Katha Pollitt’s April 29 column titled “Men of the Cloth” betrays the desperation of the dying radical feminist agenda. The article’s subhead — “When it comes to keeping women pregnant and in their place, polygamous Mormons and the pope have a lot in common. But the pope does it on a wider scale” — neatly sums up her outrageous attack on Pope Benedict XVI and the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics.
Blessedly brief, Pollitt’s diatribe brought to mind Erma Bombeck’s reaction to a Betty Friedan speech: “We were too intimidated to laugh and too old to cry. We sat there stunned.” And Pollitt is stunning in her vehemence. Stretching a comparison of the abuse of teen girls within the recently raided Texas compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and the moral teachings of the Catholic Church on sexuality, Pollitt asserts:
If it was up to Benedict, we might be more stylish than the plural wives of the FLDS, but we’d be trapped in marriage and have 15 children just like them. FLDS men have many wives and the pope has none, which goes to show there’s more than one way to keep women pregnant and in their place.
Pollitt simply cannot intend this as a factual assertion. She is too educated, too well-published not to know at least minimally the nature of the Church’s objections to the contraceptive, aborting mentality of today’s Western culture. While Pollitt may never have read Humanae Vitae or Mulieris Dignitatem — or any of the other rich, philosophical Church documents regarding love, marriage, women, and reproduction — she’s not stupid.
How, then, is Pollitt unable to distinguish a small, allegedly abusive cult in remote Texas from a 2,000-year-old, 1.2-billion-strong, worldwide religious movement that has produced women like Catherine of Siena, Caryll Houselander, Sigrid Undset, Mother Teresa, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, and Mary Ann Glendon, to name a few? How does she leap from rebuking the “FLDS’ extreme male dominance” to berating the media “lovefest” with “Benedict’s intellect, charm and elegant red shoes” during his recent United States visit?
And why the vitriol with which she willingly, perhaps purposefully, obscures fact, hatefully lashing out at a cultural enclave deeply cherished and defended by millions of the same women on whose behalf she claims to argue? For a person who believes that women, not the government, are best suited to make a decision regarding abortion, Pollitt certainly vents a breathtaking lack of faith in Catholic women’s ability to make spiritual and moral decisions for themselves.
An ardent atheist who “can’t stand to be in a religious service,” Pollitt may simply share the same passion that drives “kill God” advocates like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. Indeed, the depth of her scorn toward the pope strangely mirrors Hitchens’s own dark crusade against Mother Teresa.
But even accounting for this effect, I suspect a deeper determination drives her rancor. It is the deathly determination, undergirding the entire radical feminist sexual agenda, that a woman’s womb and her reproductive capacity are an evolutionary accident at best and, at worst, the cause by which she is “fated to be subjected, owned and exploited like the Nature whose magical fertility she embodies” (The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir).
The female rejection of her womb remains a critical component of radical feminism, which insists that women merely “happen to be the people who give birth” (The Feminist Mystique, Betty Friedan) and that the capacity to bear children must be managed and subjugated to the higher, worthier (formerly male) callings of profession and paycheck. A woman’s reproductive capacity, the radical feminists have always insisted, is an often burdensome biological function that has oppressed women, impeding their material and professional success.
Tools like contraception and abortion, then, can and should be readily employed to neutralize the misfortunes of the womb — and women should be forced by education and policy to pursue “truly challenging work” and “economic independence.” Earning a paycheck, according to the “enlightened” radical feminists, is woman’s only path to “equality and human dignity” (The Feminine Mystique). Pollitt’s diatribe echoes and continues this shrill insistence that women’s identities derive no import or meaning from their capacity to bring forth life.
Thus does Pollitt riddle her short column with references to pregnancy and motherhood as “trapping,” “controlling,” and “keeping” women “in their place.” Women with multiple children particularly offend Pollitt’s sensibilities, recalling Simone de Beauvoir’s description of such women as “not so much mothers as fertile organisms, like fowls with high egg-production.” That women might indeed find fulfillment through their gender-unique reproductive and nurturing capacity — the very theme and proposition of Pope John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem — can provoke blind rage in women who have so deeply and permanently invested in rejecting these feminine traits to pursue more “manly” pursuits.
Here, then, is the source of Pollitt’s unlikely correlation: Any behavior or reflection suggestive of the “myth” that relates female identity and meaning to the birth of a child is suspect. Pollitt can thus lump together the statutory rape and underage sexual activity suspected at the FLDS ranch and the Catholic Church’s pro-life teachings as in-kind schemes to make “women . . . baby machines controlled by powerful older men in the name of God.”
But as young women today embrace their femaleness, fecundity and all (as witnessed in the writings of Dawn Eden, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Miriam Grossman, and Wendy Shalit, to name a few), Pollitt has surely noticed dwindling support for her campaign for “contraception, condoms, divorce and abortion” — goals she insists are “human rights,” but which women increasingly see as means for the abdication of male responsibility.
The heady days of commanding open the doors of Oz have passed, and Pollitt and her peers grow ever less relevant to the real world in which young women live.