Is Catholic publishing sexist?

If women want to succeed in business, politics, or entertainment, they have to put out. The sexual revolution didn’t create this state of affairs; it only gave plausible deniability to predators who’ve been doing their thing since long before the 60’s.

It’s only now, in 2017, that society is listening to women’s age-old complaints of institutional sexism, and it’s only now that corporations are cracking down on the male predators they employ. Whether this response is a passing mood or a lasting change, it’s too soon to say.

Is the Catholic working world different?

I don’t know if I can bear to dig too deeply into this question. Certainly, countless Catholic men have discovered that a combination of authority and spirituality makes a fine snare for the vulnerable. The priest sex abuse scandal, especially the ongoing Legion of Christ debacle, illustrates that horror all too well. And, just as in the secular world, many Catholics will excuse and forgive predators and discredit their accusers, and will blame women and young people for tempting and seducing those who prey on them.

But what about in the Catholic working world that extends beyond the actual Church? Are women constrained more than men? If women want to succeed, are they expected to behave in a certain way? Or are Catholics better than the secular world?

It’s becoming more rare, in mainstream Catholicism, for women to be shamed and castigated for simply working outside the home, but sexist attitudes are still pervasive in more conservative circles. Even in online groups specifically dedicated to supporting Catholic working moms, the very members of that group will sometimes suggest that, if a working woman is struggling in any way, maybe the Holy Spirit is telling her to quit work (or to trade in her actual career for an MLM scam).

In some professional Catholic circles, if you do your work, meet your deadlines, and don’t cause scandal, your work is respected, whether you’re male or female. But in other circles, you’ll still hear that it’s actually wrong for women to go to college. I reject the tired notion that the Catholic male priesthood is evidence of systemic sexism, but it’s undeniable that Catholics use the male priesthood to justify that sexism.

You’ll hear that it’s just to pay women less than men, because men are supposed to be the breadwinners, and women who work are robbing men of opportunities (and their manhood). You’ll hear the word “feminine” used as a synonym for “shoddy, inferior, and trite.” You’ll hear that women are, as a species, too emotional and flighty to contribute much of intellectual value.

My personal experience is limited. I only know what I’ve seen and what I’ve read in Crisis and from the Catholic authors at The Federalist. But one thing I’ve actually lived is Catholic publishing, and here’s what I learned:

You can say whatever you want in your Catholic lady book, as long as it’s 90% uplifting, joyful, and encouraging, amen.

Did you ever wonder why I initially self-published my book about NFP? It’s because I approached several Catholic publishers (with the NFP book and with previous book pitches in the same vein), and they told me my book was too dark, too negative, too discouraging, too snarky, too problematic. It frankly acknowledged the struggles of living the faith, and that was unacceptable. It might possibly lead people astray. No one claimed it was was heterodox. It simply wasn’t joyful enough.

I thought they were wrong. So I published it myself, as an ebook. It was exceedingly popular, and then Catholic publishers — including more than one that had rejected my proposal for the very same manuscript — approached me, looking for printing rights. It seemed there was a market for my problematic negativity after all. (And yes, I cackled like Yosemite Sam as the offers poured in.)

Now, once upon a time, Catholic readers tolerated something less than joy-joy-joy from women writers. Dorothy Day, Maisie Ward, Caryll Housleander, and even the humorists Jean Kerr and Erma Bombeck spring to mind as non-saints who acknowledged that Catholic woman could find Christ in other places besides kitchen sinks, nurseries, and fields of daisies. (Note that Kerr, Day, and Bombeck were published by secular presses, and Ward started her own company to publish her work, Houselander’s, and others’.)

Today, Heather King, Eve Tushnet, Leah Libresco, Emily Stimpson, Jennifer Fulwiler, Amy Wellborn, Sherry Weddell, Leah Perrault, and Elizabeth Scalia come to mind as Catholic female authors who don’t shy away from troubling questions. I’d be interested to know whether they felt constrained to uphold a certain image of Catholic womanhood, or if they felt free to speak their minds.

Whatever their answer, my own experience is undeniable, and it left a mark. Catholic women writers aren’t required to put out. Instead, they’re all too often required to stuff down. Stuff down anything ugly, anything problematic, anything risky, anything that doesn’t end up with an edifying bow on top.

I’m not naive. Catholic publishers bear a responsibility under which secular publishers do not labor. Catholic publishers must, like everyone else, know and please their audience; but there’s more. What if they publish something by an author who’s so gritty, authentic, and honest that, two weeks after the book debuts, it’s revealed that the author has slid past authenticity and straight into debauchery? A secular publisher doesn’t want to get caught out promoting an author who turns out to be a liar or a pervert, and a Catholic publisher doesn’t want to get stuck with six thousand copies of a Catholic book by someone who doesn’t act remotely like a Catholic.  What Catholic publisher in its right mind would take that risk?

Well, they might, if the author is a man.

In our conversation of several weeks ago, Jessica Mesman Griffith told me that several years ago, she pitched a memoir to Loyola Press. The name inspired by her daughter’s pretend game which involved the seasick pilgrims on the Mayflower. Together, they drew stick figure pilgrims with X’s for eyes, suffering through their strange journey.

