Posts Tagged ‘Women’s Experience’

I’ll be teaching a year-long introductory college class on Catholicism again for 2014-2015. As I prepare to teach this class again, I’ve been thinking not only about the requisite alterations I need to make to the syllabus, but also about what teaching even is and what it means to me.

Here’s why.

I am recalling a memory I filed away at some point, and it has to do with women, the practice of teaching in a university context, and how we place those two things together.

One early September a couple years ago, I was at a departmental party, and I ended up having a conversation with another female graduate student in theology who was preparing to teach for her first time. We had never met before, so our exchange gravitated toward our most obvious common tie: starting a new semester and being relatively new university instructors (though I had taught once before). (more…)

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Unsure what to write about this month, I asked around for blog post topics people might like to see me explore. Somebody suggested that I write about things that high schoolers should know before arriving at college, so I’ll run with that. Except that it’ll just be about college, it’ll involve the axis of gender, and it’ll be a story from my own life.

My first semester of college, I elected to take an advanced writing course. The course topic was “power” (so “anything”), and it involved reading social theory and watching movies (read Weber and watch Fight Club and make them go together!), discussing the art of rhetoric and the structure of good argumentation, and then writing, rewriting, workshopping papers with the entire class, crying, laughing, rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. (more…)

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Easter is upon us, and I’ve been thinking about this passage from Romans:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (8:22-23).

With Easter, Christians celebrate Christ’s triumph over death. The Son has been murdered, and the Father has responded by giving him new life. And specifically within that, his broken body has been resurrected and glorified (with scars still remaining), which signals a promise to us about the irrevocable goodness and ultimate glorification of our own bodies (also scarred, perhaps), and of creation as a whole. The groaning of our bodies reaches out toward an eschatological promise.

And the Easter implication of all this is that Christians are called to come together, as Christ’s corporate body, witnessing to him and living as a sacrament of divine love for each other and for the world. It is an embodiment that is social, tactile, joyful. Speaking about how we understand all this today, I know many Christians who, in preparation for this occasion, have been partaking of Lenten acts of purification and ascetic seriousness in order to refocus their attention, their bodies, on God and the celebration of the Triduum.

Given that Easter is saturated with various overlapping meanings, I always have difficulty speaking well about it (and this problem has only been compounded by the PhD in theology!). So I’m going to explore its significance and what it calls us to indirectly, by describing something else, and then perhaps we’ll get there.


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When I teach theology to undergraduates, I make sure to spend some time on Augustine, typically his Confessions. I don’t think this is a necessary practice for all theology instructors, but I personally find Augustine to be a useful entry point for broader, complex theological and hermeneutical questions.

Specifically, I have noticed that studying Augustine is like holding up a mirror to ourselves. More specifically, how we as contemporary readers weigh in on Augustine’s views of women is greatly telling about our views of women. (more…)

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You haven’t the faintest conception of what I went through with your dear Robert. The ingratitude! It was I who made a man of him! Sacrificed my whole life to him! And what was my reward? Absolute, utter selfishness.

C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Rachel: Maybe Joey’s right. Maybe all good deeds are selfish.
Phoebe: I will find a selfless good deed. ‘Cause I just gave birth to three children and I will not let them be raised in a world where Joey is right.

Friends, “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS” (1998)

Over a weekend earlier this month, I had a text conversation with my brother about the feelings of guilt I was having about not doing more work. I had gotten up in the morning and paid our bills, got together all our tax information to send to the accountant, finally packed up the holiday decorations, and did some cleaning. By mid-afternoon, I was sitting in front of my computer playing games online because I was worn out and lost all motivation to work. When I told my brother what I was doing, he said that I had earned the break. My response? “I still feel guilty about it. There’s so much I could be doing!”

One of the things that I struggle with in graduate school is finding the work-life balance that allows me to be content with the amount of work that I put in and still take time for myself that allows me the space to recharge. I don’t have the answers yet, unfortunately. But I hope that this reflection on gender, Christian selflessness, and work-life balance will raise some ideas in others about how to balance work and life in academia and hopefully start a conversation about things we can do to maintain a healthy work-life balance.


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Last week Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire Mark Cuban invited Brittney Griner, the 6’9’’ women’s college basketball sports revolutionary, to try out for a spot on his NBA team this summer.  Cuban’s comments electrified the brittney-griner_02sports world.  Some fans tweeted their excitement about Griner’s ability to shatter the gender barrier and be the first woman to ever play in the NBA.  But most insisted adamantly that no woman, not even the greatest of all time, could ever hang with the grown men of the NBA.  The ESPN show Sportscenter even devoted an entire several minute long segment to reciting over and over again the many reasons why Griner just could not cut it.  Staged as a debate, the segment played as a men’s chorus.  The gentleman doth protest too much, methinks.

