalene is no plaster saint or unrealistic model of womanhood. Her lack of inhibition and emotive displays are often embarrassing or discomforting and yet Christ loves because of her innate feminine authenticity and total lack of guile and self-awareness. Whilst Our Lady set the pattern of motherhood, in the encounter in the garden, we see Christ conferring a vital vocation upon St Mary Magdalen as the first female missionary.

Traditionally depicted as beautiful, sensuous and possessing an unrestrained yet totally pure love of the Lord, she accepts her vocation through a direct encounter with Christ, with no thoughts as to what may be in it for her in terms of status, earthly or material reward, and neither does she stop to compare herself with the Apostles. She has no need. Christ has already reaffirmed her equality, as St Mark awkwardly relates. Not only does Christ make his first appearance to a woman, but one who was once demonically possessed.

St Mary Magdalene allowed herself to be won over by Christ and gave herself over to him whole-heartedly and he rewarded, affirmed and entrusted himself to her in all of her femininity.  This is the message for contemporary women today.

A dissenting voice

st mary's university college twickenham

An interesting comment appeared in response to my post about the Catholic Women Rising project, stating that I am never going to manage to attempt to get every Catholic woman to sign up. Maybe not, but just because something may be difficult, doesn’t mean that it’s not worth doing.

As a point of note, the Catholic Women Rising site is not meant to be a personal vanity project – the intention is to hand over blog administration to any other Catholic women (or men) who may wish to be involved, especially in the apologetics side. The aim is to promote the New Feminism, winning over lapsed Catholics and hopefully even persuading women of other denominations,  as well as a manifestation of the huge amount of grass roots support that exists for Catholic teaching.  I don’t care from whence the apologetics comes so long as it is not only sound, but gentle – there will be no time for hectoring those who struggle with teaching or at times fall short. Whilst sin or error can not be validated,  one catches more flies with honey than vinegar as the saying goes and it is intended to be a place of joyful witness to the truth, not petty sniping or personal carping. I wonder whether women are better placed in terms of evangelising to other women nonetheless.

In the meantime, it will mainly be pro-life and personal witterings reflections as per usual on this site, but so far the response has been overwhelming, my email and social media inboxes have been inundated with support, with Francis Philips of the Catholic Herald, Joanna Bogle and Marianne Cutherbertson, being among those who have supported the site and signed. It’s early days yet, but I do intend to keep plugging away at it and getting as many names as possible and publicising the initiative outside of the internet.

Whilst not wishing to pick on the person who left the comment, another one of her points was that unrest exists within the Catholic church with regards to women. If this is the case then this needs to be identified and engaged with, not least so that women who feel uncomfortable with doctrine, are at the very least, afforded the privilege of being listened to and it needs to be established whether any pastoral solution can be sought, or whether they are labouring under a misapprehension. No-one is claiming that unrest doesn’t exist, but it’s a question of how representative some of the media narratives are. The majority of Catholic female voices in the mainstream media (Catholic Herald staff aside), from Joanna Moorhead to even Cristina Odone, seem to publicly dissent from at least one aspect of teaching. The project aims to offer a response and counter, to which a new post has gone up, which names some of the women of influence within the Holy See itself.

Tina Beattie suggests that the handful of women to whom the Vatican are listening are “selected handmaidens”, a deliberately inflammatory phrase, designed to reinforce the notions of patriarchy and sexual subservience and oppression. If one were of a less charitable disposition, one might wonder whether or not there is a hint of bitterness or frustration that as a theologian in a Catholic university, she is not among their number.

Occam’s razor comes in handy here – if there are not as many women as perhaps would be desirable amongst those positions open to the laity in the Curia, it has as much to do with the fact that many Catholic women have a vocation of wife and mother which is incompatible with a full-time job located in Vatican City. The complaint that ‘diverse prominent women theologians’ are not being listened to is due to the nature of the dissenting views of such theologians as opposed to their gender. Hans Kung wasn’t stripped of his teaching faculties on account of his sex.

If the church fails to take account of the problems of the women in the world, and I’m far from convinced that this is true, then this needs further definition.

But the most interesting aspect of this comment, is that it appeared to jump on the fact that I had apparently misunderstood and taken Tina Beattie’s Guardian quote from Protect the Pope, out of context and it appeared to be leaping to her defence. I have no intention of attempting to out the person who made the comment, who I suspect was a student and neither do I have the time or inclination to pursue or track down those who leave comments expressing disagreement.

WordPress does however automatically log the IP address of those who leave comments and as such I can often identify persistent trolls. This commenter is not a troll, she was simply disagreeing with me as she is perfectly entitled to do so, however what jumped out at me was that WordPress assigned a name to the originating comment, which was St Mary’s University College, Twickenham, a Catholic University, which has been experiencing a fair amount ofshenanigans of late.

That we have a student who seems to be in agreement with Professor Beattie is nothing to get rattled about. But it does once again pose the wider question about what might be going on in terms of teaching or catechesis at that university, which seems rather sad.