Griffith told me:

I always wanted to do something with that title. It was so resonant with what my own spiritual life was like. I’d had this private dream to start a publishing house. I was really inspired by Sheed and Ward, loved reading about their philosophy of publishing and their approach.
I wanted something for Catholic writers where you didn’t have orthodoxy policing. I wanted a space where people would be Catholic, or cultural Catholics, or lapsed Catholics, where we could talk about beautiful things that inspired us.
Loyola declined the book, and the project was put on the back burner. Mesman then met Jonathan Ryan when he was acquisitions editor at Ave Maria Press. In December of 2015, she agreed to co-blog with him at Patheos, and they decided the name “Sick Pilgrim” (again drawing on her daughter’s game) would work well.  The blog, and the accompanying online discussion and support group, took off and developed a wildly devoted following.
Griffith says:
That’s when Loyola came back and said to pitch the book again, but with Jonathan as co-author. Even though it was the exact same book and same title. They said the male voice brings something special.
She emphasized that phrase several times. “The male voice brings something special.” Griffith said:
I recoiled. But, you’re a writer, you’re broke, someone offers you money . . . you do it. It was essays I had already written, about my spiritual life, my background, how I came back to the Church as an adult. I saw how [the blog and group] Sick Pilgrim was affecting people in a good way. I felt like it was its own kind of ministry for people who feel excluded. I saw people coming back to the Church, just from having another voice out there saying, “Whatever, I messed up, and I still go [to Mass].” The good outweighed the bad, even though I was reluctant. 
 And so Griffith agreed to co-author the book with Ryan. It was her idea, her essays, and her title, drawn from her life. But, Griffith says, Loyola didn’t want to publish it unless there was a man involved.
Then, in November of 2017, less than a month after the book debuted, it was spiked . . .  because that same man was involved.
This is just one example. And my own experience is just another example. And what I read in comment boxes is just what I read in comment boxes — those are all just more examples.

After a while, you have to wonder how many isolated examples there can be, before they form a pattern spelling out “Catholic publishing is still sexist.”

So you tell me. Is there a problem in Catholic publishing, or in the Catholic working world at large? Are women allowed to admit to being human beings with complex, untidy experiences? Are women expected to conform to ideals of womanhood, while men are given more latitude? If there’s a problem, is it getting better?  What do you think?

***

EDIT and clarification, 12/7/17: After some justifiable criticism, I have taken out a few sentences that referenced an essay by Jody Bottum. The essay wasn’t actually a good example of what I’m talking about, and bringing it up distracted from the point of this essay. I don’t blame Bottum for being annoyed to be dragged into it.

I did frame my essay as a question, and I wish I had made it more clear it was a sincere one, not a rhetorical one. Several people have answered by suggesting that the more prevalent problem is Catholic publishers being unwilling to publish anything that’s too risky (by way of being honest, not-altogether-tidy, etc.), whether it’s written by a man or a woman.

It happens that women are probably more likely than men to accommodate their editors by toning things down, trimming away the darker stuff, and adding a tidy bow. The result is that women authors get published plenty, but what they publish tends to be more facile and shallow than what men publish. But there can be reasonable argument as to whether that’s due to sexism or more complicated issues.

Image: Detail from photo by Andrew Toskin via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Are all men sitting ducks in this cultural climate?

The great 2017 Advent Calendar of Workplace Pervs continues to reveal creep after creep, day after day.

And I am astonished. Not because I had no idea such things went on in the working world, but because the story has not blown over yet. I thought there would be a flurry of high-profile accusations after Harvey Weinstein, and then the herd would get bored and move along to graze elsewhere. Instead, the story endures, as it should.

Predictably, the longer it stays in the headlines, the more I hear a growing panic among some men (and some women, too): Isn’t this going too far? It seems like a man can lose his job just because some woman makes an accusation! We all have targets on our backs now! No man is safe.

Let’s take a closer look at this fear. How rational is it?

First: If it’s recent headlines that are making you nervous, let’s recall that every single man who was fired for inappropriate sexual behavior is accused of doing something very serious. Matt Lauer didn’t get the axe for calling someone “hon.” Al Franken isn’t under fire because he had dust in his eye, but some lady thought he was winking. These men are not accused of accidents, misunderstandings, or fleeting comments made in a weak moment of poor judgment.

They are accused of committing overtly sexual acts, of repeatedly using their power to do predatory things to the bodies of women, just because they thought they could get away with it.

So let’s dispense with the idea that phalanxes of men are losing their livelihoods over trivial accusations. At least in the high profile cases we’ve been seeing, that simply isn’t what’s happening.

Second: Nobody fires a star without solid evidence he’s guilty. These guys have the best contracts money can buy. No news channel or Hollywood studio is going to risk being sued for firing their top guy for no good reason. Think about it: If they fired someone, it’s because they know they have an airtight case. They investigate the claims and find out if they are plausible, if the accuser is credible, and if there is a pattern.

