"We encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a 'grandmother', no longer fertile and vibrant." Pope Francis, Address to the European Parliament,Nov. 25, 2014
Today’s NY Times reported on the front page that Pope Francis had suggested that a dog could get into Paradise. This was considered newsworthy if not startling because Catholic doctrine has long maintained that animals don’t have souls and therefore can’t go to heaven.
But the Pope’s sexist comparison of a sclerotic Europe to grandmothers has gone without comment from The New York Times, on the front page or anywhere else in the paper, which did report on his speech and quoted his sexist remark. Other media have similarly been silent to the extent that when I ask women I know what they thought of his comment, they have no idea he said it. How come? Is it because there's nothing new about the leader of the Catholic Church being demonstrably sexist? Or is it because his insult runs counter to the now-entrenched media narrative that this Pope is different and liberal, even to the astonishing extent of suggesting that dogs might have souls?
I was baptized a Roman Catholic and attended Catholic elementary school. I might have gone into the religious life had the church not been so biased against women. The Church lost me in 8th grade when a priest came into my classroom and grandly announced that a basketball team was being formed—for the boys. This was big news because in those days Catholic schools didn’t even have recess when we could run around, much less a gym or any organized sports.
But I’ve always loved sports, although at 5’3” basketball has never been anything but a frustration. Nevertheless, after the priest made his announcement, I stuck up my hand and asked whether there would be a team for girls as well.
This gave the priest pause, and then he said, “God has endowed boys with certain abilities that girls don’t have.” No, no team for the girls because we were not physically able! I was repulsed and hurt. Even though I had never at that time heard the word “sexist” I knew what it meant.
Of course, women’s subservient role in the Church was already obvious to me from the obsequious attitude of our teaching nuns to the priests, whose superficial homilies every Sunday—and yes, I attended every week—made me squirm even then.
Now I am a grandmother and a feminist who long ago realized that no woman in the world is secure while any woman anywhere must wear a burqa, is prohibited from driving a car, forced into a marriage she abhors, forced into sexual slavery, or kept from an education. And this is only a partial list of the ways in which women all over the world are deprived of a full life.
It seems to me that the plight of women should merit the attention of a Pope truly focused on relieving suffering. But the Pope’s slur against Grandmothers shows that we should not expect this Pope to do anything to relieve women’s pain.
To those who say, well, isn’t it true that Grandmothers are no longer fertile? I say, yes, of course, and as a result Grandmothers are available to care for their grown children and their grandchildren. In fact, if it weren’t for Grandmothers, a vast number of American mothers would not be able to hold a job since providing good quality, affordable child care is still way down our lawmakers’ and corporate leaders’ lists of priorities.
Worse, the Pope blithely suggested that Grandmothers are not “vibrant,” not alive and involved. Really? Consider 81-year old U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein, whose determination over a 5-year period forced into public view this week the torture and horrors inflicted by the CIA on prisoners following 9/11. Feinstein, whose accomplishments over her life are nothing short of amazing, is also grandmother to two girls.
One of the few people to comment on the Pope's sexist insult was Joanna Moorhead in The Guardian, who noted that Pope Francis should know better, not only because of his own Grandmother, but also because of his witnessing the campaign by Argentine Grandmothers of the “disappeared” in that country.
Moorhead is apparently still a practicing Catholic, unlike me (I’ve found a home in the Unitarian Universalist faith.) She notes that older women are “the backbone” of the Church, the majority at Masses, the worker bees who keep the parishes running, and suggests he insults them "at his peril." Perhaps, if they knew he had done so--which they don't--but even if they did, their loyalty and faith would probably motivate them to let it pass.
Moorhead concludes that Francis’s comment shows he is no different from the male sexists who have been running the Catholic Church for millennia.
I agree. And the lack of media attention to his slur against Grandmothers shows that the media are still controlled by sexists. Women beware.