Tag Archives: women’s rights

An old, old story, and hope for today.

I woke up this morning thinking I might have overstepped some boundaries, after I’d posted on Facebook links to two news articles. (see below) I mean, comparing Donald Trump to the Pope? I will grant you I may have offended some.

But it’s not about personalities. It is about ideology, the deep-seated one that takes as its primary tenet that half of humanity is inferior to the other half, and must be suppressed at all costs. No matter that the face presented in one case is benign, the other not so much. One might even ask, which face is more dangerous, the one that is blatantly “out there,” or the one that eludes detection by appearing to be something other than it really is?

This pope has been seen as inclusive, forgiving, reaching out….in short, different than his predecessors. But I was witness to this pope’s agents trailing our tour group this past July, one of them taking photos of us through a long telephoto lens, making themselves known to us and specifically the woman who was leading the group as a form of intimidation. She is Kathleen McGowan, an historical novelist, author of a meticulously researched series of books dealing with early Christian history and the role of Mary Magdalene. She has been threatened before, verbal threats directed specifically against her children, if she were to continue her work of exposing history that the church of Rome has done its best to erase from written accounts. Make threats like that against a mother’s children, and that mother remembers who you are. Yep, this was the same guy. He was back on her trail after several years of absence.

These past two summers, traveling through the south of France with Kathleen, learning the history that has been suppressed re the Christian vs. Christian brutality that culminated in a century and a half of unmitigated genocide, has given me a perspective on present day events and attitudes that makes the very hairs on my arms stand on end. It all came down to the role women could play in the church. When you stand on the spot where women were systematically raped and then thrown down a well and left to die, all at the hands of soldiers fighting at the behest of the Vatican and professing their love of Jesus at the same time….well, those troll-like remarks on Hillary websites don’t seem so harmless and inane.

I was raised a Christian Scientist, and anyone who has followed me or read my book which appears on the masthead of this website, knows I’m not the most outwardly devout or church-going representative of that faith. Both my husband and I have had adventures in Mexican medical care, and I do love me a margarita or a cold beer from time to time. In fact, the new memoire I’m working on has a tentative title Mary Magdalene and the Third-Rate Christian Scientist. I’d like to work Mary Baker Eddy’s name in there somewhere, but I don’t want it to get too unwieldy. But it was in fact Mary Baker Eddy who epitomized that leadership role of a woman in church that has been so anathema to so many for so long. In fact, during construction of the original edifice of what came to be known as The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, the local Catholic diocese opened an office directly across the street and staffed it (oh, I don’t have to be politically correct here. They manned it) with priests charged with praying specifically against the Christian Science project.

Before I go further, here are the two links I shared on Facebook:



Mary Baker Eddy and Hillary Clinton could compare notes on being maligned in the press and excoriated from pulpits. In 1898, Mrs. Eddy instituted a speakers bureau to carry her story and publicly defend her. Members of that board were able to go places a woman in her mid-eighties might find difficult. The board and its work continue to this day. It was my privilege to serve nine years on that board, so defending Mary Baker Eddy and more broadly, the rights of women everywhere still comes as second nature. It helps that she wrote amply on the subject. One excerpt here, seems prophetic of these times. In her work, No and Yes, she writes:

Let it not be heard in Boston that woman, “last at the cross and first at the sepulchre,” has no rights which man is bound to respect. In natural law and in religion the right of woman to fill the highest measure of enlightened understanding and the highest places in government, is inalienable, and these rights are ably vindicated by the noblest of both sexes. This is woman’s hour, with all its sweet amenities and its moral and religious reforms.

Mean-spirited attack gets my dander up

So another Nancy listens to spirits. It’s not Nancy Reagan; it’s Nancy Pelosi. I read the story recently published on CNS News (“the right news, right now,” which gives you some idea of the slant they offer) courtesy of a link furnished by a Facebook friend. Pelosi, perhaps speaking metaphorically, perhaps not, said  that as she was being sworn in as Speaker of the House, she felt the spirits of a phalanx of advocates for women’s rights surrounding her. The CNS writer positioned that experience as evidence that Pelosi is a weird “woo woo” lady, probably a spiritualist and thus unfit for public service. I started to shrug it off as another personal attack on a woman in the public eye, and move on.  Every woman of every political stripe has to deal with those attacks, from Christine O’Donnell to Hillary Clinton. But then I read the comments, and the latent urges of a former eighth grade Social Studies teacher have come bubbling to my brain and out my fingers to the keyboard. I need to put right what I DIDN’T teach to those eighth graders back in the seventies, because I didn’t know any better.  I do now. Class is in session.

The first comment I read touted Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony as “religious God-fearing women.” The implication, of course, is that Pelosi isn’t.  I wonder if that commenter and those who followed her ever actually read Stanton’s Women’s Bible, the correspondence of Anthony, or the definitive work of their companion Matilda Joslyn Gage, Woman, Church and State. It was in defense of liberalized divorce laws and other “ungodly” positions, that Stanton and Anthony broke with the original women’s suffrage organization and formed the National Women’s Suffrage Association. But that was much later in the fight for women’s suffrage. The 1848 Declaration of Sentiments, that document, modeled after the U. S. Declaration of Independence, and which poured out Stanton’s “long accumulated discontent,” was conceived around a “spirit table” in the upstate New York home of Mary Ann McClintock. Whether or not one “believes” in spiritualism,  there is no question that it played a key role in advancing the cause of women’s rights. As Barbara Goldsmith notes in Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull, “spirit raps . . . served not only to communicate with the dead, but to give courage to the living.”

In the nineteenth century, mediums were the only women’s voices that were actually listened to in a public space, because, of course, the medium (usually a woman) subverted her own voice in favor of the voice of the departed. That Pelosi, as a woman was elected SPEAKER of the House of Representatives, is an apt fulfillment of the dreams and efforts of those she names as having “heard” at the White House. Who is to judge that anyone in her position might be overwhelmed by the actuality of BEING where she was, not as Nancy Pelosi personally, but as a woman, as speaker. The same sentiments could conceivably move even those who do not agree with policy positions taken by Barack Obama. I speak as one who can easily find political fault with both Obama and Pelosi. But the fact remains that the election of each of them to their respective positions marks a transformation in the Nation, a transformation for the better.  It shows what can be done.

Who hasn’t stood in the Lincoln Memorial and “heard” the voices of suffering slaves, the cries from Civil War battlefields, and the mournful tones of the Gettysburg address?   The very presence of that honking big statue of the seated President and his words inscribed on the marble walls, evoke these voices. Alas, the statue of the three women most associated with the progress of women’s rights has never found a home in our nation’s capital. It languishes still, out of public view, in a basement somewhere far beneath all those marble halls. So lacking any other venue, where else might Pelosi bring to remembrance those lost women’s voices but in the “presence” of her office as “Madame Speaker?”