So not only are these men accused of serious offenses, but the accusations must have merit. If they didn’t have merit, no corporation in its right mind would run the risk of being sued for wrongful termination. Think about it: Someone who works for NBC installed that secret door lock button for Matt Lauer. They already knew what he was up to. They fired him because they’ve had tons of evidence for years, and it suddenly became fashionable to act on it, that’s all.

Nevertheless, I have some sympathy for men. America is not known for its temperance. We do tend to overcompensate; and so, yes, from some quarters, there are calls for all men to suffer. One woman said on Twitter that she didn’t care if innocent men get unjustly accused, since so many women have suffered injustice (and one writer says a major news outlet tried to get her to argue that men do not deserve due process.). So I can understand how even a completely innocent man might feel some unease, wondering if they’ll get swept up in an undiscerning mob that started out seeking justice but ends up just looking for blood.

So how should an innocent man behave in the workplace? Is there anything he can do to remove even the possibility of being accused unjustly, without acting like an alien?

My friend Kate Cousino suggests implementing The Rock Test, in which men simply visualize women as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and then magically find themselves taking no liberties whatsoever. Ta dah!

For a more nuanced approach, I’ll turn the rest of this essay over to another friend, a man who is a finance director at a large company. Here’s what he says:

I’m a guy who manages a team which for the last three years has been composed entirely of women, so I’ve thought about harassment type issues a fair amount well before this whole blow up.

Does this mean that I refuse to mentor or be alone with women? No. 

What do I watch myself most carefully on? I don’t make comments about how people working for me are dressed. Yes, this took a little work at first. With a guy, if he comes in particularly well dressed some day, I might joke, “What, interviewing for another job?” With a woman, if I wasn’t conscious of these things, I might have been tempted to say something like, “Wow, you’re looking fancy today!” But you know what? I’m glad that I’ve trained myself out of saying that kind of thing. The women who work for me don’t need to know my opinions on their fashion, and several years in it is an important aspect of the comfort we all have with each other that there is zero sense of tension on the team. They shouldn’t be thinking about what I’ll think about what they’re wearing anyway.

If I want to lean over someone to do something on her computer, I ask her first. And that’s not awkward, because honestly, I wouldn’t get that physically close to a guy normally either.

I don’t worry about meeting alone with a woman on my team in a conference room or in an office, but like virtually any corporate office building all our rooms have windows so there’s no fear of being out of sight.

And though I’ve traveled with one or more of my female employees, it would frankly never have occurred to me to ask of them to meet me in a my room. It’s always convenient to meet in the coffee shop, lobby, or restaurant. My room is private and so is theirs.

Honestly, it’s not hard, I’m not scared, and while some of the habits I’ve formed took some deliberation at first I think that they’ve actually turned out to make it easier for us to all feel comfortable and have a very low stress team dynamic. 

Over the top precautions are not necessary, and sensible ones are actually helpful in allowing you to work with people of the opposite sex without anyone feeling uncomfortable.

Makes sense to me.

Do you notice how, once he got used to taking these precautions, it actually became easier for everyone to work together? I could actually feel my shoulders relaxing as I imagined working in an environment like this. If is truly your goal to get work done at work, then there can be no objection to adopting these guidelines. You may need to tweak them for your individual job. Hey, at least you get to tweak something.

A final note. It is true that many men are, for the first time, becoming hyper aware of the potential sexual connotations of their working relationships with women. One woman told me, with outrage and incredulity, that her male friends now felt the need to leave the door open when they were alone with a woman in a room.

To this, I say . . . oh, well? It does not seem to me to be overly burdensome to expect men to think twice about the things that many women have to think of all day long.

I am not a paranoiac, and I do not feel as if I’m under constant threat of rape when I leave my home. And yet there are precautions that I take habitually, that I have taken ten thousand times since hitting puberty, just because I am a woman. I have to think about leaving my drink unattended. I have to think about looking around me when I cross a parking lot. I do not go out alone at night. I do not run alone without my cell phone. I am on high alert when I step into an elevator with a man. I am careful about what kinds of jokes I make around men, lest they get the wrong idea. I think about what I am projecting by what I wear. I will sometimes walk out of my way in the supermarket, rather than pass through a group of men whose eyes I don’t like. It’s not especially burdensome. It’s just life.

If minor precautions like this become part of the life of men for the first time in history, I say again, “Oh, well.” If women can survive thinking twice about relationships, then men can, too.

And if innocent men resent having to work so hard to protect themselves in the current cultural climate, then who should they blame?  Women who fear being preyed on? Or the predatory men who gave them reason to fear?

If she was sexually assaulted, why didn’t she say something sooner?

“Me too” has passed, but in its wake, more and more women are publicly accusing powerful men of sexual assault.

2017 being what it is, there are no good guys, left or right. We elected an open sexual predator to lead our country in the paths of goodness and grace, and now republican hero Roy Moore is (please God) on his way out; but Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK are beloved of the left, and they too are guilty as hell.  Vox, ABC news and NPR are yielding up their pigs. The Atlantic has suddenly noticed that Bill Clinton is super guilty, and so is everyone who made excuses for him.

