The Vatican’s demoralizing,
dehumanizing view of women grabbed a lot of attention
around International Women’s Day, when the church pushed back against
women’s basic rights by ex-communicating
the mother and doctors who saved the life of a nine-year-old rape victim. The doctors performed the abortion
on the rape victim after discovering that she was four months pregnant
after what turned out to be a history of being raped by her stepfather.
The sexual violence and pregnancy were only discovered because the 80-pound
girl complained of stomach pains.
but not surprisingly, the Vatican did not excommunicate the rapist. Spend enough time around sentimental
pro-life rhetoric, and it becomes clear that a 4-month-old fetus is
indeed more valuable than a 9-year-old girl. Anti-choicers
spin lurid fantasies about how abortion providers are in this business because
they enjoy child rape, and that they perform abortions to protect the
rapist and hide the crime. This case shows us the truth–abortion providers
perform abortions on rape victims to spare them the further violence
of being forced to bear a rapist’s child. This fact that should be easy
to remember if you remember that women and girls are people. The
rapist, the girl’s stepfather, is sitting in prison where he belongs.
Putting rapists higher in the
moral order than their victims (or at least victims who dare survive)
is the sort of thing that crowds out other offenses — those that fit more into
the "no, really?" category than the "what immoral patriarchal
monsters" category. That’s why this
irritatingly sexist and classist jab at women flew under the radar.
The washing machine has
had a greater liberating role for women than the pill, the official
Vatican daily said in an International Women’s Day commentary Sunday.
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"The washing machine
and the emancipation of women: put in the powder, close the lid and
relax," said the headline on the article in Osservatore Romano.
The article has an odd definition
of what makes a woman "liberated"–basically the shine of her
appliances and presumably her pearls.
While the machines were
at first unreliable, technology has developed so quickly that now there
is "the image of the super woman, smiling, made up and radiant
among the appliances of her house," wrote Osservatore.
These two slights against women–condemning
a 9-year-old girl’s mother to hell for saving her life and insinuating
that all women need is more time to watch soaps while the laundry does
itself–differ dramatically in magnitude, but they come from the same
bewildering belief that women are cartoons instead of real people. I
suppose, from the point of view of the authors, that it really is no
big deal for women to be pregnant all the time if we are as devoid of
thought, ambition, or desire to do anything but sit on our rumps all
The most generous reading of
this is that the washing machine and other labor-saving devices freed
women up so they could have their own jobs and incomes. In order
to believe this, you have to have very little understanding of the shift
from an agrarian society to a capitalist one, but I digress. As
Pamela Merritt pointed out to me when we talked about this, the assumption
that machines untied women from the household so we "could" work
ignores the fact that many women that didn’t have middle class advantages
had to work, laundry machines or no. Just by sheer numbers, the
pill had to have liberated more women, because it relieved the burdens
of both working and middle class women. Working class women who
have to work need more time for themselves, and an ability to choose
how many mouths they have to feed even more so than women who get to choose
Because you know what will
cause you to have more laundry than you can keep up with, even if you
have the shiniest washing machine of all? Having a dozen children
like the Vatican wants you to.
But that’s just the most
generous interpretation. Really, you get the sense that some of
the people who write stuff like this for the Osservatore don’t even
know any women, much less know anything about their lives. How
else would you legitimately think that all women want to be liberated
to do is watch more soaps? How else could you forget that even
all western women do not fit into the same cookie cutter image of Mrs.
Cleaver pushing around a mop in her pearls?
It’s a telling fantasy, in
its way. If you truly believe that most women are "liberated"
to watch some soaps and eat some bon bons, then it’s much easier to
believe that it’s no skin off our backs to spend our lives either
pregnant, getting pregnant, or currently in labor. What else do
we have to do with our time? It’s not like we use our minds
for anything, or have feelings that matter.
And so even though the washing
machine insult and the gross violation of a 9-year-old rape victim’s
basic human rights differ from each other in magnitude so much that
it’s hard to see how they’re related, they are. The
Vatican’s out of touch with women’s lives and seems to have a hard
time grasping that women have minds and feelings similar to those of
men’s. If you can’t even grasp the basics like that, it’s
a short jump to dehumanizing women and girls in other ways. Stay
out of touch long enough, and next thing you know, you’re unable to
grasp what should be obvious, which is that little girls count, rape
victims count, and protecting the lives of people that do exist–yes,
even the female people–counts more than the lives that exist only
in possibility. And oh yeah, that there’s something deeply,
deeply wrong with you if you grant a man who rapes a little girl more
moral status than people who save a little girl.