Interrupting this spectacle of gender difference, sports journalist Jemele Hill refutes this debate’s entire premise.  She explains: “what I don’t like about Cuban’s comments [to Griner] is that they perpetuate the dangerous idea that great female athletes need to validate themselves by competing against men.”

Hill’s argument is unexpected.  In the sports world, one pays a woman a supreme compliment by telling her “she plays like a man.”  Indeed, men’s athletic superiority over women operates as one of our society’s most self-evident truths.  The objective and inherent superiority of men’s sports to women’s seems to us equally self-evident.  Men’s sports earn more money, draw more fans, and elicit more media attention than their female counterparts as a result not of sexism but the facts of life.

And in some ways, this is true.  On average, the most elite male athletes do in fact jump higher, run faster, and exert more physical power than their elite female equivalents.

But even if we grant that male basketball players display more skill than female ones, does this alone explain why we consider men’s basketball so much more important? For example, we do not as a rule love musicians in proportion to their skill.  Madonna sells out stadiums while symphony orchestras play in cozy theaters.  Perhaps we value skill more highly in competitive endeavors like sports.  But even then, we do not always love in proportion to skill.  In certain parts of the country, for example, the local high school football team is loved as deeply and rooted for as fiercely as its big time college or pro equivalent—even though they are slower, weaker, and much less skilled.


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As the United States Supreme Court hears oral arguments today challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents legally-married same-sex couples from having their marriages recognized by the federal government, we offer the following religious reflection on coming out, written by a friend of the blog:


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This is the third in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning.  The first two stories can be read here and here.  For the post that originally inspired this project, click here.  To read about the purpose of and ground rules for this project, click here.

The following was very generously provided to me by Catherine Osborne, a PhD candidate in the history of Christianity at Fordham University.  Several years ago, Osborne co-edited  a sourcebook on American Catholic history entitledAmerican Catholic History: A Documentary Reader An edited version of Patty Crowley‘s 1965 speech to the Papal Birth Control Commission is included in that book.  Osborne sent me Crowley’s speech so that I could post it here on the blog.  Osborne also wrote a brief history of the Papal Birth Control Commission and the Patty Crowley’s participation in it, which appears below.

Patty Crowley and the Papal Birth Control Commission

The history of the Pontifical Commission for the Study of Population, Family and Births (which is usually referred to as the Papal Birth Control Commission (BCC)) isn’t secret at all, but it’s also probably not quite as well known as it should be.

The backstory to the BCC is the Catholic Church’s longstanding opposition to the use of contraception, which was reaffirmed by Pius XI in Casti Connubii (1930) in response to the Anglican Church’s decision to allow it within marriage.  The innovation introduced in Casti Connubii was that the use of ‘rhythm’ was to be allowed–it had not been prior to this.

The debate over contraception was reopened due to the invented of the Pill, but the Second Vatican Council did not take up the question; it was reserved for the specially created BCC, which met five times from 1963 to 1966.  It grew to 72 members over time.

In the last meeting, the four married women members addressed the entire meeting.  Marie Rendu, a Frenchwoman who was a promoter of rhythm, argued that “periodic continence can and does work.”

J.F. Kulanday of New Delhi, India, a nurse as well as a mother, told the commission that based on her surveys of Indian women, “women desire intercourse in marriage.  It binds the husband and wife together…intercourse…keeps their love aflame.”

Colette Potvin, from Canada, mother of five and veteran of three miscarriages and a hysterectomy, later recalled that when it was her turn to speak, “I felt like I was naked up there.  But it seemed to me we hadn’t been asking the right questions at the Commission.  When you die, God is going to say, ‘Did you love?’ He isn’t going to say, “Did you take your temperature?” [Potvin's speech is excerpted in Robert McClory's Turning Point: The Inside Story of the Papal Birth Control Commission, 105-106.] Per McClory: ‘A long silence followed [her speech]. It was broken by de Riedmatten: ‘This,’ he said, ‘is why we wanted to have couples on our Commission.'”

Potvin’s survey of 319 French Canadian couples, presented to the Commission, indicated that 7 percent were “fully satisfied with the Church’s current marriage doctrine” while half “found rhythm ‘an anguished and difficult task'” and the great majority said that they did not experience growth “because much of their time ‘is spent in the great struggle to avoid the failure of rhythm.'” (107).