So, that’s new. We can no longer pretend that it’s only the deviant left or the hypocritical right who harbor sex predators. It’s everywhere. It’s everyone. And that makes it harder to cling to the old binary political fairytales of good us vs. evil them.

One thing hasn’t changed, though. When a woman comes forward and says she’s been assaulted, we can still come together as a country and tell her it’s all her fault. I wrote this essay back in 2014, at the height of the Bill Cosby scandal, and was discouraged, if not surprised, to see how few edits were necessary to make it relevant today.

Here is what I have learned about sexual assault:

  • If you tell the police you’ve been sexually assaulted, it’s because you’re looking for attention. You should file a civil suit, instead.
  • If you file a civil suit, it’s because you’re looking for money, and are not telling the truth.
  • If you don’t file a civil suit, that shows you don’t have a case, and are not telling the truth.
  • If you tell someone right away, that shows suspicious presence of mind, and proves that you engineered the whole thing to embarrass the alleged perpetrator.
  • If you don’t tell anyone right away, that shows a suspicious lack of urgency, and proves that you are making up the story for no reason other than to embarrass the alleged perpetrator.
  • If you don’t file a civil suit, it shows that you don’t need the money and are just doing it for attention, because people love the kind of fabulous attention they get when they accuse someone of sexual assault, especially if that person is popular or powerful.
  • If you do file a civil suit, it shows that you’re such a gold digger, you don’t mind getting all the horrible attention that no victim in her right mind would want to get, especially if the alleged perpetrator is popular or powerful.
  • If you’re the only one who accuses someone of sexual assault, it shows that your story is unbelievable.
  • If lots of other people make similar accusations, that is suspiciously orchestrated, and shows that your story is unbelievable.
  • If you were in the same room with the person who sexually assaulted you, that shows that you are just as guilty as he is, because you’re in the same room with a sexual predator, and who would do that?
  • If the person you’re accusing of sexual assault is rich, famous, or powerful, then that shows that you’re just looking for attention, and it never happened.
  • If the person you’re accusing of sexual assault is rich, famous, and powerful, that shows that you should have known he is a sexual predator, and you wanted it to happen.
  • If you tell someone right away, they will assume you’re lying.
  • If you don’t tell anyone right away, they will assume you’re lying, because you didn’t tell anyone right away.

If you tell, that’s a count against you. If you don’t tell, that’s a count against you. If you speak alone, that’s a count against you. If you speak as one of a crowd, that’s a count against you. If you sue, that’s a count against you. If you don’t sue, that’s a count against you.

If you tell someone that you’ve been sexually assaulted, it probably didn’t actually happen the way you said, and even if it did, it was your fault in some way, and you should have realized that it would happen, and there is no particular reason anyone should believe you, and if you think the rape itself was painful and humiliating, just wait till you see what you’ve got coming next, when you try to tell someone.

So why didn’t you tell someone sooner?

Clearly, because it didn’t happen. There can be no other explanation.

Here’s a recent tweet from Dinesh D’Souza:

And he’s answered his own question. If she was really sexually assaulted, why didn’t she come forward sooner?

This is why. What he said. When a victim does come forward, she is assaulted all over again.

This is what I’ve learned. If you’ve been sexually assaulted, your only real recourse is not to have been sexually assaulted. Anything and everything you do from that moment forward is evidence against you. The deck is stacked against you as a victim because you are a victim. They very moment you even breathe the phrase “sexual assault,” that’s evidence in the minds of many  that no such thing happened, and anyway it was your fault.

So tell me. What is a victim of sexual assault supposed to do, in order to be believed? What? You tell me.

Unpopular opinion: That Boylan Catholic High prom dress code is actually fine.

A few examples of dresses not welcome at prom, because the school is sexist.

The internet is terribly upset because “A Catholic high school in Illinois was so concerned about the modesty of their female students, they made a 21-page manual directing the girls at the school how to dress.”

According to a Scarymommy article, “It’s so perfect that this dress code exists. Because it proves in great detail why dress codes are so unbelievably sexist and ridiculous.”

No, it doesn’t.

First, let’s clarify: it’s not precisely a “21-page dress code manual,” which brings to mind a glossy, multi-page volume of draconian minutiae plus a bonus look book of modest and immodest gals. Instead, the school wesbsite includes “dress code guidelines,” accompanied by a slide show with examples of what their dress code looks like in real life. The copious illustrations are what makes it one of the more sensible, rational dress codes I’ve seen. More about that later.

Let’s take the objections in turn.

Hey, this dress code is all about girls, and not much is said about boys! That’s sexist!

Possibly, but probably it’s just practical. Boys’ clothing is generally designed for style and comfort. Girls’ clothing is generally designed to be provocative. (See this essay in the Huffington Post, which rightly calls Target to task for the ways girls’ shorts are designed and sized.) When prom clothing is concerned, this discrepancy is magnified times a thousand. Boys are still wearing more or less what they’ve worn for the last hundred years: Long pants, a dress shirt, and a jacket. Sometimes the pants are super tight, and that’s no good. Beyond that? A suit is a suit.

Scarymommy says:

What if they decided against sleeves? Can they were[sic] those 90’s style cropped tuxedo jackets with a tail? What if they wear flip flops? Will that work? Oh, you don’t care?

