Saturday, 5 June 2010

Auntie Seraphic and ARRGH!

(Letter heavily changed and messed around with to protect the innocent.)

Dear Auntie Seraphic,

Are there any men out there who DON'T look at women as a mere sexual object?? Recently I have encountered a few supposedly "practicing" Christians whose conversation and outlook on relationships in general and women in particular have thrown me into a pit of relational despair.

I'm not afraid of the sexual side of married life, and I like men. But these supposedly Nice Christian Boys have taken the wind out of my sails. I try to tell myself that they must come from dysfunctional families where there are "mother issues." But it's discouraging to hear them speak so disrespectfully of women nonetheless. And if I object, I'm labeled a femi-nazi and that I just need to accept that this is how men are.

Any advice? Words of hope? A Catholic guy in my circle said something so nastily hateful about women to me recently, that I just don't know how to deal.



Suddenly I remembered the good old days when I was a teenage pro-life activist, and these two teenage pro-life guys wrestled away from me my student ID (which I needed for the train) and howled at my photograph because it was so ugly. Another teenage pro-life guy, furious at a friend of mine for some reason, told her that women wear jewellery to give themselves worth. And more recently, I heard of a young guy in a conservative Christian think-tank who said something really nasty to a shy young girl who works there.

Ah, the Nice Catholic Girl's big secret: some Nice Catholic Boys sound like sexist bastards at least some of the time, just like anti-Catholics allege.

Yes, ARRGH!, some (not all, not most, but SOME) young Christian men--Catholic, Protestant and, for all I know, East Orthodox--do have severe issues about women. Why, I do not know. It probably changes from man to man. My hunch is that these issues are usually about (A) sexual frustration, (B) struggles with sexual sin, (C) confusion over what is expected of men today, (D) envy, (E) this girl who hurt them, (F) Teacher, (G) Mother.

But, in my experience, most Catholic men (and most men in general) are not sexist jerks. Of course, most men I know these days are over 25. But even thinking back to my university days, I remember a dozen or so young men whom any girl would be proud to know and introduce to her granny. The rest have probably grown up a lot since then.

When any woman is totally fed up with men-in-general, I recommend the blessing exercise. The blessing exercise is to say silently, every time you see a man, "Bless his little heart." That's it. You do it for at least a day (but try three), and your attitude towards men improves amazingly.

Now, in the case of the guy who was gratuitously horrible to you, I recommend asking him WHY he doesn't like women--or, better, why he doesn't like you. Here is the conversation I am hearing in my Mind's Ear:

You: So why don't you like me?

Mr Horrible: What?

You: Why don't you like me?

Mr Horrible: What are you taking about? I like you. Sure, I like you.

You: Then why did you make that horrible remark about women to me?

Mr. Horrible: Aw, lighten up.

You: No, seriously. I'm curious. You seem like a nice man, you're Catholic, you must love Our Lady, but you make remarks like that. So I'm assuming that you don't like me, or you have a problem with women-in-general. And since you're a Catholic, and Catholicism stresses the Dignity of Women, my guess is there's something going on with you.

Mr Horrible: You know what I don't like....?

And then Mr Horrible pours out his wounded masculine soul because most young men with a grievance can't help talking about it when given half a chance.

There is also, of course, the chance that Mr Horrible's anger goggles are so firmly glued to his head that he will just call you a "crazy bitch" instead of explaining himself or apologizing. In this event, I suggest you avoid him at all costs, and if others in your set ask why, you tell them, word for word.

Another thing I recommend is to read Mulieris Dignitatem by John Paul II. John Paul II totally loved us women. And you can find it on

Grace and peace,


Madame Lefty said...

That's possibly the most annoying thing about men be they Catholic, secular, or of any other religious affiliation.

This idea that being a feminist equals being a femi-nazi or a supporter of abortion. I don't agree with abortion, but these men don't win points with the other side when they say things like, "pro-abortion women are usually old hags with no children." This usually is far from the case, from what I've seen as far as feminists are concerned. (Both pro choice and pro life.)

I'm not sure when being a feminist became a negative term, but it's sad when you see even politicians and other high officials backing away from the term. "I'm not a's not like I hate men or anything..."


Seraphic said...

SOME men--don't forget. We always have to say SOME men when we are talking about the man stuff that annoys us. Not just because it hurts good men's feelings, but because we start giving off anti-man vibes, which is a very bad idea for us-women-who-are-into-men.

AveLady said...

In response the "words of hope" line, at my school the men were, on the whole, wonderful in their attitude toward women. Not perfect by any stretch - some of them fell into the trap of "objectifying" the stereotypical qualities of NCG's: they gave off the vibe that they liked us not for ourselves, but because we fulfilled their concept of the NCG (pro-life, cooked, sewed, went to Mass a lot, read, loved kids, all that jazz). But really, as imperfect-attitudes go, that wasn't that bad. They were still pleasant enough.

More importantly, though, lots and lots of them were far better than that, and obviously just loved and valued us because we were women. They appreciated all the NCG qualities very much, but they also made me feel loved and valued just for me as me. Obviously, having a community that supported that outlook did a lot to curb any tendencies to the contrary. Since I've left school, I don't find quite as many men like that, but there are still a few. Plus of course, all those lovable in-between guys who's outlook might be a little skewed (and hey, my outlook on guys is a little skewed sometimes too), but have their hearts in the right place and keep getting better.

