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Michele Swenson

Michele Swenson

Posted: May 20, 2010 03:00 PM

Male Entitlement: Church & State Preserve Male Prerogatives, Female Punishments

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Assuming responsibility for personal and institutional sins has not been a strong suit of the Church, fallen evangelicals, or corporate plunderers. It's easier to blame a media campaign against the Church, or in Rep. Mark Souder's case, a "poisonous" Washington environment seeking to twist "personal failing ... for political gain."

The political right has labored mightily for over three decades to link the term "entitlement" to social programs such as nutrition, health and child support -- useful distractions from enormous entitlements bestowed on corporate power brokers who have corroded common culture and brought us to the economic brink.

Newt Gingrich denounced food programs for children as "entitlements," and attributed budget deficits solely to social spending. Yet, at the time of 1996 welfare reform corporate subsidies and tax breaks of $167 billion in 1995 alone, totaled more than twice as much as the $67 billion all social welfare programs combined. Nor is expansive defense spending questioned: Defense "creates jobs and protects worship," reasoned majority whip Sen. Trent Lott on Pat Robertson's show in 1995.

Right-wing culture/class warfare consistently pits the privileged against the "undeserving underclass" -- an epithet applied by a James Dobson affiliate. The doctor denounced the ideal of universal health care while ascribing health costs to the "social pathology of our underclass," principally "irresponsible sex acts that lead to abortion." Contemporary Tea Parties express the same class/race discontent. While rightfully rejecting the widening disparity of wealth created by ultraconservative policies, theirs is the wrong diagnosis and prescription - defense of corporate greed and abolishment of government oversight.

The right has marginalized and imputed inferiority and illicit sexual behavior to the least politically powerful. Serial adulterer Gingrich led congressional efforts to selectively apply economic sanctions, while attributing every perceived social ill to the "sexual sin" of women and minorities -- not to economic, but to moral, poverty. Nor are children exempt from blame: The latest confessed adulterer, Rep. Mark E. Souder (R-Indiana), champion of traditional marriage and abstinence-only education who touts a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee, dismissed David Koresh's crimes of rape of young girls at Waco as "sex with consenting minors."

Welfare reform was seized upon as opportunity to punish and stigmatize single mothers, and to eliminate the mandate for family planning access. Colorado legislators vehemently protested sanctions on men for failure to pay child support, naming it "the most intrusive violation of privacy," even as they imposed the most invasive penalties on women.

Legislators who condemn women for alleged sexual transgressions have been quick to justify their own. Author of the anti-abortion Hyde Amendment, Rep. Henry Hyde pleaded "youthful indiscretion" regarding his long-term adulterous affair in his '40s. Ultraconservative benefactor and ally, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon is one among religious figures who describe their own adulterous affairs as "providential" -- ordained by God -- even as he condemns women for that "worst of all sins."

A tradition of silence and secrecy within the Church reinforces an environment of male entitlement that places women and children at risk. Institutional coverup prioritizes protection of Church over children. Females are held inferior by virtue of being female, often blamed for their own abuse. One young Catholic victim recounted being told as a youth in her sex education class by the priest who abused her, that sexual abuse was always the fault of the female -- common self-justification of perpetrators.

A student survivor of sexual abuse by Rev. Billy James Hargis during his 1962-74 tenure at a Christian school near Colorado Springs, described her experience as a "murder of the soul." Referring to "layers and layers of spiritual abuse," she described being "raped in the name of the Lord ... Little Christian girls get raped every day. I know what it's like to be falsely accused and called an adulterer."

Notions of male entitlement run deep within cultural institutions. Early Catholic orthodoxy upheld the Aristotelian notion of "natural" male superiority. St. Thomas Aquinas reasoned, "In terms of nature's own operation, a woman is inferior and a mistake." The historic Catholic theory of "ensoulment," traceable to the Middle Ages, further reinforced women's subordinate status, holding that a male fetus attained human form, and therefore a soul, about forty days after conception, a process half as long as for a female fetus. From the thirteenth century until 1869 (when the all-male U.S. medical society lobbied to eliminate competition from midwives by criminalizing abortion unless performed by a doctor) the Catholic Church accepted abortion until "quickening," or prior to "ensoulment."

Among cutting edge thinkers of the 19th century (idealized era of the political right), western scientist Herbert Spencer asserted that women were not related to their children, but rather functioned merely as incubators for sperm. The notion of sperm as the complete seed from which offspring develop reinforced concepts of male ownership of women and children. Abortion and contraception, historically viewed as violation of men's property, have been embraced when viewed as benefiting men. In a 1995 Senate debate about elimination of abortion coverage for federal workers -- affecting more than 1 million women -- Republicans heeded a Senator's appeal to add rape and incest as exceptions because his wife had been raped.

So-called "Personhood" amendments like that on the 2010 Colorado ballot for the second time in as many years, seek to guarantee fertilized eggs rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, even as ultraconservatives have opposed the same rights for women as "reading feminism into the Constitution."

Notre Dame University law professor Charles Rice advocates outlawing abortion in cases of rape and incest, arguing that "Incest is a voluntary act on a woman's part," reinforcing the notion of pregnancy as punishment of females who are blamed for their own abuse. With inscrutable logic, Rev. Jimmy Swaggart argued, "Sex education classes in our public schools are promoting incest."

Right-wing apocrypha alleges that pregnancy cannot result from rape. Only a consenting woman can become pregnant, declares right-to-life literature -- "Fear prevents ovulation" rationalizes denial and assigning women blame for sexual abuse.

Contraception is condemned by ultrarightists and Catholic hierarchy alike, who accuse, "Birth control causes promiscuity." The Vatican that swiftly sanctioned Viagra has denounced contraception and women seeking "unlimited dominion over their own bodies." Facilely reducing women to the status of reproductive objects is as denigrating as sexual objectification. So adamantly opposed to contraception was Pope John Paul II that he forbade the use of condoms by a married man with AIDS to prevent transmission of the virus to his wife.

Health care reform has been seized upon as yet another opportunity to marginalize women, now required to purchase two health care policies, a separate one for abortion coverage. No one anticipates the need for abortion -- certainly not a woman carrying an anencephalic fetus (lacking a brain) or experiencing a tubal pregnancy. Even fertilized eggs that become hydatiform moles or cancerous tumors and lack any potential for human life are deemed worthy of greater protection than women's lives.

Female lives are facilely traded away as expendable, relegated to second class status and denied full humanity and the right to self-determination, an unquestioned right of males.

Entitlement assumes the prerogative to manipulate and control others for personal gain. The doctrine of male/corporate entitlement represents two aspects of the same abusive culture. If the Church remained true to its own teaching, acknowledgment of the true nature of our sin is the only path to redemption and forgiveness.