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August 02, 2005

Comments

Sally

I dunno. I guess I wonder a bit how many profoundly impoverished children could be vaccinated with the money you spend on expensive bikes and fancy running shoes and pilates classes. I bet if you cut back on expensive exercise equipment, you could save the lives of several children every year. You seem pretty satisfied to indulge your own obsession with controling your body. You don't seem to think that you're called to sacrifice where that's concerned. I'm a little confused about where you get off telling me what kind of sacrifices are demanded of me. I'm not really fussed as long as you don't try to outlaw abortion, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

Hugo

Sally, you're making the old (and flawed) argument that only those who live lives of perfect intellectual and spiritual congruence have a right to speak on any given subject. If that were true, our exchanges would be pretty damn impoverished, and only the cynics would be free to speak without the charge of hypocrisy.

I believe I am called by God to tithe ten percent of my income (and that's a heck of a lot more than most people in this country give). I give that ten percent, not just to the church but to other valuable charities. Should I give more? Probably. Do I worry too much about my body? Of course! Do I spend lots of money on clothes and workout gear that could be given to the poor? Yes.

Leading a Christian life is not about a moment of instant regeneration followed by decades of humble perfection. It's a long journey, filled with setbacks and periods of doubt. It has its deserts and its oases. God changed me when I became a Christian, but He didn't make me perfect. Especially in my love of things, and my narcissism, it's clear I've got room to improve.

But must I be absolutely silent until I hit that moment of absolute, total, selfless integrity? I don't think so.

Mr. Bad

Hugo said this: "After all, one huge problem is that the church has often tolerated (and even reinforced) a body double standard, according to which men were simply not asked to make the same kind of physical sacrifices that women were asked to make. Too often, when it comes to the body, the church has been like that group of men in John 8, eager to stone a woman to death for adultery (the only Commandment, of course, one cannot violate by oneself). Jesus refuses to accept a cultural standard that demands more of women than of men, insisting that the Law on adultery be applied radically equally to both men and women, or not be applied at all. From a Christian feminist perspective, the goal is equal sacrifice, equal commitment, from both men and from women."

And this:"I'm not sure men are called to make a sacrifice comparable to carrying a child to term; I don't know that any experience in the life of a man is genuinely similar to coping with an unwanted pregnancy."

I am absolutely sure that men are called to make sacrifices comparable to - or greater than - carrying a child to term. Men are coerced into parenthood all the time (similar to unwanted pregnancy, only women have a choice to abort and men do not). Further, men do the vast, vast majority of the dangerous, demanding, life-threatening and life-shortening work; what Warren Farrell calls "the killing professions." Men are also required to register for the draft and to make the ultimate sacrifice for our families, society and culture if need be. Without question the sacrifices of their bodies that men make (and have made) are every bit as substantial and profound as childbirth, whether that be in the workplace to support his family or on the battlefield defending his country. To say otherwise is just plain silly and insulting to all men, living and dead.

As for adultery, one most certainly can commit it by oneself: If a married woman has sex with an unmarried man, she is committing adultery and he is not. I believe that he is sinning in other ways (not being a Christian, I don't know for sure), but he is not committing adultery.

Hugo


Mr. Bad, first of all, there is no draft in this country and hasn't been for more than three decades.

Second of all, you're right in the sense that the Mosaic tradition considered a married man who slept with an unmarried woman to not be guilty of adultery.  This is, however, not what Jesus will believe.  Look at how Jesus defines adultery, and it's instantly clear it's much broader than anything the Pharisees would have considered.  (Matthew 5, Mark 10).  And even under the Mosaic definition (which Jesus rejects as incomplete), you still need an accomplice to commit adultery, even if that accomplice would be guilty of the separate sin of fornication.  You don't need a willing accomplice to violate any of the other commandments.

Sally

Sally, you're making the old (and flawed) argument that only those who live lives of perfect intellectual and spiritual congruence have a right to speak on any given subject.

Well, that put me in my place.