Nope. Those clothes would look silly, but they wouldn’t be immodest. And that’s the purpose of the dress code: Not to crack down on girls, but to crack down on anyone dressed immodestly. It is almost always girls who are turning up dressed immodestly; therefore, the manual is directed mainly toward girls.

Now, I can easily imagine a future where boys start turning up at prom in skin tight, shiny pants that cling to their testicles, or filmy skirts that barely cover their butt cheeks, or strapless bodices made up of transparent netting, or pants with cut-outs designed to draw attention to their penises or asscracks. These styles could become popular, and when they do, I suppose there will have to be guidelines addressing that kind of thing.

But, folks. Boys don’t have as many sexy parts as girls do. Even if a boy did turn up wearing a stripper costume, he just wouldn’t have that much to show off. A man’s exposed or semi-exposed chest may be sexy, but it’s not sexy in the same way as a girl’s exposed or semi-exposed breasts. File under: How Does One Explain Things That Any Cat Would Understand?

Second objection: They want girls to dress modestly, and that is stupid because modesty is stupid!

The writer assumes all right-thinking people agree that immodesty itself is an arbitrary standard people apply to girls just because they like jerking girls around, and not because modesty is an actual (if subjective) standard we ought to expect from our kids and ourselves.

Here’s a screen shot that Scarymommy shares as evidence of . . . something or other.

Scarymommy is incredulous that girls are not supposed to show cleavage, because, it snarks, “God doesn’t like cleavage.” I don’t see the school bringing God into it, actually. (I suspect the military also disallows cleavage, and it’s not because it will upset God.) And anyway, if a religious school does design its rules based on what God likes, where is the freaking problem with that? If you think Catholicism is oppressive and God is lame, maybe don’t go to a Catholic school? I promise you, a ban on thigh-high slits is not the hardest thing you’ll encounter in God’s law.

As I read through the guide, I was amazed at how permissive it is. A top shouldn’t be cut below the navel, and we’re supposed to be outraged? They allow spaghetti straps and strapless dresses. They allow slits and mid-thigh skirts. They even allow two-piece dresses that expose midriff skin. I’ve seen far more restrictive dress codes. Scarymommy is just upset there is such a thing as guidelines at all. And that is bonkers.

Objection #3: They are bringing actual inches into it! This objectifies girls and reduces them to bits of meat that can be measured and weighed! More sexism!

Scarymommy shares the next section of the guide

 

and says

NO NAVEL. And we’re bringing a ruler, so don’t even try to show more than two inches of your midsection. Dresses should not be excessively tight, so good luck if you’re girl with actual curves. And no cover-ups are allowed over dresses that do not meet dress code. You can’t hide your immodesty with a sweater, ladies!

Let’s pick this one apart, thereby giving it much more thought than Scarymommy did.

Using rulers, or even giving specific numbers of inches for this and that, can be a tricky game. There is something intensely dehumanizing about laying even a hypothetical ruler on a girl’s body. But if they don’t get specific, then girls will claim they had no idea their little scrap of sequin-encrusted lycra could possibly be considered inappropriate.

So the school is in a bit of a bind. If they get too specific, they look petty, and appear to be objectifying girls, as if their fittingness as human beings can be reduced to how many inches of flesh they reveal. But if they don’t get specific, some girls will show up dressed like strippers. Or, even worse, if they don’t get too specific, some overzealous monitor will tell a specific girl that, in his or her judgment, her dress has crossed a subjective line — leaving everyone to conclude that (if it’s a man) he has the hots for that girl, and is a pervert, or (if it’s a woman) she is just jealous because she’s old and fat.

So that’s why the school gives these specific guidelines. It can lead to heartache for girls with very long legs or girls with especially big busts, but what is the alternative? Subjective standards? No standards?

That is Scarymommy’s soluation, I guess. Many kids and parents and readers will say that it’s always wrong, always sexist, always objectifying, and always body shaming to apply standards to girls’ clothing.

I can only ask you to ask my cat, which I don’t have, to explain these things to you.

(I don’t understand the part about no cover-ups. Probably they have noticed that girls wear a little jacket to get past the door, and then take it off to dance, and then someone has to worm him way through the crowd and shout over the blaring music, “Marissa! Marissa! Principal Horace J. Patriarchy says you have to put your jacket on! I said put your jacket on, Marissa! Your jacket!” and then next thing you know, the Huffington helicopters of outrage are circling the gym and Marissa is crying because it’s really hot in the gym, which puts a damper on the party. )

Objection #4: The same dress can look very different on different girls! This is body shaming, and just proves how ridiculous it is to even try to impose objective standards!

Scarymommy riffs, “Dresses should not be excessively tight, so good luck if you’re girl with actual curves.” (I’ll just proactively deploy my meta-anti-shaming comment here and say that girls without curves are “actual” girls, too, okay, Scarymommy? Check your reverse body positive privilege, sheesh).

Guys, I am a bona fide fatty, and I have an enormous bust. A lot of the clothes I try on are too tight. What I do then, see, is I get the next size up. 21st-century America is actually a really, really good time and place to “have actual curves.” There are options for proportionately-sized clothing that were unheard of when I was shopping for my own prom dress, where you had to travel (by car! No internet!) to a specialty store to find clothing above a size 14.

All they’re saying is, different dresses look different on different girls.

My potential cat is getting exhausted here, with the explaining.

Next:

Scarymommy splutters:

Translation: if you weigh a little more, there are a lot of dresses you can’t wear. Because, curves. Sorry. They don’t make the rules. God does. Oh, wait. They totally make the rules. Never mind.

Um? The guidelines are pretty clear that it is, indeed, the school making the rules, and they’re trying to do so in cooperation with the kids and parents. And the school didn’t even mention weight. Maybe they’re talking about girls with short legs and long torsos, or girls with huge boobs and tiny hips. My cat thinks the Scarywriter is projecting a little bit, but my cat is, well, kind of catty.

And now we’re getting down to what is actually the best part of this dress code.

So many dress codes behave as if you’ll be fine if you just follow some very specific, numerical guidelines; and so many others behave as if you’ll be fine if you just decide to be less of a slutburger for once, what with having not one but two breasts and all.

Instead, this dress code acknowledges that any modesty guidelines are going to have shortcomings, because of what a subjective thing modesty is, and it does girls and parents the favor of asking them to “not put school administrators in the difficult position of upholding school standards.”

In other words, it asks them to think about and uphold those standards themselves. To behave as adults, and not to throw a temper tantrum over their sacred civil right to have a cut-out heart on their ass. “We’re all in this together,” is the basic message, “So please help us have a nice time at the dance, rather than turning this into one more exhausting battle over stupid stuff.”

No dice, Boylan Catholic. The internet chooses temper tantrum every time.

Now, let’s talk about why the internet is mad about the idea of a dress code. There is actually some reason for it. 

In some places, especially in some religious circles, modesty really is something people only care about if they are interested in making girls feel bad, or if they believe that boys are ravening beasts who just can’t stop themselves from rapin’ everything that insists on exposing its – gulp – knees.

There are really are people, including some Catholic institutions, that say “teach modesty” when they really mean “teach girls that their bodies are dangerous and shameful, and any time a boy does something bad to a girl, it’s because the girl wasn’t following the Very Clear Rules.”

There are people who really do believe girls and women are, by their nature, always at fault, because if they didn’t want their pussies grabbed, then why’d they have to go out in public with female bodies? What did they expect?

I get it.

I know that people abuse the idea of modesty. I know that some dress codes are sexist. I know that some people treat girls badly. I know that, every year, nice girls show up to prom and get harassed by weirdos with hang-ups, even though their dresses are perfectly modest and pretty. I know that there are problems with many dress codes.

But it does not follow that any dress code is, by definition, sexist and oppressive and worthy of jeers and outrage. If girls are going to turn up wearing intensely sexual clothing, then the school is going to have to respond in some way.  

And boy, is it tough to get it right.

If they make objective rules, they’ll be mocked for reducing girls to inches.
If they make subjective judgments, they’ll be excoriated for shaming individual girls, or for projecting their own personal issues onto girls.
If they tell girls to use their common sense, girls will show up wearing inappropriate things.
If they set down rules and turn away girls who don’t follow the rules, they’ll be raked over the coals for humiliating kids who paid for the right to be there.
If they ask girls to submit photos of their dresses ahead of time, so there’s no embarrassing surprises, they’ll be vilified for holding an inquisition and not trusting girls.

And that’s where the much-maligned “21-page manual” that provides dozens of examples of actual dresses comes in. It’s not some kind of freakazoid Scrapbook of Shaming put together by “two women with way too much time on their hands,” as Scarymommy claims. It’s an acknowledgement that it’s hard to just describe what is and is not acceptable. It’s an attempt to be as clear as possible about how the standards of dress look in real life, so we can avoid unpleasantness and just spend the prom, you know, dancing, or crying in the bathroom, or whatever.

Scarymommy concludes with turgid sarcasm:

We’re really doing a great job inspiring confidence in our young women, America. As if being a teenage girl isn’t hard enough — now they have to shop with a manual in their hands to make sure that dress that shows their back (the horror!) doesn’t show too much of their back.

It is hard to be a teenage girl. I remember. And I have three teenage daughters. It is hard. But we’re not going to make life easier by telling them anyone who helps them make decisions is just out to get them. That’s not how you train people to be adults; that’s how you treat people to be perpetual victim babies. Girls should be shopping with a manual, in their heads and hearts, if not in their hands.

That is part of growing up: learning that there are boundaries. There are some things you want to do that are not acceptable in certain settings. I refuse to be outraged that there is such a thing as boundaries, even when those boundaries are called “modest dress.”

Another objection: But what if this dress code is just a symptom of a larger problem, and girls really are being treated unfairly?

I know nothing about this particular school. I hope with all my heart they are also teaching boundaries about other sorts of things, especially to boys, who tend to lag behind girls in figuring out where boundaries are.

