Image: Kathe Kollowitz
Simcha Fisher recently wrote a powerful appeal to priests to remember and thoughtfully address the many different ways that Mother's Day can be painful for women in liturgy and preaching. The lines I find most striking--and heartbreaking:
This Sunday is, as you no doubt know, Mother’s Day, and a lot of your parishioners are going to expect you to acknowledge it. Also, a lot of your parishioners are going to be mad if you acknowledge it.
A good portion of your congregation feels that the world despises motherhood, and they look to the Church to be the one place where they are appreciated for their sacrifices and their hard work.
Another good portion of your congregation feels that the world only cares about women if they are mothers, and they look to the Church to be the one place where no one despises them for not being mothers.
So which group of women is right? They both are, in the blasphemous, heteropatriarchal system fueled by the evil spirit who is so appropriately titled the Father of Lies.
The cis-male-dominated world--and church--give sentimental, hypocritical lip service to motherhood, which traumatizes women who aren't mothers or who had painful relationships with their mothers and/or children. This fuels the righteous despair and anger of the second group.
But the cis-male-dominated world--and church--also allow men to pretend that their bodies don't make babies and unjustly magnify, instead of alleviating, the huge burdens and sacrifices associated with women's amazing power to bear and sustain life with our sacred Christlike bodies. This fuels the righteous despair and anger of the first group.
Then comes the ultimate triumph of Screwtape and his minions: the cis-male-dominated world and church divide and continue to conquer women by convincing us that our real enemies are not the men who hold supremacy over us--consciously or unconsciously--in every aspect of life. Instead, they so often convince us to turn our heartbreak against our own oppressed sisters who have faced different facets of misogynistic abuse and chosen different survival strategies to cope with them. This is the heart of the mommy wars in all aspects of life, above all in the iconic and agony-ridden and viscerally physical Sophie's Choices about infant feeding and pregnancy termination.
You want to breastfeed? Good luck! Sacrifice the dignity and empowerment of paid work in your profession for dishonored and uncompensated work in your home, or go back to outside work when your body is barely recovered from childbirth, with no childcare near enough to nurse during the day, and inadequate facilities for pumping. The breasts that are gleefully exploited for male pleasure and corporate profit will be shamed as disgusting and pornographic if used in public, into toddlerhood, or in any way that empowers the sacred Eucharistic bond of mother and child. But if you can't or won't nurse in this miserable, unjust situation you are a selfish, lazy slut.
Lack of family planning and/or the ability to refuse sex with one or more cis males has led to a pregnancy which threatens you, and often your born children, with a lifetime of poverty, Christian slutshaming, and/or strengthened shackles to a dangerous male partner? You'll lose, and be blamed for it, either way.
Go through with the pregnancy? You'll heroically bear all the unjust consequences alone, unless the father deigns to contribute at his revocable-at-any-time whim. You'll get no meaningful support from church or society for parenting and scant justice if you place for adoption--plus extra vilification if you are young, poor, and especially of color; unmarried or queer-married; or you, the baby, or both are disabled.
Desperately "choose" an undesired abortion that rips your heart out along with your child--or peacefully discern a termination trusting God's maternal love to welcome and care for the little one you can't on earth? Either way, you need an early, smoothly accessed procedure to maximize your physical and emotional safety and minimize possible pain for the developing fetus. Instead, you'll face huge expense and stress-maximizing travel that will delay or prevent the treatment.
Many conservative men--and the women they control and brainwash--will call you a baby-murdering slut even if you were raped by one of them. Many progressive men--and the women they control and brainwash--will demand that you celebrate the experience as a liberating choice and brand any grief as idiotic worship of worthless medical waste.
Above all, you must suppress the ordeal, and all the conflicted feelings it carries, in a cruelly isolating silence preventing you from healing conversations with the other 30 to 40 percent of women whom our misogynistic church and society drives to at least one abortion.
Meanwhile, powerful cis men will continue their rapacious violence against you, your children, and vulnerable men via assault, rape, murder and war. The first three will be rarely and inconsistently punished, especially if they are your intimate partners and above all if they hold additional white, class, able-bodied, and/or neurotypical supremacy.
The fourth, no matter how unjust and imperialistic, will be not just permitted, but celebrated as positively heroic by church and society alike. This cruel double standard will also betray the oppressed men and women who enact the genocidal wishes of their kyriarchal masters by exposing those who physically survive the experience to the life-long, life-shortening trauma of physical, emotional, and moral injury.
Mother's Day was initially and brilliantly conceived by abolitionist and feminist Julia Ward Howe. Her proclamation below makes the simple, brilliant, thus far ignored proposal: that we use our strong, loving, and wise maternal power in Her image to arise, unite, and lovingly stop cis men, our beloved children, from their deadly and self deceived cycle of violence against us, humanity, and Mother Earth herself. It should be read in every church, and followed up effective action, as the perfect nonviolent battle plan to heal our, and their, trauma on Mother's Day and every day.
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be that of water or of tears!
Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says "Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice."
Blood does not wipe our dishonor nor violence indicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after their own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.
In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.