Monday, September 29, 2014

Catholics and concepts of patriarchy

Over the weekend I engaged briefly in a Facebook discussion with another Catholic female blogger about the concept of patriarchy.

She’s for it.  She said that patriarchy is God’s will for everyone.  She didn’t give me a definition and says a definition is unnecessary, but she also insisted that since patriarchy is present throughout Scripture and Church teaching it is clearly something Catholics should embrace.  She also referred to a book called Why Men Rule (which I am unfamiliar with) as sort of “proving” that only patriarchal societies work, and all others are doomed to failure.  Oh, and she says that Christian feminism is nonexistent because feminism is based on Marxist theories which are incompatible with Christianity (she couldn’t explain the early feminists who wanted women to be able to vote and own property and who were active before Marxism really got going in the West, but apparently that’s not important somehow).

Naturally, I find these ideas less than compelling.

As a Catholic, I think that married men--husbands and fathers--do indeed exercise a spiritual headship over the family.  This headship is based on the idea that the family is journeying together toward holiness, that each member is called to help in that journey and that ideally the father should be leading that journey.  That leadership should include setting an example for the whole family of Mass attendance, prayer, and following the teachings of the Church in his life; working alongside his wife to fulfill the important role of being the children’s first teachers in the faith; teaching his children (and in a special and important way, his sons) to respect and honor their mother and to give her the same lawful and diligent obedience they give him; and taking responsibility for the family’s well-being according to the best of his abilities and talents.

In Casti Connubii Pope Pius XI points out a couple of important things in this regard: one, that none of this means the husband gets to act like an autocratic dictator who treats his wife as if she is a child, and two, that in the cases, sadly not as rare as they should be, where the husband is failing to lead, the wife not only may but must do so in his place, and until (hopefully) he returns to a sense of duty and responsibility for his family.

Unfortunately, I get the feeling that some of my fellow Catholics (not this person necessarily, as I was unable to determine from our conversation) are not thinking at all of the spiritual leadership of the family when they speak positively about patriarchy, or wish for a return to it.  Rather, they are thinking of various ways in which societies were ordered in the past, and believing that our present societal ills could be fixed more or less instantly if we returned to some past era where men were in charge and women were more or less invisible.  And some of the Catholics who want this (which never ceases to surprise me) are women themselves.

Why would it not necessarily be a good thing for patriarchy to return?  First, it’s absolutely essential to define what one means by patriarchy.  I know, for instance, that what the Quiverfull Patriarchy Protestants mean by patriarchy is the absolute authority of the husband over the family, an authority which he retains over his sons at least until they move out of the family home (with his permission) and over his daughters, forever, until or unless they exchange his authority for that of a husband (again, with his permission, or even by his express command).  In this sort of patriarchy the wife is not treated like an adult human being but like a child who is always in danger of becoming rebellious, and the children are also not treated with the full dignity they deserve--they, too, are treated like infants or toddlers well into their adult years in terms of having any ability to make their own decisions.

When people point admiringly to the patriarchy exhibited by ancient Rome, they are forgetting that at times in ancient Rome the paterfamilias literally had the power of life and death over his children.  Or, if the patriarchy of Jane Austen’s England seems attractive, recall that it was not uncommon in those days for a husband to require his wife to ask for even such trifling amounts of money as she needed to purchase personal items, or to demand, quite angrily, an explanation from her in the event that the household expenses exceeded the sum of money he had allowed her for those expenses (even if he, himself, was in debt due to gambling and the money and jewelry he was lavishing on his latest mistress).

So I don’t think I can approve of a Catholic push to “restore patriarchy” without knowing what, exactly, my fellow Catholics want to restore, and why.  I have a suspicion that some Catholics believe that restoring patriarchy along the lines of some past society or other will solve every societal problem we currently have as if by magic, but that kind of magical thinking is unwarranted.  It is not as though when men ruled men didn’t sin, after all; no amount of insisting that men call all the shots all the time both in their own homes and in the world will erase the effects of Original Sin.