I hope they are teaching boys there are clear standards of behavior toward girls (and toward other boys). I hope they are teaching boys it’s okay to say certain things but not okay to say certain other things. I hope they are encouraging boys and their parents to do their part in learning how they behave, so they can have a prom (and a locker room, and a science classroom, and lunch) without being perpetually at war with each other.

And I hope they are teaching all these things to girls, too. I hope the kids don’t graduate thinking that anything goes, except when it comes to prom dresses.

For all I know, these modesty guidelines are the tip of the iceberg, and the school is positively riddled with sexism and injustice and oppressive patriarchal garbage. Maybe it is. But this modesty guide is not evidence of something wrong. It’s just evidence of a school trying to teach kids how to act decent, because no one else is telling them.

Final objection: But it’s so hard to find a dress that meets these guidelines. 

If it’s really so hard to find dresses that fit these not-excessively-strict guidelines, then why be angry at the school? Be angry at fashion designers, who are hell bent on turning girls into sparkly little buffets.

And be angry at the nitwits at Scarymommy, who are teaching girls to think that sexy is the only kind of pretty, and that rules are inherently oppressive.

Good luck building a happy life after learning those lessons from hell. I’d rather take my chances with a dress code.

Even dems fed up with creepy, handsy Uncle Joe Biden

Joe Biden wants the presidency so bad, he can taste it. He makes little suckling sounds in his sleep, just thinking about the seal of office. There’s a well-polished statue of Justice on his desk, and Justice’s face is permanently molded into that frozen mask of polite endurance as she waits for another intimate encounter with handsy, handsy Uncle Joe, the creepiest VP that ever veeped.

It’s so hard to know what to do with Joe Biden. It’s not possible that we’ll actually elect him in 2016, is it? Is it? We did intentionally put this sub-competent, thin-skinned, narcissistic, death-dealing clown in office, twice, on purpose, so anything could happen.  But I feel like a weary country doesn’t need to deal with a commander in chief who got elected mainly for the free pass for a four-year game of grabass.

Again.

1024px-Bill_Clinton_closeup_at_dedication_of_WWII_memorial,_May_2004

At least I was more of a boob man. The “ear, hair, and upper arms” thing is just weird, Joe.

It is encouraging that left-leaning sites like TIME and Gawker are beginning to notice that it really, truly isn’t cool for Biden the perv to get away with macking on captive women — and old women, and young women, and very young women — like a portion of meat up for his inspection, to sniff and to snuzzle, stroke and tenderize.  As Gawker says,

[A]sk yourself this: if this were any other male politician, would we be so quick to add it to the meme pile? Try this: look at all of those photos and imagine, say, Paul Ryan’s face instead of Biden’s.

Yeah, he’s a gold mine for comedy, but how the HELL are we supposed to say with a straight face that women have choices, women aren’t property, women shouldn’t have to put up with being manhandled without their permission just because the manhandler is in a position of power — and then do nothing but smile and tee-hee over Biden? Because ladies, we all know this face, right?

stephanie carter joe biden

This is the “Ugh, ugh, ugh, my nerves are going to jump right out of my skin if he doesn’t move his hands soon, but I don’t want to make a scene, so I guess I’ll just deal until he decides he’s had enough.” What was Stephanie Carter supposed to do, jab him with her hatpin? The focus was meant to be on her husband, the cameras were rolling, and so she just. had. to deal.

We women know this look because we’ve all employed it while enduring unwanted touching from a boss, a teacher, our best friend’s dad, a priest, an interviewer, a social worker, a football star — anyone who assumes we will be flattered by his attention, and who knows that everyone will blame us, not him, if we turn it into a scene.

I have teenage daughters — three of them. They need to know this kind of thing is bullshit.

As  Karol Markowicz says in TIME:

The phrase “boys will be boys” has been used historically to excuse bad behavior by men with a shrug instead of with punishment. But in 2015, things should be different. We don’t allow bosses to rub their secretaries’ shoulders, smell their hair, or look them up and down and exclaim “holy mackerel!” all things Biden has done to daughters and wives of people with much less power than he has.

And here’s the really astonishing subhead to her essay:

The only reason Joe Biden gets away with getting handsy with women is because he has a (D) after his name.

Yuh think? People are still mocking cloddish old Mitt Romney for his infelicitous“binders full of women” line, but left wing feminists on the prowl for misogynist microagressions everywhere somehow just can’t muster anything more than a weak giggle when it comes to Biden.

Well, maybe that’s starting to change. It’s not supposed to matter what your politics are: Droit du seigneur isn’t supposed to be part of 21st-century America; and it’s nice to know that even if a good portion of America doesn’t recognize Obama/Biden policies as being anti-woman, at least they can tell when the joke’s over and it’s time for creepy Uncle Joe to keep his clammy hands to himself.

***

This post is not about Bill Cosby.

If you want to talk about Bill Cosby (or Bill Clinton, or Woody Allen, or Roman Polanski) please find a conversation somewhere else. This post is about what you are supposed to do if you’ve been raped. What’s the next step?

Reading comments by self-identified Catholic conservatives in the last few days, this is what I have learned . . .

Read the rest at the Register.

Yes, we still need feminism.