I don't expect you to live a life of perfect intellectual and spiritual congruence. I expect you not to hold others to a higher standard than you hold yourself. And honestly, it often seems that you do. I know you feel very bad about your many sins and transgressions: you've told us so. But it seems like you would like to keep on making your own selfish choices and feeling bad, while putting others in a position where they will not be able to make selfish, by your lights, choices. And until you're prepared to live in a world in which it's "unthinkable" for people to buy expensive exercise equipment while other starve, I'm not prepared to live in a world where it's "unthinkable" for a woman to refuse to continue an unwanted pregnancy.

Mr. Bad

Hugo, thanks for clearing up adultery.

As for the draft, that is but one of several examples I gave of double-standards that men have faced vis-a-vis sacrificing autonomy over their bodies for the good of family and society; history and current circumstances are replete with yet more examples. But for that matter, forcing a woman to carry a child to term has also not been a reality for about as long as the draft has been gone, since Roe V. Wade, so I find it inconsistent of you to consider one without the other. Now, if you are suggesting that women may in the future be compelled to carry pregnancies to term, i.e., if Roe V. Wade is overturned, then you must similarly acknowledge that there's a distinct possibility/probability that the draft will be reinstated. In fact, I suspect that the reinstatement of the draft is more likely to happen than overturning Roe V. Wade, and likely to happen much sooner if Roe V. Wade is indeed overturned. And if our current Congress acts in character, women will once again be given a pass on service to country.

Chris T.

Hugo, if you haven't read Sarah Coakley's Powers and Submissions, I highly recommend it. Coakley actually attempts (and I believe succeeds at) a feminist defense of the doctrine of kenosis. She argues that the self-emptying that is the natural end of Christ's teaching is not incompatible with key features of secular feminism.

As for me, frankly, I see increased autonomy as a reasonable goal of any liberatory movement, even in a Christian context. Freedom and pleasure for the individual self is hardly a Christian goal, but we have to remember that it was the rich young man, and not a beggar, that Christ commanded to sell all his possessions. It's the ones who are first on earth who most need to be taught servanthood.

Lauren

Ending italics.

Many feminists, and I'm sure you'd agree, Hugo, believe in religious autonomy as well.

NancyP

Someone close that italics, please! I don't know html.

Chris T. brought up an excellent point: " It's the ones who are first on earth who most need to be taught servanthood." So when do we expect the conservative churches to tell men they are obliged to provide personal care for their infants and their wife, and enable their wife to serve the community as well as just the husband and the husband's "property" (children)?

Intelligent and talented women who wish to use their gifts to the maximum need to avoid getting involved in conservative churches and with conservative, role-ridden men.

Clue, Bad. Not all men are called upon for the ultimate sacrifice. The great bulk of the enlisted ranks are folks who are too poor to have options other than the Army. The rest are hereditary soldiers who do it for the honor, and this category has lots of women enlistees as well. Sons of congressmen and senators and million-dollar-a-year executives don't volunteer for dangerous duty, and if they do volunteer for the military, the political sons are put in stateside or other noncombat positions.

Hugo

Lauren, thank you. Not quite sure what you mean by "religious autonomy", it could mean freedom to pick one's own faith or freedom to dissent or any number of other things.

Sally, if Mother Teresa made the same argument that I'm making, would it have more legitimacy coming from her? If so, I'd be delighted to link to her writings on the body... Sure, I'm a hypocrite, as we all are to one degree or another, but I am struggling to grow closer to the mark, and while I do so, I see no reason why I ought to remain silent.

Chris, you're right. And as privileged Americans, all of us, male and female alike, are closer to the rich young man than we'd like to admit.

Stephen

"Intelligent and talented women who wish to use their gifts to the maximum need to avoid getting involved in conservative churches and with conservative, role-ridden men."

Nancy P. -- What's the source of your information on "conservative churches?"

Stephen

Noumena

Without question the sacrifices of their bodies that men make (and have made) are every bit as substantial and profound as childbirth, whether that be in the workplace to support his family or on the battlefield defending his country. To say otherwise is just plain silly and insulting to all men, living and dead.