There are excellent reasons for those of us who have received the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony to encourage and foster our husbands’ spiritual headship of our families and to assist, from our rightful places at their sides, in the progress of our families on our journeys to holiness.  There are not such excellent reasons to make an idol out of some secular concept of patriarchy and pour one’s efforts into agitating for the reestablishment of such a thing.  There may even be good reasons not to do so at all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

And another reason for that Theology of Women...

This must be “Theology of Women” week at And Sometimes Tea.

I don’t normally read Matt Walsh.  But when I saw people passing around links to this piece on my Facebook feed, I decided to read it.  And I’m glad I did:

In any case, I want to begin by telling you about a grown adult male who, last week, beat a woman to a bloody pulp in front of a cheering crowd. As he gloated about his physical dominance over this outmatched female, media outlets and advocacy groups hailed him as a pioneer.
In fact, beating up women is literally this dude’s job. His latest victim ended up with a concussion, a broken orbital socket, and several staples in her head. Yet, still, the man who stomps women and brags about it on Twitter, is, according to our progressive cultural ringleaders, a hero. A superhero. [...]
How can this startling contrast be explained?Well, our hero, Boyd Burton (alias “Fallon Fox”) went overseas and had his penis chopped off, then came back and became a “transgender female” MMA fighter.
Don’t you see? It’s OK for him to break a woman’s face because he likes to pretend he is one.
It’s that simple. Want to give a girl a concussion? Just slap on some lipstick, take a few hormone pills, and you’re good to go. Society won’t merely accept your behavior; it will sound the trumpets and roll out the red carpet for you. It will tell tales of your epic bravery and even hand you a coveted spot in the Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.
Do you understand how this work? It’s cool to pound your fists into a woman’s cranium as long as you feel like a woman while you’re doing it.
That’s just good science.
Or “science,” as the case may be.
Welcome to contemporary America, my friends.

Read the whole thing here.

Yesterday, I was posting examples of why a really wrong idea about male headship, women’s submissiveness, and the tendency of certain men to see all women as future sexual temptresses, actual sexual temptresses, or former sexual temptresses, none of whom can’t be trusted not to flaunt their immodest clothing at virtuous men at every possible opportunity (including Latin Masses) has actually done some harm to Christian women who internalize this view of women as stubborn, rebellious renegades who will default into being sexual temptresses without the constant rule and governance of either their fathers or their husbands.

Today, I’m highlighting the other side of the chasm: when a really wrong idea about what men are and what women are makes some people write, with a straight face, that of course men can be pregnant and lactate and become La Leche teachers, or have surgery and become female MMA fighters despite the obvious benefits of a male bone structure and physiognomy when it comes to beating actual, real, natural-born women (I refuse to use the silly “cis” nonsense) to actual, real, concussed pulps.

It’s strange to contemplate, but we have become really far removed from knowing what men and women actually are.  The transgender movement is only the next step in a continuum that began with pitting women against our unborn children as if they were the enemy, and teaching women to hate our actual female bodies and natures.  And yet, to hear some Catholics and other Christians tell it, the way to fix all of that is to role-play “Little House on the Prairie” until Pa manages to horsewhip all that uppity feminism out of Ma and their daughters, who ought to revere and obey him as second only to God, all the time, no questions asked.

It would not help the real problems of the modern world for followers of Christ to adopt an exaggerated stereotype that treats women like dolls or infants while seeking to punish them for all the problems of feminism--or all the problems any specific man has had with actual real women, which sometimes gets confused.  But we can’t help the real problems of the modern world, either, by solemnly agreeing that a man who has a specific male organ removed has suddenly and magically turned all his other organs into female ones: his heart, his lungs, his muscles, his skeletal system, are still all those of a male human being, and he remains a man, no matter how many female garments he uses or female pronouns he adopts.