I hope this doesn't make poor ARRGH just more frustrated that such men, though they may exist, aren't putting in an appearance in her community. I can't really offer much advice, as my post-college community is mainly through longtime friends of friends I met in college. Maybe Seraphic has ideas where to look? I like the guys at my traddy church, but depending on the community traddy men do sometimes (SOMETIMES) fulfill the negative traddy stereotypes, particularly the younger single ones, so one can't always count on that. That's all I've got for ideas though.

Seraphic said...

Mme Lefty, I thought this morning that I should mention that I don't know if ARRGH! identifies as a feminist. As far as I could see, she was being called a femi-nazi just for telling men not to make sexist comments. This strikes me not as ideological but as self-defense.

Not all women like the label "feminist", in part because of what happened in the 1960s. In fact, women of colour, dubious about the career obsessions of middle-class white women, came up with "womanist" philosophy, and there exists a genre of theology alled womanist theology.

Me, I am not sure where I stand, but I know that I resent women (like in NARAL) who claim to speak for all women and then reject utterly pro-life women and ignore that they have made sex-selection abortion and, by their silence on the issue, encourage it.

Julie said...

The "I'm not a feminist but" thing goes back to the suffrage campaigns. You hear almost identical kinds of disclaimers among Catholic women in the 1920s and 1930s even as they are defending their right to run for office, sit on juries regardless of how gruesome the crime, etc.

Shiraz said...

Ha! Seraphic, I enjoyed your advice re: asking the young man making offensive comments such a simple question. I was repeatedly harassed/tormented by a young man when we were both in high school, and finally one night at a party I turned to him after he made a snide remark, and just said "John, why do you hate me?" At which point he looked utterly flustered and said that he didn't hate me. So I asked, "Then why do you act like it?" Then he got REALLY confused and said he was sorry for what he'd said. Interesting -- I think he would have had cutting remarks thought up for if I got defensive or angry, but he really didn't know what to make of that (quietly stated) question.

On the feminist thing -- gargh! I can't stand the reflexive 'feminazi' thing, either. It's just a way to be misogynist and blame it on women for being 'uppity'. I identify as a feminist, as there are lots of kinds of feminism! (So no bra burning here, or rage about male language, but I am very glad I get to work on my PhD and vote and such.) I think Rebecca West summed up how I feel about it when she said: "I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute."

Peace all, and especially you, AARGH!

Anonymous said...

Shall be more careful when complaining about some men in the future! Good thing to note.

I still think that the feminazi term is a response to some people's view of what feminism is.

I find it interesting that now the women's movement and the 60s takes on such negative connotations. Back when I was studying women's history and women's right in college, the 60s for all its flaws was important for women. (Even more odd as a nun at a Catholic university taught me my women's history course and she never gave me the impression she despised the term feminist. And she was quite the blunt lady!)

The culture, climate, and the glass ceiling coupled with other historical events caused women of that era to rebel and go to excess with bra burnings and the like. However, the most important thing they did for us was to get the idea of equal rights among the genders.

(Black females, subsequently were not part of this movement, because of the civil rights movement.)

I guess what makes me sad is that today, the label feminist implies only the negative connotations of the 60s. And that's what I don't understand, because the 60s was more than about reckless sex and drugs.

The 60s was not perfect, but it's an important milestone for women, regardless of our views of how these women were able to achieve that milestone.

I hope I was able to express my thoughts clearly. I don't think having sex with random men makes me equal to men, (which is what I think many people are against) but I do believe that women wanting equal treatment in areas of work and the like is important.

I realize people's distaste for the label is more complicated than simply the 60s, but in my experience no one has really made the effort to explain their distaste for the term without falling for phrases such as, "feminists are feminazis" or "feminists hate men".

theobromophile said...

Are there any men out there who DON'T look at women as a mere sexual object?? Recently I have encountered a few supposedly "practicing" Christians whose conversation and outlook on relationships in general and women in particular have thrown me into a pit of relational despair.

Maybe it's because of my own relationship past, but I read this situation rather differently.

I've met many, many Catholic men, and even a Lutheran pastor (the most recent break-up), who expect sex as "a normal part of a healthy relationship". It is incredibly difficult to not feel objectified when men who do not seem to care about your well-being, let alone want to give all of themselves to you, demand all of your body (and a good deal of your soul) for their own gratification.

Intellectually, I understand that men act this way not just because their parents didn't teach them any better, but because we all live in a culture that can be poisonous - and that masculine pride (such a wonderful thing at times) gets tangled up with hormones and social expectations. A part of me feels badly for these men, because I know that they aren't setting themselves up to live joyful lives. Emotionally, the "ARRRGGGGHHH" makes perfect sense.

As always, I have far more complaints than advice, except what I try to chant to myself every time this happens (which is rather frequently): men will grow up and want more out of life, they will become tired of living this way, and I owe it to decent men - and to myself - to not shove my frustration onto all men.