None of the examples you give are intrinsically male-exclusive: we can imagine a society where both women and men serve in the military and support their family financially and domestically, including working in the most dangerous professions (you don't need a penis to slaughter animals or run a combine harvester). However, we can't imagine a society where men get pregnant and give birth, because pregnancy is intrinsically female-exclusive. Furthermore, I can't think of anything besides pregnancy where a person creates something out of (not just with) their own body, nor a single activity as historically dangerous as pregnancy. I'd bet more women have made the ultimate sacrifice and died in childbirth than men made the ultimate sacrifice and died fighting a just war.

NancyP

women and conservative churches: I am not citing academic research, I am just giving an opinion based on personal observation of about 25 years of medical trainees and M.D.s and Ph.D.s in the sciences. Conservative church membership does seem to add stress to women trainees' and women M.D.s' lives, because the expectations of domestic womanhood seem stronger (home-made, like their unemployed church women's group friend makes, not store-bought, like most working wives use) and the expectation of help from their husbands is not fulfilled (as it is not fulfilled for their less conservative sisters). And keeping truly kosher in a not-very-Jewish town isn't too easy for the Orthodox women working full time. I am not downgrading the level of comfort they may find in religious belief - just the community and their husbands may not be terribly helpful to women who work full-time at demanding jobs.

Lauren

My point, Hugo, is that policy based purely on religious bases is often poor policy. I sincerely understand your stance regarding consistent-life ethics, and find it much more palatable and respectable than just anti-abortion beliefs. However, you belief that your body comes from God should not override my belief that my body belongs to me and not the state or to a deity I simply don't believe in. As someone who will probably have to resort to abortion should I ever get pregnant again (gestational, often fatal illness -- long story) I deeply resent the "God's body" and "careful thought" arguments you're making here. From thus comes my feminist belief in bodily automony since my life is very clearly at stake in this not-hypothetical argument.

Lauren

And to further the flesh sacrifice metaphor being bandied about -- any abortion that I would have in the future would be a sacrifice for my son, as he needs his mother's body to mother him. Greater good, no?

Rainbow

A person can be religious and still be pro-choice or at least anti-forced pregnancy. How can a religious person force an atheist who sees a fetus just a parasitic collection of cells to risk her life carrying to term a child she does not want. A religious person could persuade and offer support, but I find it very hard to think I should be able to force someone's essentially religious and philosophical views on when a egg/embryo/fetus is a person with rights.

When I was pregnant, my nonreligious family and husband insisted I had amniocentisis. It was one of the most horrific experience of my life. I knew if it was Down's or malformation, I would run, leave my husband and family and bear the child. but I can't say that I would have gone through a full term pregnancy if the result would have been an ancephalic stillbirth. Baruch Hashem, my precious child was normal.

By the way, it is not only conservative men who mistreat their wives. My atheist husband has never lifted a finger to help me around the house, treats me with hate, and threatens me with horrors if I do anything to get redress. Non-believers can threaten and mistreat their wives just as badly as anyone else.

BritGirlSF

Rainbow, I agree that mistreatment of one's spouse can occur in atheists as well as in the religious. Frankly I think that those who use their faith as a justification for beating their wives, like those who use their faith the justify flying planes into buildings, as misusing their religion as an excuse for doing something that they wanted to do anything, and if the God the claim to worship truly exists they will surely be judged for their actions.
I have a question for you though. Your husband sounds like an unpleasant person who does not treat you well. It also sounds as if you have significant philosophical differences which are contributing to your unhappiness. Why do you not leave this man and seek a partner who would be a better match for you? I know that many religions discourage divorce, but I truly cannot believe that any just God would wish people to be unhappy, as you clearly are. The first step on the path towards loving others is learning to love yourself.
Side note - I am not actually a Buddhist but it has been pointed out to me that I frequently sounds like one. I wonder how that happened?

BritGirlSF

What I meant is that they ARE misusing their religion, which is what I would have written if I had remembered to use the preview button...sorry.