What would help would be an ongoing and systematic exploration of just what the Church teaches makes women unique and different, how these qualities go beyond stereotypes or roles--e.g., how being a woman is something we are, not something we do or some way we act or some garment(s) we wear.  In other words, what would help would be that Theology of Women some say the Church doesn’t really need at all.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Addendum: another reason for a theology of women

I was going to post this as an update to the post below this one, about why we need a theology of women in the Church.  But I think this needs its own post: a priest in Phoenix has decided to reinstate the ancient liturgical custom of men and women sitting on different sides of the church during Mass.  Here’s why, from Father’s list:

1) Men can identify with St. Joseph and try to be holy like him.
2) I contend that it is good so that we men are not distracted by the women around them and are not sexually tempted by their sexy clothing in church. (You have no idea how many times men confess sexaul temptations in church by how the women are dressed).One friend of me told me he no longer went to church because he was always distracted by the women in front of him, especially their beautify hair.
3) Boys can identify with their dads and learn how to be a man who prays.
4) Women can identify with Our Lady and be holy like she is.
5) It helps women to be themselves and to not have to show off to get men’s attention. They can pray in peace.
6) Girls can identify with their mothers and how women pray.

Why do we need a theology of women in the Church? Because when a priest who serves a traditional Catholic community, celebrates the Extraordinary Form Mass, and writes blog posts which include charming lines like this: "Thank God Padre Pio died in 1968 before the real immodest dressing took place. Immodest feminist women would chase Padre Pio out of church today...” also seems to think that a big problem at his own Masses (Latin Masses!  E.F. Masses!) are all those immodestly dressed sexy female temptresses with their “beautify" (sic) hair showing off to get men’s attention instead of praying such that putting men on one side of the church and women on the other is a really good idea--well, clearly something should be articulated along the lines that such deep suspicion of the motives of women who are coming to E.F. Masses (often with nursing infants and toddlers in tow) is really not actually Catholic thinking at all.

