In the wake of HoneyBadger Brigade publishing my piece on the Pope and feminism and socialism, I was sent this apparent “gotcha” of an article with a disturbing headline: Pope: Decline of Marriage ‘Is a Form of Male Chauvinism’.
This gives me a chance to kill two birds with one stone. First, to note that Pope Francis is often tone deaf and clueless and missing realities he should be paying attention to, and it’s OK to criticize him. Second, to also note what a perfect example this is of how Popes get twisted and mangled, sometimes even by friendly press. Even when he’s wrong or off-base, the press tends to make him wronger. Always best to go to the original source if you can.
If you examine what the article claims Francis said, then go to the Vatican web site and see his full remarks in context (GENERAL AUDIENCE Saint Peter’s Square Wednesday, 29 April 2015), a different picture immediately appears, and it is obvious the reporters are engaging in a form of journalistic “prooftexting,” known in internet slang as Quote Mining. The narrative woven by the conservative news source relied on grabbing random sentences to meet the reporter or editor’s favored message, not Francis’s.
No, Francis did not blame the decline of marriages on “male chauvinism.” What he said was that blaming “women’s emancipation” on the marriage decline would be “male chauvinism.”
Both “male chauvinism” and “women’s emancipation” are old out of date 20th Century terms. But “male chauvinism” is also descriptive: if you’ve never met a male chauvinist in your life you aren’t looking very hard. Although male chauvinism is not as common as ideological feminists and chest-puffing conservatives think it is, it certainly does exist; one need only look at some of the shiftier corners of the Manosphere to find some of it.
What he said was “women’s emancipation” is not to blame for the deterioration of marriage, and this would be male chauvinist to say. This leads us to ask what would “women’s emancipation” mean?
Well let’s see, this is a Pope who’s said it’s OK to study possibly the matter of female Deacons but has repeatedly made it clear the Church will never be admitting female priests. He’s also reiterated the Church’s stance on birth control and abortion without apology. He’s also, while rebuking capitalist excess, repeatedly emphasized the importance of free markets and the wrongness of socialism. And he’s insisted that Mary and thus motherhood are in some ways part of every woman, even if they aren’t all required to or expected to become biological mothers. He’s also reiterated wives should be reminded periodically to submit to their husbands (see: Is the Pope a Feminist? And what’s “Wives Submit” mean anyway? for more on wives “submitting,” and see Mary the Mother You Wish You Had for more on Mary the New Eve and her spiritual place in orthodox Christian theology.)
OK, so Francis has said all that at various times and places. How ideologically “feminist” can he really be?
Most useful fact to know perhaps: Francis is 79 years old. He’ll be 80 in December of this year. Pretty spry for his age, isn’t he?
In Francis’s lifetime, there were still places in Europe where women could not vote; some European countries did not give women the vote until the 1970s and even the 1980s (Switzerland and Lichtenstein were the last holdouts I believe). In many places in Europe and South America, women sometimes lacked the right to own property or have bank accounts in their own names, and sometimes were literally not even allowed to apply for some jobs they might be able to qualify for. My old friend Erin Pizzey in the early 1960s was not allowed to have a bank account of her own, and she’s almost exactly Francis’s age.
Yes there were historical reasons for this state of affairs and the world was hardly a bowl of cherries for every man during that era, and as Paul Elam rightly noted years ago, WOMEN’S OPPRESSION IS A MYTH. Women faced restrictions that no longer made sense in the 20th century, and some things that changed needed changing. While people deep in political discourse may cringe and know that “feminism” and “emancipation” mean certain things to the hard core political left, not everyone using those terms is political.
Now: none of this indicates the Pope is above criticism for his remarks. I have some critical things to say myself. But let’s get it established, the Pope pandering to women and saying things like “I’m a little bit of a feminist” and “women’s emancipation is good” really needs to be put in sensible context before you lose your mind. He won’t be condemning “Patriarchy” and endorsing Gender Studies classes any time soon I’m pretty sure.
Now, should Pope Francis be criticized anyway? Yes. While I am a fan of Francis, let me be clear no one, including any Catholic, is obliged to like the man. There have been hideously horrid awful Popes. As I noted in Have there been mad Popes and other Patriarchs? Of course you dolts, some Popes have been among the worst men who ever lived. While I won’t give you an entire treatise on this, suffice it to say, we expect bad men to get into the Papacy. We try to avoid it but it happens. If you can find any secular organization that doesn’t have a problem with horrible people sometimes put in charge, let me know.
A Pope’s every utterance is not infallible, contrary to what you might have thought. And Popes are known to put their feet in their mouth. They’ve also been known to be clueless. Which is exactly what I think Francis is, and like so many modern conservatives are.
There is no denying that in his address, and in many other places, Francis has a painful habit of pandering to women. This is something you see with many other clerics, not just within Catholicism but in pretty much every religious denomination I’ve ever seen.
One of my goals as a men’s and boys’s advocate for the next year or so, if not the rest of my life, is going to be getting Catholics and other orthodox Christians, and people of as many other religious groups as I can find, to stop focusing on women in a time when more and more it is our sons and brothers who need help and attention from their brothers in Christ. Except for some ideas on the fringe, there is absolutely nothing in men’s advocacy that runs against orthodox Christian principles that I can detect.
As I noted in my article My Long Mistrust of the Christian Right, conservative Christians have in the last few generations completely blinded themselves to their obligation to their fellow man. They have allowed themselves to be trapped into the feminist-appeasing of the common culture, or to the more common, age old tendency to generally pander to women.
The Church has failed the last two generations at least to do the right thing and criticize bad behavior in women. This is not something that Christians had a difficult time doing historically and appears to be a late 20th century aberration to me, as much as some ideological anti-Christians would like to claim otherwise. Orthodox Christian teaching has always been that men and women are equal in the eyes of God, but are complementary and different. Badly behaving women have often been castigated by Biblical sources and the Church Fathers.
But everything in our faith talks about brotherhood. Including the notion that yes it is your job to be your brother’s keeper.
That means your homeless brother, your suicidal brother, your brother falsely accused, your brother who’s losing his family against his will, your brother falsely imprisoned, your brother mutilated, your brother beaten, your brother raped, your brother put in a foster home, your brother tortured by his mother or father as a child, your brother abandoned, your brother being persecuted in family court.
There’s nothing unChristian about men’s rights advocacy. There’s something deeply unChristian about NOT engaging in it, so far as I can see.
I’ve had a number of anti-Christian Men’s RIghts Advocates, some of them even friends, try to sell me the message that orthodox Christianity is a female-centered, misandrist religion. This is nonsense, but such nonsense is harder to dispel when our clergy don’t say anything about any of it except to tell men to “man up” and otherwise just pander some more to women.
While I think them wrong to claim that Christians worship women and view young men with contempt, I find oblivious Christians often make it harder for me to convince young men otherwise.
As I’ve noted quite a few places now, I intend to spend considerable energy in the coming months and years bringing men’s and boy’s issues to the attention of the religious world, because frankly, I no longer believe secular society will do anything about it. I truly have lost all faith in “secular rationalists” to change things for the better. Sorry if that sounds radical to you, but it’s what I think. So I intend to keep reminding Christians that their attitudes about our sons and brothers is woefully lacking in many areas, and this does indeed include Pope Francis, who is not above criticism.
I would only remind people, again: the left wing press often mangles the Pope, and so does the right wing press. The nice thing is that there is a Vatican web site (HERE) and many Catholic specific publication you can usually go to find his remarks in a more clear context, or at least the way Catholics view those same comments (see this LIST OF CATHOLIC PUBLICATIONS – it might surprise you just how good some of them are, by the way).
So, no the Pope isn’t literally turning into a feminist. But he is pandering to women. He needs to stop that. So do other Christians. And that, I think, is all I should have to say further about this or many other Pope stories.
*Update*: One final thought. It is probably also useful to remember this of pretty much any Pope: he’s not running for office, he’s Pope for life. By Church policy he also never gives specific policy recommendations to politicians, he can only speak on moral or practical matters. He’s not very susceptible to bribery either; what would you bribe him with? He lives in Vatican City but chooses to sleep in a monastery. I suggest, therefore, when you listen to him, take him for what he is: a spiritual leader giving his opinions on the world. You may love him or hate him or what he has to say, but trying to jam him into political movements will always fail.
An interesting thing about the modern Papacy: it stands apart from most political and cultural forces. That’s worth appreciating sometimes.
By the way, any conservative Christians who want to talk about why marriage is a dying institution should watch this. It’s not just men who need to change.