BritGirlSF

Oh, and in case I sound a bit waffly and obscure as far as the learning to love yourself point is concerned, what I mean is that you deserve to be happy, and if you are not happy in your current situation, why not change the situation? Easier said than done I know, but certainly worth thinking about.

bmmg39

" A religious person could persuade and offer support, but I find it very hard to think I should be able to force someone's essentially religious and philosophical views on when a egg/embryo/fetus is a person with rights."

Not religious and philosophical; plenty of atheists agree with that idea, too.

obeah

Well, we atheists have philosophical beliefs too. :)

Of course, the belief that the unborn human being is a person who deserves rights is philosophical. So is the belief that women are people who deserve rights, that Iraqis are people who deserve rights, etc. Science can't tell us what a "person" is, if by "person" you mean a being who has/deserves human rights. That's philosophy's job, it seems to me.

Mr. Bad

Noumena said and Nancy expressed a similar sentiment: "None of the examples you give are intrinsically male-exclusive: we can imagine a society where both women and men serve in the military and support their family financially and domestically, including working in the most dangerous professions (you don't need a penis to slaughter animals or run a combine harvester). However, we can't imagine a society where men get pregnant and give birth, because pregnancy is intrinsically female-exclusive. Furthermore, I can't think of anything besides pregnancy where a person creates something out of (not just with) their own body, nor a single activity as historically dangerous as pregnancy. I'd bet more women have made the ultimate sacrifice and died in childbirth than men made the ultimate sacrifice and died fighting a just war."

First of all, since about the 1930s childbirth has been one of the most safe medical experiences around. Pain is rare, and usually only present when a woman elects to forego anaestetics and analgesics (post-partum), and death due to childbirth is extremely rare. On the other hand, the draft was in place up until the mid-1970s, so if you're going to say that the draft is irrelevant then you must give up the 'childbirth is life-threatening' argument as well. You may have one or the other, not both.

As far as the fact that none of the thngs that I cited are male-exclusive, I admit that's true. And yes, we can all "imagine a society where both women and men serve in the military and support their family financially and domestically, including working in the most dangerous professions" but the fact is that imaginary society doesn't exist. In every example I give, men are the overwhelming participants - the data clearly show this. 90% of all on-the-jobs deaths are of men, and an even greater percentage of deaths in the military professions are of men. Women live on average 8 years longer than men, and in every age group are healthier (yet despite this, sex-specific funding for women's health is far greater than that for men). Sure, women can do these things, but the fact is for the most part they choose not to, leaving it up to men to make the sacrifice.

Using the one and only thing women can do that men can't and then elevate it to 'the most self-sacrificing thing a person can do' is a convenient argument, but it's a hollow one. Men sacrifice every bit as much as women do for their families and societies, and the morbidity and mortality data prove it. It's not just about childbirth or the draft (even if you all want to try and make it so), it's about all of the sacrifices women and men make.

Sally

First of all, since about the 1930s childbirth has been one of the most safe medical experiences around.

You know, it's statements like this that make you seem like such a joke. I've had a lot of medical experiences in the past year. I've had three MRIs, all of which were much less dangerous than pregnancy. I've probably had a hundred blood tests: also safer than pregnancy. Every time I go to the doctor, I get weighed: this carries a risk of death of approximately 0 per 10,000 patients, which is considerably safer than having a baby. I've had a rash biopsied, something that was also safer than pregnancy. I've had an EKG, an EEG, and a chest x-ray: all safer than having a baby.

My illness is more likely to kill me than a normal pregnancy is to kill a healthy woman. However, I'm not a healthy woman. As it is, I have somewhere between a 10-15% chance of experiencing fatal or "near-fatal" (think Terri Schiavo) heart complications, a risk that would be higher if I were to carry a baby to term. I realize that it's selfish of me to want to live to a ripe old age. It's clearly far more selfish than Hugo's desire to shave a couple of minutes off of his marathon time. But it's not something for which I'm about to apologize. I'm doing everything I can to avoid getting pregnant. If I were to get pregnant, I'd consider getting an abortion. And a world in which that possibility was "unthinkable" would be a world in which my life and my future counted for a lot less than it does now. And I'm not sure how that world would be, in any meaningful way, feminist.