One reason why we need a theology of women

I read this last week, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head:
Whenever I talk about my escape from the Quiverfull movement, Christians immediately dismiss my experience by saying, “Your problem was not with Jesus or Christianity. Your problem was that you were following an extreme, legalistic cult. Let me tell you about my personal relationship with Jesus.” It can be extremely frustrating. I was in a close, personal relationship with Jesus for over 25 years. But rather than telling you about the beginning of my relationship with this man, I am going to spare you the long story and skip straight to the break up.
The end of my life as a “Bride of Christ” came after a visit to Bright Horizons, which is the local domestic violence shelter in my hometown of Norfolk, Nebraska. I went there for help in filing a restraining order against my husband, whose emotional and mental abuse against me and my children had escalated to the point that I was in the midst of a complete mental and physical breakdown. He had taken 6 of our 7 children to a town three hours from our home and was preventing me from having any contact with them unless I agreed to his terms for our “reconciliation.” [...]
Coercion and threats … “No,” I told Deb, “he never threatened me.” I *willinging* went along with all the harsh demands of the Quiverfull lifestyle, and in many instances, I was the one who pushed patriarchy and headship ON HIM. Why would I do that?
Because I believed our family had an ENEMY who was determined to steal, kill, and destroy our souls, and the souls of our children, for all eternity! Our only protection from spiritual disaster, was within that one little secret spot of safety which Corrie ten Boom called, “The Hiding Place.” “The Hiding Place” isn’t any physical location … instead, it is a very specific, very narrow position … directly in the center of God’s will. There, and only there, we could safely trust in God’s protection.
He never had to raise his voice to keep me and the children in our place. And when he did raise his voice, well that was “speaking the truth in love.” When he constantly criticized and complained about all the ways in which the children and I failed to live up to God’s perfect standards, he was “hating the sin, but loving the sinner.” He didn’t have to brandish a weapon in order to control our every action, indeed even our thoughts and feelings. All he had to do was fulfill his God-appointed role of Patriarch; to love us as Christ loves the church.
A lot of people seemed to read this and then go exactly where this woman, Vyckie Garrison, said they would: they told her she was following a false branch of Christianity, with a demonstrably false Christ at the center of it all, and that was the real problem here.  I believe that is true--but at the same time, it isn’t the whole truth.
The whole truth includes the uncomfortable reality that for a far-too-long period, Christians of all sorts, including some Catholics, had no real problem projecting a similar view of marriage and especially women and of their role in married life upon the women in their churches.  It wasn’t too hard to find Scripture references and bits out of history to support the idea that women really were inferior to men and that their salvation depended on their humble subservience to the appropriate male authority, whether that authority was her father, her husband, or her spiritual leader.
If anything, the Catholic Church offered a slight glimpse of a reality that didn’t include this exact paradigm, because a religious sister or nun was subject to her Mother Superior.  This didn’t mean that her father confessor and/or the priest who said Mass at the convent didn’t have authority, too, but it did mean that the idea that women couldn’t run things without male dominance was going to fall a little flat (especially in parishes where a convent of active sisters assisted in the rectory and school and, truth be told, pretty much ran things in many places).
What frustrates me is that there are Catholic men out there today who would say that Mrs. Garrison’s problem was just feminism, plain and simple, and that her inability to accept her husband’s headship over the family was clearly the cause of all the tension and angst in the relationship, not that her church’s idea of a husband’s headship goes far beyond what the Catholic Church teaches.  I’ve quoted this before, but as Pope Pius XI wrote in Casti Connubii:
27. This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband's every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on a level with those persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is not customary to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment, or of their ignorance of human affairs. But it forbids that exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love.
28. Again, this subjection of wife to husband in its degree and manner may vary according to the different conditions of persons, place and time. In fact, if the husband neglect his duty, it falls to the wife to take his place in directing the family. But the structure of the family and its fundamental law, established and confirmed by God, must always and everywhere be maintained intact .
The kind of subjection demanded by the Quiverfull patriarchs is at odds with this idea of the true hierarchy of the family, especially in the sense that the wife is not to be treated by a minor, that she is not required to obey every request her husband makes, and that the real liberty which truly belongs to her should not be denied nor taken away.  But this Catholic understanding of the hierarchy of the family is also under attack from two sides in our own culture: from secular feminism, which views the very idea of even this sort of mutual respect and understanding with suspicion, and from what I called “Internet Catholic Masculinism,” which, sadly, exists in the real world as well.

One reason why I think that we really do need a theology of women in the Church is precisely so that these sorts of teachings from the past can be combined with more recent encyclicals in order to illustrate to the patriarchal, Quiverfull, and similar movements within Christianity that the idea that this way of viewing the relationship between men and women, with men the perpetual adult in the relationship and women the grown-up child who must always fight her “rebellious" spirit and her desire to have a say in things as if that desire is wrong somehow, is in fact not consistent with true Christianity.  It’s easy to tell women in the Quiverfull movement that the real abuses many of them have endured were not particularly Christian.  It’s harder, though, when some of the men in our own parishes assume that what the Quiverfulls believe--all of it--is really a more traditional and more appropriate way to view women, and that women who object are not actually thinking with the Church, when, in fact, we are.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Women of Texas: time to boycott skirts and dresses?

