It’s the summer of talking about the summer of ‘68. And back during that infamous summer, there was sex — an encyclical on sex, that is: Humanae Vitae, from Pope Paul VI, issued on July 25. Its message is being heard and misheard as much now as then. It would be for the benefit of all — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — to give it a 40th-anniversary look.
Even Jessica Valenti, author of the new book He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut, and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know, might find it more helpful than she’ll care to let on.
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, said recently
that “the encyclical is not simply a ‘no’ to contraception but also a defense of the dignity of woman against whatever might degrade her greatness as a person, wife and mother, reducing her to an object of pleasure.”
What — Jessica might ask — does a Catholic priest know about women’s liberation?
Well, let me ask Jessica a question: What does the West actually know about so-called women’s lib? It knows that a culture of contraception has left women in a predicament where . . . well, let me let Valenti herself tell you about it. In her new book, she writes:
In my sex-having lifetime, I’ve been on the Pill, used NuvaRing, condoms, and female condoms, and considered getting an IUD just so I wouldn’t have to worry about birth control for another five years or so. I’ve taken emergency contraception. The job of being responsible, at the end of the day, has always been lain with me. Because I’m a woman. It’s our responsibility to have safe sex: birth control pills, diaphragms, spermicides — sh*t, we even have to convince men to wear condoms! I say it’s crap.
The lady’s got a point. But it’s not men that are the problem. It’s the whole sexual-revolution outlook.
Birth control has long been used against certain women — women of color, immigrants, and low-income women — as a way to control them. There are groups that put up billboards in low-income, minority communities urging women to get sterilized for cash (seriously). And a long history of sterilizing women because only certain (white) women having babies is considered desirable.
What a way to live. Valenti is clearly not happy about it. She even notes, complaining about the slow development of male contraceptive drugs: “Because it’s not like women undertake any health risks at all using countless levels of hormones, things stuck up our chocha, and the like.”
Thank you, Jessica Valenti. That message is a far cry from, say, this month’s Cosmo, which announces that the “one exception” to the rule that “The Pill has many positive effects” is that it might not be good for your bones. (No mention, of course, of your mental health or the quality of your relationship(s).)
Reading Valenti’s book, I found it hard to keep out of my mind something I read on her feministing blog recently. A writer there was livid that Maureen Dowd had quoted a Catholic priest in her New York Times column, on marriage. “Dowd has stooped to a new low,” she wrote, in consulting a priest.
As it happens, a few good priests may be exactly what feminism is looking for: some holy men with inspired guidance.