I used to wonder why any 21st-century woman would call herself a feminist.

Feminism has become something utterly toxic. Maybe the word once stood for something useful and good, but feminism today means abortion on demand and without apology; now it means contempt for virginity, contempt for children, contempt for motherhood. Why would any right-thinking woman even want to use that name, when it puts you in such dreadful company?

And anyway, why do we even need feminism anymore?  Aren’t we done?  There once was a real need for the movement. Long ago, women truly had to fight for basic freedoms. But now we can vote, now we can own property, now we have as much as a men do in the way our lives go. We can go to school where we want, work where we want, wear what we want, travel where we want — and if we want to stay home and raise babies, assisted by female doctors and respected by our enlightened husbands, then feminism has won that right for us, too. It’s a golden post-feminist age, if we play our cards right.

In the past, when someone questioned the need for feminism, I would think of my mother, my grandmothers, my great-grandmothers, the way they lived and how they struggled.  My mother tells me of how she was suffering through a difficult labor. The male doctor, irritated, responded by strapping her down and injecting her, without her consent, with a drug that left her pain intact, but made her unable to cry out. “She feels better now,” she heard the doctor say, and she couldn’t argue with him, because she couldn’t form words.

So that’s why we needed feminism. Because unless someone told them otherwise, there would always be men who treated women like vessels, like nuisances, like inferiors, like property — and women, because they are the vessels of life, needed to fight back against this treatment. They needed to demand justice.

But no more, right?  The women’s movement was necessary, but it’s done its work.  Thank you for your efforts, suffragettes. And now we can rest, because we are all set.

Well, think again. I’m 39 years old, and feeling it. I read the blogs and comments of younger women, and I know that they’re living in a different world. Now, when I wonder if there is still a need for feminism, I look to the future of women, not the past.

When I was in college, there were a few cads and perverts on campus. But there was no such thing as nonstop porn — violent porn, available for free, 24 hours a day, on tiny devices that could be carried in your pocket.  There was no such thing as generation of men who thought of themselves as decent guys, and who expected their girlfriends to act out that porn which is normal normal normal.  There was no such things as websites dedicated to teaching guys how to drug their dates into submission, or how to trick their reluctant girlfriends into getting an abortion. There was no such thing as mainstream retailers like Target ads featuring a girl whose entire vulva was Photoshopped away, to make her trendy thigh gap gappier. There was no such thing as feminist who vehemently defended sex-selective abortion. No such thing as women live-blogging their abortions, gleefully posting pictures of their bloody baby’s remains and calling it liberation. No such thing as women selling eggs to get through college — selling their bodies to make it through college. No such thing, at least, as these things happening and progressive people calling it . . . empowering.

This is why we need feminism. Because someone needs to fight back, to tell these people, men and women: STOP. This is not what women are for. This is now how it’s supposed to go. This is not how life gets carried on. This is no life, for women or for men.

And if you think these outrages only exist in the godless secular world, you are sheltered indeed. Men and women in some Catholic circles believe that marital rape is impossible, because the marriage debt means that women never have the right to say “no.” They believe that if men use porn, it’s the woman’s fault for not being compliant or submissive enough. I know a woman whose priest told her that it’s a mortal sin to refuse her husband sex even one time, for any reason.  I know women who’ve gotten an annulment after enduring years of rape and physical and emotional abuse, and the congregation shuns . . . the woman. And her children. Because marriage is sacred.

This is why we need feminism — yes, still. This is why we need it more than we needed it twenty years ago.  Yes, the movement went astray. Yes, some evil people call themselves feminists, and do dreadful things in the name of feminism. So what?  People do dreadful things in the name of democracy, and people do dreadful things in the name of beauty. People do dreadful things in the name of Christ our savior. That doesn’t mean we abandon the name. That means we rescue it, we rectify the misuse.

When I call myself a feminist, I don’t mean that I break out in a cold sweat when McDonald’s asks me if I want a boy toy or a girl toy in my kid’s happy meal. Some people use “feminism” to mean “being upset all the time” or “getting revenge on men” or “stamping out everything that makes women seem feminine.”  So what? I don’t use it that way. Neither did John Paul II.

Yes, we still need feminism. A lot has changed in the world, but there is much more that never will change. Women will always need men in a particular way — just as men will always need women in a particular way. Barbara Valencia said it well in a recent Facebook conversation:

Left to their own devices, human beings will always drift back into oppressing and abusing one another. The strong will dominate the weak, the weak will in turn manipulate the strong. It’s like a bad wheel on a stroller that will always send the thing veering off the sidewalk into traffic if an extra counter force is not applied in the opposite direction. Christianity is supposed to be that counter force, so is feminism. Indeed, the reason why JPII’s theology is so compelling is because it uses feminist ideas and “completes” them.

It’s not about men or women being more important than the other; it’s about learning how to work in harmony. Ever hear a choir practice? Constant tuning, constant correction.

Maybe sometime in the future, we will be able to retire the word “feminism.” Maybe there will no longer be any need to struggle against injustices that men (and women!) perpetrate against the feminine. But that time is not now. That time is not coming soon. We need feminism. Yes, still.