Guess what, my fellow female Texans?  A Texas court has upheld the right of creepy perverts to take pictures up your skirt while you are in public:
A court has upheld the constitutional right of Texans to photograph strangers as an essential component of freedom of speech - even if those images should happen to be surreptitious “upskirt” pictures of women taken for the purposes of sexual gratification.
Criticising an anti-“creepshot” law as a “paternalistic” intrusion on a person’s right to be aroused, the Texas court of criminal appeals struck down part of the state’s “improper photography or visual recording” statute which banned photographing, broadcasting or transmitting a visual image of another person without the other’s consent and with the intention to “arouse or gratify … sexual desire”.
The case stemmed from the arrest of a man in his early 50s named Ronald Thompson who was stopped in 2011 at Sea World in San Antonio after parents reported him swimming with and taking pictures of children aged 3-11. The local district attorney’s office said that he tried to delete the photographs before his camera was seized and a police examination of it revealed 73 images of children in swimsuits “with most of the photographs targeting the children’s breast and buttocks areas”. [...]
Attorneys for Thompson said that the statute was “the stuff of Orwellian thought-crime” and that it did not distinguish “upskirt” or “peeping Tom” photography from “merely photographing a girl in a skirt walking down the street”, so in theory it could criminalise the likes of paparazzi journalists.
The appeals judges appeared to agree, stating that although “upskirt” type-images are intolerable invasions of privacy, the wording of the law is too broad. Presiding judge Sharon Keller wrote in the court’s opinion published on Wednesday: “Protecting someone who appears in public from being the object of sexual thoughts seems to be the sort of ‘paternalistic interest in regulating the defendant’s mind’ that the First Amendment was designed to guard against.”
The judges said that photographs were “inherently expressive”, like other artistic mediums such as films or books, and so the process of creating them, as well as the images themselves, was part of an American’s right to free speech because “thought is intertwined with expression”.

So, Texas moms, just to be clear: if you let your child play outside in your neighborhood alone, you can be arrested, but the creepy guy wandering through your neighborhood taking pictures of you in your summer skirt and your daughters in their swimsuits as they splash in a front-yard sprinkler has the right to use those photos for his own (and possibly others’) sexual gratification.  Because free speech, or something.
And if you’re on your way into Sunday Mass in your best conservative Sunday skirt or dress, and a creepy dude posing as a lawn-care guy manages to get a snapshot up your skirt--hey, that’s his right, and who are you to object?

Maybe all the women of Texas ought to wear pants in public until further notice.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Being played for a fool: Cardinal Dolan and the parade

When I read Cardinal Dolan’s explanation for his decision to remain as the Grand Marshall of the first NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade to include open gays marching under a gay rights banner, all I could think was, “Is the Cardinal really that naive?”  Because, yes, the Church differentiates between people who are same-sex attracted but who do not act on that attraction, and people who live in open gay and lesbian relationships or have entered a gay “marriage” with another person, because these sorts of relationships, an overwhelming majority of the time, involve grave sins against the Sixth Commandment, a single one of which, under the usual conditions, can potentially lead to eternal damnation in the fires of Hell--but people who march under gay rights banners in parades usually involve the second group, not the first.

Kevin O’Brien has had a similar thought:
In a stunning display of naivete, Cardinal Dolan, who presides over a Church that in modern times has gone queer over banners at Mass, is utterly clueless about the meaning of queer banners in a public secular parade.
But that's not my point.  We know our bishops are either clueless or cowardly or complicit in all kinds of garbage.  So this is to be expected: that Cardinal Dolan does not even see that the promotion of "gay identity" is promotion of a "gay agenda".  Any idiot knows that.  This has not been an argument against "gays" marching in the St. Patrick's Day parade, as they have done covertly for years.  It's not an argument about the question of loving the sinner but hating the sin.  It's an argument about civic life in the public square and the forced celebration of sin, which is what the gay pride banners are pushing, as anybody but a bishop can easily understand.
Kevin goes on to talk about the insulting, folksy way Cardinal Dolan delivers his message, but I think that when the message is bad it doesn’t really matter how it was delivered--sort of like the joke about the diner who complains that his food was terrible, “...and such small portions!”  But I think we can agree to disagree about that.

Because the real problem here is that Cardinal Dolan, whether willingly or not, is being played for a fool.  Anybody who doesn’t think that the media coverage of the parade will include lots of shots of Dolan and various Catholic trappings juxtaposed against pictures of lesbians kissing and gay men embracing each other, and an interview or two with a lesbian, her “wife,” and the kids they paid some guy to donate sperm to manufacture about how wonderful and inclusive and tolerant it all is, is quite frankly just kidding himself.

