Gender Bias Goes Deep


Word from the Trenches tells what is really happening in the ground war.  Like the doughboys of World War I who dug trenches and vowed to fight to the finish, we women need to dig in to some of the nitty gritty details of our lives in order to improve our world. In this blog I will deal mostly with the feminist issues of serious mental illness and gender bias in religion.

       We women must fight back the constant efforts of religious fundamentalists to restrict our civil rights.  The United States is not a theocracy.  While we respect everyone’s right to believe whatever they want about God and an afterlife, only our civil laws govern our conduct.  Our laws assert the rights of women to equal opportunity, justice and self-determination.  We must fight off the fundamentalists before they turn back the clock on women the way women were treated in Iran and Afghanistan.  And then we must move forward to true equality, including in our places of worship.    

       We women are also greatly impacted by mental illness.  Families of people who suffer from severe mental illnesses face terrible burdens.  We must fight 24/7 to improve the current non-system of care available in our country for our loved ones.  My brother suffered with schizophrenia, and our patched together mishmash of what is supposed to be community-based care failed him.  Our jails and homeless shelters are filled with people who, through no fault of their own, suffer from a brain malfunction that makes it almost impossible for them to take care of themselves. They need help.  

Since the onset of mental illness generally comes in late adolescence or early adulthood, the burden of care falls disproportionately on mothers.  Thus mental illness is a feminist issue. Because our society is used to seeing mothers struggle to care for their children, the sacrifices made by mothers (and also fathers and siblings) of people with smi also go almost unnoticed.

Overall, I hope this blog will strengthen women’s rights by providing a sounding board on these and other current and past events.

No School Vouchers

Elementary School Kids Group

The Supreme Court of Colorado recently ruled against the state’s Douglas County school voucher system, saying that to allow money collected by the government through taxes, to be used to support a religiously affiliated school constituted a violation of the separation of church and state, which is expressly prohibited by the Colorado State Constitution.

I applaud Court’s decision, and I encourage the other states to reconsider whether to continue with voucher systems except for the most difficult circumstances.

School vouchers are, in effect, a way to allow tax dollars to pay the private school tuition of a student otherwise eligible to attend a public school. There are 14 states plus the District of Columbia as well as the Douglas County School District in Colorado with school voucher programs, with varying strings attached to when and where such vouchers may be used. Eight states offer vouchers to special needs students, four states plus D.C. offer them to low income students or students from failing schools, and two offer them to certain rural students. Louisiana and Ohio have programs for both low income and special needs students.  Beyond certain special needs like these, I believe there is no place for vouchers.

Who will be the arbiter of what is taught in these schools? I’ve read about an orthodox school in upstate New York where the girls and the boys must be taught separately. Should that be paid for with taxpayer dollars? The Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints teach that women should not be highly educated and should be subservient to their husbands. In their schools, the girls must wear long dresses and are discouraged from attending beyond a relatively young age. Is this acceptable? Most religious incursions are more subtle, but where do we draw the line? Should our tax dollars be used in schools that teach that evolution is wrong? Should our tax dollars be used in schools where god plays a frequent part in classroom discussions? What if a fundamentalist sect teaches that the races shouldn’t mingle?

We all use our pocketbooks to encourage activities which we believe beneficial or or to discourage activities we deem unwise. The New York Times reported recently that three United States churches with millions of members were considering resolutions to divest from companies deemed supportive of Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories, or to boycott products made in Israeli settlements. The United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church the Mennonites. Advocates of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement seek to pressure Israel economically over the Palestinian issue. They are free, of course to follow their conscience. It is their money and they may do with it what they wish.

A school voucher system is a dangerous precedent. We collect taxes to support public schools. If people choose to send their children to a private, religious school, that is their choice. I do not believe it is wise to encourage this kind of self imposed segregation from the rest of the world; it results in a lack of trust and empathy for people who are different and, most importantly, the schools likely  promulgate belief systems that are counter to the cultural norm.

Let them do so at their own expense. The rest of us should not have to help pay for it.

Jerome, Paula and Women in Christianity

Jerome, paula and Eust._3zu2

A month or so ago, I saw a stained glass window displayed in a museum. The glass image depicted St. Jerome, who is credited with the creation of the Vulgate, a late fourth-century Latin translation of the Bible. In 382, Jerome was commissioned by Pope Damasus I to revise the Latin biblical texts then in use by the Church, going back to the Hebrew and Greek versions to restore lost sections and repair errors that had crept into the Latin version then in use. The final format of the text Jerome produced used the Latin which was spoken at the time, called the vulgate. The Catholic Church made this version its official Latin Bible at the Council of Trent (1545–63).

Or so the official story goes.

Yet a woman named Paula was key to this translation effort. It is said that the work was done at her suggestion. She was a wealthy and educated woman, a widow, and she provided the financial resources needed to pursue the undertaking. Jerome’s knowledge of Hebrew was not strong. Paula, who had been educated in Greek and was better at Hebrew than Jerome, edited Jerome’s manuscripts, did much of the translation herself, and then she and her daughter Eustochium also copied the work for circulation, a laborious task in the days before printing. A writer named Palladius, a contemporary of Jerome, believed that Jerome actually got in Paula’s way on the project: “For though she was able to surpass all, having great abilities, he hindered her by his jealousy, having induced her to serve his own plan.”

St. Jerome shows up in a multitude of stained glass windows and mosaics holding a thick book, representing his great work. But Paula and Eustochium don’t get books in windows. At the tombs of St. Paula and her daughter Eustochium, they are described as holy women who left Rome and made a pilgrimage to Bethlehem with Jerome c.485 and later settled there, while St. Jerome is described as a church father. We don’t see the three of them depicted as an intellectual team. In a rare painting of the three, it looks like Jerome is lecturing to the women, priest to congregants. Most histories of this period barely mention Paula and Eustochium.

In fact, Jerome’s enemies – inspired, perhaps, by Jerome’s hedonistic youth – did the customary slander about a boss and female subordinate, characterizing his close relationship with Paula as an amorous one. These rumors even made their way into Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in the foundation for the prologue to The Wife of Bath’s Tale, from which we can assume that the slanderous version of things was the one that was retold.

(How little we have changed over the years! Even today, when a woman succeeds in business, there is still almost always gossip that she “slept her way to the top.” )

And here we are in the 21st Century and the Catholic Church still encourages women to donate money for various causes, as well as to serve as nuns and teachers. Yet women are denied any position of authority in the Church. In fact, the Women Religious are harassed by Papal investigators and told to mind their P’s and Q’s. Even the new, beloved Francis has reiterated his decision that women will not be eligible to become priests.

And the Church wonders why women have been dropping out in droves.

(My thanks to Wikipedia and Google for aiding me in my research for this blog. While I had read about much of this over the years, my facts were fuzzy and I needed images.)

September 30 is the feast of St. Jerome.