Richard D North

Share
Related Topics
Over recent weeks, Melvyn Bragg has had a couple of bruising encounters with feminists. He was quietly robust with Shere Hite, and then with Marilyn French. The basis of his complaint is that each in her Amnesty lecture in Oxford had lumped too many different sorts of women's experience into one. Most obviously, they conflated Western and "Third World" experiences so as to seem to make women everywhere the victims of equivalent patriarchies.

Having read the two speeches, it's pretty clear that Melvyn Bragg had the right end of the stick. I don't mean the speeches are all silliness. Hite makes a powerful point when she defends secularism, and the separation of Church and State. She overdoes it, but the Enlightenment and its polity need all the friends they can get. Equally, I'm struck by French's sense that women are stymied when they fight because they are bound by love to the gender which oppresses them.

But to the attack. Both women have rather a down on the poor Pope. Presumably this stems from his dislike of abortion and contraception, which allows them to characterise him as like those religious fundamentalists, especially the fundamentalist Muslims and American protestants they so dislike.

More to the point is whether the Pope is neanderthal. Take his Papal Letter to Women, released last July before the Beijing World Conference on Women. I saw it while surfing the Internet's Catholic Resource Network.

The Pope thanks God for His "mysterious plan regarding the vocation and mission of women in the world". He thanks women for "the richness of your sensitivity, your intuitiveness, your generosity and fidelity". He apologises for any historical tendencies in the Church which have impoverished women, and curtailed them in fulfilling their special mission. He insists this regret must take the form of the Church's reminding itself of the liberal thinking of Jesus on women.

But the Pope's letter does not pander to a male liking for the passivity of women. He celebrates women's intellectual achievements, and praises women who have fought for women's rights. He praises women who go out to work.

The Pope goes on to say that "hedonistic permissiveness" has exploited women, in effect making them sex objects. In fact, much of what he says is unfashionable in the style of one powerful brand of feminism.

Oddly, since the Pope is devoted to the Virgin Mary, he is obviously at least some sort of feminist. And here is the rub. There is no such thing as feminism. At least, beyond the proposition that women have too little power there seems little that unites feminists. Wanting a merging of the genders in a new androgyny is surely different to wanting a forceful celebration of the difference between the sexes.

The Pope is clearly in the latter camp. It's asking too much for everyone to enjoy all his views, and very few liberals believe he's right on "reproductive rights". Still, it seems a shade dunderheaded not to see that his ideas are rich and complicated. Indeed, since the Pope's teaching on women, where it is "illiberal", is widely ignored by his flock, one can be inspired by his love and celebration of the feminine. Catholics are extremely adept at this sort of legerdemain, and could teach secular feminists a thing or two in that department.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent