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The boss and the body

March 2, 2012

I am a Catholic. I teach at a Catholic college. I graduated from Catholic University where I was an avid student of liberation theology and the relationship of Marxism to Christian love. I learned how to write in Catholic middle and high school. I’m not a Catholic Catholic though — I mean, I think the rituals and stories are super cool, but I believe that religion is taken best when it’s taken least literally. Anthropologically. There is a lot that’s fascinating about Catholic theology, in terms of history, of the cosmos, and of social ethics, but jeez…nobody actually listens to what the dudes in the hats actually say, especially about, you know, sex. It’s in the realm of sex that the church is most wrongheaded, and, let’s face it, continually humiliates those of us who are still dedicated to the mission of social justice that in its disastrous emulation of white evangelical Protestantism, the Church has, at its highest levels at least, largely forgotten.

And now, here I am, child of a 1970s feminist who fed me hummus while forbidding Barbies and princesses with the assurance that “someday I’d understand” (turns out I do), shocked and awed that the nation is right now seriously discussing whether or not it’s legitimate for women to access contraception through their employer health plans. Seriously? Thanks, Catholic hierarchy, for making all of us associated with you look like goddamn idiots once again. Wasn’t the spectacle of Rick Santorum enough?

It’s depressing, for Catholics and for feminists. But I can’t help thinking that there might just be a silver lining to this chilling absurdity — gosh, is it okay to sexually humiliate women seeking abortion? — in the nascent coming together of the two major issues here. Perhaps when Americans notice the injustice of allowing the boss to determine what kind of health care is ok, while they also notice that this whole birth control conversation and the backlash against women’s liberation its presence represents is also an attack on the sexual revolution that came with women’s lib, they’ll see that the economic and the cultural issues around getting bossed out of your freedom are also essentially one and the same.

What is coming together in today’s debate about employer health care and birth control is the fruit of the backlash against both workers and women that began — funny — at around the same time in the mid-1970s. Of course, women are workers, but the cultural backlash and the economic backlash each had its own logic. Still, they were of a piece — a reassertion of authority through the leveraging of scarcity: Quit all that randy fun and get the hell back to work, or else. And in the aftermath, an overworked and overbossed working class is being told that it’s a matter of “religious freedom” whether or not our employers will cover basic health care — so its female members have to fight the battle of a hundred years ago for contraception and the basic sexual freedom it allows. Jesus Christ almighty, as they say in my family.

I think we’ll win the battle for contraception (and circle the wagons around abortion for the time being, since that issue won’t be resolved until the distinction is erased between this form of birth control and any other) because it looks like Obama is going to win the election. And I’ve come to believe that this is a good thing, because as Doug Henwood from the Left Business Observer points out, this fall the Occupy movement got the nation talking about capitalism. If (God forbid) a Republican wins, progressives and potential allies will be back to talking about how fucked up Republicans are. And in our two-party-corporate-bought-and-paid-for system, that would be a giant setback. Obama will win, not because of his mildly ameliorative economic policies, but because when the right tries to put the hurt on sexual freedom, the wild and randy American public always says no. I get all patriotic just thinking about it.

So perhaps in voting against the sexually repressive right wing just at the moment that the Occupy uprising has upped the uppitiness of Americans against bosses big and small, we the people will remember some connections between the movements for economic and cultural freedom that, for too many years, we forgot. And when we remember them, they come alive.

In the meantime, I’ll keep working on the Catholics to remember what makes them cool. Wish me luck.

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