The longest speech was Patty Crowley‘s.  Crowley, along with her husband Pat, were the head of the worldwide Christian Family Movement, and she based her speech partly on the results of a survey of her membership.  To read the post featuring Crowley’s speech, click here.

Ultimately, only four members of the commission dissented from the majority’s conclusion that artificial contraception within marriage should be allowed.  (The majority’s final report to Paul VI, “On Responsible Parenthood,” is included in an appendix in McClory.) Acting against the commission’s rules, Jesuit John Ford and the other three dissenters submitted a so-called ‘minority report’ in favor of retaining the existing teaching.  The result of Paul VI’s decision in favor of the minority position was, of course, Humanae Vitae. 

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This is the second in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning.  The first can be read here. For the post that originally inspired this project, click here.  To read about the purpose of and ground rules for this project, click here.

K’s Story

NFP has been the biggest struggle in my marriage and has really has tested my faith. My husband and I grew up as evangelicals and became Catholic in college, before we were married.   The Catholic Church is more reflective on sexual ethics than the church or my upbringing, so NFP and the Theology of the Body appealed to me on a philosophical and theoretical level.

After college my husband and I were married in the Church and were determined to make NFP work for us.  I took a year off from school to work and save up money for graduate school.  We were trying to avoid children in order to further our educations and save up money for a house.

My job was really stressful and my signs were difficult to read.  My husband and I were virgins on our wedding night, and the long periods of abstinence were adding additional stress on our marriage.  With these circumstances in mind, it’s no surprise that I became pregnant within the first year of marriage, right after enrolling in graduate school.

Working, graduate school, and caring for a baby were simply too much for me.  My husband and left graduate school so that he could work and I could devote my time to mothering.  For my husband to obtain decent employment, we had to move across the country, away from friends and family.

We were barely scraping by, but we were slowly starting to save money and secure a stable life for our family.  We decided to continue practicing NFP, despite the difficulties of reading my signs while breastfeeding.  During this time the recession hit, my husband’s company faced large budget cuts, and he was fired.

This happened the week after I learned that I was pregnant with baby #2. We were frugal and had 3 months worth of money in savings, but we eventually had to move the entire family across the country, so my husband’s parents could support us.

I’ve struggled with being angry at God and at the Church for unplanned pregnancies and financial problems. It’s one thing to experience financial difficulties without kids, but it’s a completely different thing when you are responsible for the lives of those you love. Each baby has brought a new crisis into our lives, things that would not have happened had we been in a stable position before having kids.

Sometimes I wonder if the Church’s teaching on sexuality places a greater burden on the poor than it does on those with means. The refrain I hear with NFP is to “try another method” or “take another class.”  But I seriously have anxiety issues over having to face another pregnancy with no money. How can I know if another method will work better, when the only way of testing this is to wait and see if I
get pregnant?  The stakes are simply too risky when caring for two children under 3, both still breastfeeding.

Sugar-coating NFP is not helpful, and I’ve seen Catholics attacked and hounded on Catholic forums for admitting that NFP has been a rough spot in marriage. People will say that NFP was not the problem; rather “poor communication” was the problem, or “lustful behavior,” or “selfishness,” or anything but NFP.

We decided to practice complete abstinence for a year, in order to study Theology of the Body again, try to re-learn my fertility signs, and decide if we would continue practicing NFP.  For a year we practiced the sleep-in-separate-rooms-so-can-follow-Church-teaching-but-not-have-kids method of family planning.

We were afraid of disobeying Church teaching and going to hell, but strict abstinence put more stress and strain on our already stressed marriage.

When the year was up, we decided to cease following Church teaching in our married life, finding inconsistencies with Humanae Vitae and Theology of the Body–things we did not see early in our marriage when looking at these documents with rose-colored convert glasses.   Giving up NFP has greatly helped heal our marriage and has given me psychological relief to my anxieties surrounding sex and becoming pregnant AGAIN.

For us the pressure of feeling like we had to perform on certain days combined with the frustration of “off-limits” days, and the unplanned pregnancies–-it was all very stressful and very hard on our marriage.  Nearly two years after abandoning NFP, I still feel like I am recovering emotionally from the whole experience.

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This is the first in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning.  For the post that originally inspired this project, click here.  To read about the purpose and ground rules for this project, click here.

MJ’s Story

I have gone back and forth on the issue of birth control, but was committed to NFP when we first got married.

The sexual inexperience combined with the long periods of abstinence was definitely a strain (it often felt like we’d been sold a bill of goods) but it worked as a means to delay conception for over a year so that I wouldn’t give birth till I finished my master’s program. (more…)

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