Scarbo

I'd bet more women have made the ultimate sacrifice and died in childbirth than men made the ultimate sacrifice and died fighting a just war.

Geez, I've had about enough of this.

In all my reading (but not participating in) of on-line message boards and discussions, I notice that a large number of the discussions, including this one, degenerate into an argument of which gender has suffered the most, which gender is the most oppressed, etc. I must be a masochist, because I keep reading them.

I would like to say: instead of us men and you women always focusing on the negatives, poor poor us, we're so oppressed (yes, men, I'm talking to you too), how about, FOR A CHANGE: let's discuss how we're blessed.

We live in the most prosperous country in the world. We live at a time of the highest life expectancy. Diseases which knocked us down routinely 100 years ago are non-existent. Our economy is terrific. Most of us have no trouble finding a way to live in comfort and to have happy lives.

There are still problems of course. It's not a perfect world. Terrorism. Poverty.

But sitting here arguing about who has it worse doesn't solve anything. Besides, no one's listening to each other.

I recommend working together, listening together, maybe realizing that other people got bigger problems than you do, and that maybe the better thing would be to get off your high horse and go help out would be a better use of your time.

The sniping at one another ain't getting it done.

Noumena

According to the World Health Organization, just over half a million women die from complications in childbirth every year around the world, with about twenty times that number suffering injury, infection, or disease. It's true that almost all of these are preventable, with antibiotics and supervision by trained obstetricians or midwives who can deal with these complications, but only a relative handful of women have enjoyed both of these over the past ten thousand years. I might call ten million casualties a year 'rarer than it used to be', but certainly neither 'rare' nor 'much less than casualties among male soldiers'. While it's true that women live longer than men here in the US, this is far from the case in, say, China or India, especially if you include female infants left exposed simply because a little girl is considered a familial liability, a little boy an asset.

WHO: http://www.who.int/features/qa/12/en/

Next, the military itself provides the critical counterexample to any sort of argument that women are choosing not to go into dangerous professions, including front-line soldiering, working in slaughterhouses, and running heavy equipment. By law female soldiers in the US are forbidden from fighting on the front lines; I'm sure casualties among soldiers are much more equally divided between sexes in, say, the Israeli army, where women and men are equally eligible for all positions. Discrimination against hiring women in farming and construction aren't officially sanctioned in the same way, of course, but it's just as rampant. While most on-the-job casualties are suffered by men, you can't say these casualties show men are making greater sacrifices than women when women are systematically denied the opportunity to make this sacrifice!

Third and finally, the argument that pregnancy is the most altruistic because only women can do it would be circular, and completely bogus. But attacking it is attacking a strawman. My primary argument that pregnancy is incredibly altruistic is from the fact that a mother creates a child out of her own body. Not with, or using, her body; out of her body. She literally gives up part of her body to create her child's body -- discounting the weight of her child, a friend of mine lost ten or fifteen pounds from not eating more while she was pregnant. You might argue that a (male) soldier going to war is prepared to make the same sacrifice of his body; but for him it's not certain that he will die or be seriously wounded, he might make it unscathed. A pregnant woman can be absolutely certain that she will be sacrificing part of her health and well-being for several months for the sake of a new baby, and permanent injury is still a possibility. And seeing how the work of pregnancy has been so systematically undervalued in Western society, I think it's fair to give it some extra recognition today.

But, of course, all this is quibbling over one tiny phrase that's largely irrelevant to Hugo's bigger point: men don't, and can't, know what it's like to create a new human being inside ourselves. We're at best sympathetic spectators to everything from menstruation to birth. Thus, before we go pontificating on when a foetus turns into a person, we should learn to listen to the people who actually have to deal with the ramifications of cementing our ideals into law most immediately.

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