The break up referenced in this post was the final straw that pushed me out of the shadows of traditionalist “Biblical patriarchy”. Fertility awareness and natural family planning (NFP) were what helped teach me true self-respect, talked me down from the imminently looming cliff of unhealthy sexual decisions, and empowered me to take back authority over my body from whatever man happened to be in my life at the moment.
I was responsible for my own actions.
I was responsible for my own body.
And I had the ability to say no.
It restored my dignity from two polar opposite cultures, fundamentalist patriarchy and contemporary western society, each of which had taken a turn at stripping personhood from intrinsic value in their own ways. The ideologies couldn’t look more different on their surface, but for women the end result is identical: the worth of a woman is determined by her ability to perform. Whether that performance be spiritual, sexual, physical, or maternal, women are the sum of their parts and their ability to meet male expectations.
In one culture that means perpetual service to men as the stronger sex. In the other, constant sexual availability, professional prowess, and an unwillingness to be entangled with motherhood, responsibility, and religion.
If I left Catholicism in the dust tomorrow, I would still be an ardent advocate of fertility awareness, because I believe it is one of the best ways to show women that their bodies aren’t dirty vehicles for sexual convenience. I can’t talk about how wonderful it is or isn’t for marriages, because I’m not married. But I know how profoundly it has changed me as a single woman.
That’s why, when I see images like this one from 1Flesh.org, I recoil:
I appreciate 1Flesh.org’s mission to bring NFP/Fertility Awareness to twentysomethings and college kids.
I know it isn’t an easy thing to be an ambassador for. You’re painted as either a woman hating chauvinist, or a science hating hippie who dances around in a circle on full mooned-nights drinking blood.
But there are three things very wrong with this picture that kill the message:
1. Cancer isn’t a joke.
He isn’t shown to be concerned for, you know, the life of the woman he loves. Just that she keeps her boobs. Because that’s the greatest tragedy of breast cancer, folks. The loss of boobs. And what’s a man with a boobless wife to do? Breast cancer is a horrifying, tragic disease that inflicts torment on women across the world. Including women who practice Fertility Awareness and NFP.
It isn’t the punchline of a frat-boy meme.
Using it as such demeans the memory of women who have fought harrowing battles with breast cancer and lost.
Using it as such demeans the women who fought the same battle, and had mastectomies. The woman who struggles with constant feelings of self-loathing because she’s inundated with messages of “You must be beautiful or your husband/significant other/partner won’t love you. Breasts are beauty and you can’t have beauty without breasts.”
Using it as such demeans the dignity of men, and treats them as prepubescent boys who don’t have the emotional capacity to sustain true, deep, faithful love. Like ADHD toddlers who can be distracted by something new and shiny.
2. He is shown to be the keeper of the fertility gate.
In patriarchy, the man is the one who determines when sex happens. In its strictest forms, women aren’t allowed to deny their husband under pain of sin. For fundamentalists who believe in NO forms of family planning, this means the man is responsible for how many children the woman bears. For fundamentalists who allow family planning, this means the burden of contraception falls on the wife.
It’s FAMILY planning, people. Not progeny planning.
3. It co-opts the language of chauvinist humor and applies it to women’s fertility.
I’m not a humorless shrew. I was a fan of the someecard-style meme, oh, 5 years ago. (Can we be done with it now, please?) But when you’re trying to make a philosophical argument and win over hordes of people to your point of view, you must maintain intellectual integrity.
You can’t shout about “TRUE feminism! The Pill is anti-woman! Viva la cervical fluid!”
And then say, “Dudes. Don’t allow your women to use birth control. They might get breast cancer and lose their boobs.”
I know this all too well.
After I converted to Catholicism, I pressured myself to be all things to all people. I tried to speak Pentecostalese to my ORU friends, so they didn’t think Catholics hated Jesus.
I tried to be worldly and suave around my non-religious friends so they wouldn’t think I was dated and backwards.
I studied more Catholic theology than I ever wish to see again, in a desperate attempt to prove to the cradle Catholics that I was just as worthy of the title as they are
And I lost myself in it all. I was trying so hard to be the perfect Catholic ambassador that the only thing I succeeded in doing was ticking off people who saw through my façade. They knew I didn’t agree with them, and they would have respected me a lot more if I had simply been myself.
If you want to respect the dignity of all people, and liberate society’s oppressed and marginalized, don’t stoop to the tactics that perpetuate oppression and objectification.
If you want to change the culture, then make the first move.