And the next time a Catholic employee anywhere in the State of New York turns down a request (e.g., demand) to attend a “wedding" shower for a couple of guys, or even the “wedding” itself, he’s going to be told that his freedom of religion no longer applies.  “Why, Cardinal Dolan in the NYC Archdiocese has no trouble at all with gay marriage or gay married people,” the HR person is likely to exclaim.  “So how can you use your religion as a reason not to attend Bill and Ted’s special event?  If you refuse to go you are creating a hostile environment, and we can’t have that."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A preemptive strike against the Synod on the Family

Yesterday, Patrick Archbold decided to launch a preemptive strike against the upcoming Synod on the Family by declaring that even if not much happens, it will be awful:
So what do I expect?
Rather than a direct assault on marriage, I expect the opposite. What I expect is a nice flowery document re-stating the Catholic doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage. It will include language about the pastoral care of souls in troubled situations, but it will be generally orthodox. But at some point, whether this year or next, or in a post synodal document by the Pope, they will recommend the Bishops conferences to study and implement pastoral guidelines to help those in this situation.
No mandate, no direct assertions on what to do, but just a call for Bishop conferences to study the problem and implement pastoral practices in line with the synodal documents. That is when the horse will be permanently out of the barn.
Then certain conferences will run wild either directly allowing it or allowing the pastor to decide. You know they will. (See German Episcopal conference)
The traditionally minded will scream bloody murder while the "everything is awesome" Catholics will only refer to the document of the synod as the mostest wonderfulist re-statement of Catholic teaching ever, ignoring what his happening on the ground.
In the meantime, the Vatican will move at a glacial pace to correct any abuses. After a few years, it will issue some weak document asking the Bishops not to abuse things. This document will be completely ignored in praxis and will only serve the purpose of throwing it in traditionalist faces when they complain about the obvious. You know the drill.
After a few more years, the obvious abuse will be so commonplace, that people will think you a sedevacantist for even bringing it up.
In other words, Patrick does not expect the Church to declare all of a sudden that she had her fingers crossed all this time on that whole indissolubility of marriage thing, because, you know, she can’t.  What he does expect is for the pope and the bishops to lie--that is, to say that nothing has really changed and then set about making the “obvious abuse” change--the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics who are still living in obvious and unrepentant sin to the Eucharist--happen without any complaint or fuss at all except from the True Faithful Remnant who bravely repudiate the words and actions of the pope and the bishops whenever they feel justified in doing so, which is pretty much all of the time, because that is what truly faithful Catholics do.

I left a couple of comments over there yesterday, but as of nearly 5 pm. CST today they have not appeared.  I’m sure it was just a software glitch, or else the Archbolds are busy today and haven’t been able to approve any comments posted yesterday after a certain hour (something that happens to me all the time).  It would be unjust and uncharitable to suspect Patrick, on no grounds at all, of suppressing negative comments below his blog post.  That every other comment so far that has appeared there is from someone who completely agrees with Patrick that the pope and the bishops will lie and pretend they’re not destroying Church teaching about marriage while secretly setting out to do exactly that because, you know, evil modernists Church of Everything is Awesome (Church of Nice) yada yada yada--is, I am sure, just a coincidence.  Not jumping to the wrong conclusions is something we’re supposed to do, in charity.

So let me repeat the gist of one of my comments (I didn’t save it, so I don’t recall the exact words): whatever does happen at the Synod on the Family, even if tremendous good comes of it, I fully expect a certain subset of Catholics to kvetch about it and insist that this is one more bit of proof that those people in Kansas or wherever who claim they have had the Only True Pope since the so-called Pope St. John XXIII was elected were actually right, freeing them to shake the dust of the Vatican from their feet and go in search of Truly True and Perfect Holy Catholicism, in whatever storefront church it happens at present by the power of the Holy Spirit to reside.  Few things, alas, are more certain than that.

