Pope John Paul II is dead. He lived a full life, and died in peace. We all should be so fortunate.
Pope John Paul II rightly has quite a high reputation as a man who helped the Church find its heart. He was a rebel, an independent thinker. He challenged authority. Once Pope, he spoke out against the appalling poverty in this world, the violence, the war.
And yet, and yet ... where do women fall in all of this?
Right now, all the old, mostly white, men -- all men -- are meeting in conclave, as isolated from outside influences as a capital crime jury, to elect their new leader. The women of the Church are not invited, not welcome, not worthy.
How in thrall the media here seem to be to the transition ritual of this modern incarnation of the Roman Empire! How mesmerized by "morals" espoused by this Pope seem the pundits and anchors! Never for once does anyone on TV question those morals.
What are women to the Church? More important, what are women to us as citizens of what is often called "the free world"? Are women truly entitled to equal rights and equal protection? Or are women, in the end, always to be baby-making slaves to the state, mere walking wombs who can be dressed up pretty?
Today we celebrate a great man who, over the past several decades, set a moral tone that truly resonated in a Cold War world, but was largely ignored by our leaders, especially since. His denouncements of war and military adventurism fell on deaf ears and did not touch minds more hell-bent on Crusade and bringing about End Times.
And yet, for all his morality and piety, the Pope was a man blinded by his Church's centuries-old doctrine that treats women as property -- precious property, but property nonetheless.
On this day in April, 37 years ago, another man left this world. Martin Luther King, Jr. was not an Establishment figure. He did not stand upon a legacy of empire. He did not have a rich treasury or hundreds of henchmen to carry out his will.
And yet Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words live on in all of our hearts. His morality and sense of justice were drawn from the Bible. His eloquence was unmatched in his time, and stands as a high mark today. His was a vision of freedom that our president, who uses the word liberally, cannot really understand. His was a vision of a world where people were judged by the content of their character, not by GOP voter registrations, not by Catholic notions of obedience to the patriarchy.
I do not know what Dr. King thought or felt about women. His reputation of having "a fondness for women's company" might indicate casual, unexamined chauvinism. Some have said so. Perhaps he deliberately bought into the patriarchy, and felt women should be subjugated. But such is not in his words.
His words are, I believe, a truer morality than the dogma of The Church. He was a practitioner and heir to Gandhi's revolution of non-violent protest. He forced people, just by his presence, to confront their own prejudices. His words challenged their comfort zones, daring people to live up to the "equality" and "justice" that came so easily to their lips but not in their deeds. The bigots were shamed and momentarily cowed, and made all the more angry.
The Establishment never takes criticism well.
People are mourning with tears and hymns Pope John Paul II's passing. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed on this day in 1968, people rioted in over 50 cities. He spoke to and for everyone disenfranchized, everyone put down, everyone shoved out of the American dream. And when his voice was silenced by an assassin, their door was slammed shut -- and no Pope was going to step in for them and speak for what burned in their hearts.
His words live on. But more important, his message changed our culture, and made us face up to the fact that equality is just a word on paper with no meaning unless we give it meaning every day of our lives.
Now we are in backlash. The radical right wants to enslave women, take power over our own medical decisions, take power over our own bodies, to make criminals of those of us who do not treat our bodies, owned by the state, according to the dictates of the men in power. They try to shame us over our own bodies. They try to keep young women ignorant of ways to take responsibility for their own lives, their own fertility. They say "boys will be boys" and women who have premarital sex are whores.
And yet the left seems to believe that women's rights are not threatened. They seem to believe that the ERA, which was rejected by opposition in mostly the old Confederacy (mostly slave states), has no relevance today. Some say that women's rights, though worthy, should be fought for and defended only after other rights are achieved.
Four weeks ago, Amanda wrote in her old blog about the importance of feminism to liberalism:
As far as I know, there's no female-centered version of the American Dream. In the American Dream, our hero Ward Cleaver is a Real Man because he has a job that pays for him to have a big house, a family and a most importantly, a wife who is financially dependent on him and under his direct control. This is how masculinity is defined for so many, many men in our country. The problem is that fulfilling that dream of having a woman sequestered away at home tending to you and your children is that it's out of the financial reach of the majority of men.
Of course, what this means is that we have a huge population of men in this country that both believe that in order to be Real Men they have to have a wife that is both at home and subservient, but out of financial necessity, they have wives who work. And it's hard to get subservience out of someone when you can't tell them, "Well, who makes the money around here?" There's a lot of resentment there.
There's been a lot of ink spilled as of late bemoaning the lack of direction and lack of goals for progressives. This sort of thing really perplexes those of us who concentrate on feminist progressivism--I have no problem whatsoever stating what my direction and goals are for feminism. Feminists want full legal equality for women, parity between the sexes in every aspect of public life, social relationships between men and women based on equality, the rights of children to be acknowledged and respected, the right of women to use every tool science has to offer to maintain control over our bodies, wage equity, social policies to help parents, and healthy social attitudes towards sexuality.
And so the women in this country, completely disenfranchised from the political right and the political left, find ourselves adrift, needing our own Doctor King. We need someone to speak to our own hearts. We need someone to help us, as a nation, see.