Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia and the Vatican

In Saudi Arabia, the clerics are fighting to keep most women out of the labor force:

Clerics who oppose gender mixing at the workplace have given an ultimatum to Saudi Minister of Labor Adel Fakieh: he has one month to roll back on the policy allowing women to work in retail, or they will pray to God to give him cancer.
Local media reported that more than 200 clerics from around the Kingdom had come to Riyadh and held a meeting Tuesday afternoon at the Ministry with Fakieh to complain about gender mixing in retail stores, accusing him of challenging religious authorities in the country like the Council of Senior Ulema.

The opposition to gender mixing at the workplace has led to such customs as having men sell women bras and such.  An odd consequence of a policy banning gender mixing...

It is estimated that more than 80% of the unemployed in Saudi Arabia are women.

Why is it always the clerics who are so adamantly against women's human rights?  Pick almost any religion and that's what you find.  

Hence the Christmas message of the Pope.  It was mostly about his opposition to same-sex marriage but the terms in which it was couched tells us so much more about our dear Benedict!  A few quotes:*

People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.

According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. 

From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation.
When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man.

I have bolded the bits which matter here.  That the Pope is an essentialist is of course something we can take for granted.   He belongs to the biology-is-destiny club of mostly men as members, even though the biology-is-destiny argument is almost always aimed at only women, with the one exception of same-sex marriage.

But Benedict's  words matter more, given that he also runs the other boys' club:  the Catholic Church.  I don't know about you but mostly when I read or hear that "complementary natures" argument it leaves all the boring and tedious stuff for the female half  and all the fun and leadership stuff for the male half of the duality.   In other words, someone here on earth has taken the role to interpret what those Biblical phrases might mean, and that interpretation is rather flavored with patriarchal overtones and undertones.

Put in other terms, "male and female he created them" doesn't tell us anything about the essential natures of men and women or insist that there is not considerable overlap between those natures if some part of them is essentialist.

It's worth noting that the whole quote above starts with a straw-argument from Simone de Beauvoir: the bit about "one is not born a woman, one becomes so."  But de Beauvoir means something different with that argument.  That difference cannot be captured by someone who regards creation as if it was a Christmas gift with one pink and one blue parcel, containing two quite opposite toys, all fixed and unchangeable in how they play.  For the Pope everything is preset and tampering with those settings means the end of the world.  The idea that only a part of us depends on biological aspects of sex and that the rest: what it means to be a woman, is  indeed, created by our interactions with the society is anathema to him.

Did you find some of that quote a bit hilarious, because of the generic use of "man" in the translation?  I did, in particular the last two sentences which talk about defending God as being equivalent to defending man.  This male-centered interpretation may not exist in the original text of the speech but it is pretty appropriate.  Or so I think.
*The link goes to a right-wing site.  Should you care about that.