What the Synod will actually do or accomplish, I think, ought at this point to be a fit subject for prayer and reflection.  Strengthening actual, valid marriages, making it harder for people to enter invalid ones, reminding people why we believe what we do about the permanency of marriage “until death do us part,” and finding some ways to help those whose initial marriages were quite likely invalid but who have been battered by a sometimes-unwieldy and, in some countries and dioceses, unjustly expensive process are all good goals.  I have no problem trusting that these are the kinds of things that Pope Francis would like to see coming from the Synod on the Family.

I do have a problem leaping immediately to the unjust and uncharitable suspicion that what the pope, the bishops, and everybody else but the True Faithful Remnant secretly and nefariously wants is to destroy marriage and make it possible for Catholics to divorce and remarry again and again without being called to repentance (which includes the prohibition against receiving Holy Communion while remaining in a state of adultery).  When you are always ready to assume that nearly everybody in the Church is the enemy of Christ while you are not, the problem, quite likely, is not nearly everybody in the Church.  And launching a preemptive strike against the Synod on the Family because you fear that it is going to be a vehicle for evil says more about the person who launches such a strike than it says about the Synod.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fixing what’s wrong with the family dinner

There’s been quite the conversation going on over at Rod Dreher’s blog these last few days about food, and cooking, and that Amanda Marcotte piece which is not at all what people seemed to have assumed it was.

What it looks like, from my perspective, is this: Amanda Marcotte shared some information from some studies that showed that working moms have lots of issues when it comes to preparing meals for their families, ranging from income and food availability to means of preparation to irregular working hours or children’s activities that interfere with mealtimes to the problem that even when Mom can make a home cooked dinner Dad and the kids seem to feel entitled to push her efforts away untasted and make themselves sandwiches or something, which makes all the grocery-buying and prep work and cooking and kitchen clean-up for the family dinner feel a bit like an exercise in futility, making microwave dinners and the drive-thru lane look better all the time.

Now, I like Rod and his blog, and I even like most of the commenters most of the time.  But it has been a bit funny to see the reactions to these posts and articles, which seems, a lot of the time, to boil down to: Cooking is easy!  There is no excuse for a mom not to do it!  Why I, a single male/single female/married man or woman with no kids/married man or woman with kids who cooks only when he/she feels like it and only for the adults in the family (the kids are picky) do it all the time!

Um, how can I say this politely?  NOT HELPING.

The whole point of Marcotte’s piece is that moms, most of them moms who work outside the home, some of them even low-income moms struggling to work odd hours during the week, find cooking for the family to be a dull, painful, time-consuming, energy-draining chore that is not worth the effort when those efforts are rejected time and time again so people can go eat cereal, or sandwiches, or a nice skillet of okra and tomatoes and curry powder and hot spices, or whatever the case might be.

I’ve said it over there, but I’ll say it again: OF COURSE cooking is easy when it involves choosing ingredients for a meal for one person or, at the most, two people, who like the same kinds of food and are similar in terms of their willingness to enjoy new culinary experiences.  But cooking for a family of assorted people of differing ages and tastes and levels of culinary adventuresomeness (not to mention different spice loves/hates, different texture issues, and different levels of, oh, let’s just go with pickiness) is no picnic.  And doing it every day when the results will be a loud chorus of “Mom, do I have to try this?” or “Honey, this is weird.  You know I don’t like weird food,” quickly becomes a nightmare for even the most pleasant, sweet, health-conscious wife and mother in the world, to say nothing of the rest of us.

Now, I say “the rest of us,” but the truth is, I got off easy.  My husband is more inclined to try new and different foods than I am, and my children have never been picky eaters.  I’ve often said that if I knew why my children were not picky eaters and could market the recipe for raising non-picky eaters I could write a book and sell millions of copies, but I know perfectly well that whatever blend of genetics and parental example and sibling example and inexplicable openness to really different foods came together to create my non-picky eaters, there was nothing I did to make it happen.  None of my children has ever refused even to taste something, and even the couple of foods they can’t have due to food allergies are foods they happily ate until we made the connection with the weird rashes that would appear right afterward.

So when I cook meals for my family, I cook meals for my family.  I never had to do that Dance of the Recipe File where one meal would be rejected by my husband and another by one girl and yet another by two of them and still another by everybody but me, etc. ad infinitum.  So I sympathize with the moms out there who do have to deal with this sort of thing, and on a daily basis; and I get a little annoyed with the people who think that because it’s so easy to cook for one person it’s just as easy too cook for five or seven or nine or twelve.

Even with a family of non-picky eaters there are times when I find cooking to be a chore--especially when other things (only 78 days till Thanksgiving!) are crowding into my time and making the inevitable realization that dinner needs to be dealt with the sort of thing that ought to be accompanied by scary music rather than a June Cleaver apron-and-heels ensemble.  So I can only imagine how much more of a chore it would be if I were not a stay-at-home mom, if I had a family full of really picky eaters, and if all I got for my efforts in the kitchen was the extra mess of cereal bowls and sandwich fixings in addition to the meal nobody ate.

Here’s the thing that really gets me: plenty of people are willing to say that all these moms really need is some gumption and some discipline.  Why, if they would just do the prep work before leaving for work in the morning!  Why, if they would just use a slow-cooker!  Why, if they would just grow pots of mung beans on the kitchen windowsills!  Why, if they would just spend all those idle weekend hours doing home canning and roasting enough meat for the rest of the week while planting an organic garden and flash-freezing ripe tomatoes instead of watching TV or getting their nails done!

But if you suggest, ever so politely, that the real discipline problem is the one that has conditioned far too many moms to put up with the outright disrespect and bad manners coming from their husbands and enough of their kids who are old enough to know better who should be willing to eat (with words of thanks and appreciation) whatever she sets in front of them instead of whining that they don’t like it or it’s not how his mom made it or they’d rather have pizza or that it looks weird or yucky, well, you’d better brace yourself, because moms actually making their kids eat dinner is a leading cause of obesity, don’t you know, or children should be permitted to express their food preferences so their sense of self isn’t damaged, or picky eaters are really just discriminating eaters with sensitive palates who will probably grow up to be food critics and wine tasters if their special gift isn’t destroyed by too many meals of meatloaf or casserole, and a really loving wife always cooks what her husband likes and goes out of her way to find out from him each day what he’d like to eat that evening, and--oh, gag me with a spoon.

It does not help women at all to tell them that they should get into the kitchen and cook those home cooked meals, and then to insinuate that they should just do what the bachelor does and cook four or five or six separate home cooked meals every night so that each person can have exactly what he or she likes, and nobody’s tastes or feelings or palates or emotions will be damaged at all--because, after all, if it’s easy to whip up one meal in a skillet, it’s just as easy to whip up half a dozen in half a dozen skillets, right?  It does not help women to blame them if they get tired of the endless food wars and pick up a frozen pizza or two on occasion.  And it does not help women to make such a fetish out of the evening meal--why is nobody crying that Americans don’t eat home cooked breakfasts or lunches anymore?  Clearly it’s because nobody expects there to be time for eggs and waffles and bacon before work and school every day, let alone the return of Dad and the kids to a nice meal of soup and sandwiches or a casserole at noon--and yet, somehow, people seem to expect that the dinner hour has been kept just as free and quasi-sacred as it was fifty or sixty years ago, when these days the dinner hour starts much later than it used to for many Americans and is hemmed in by long work commutes, two-working parent weeknight errand running, school and sports activities, and other constant demands on family time.

If we, as a culture, value the evening meal enough to want more of our fellow Americans to be able to enjoy it as a nightly ritual, the last thing we ought to be doing is assuming that everybody can just easily do whatever it is that works for us.  It’s going to take a lot more than mung beans on a windowsill to fix what’s wrong with the American family dinner.