Freedom’s Price? Corporate Freedom of Religious Expression Trumps A Woman’s Right of Choice

Religion without humanity is poor human stuff.

Sojourner Truth

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.

Blaise Pascal (Pensees) 1670

There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.  ~Mahatma Gandhi

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.
Karl Marx

 

Western Art, Song and Literature  elevate religious thought and feeling, canon and belief throughout centuries.  Women burning as witches, brother slaying brother, specifics of the creed determine lives.  Families fleeing intolerance and persecution, cultures reproduce in unlikely spaces across the world. The United States proclaims a refuge for the persecuted: Puritan, Quaker, Catholic, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Lutheran, Anglican. All voices may rise in free worship; the atheist song as well. Free speech, free association, freedom of religion.  Until today.

Compromised, contained, categorized, freedom of Religion, certainly.  Legal minds splitting threads of legal thought.  Fine, fine filaments. Today,  the Supreme Court  severed the strand.

A circle of owners, a private family business,  Hobby Lobby sells bric a brac, becomes wildly successful.  The family establishes a trust, then forms a ‘closely held corporation’.  Corporate law creates a shield for  individual family members.  The corporate form protects against legal liability. It bestows abundant tax benefits to the family. The  corporation donates generously, strategically to social and election campaigns, pursues  political objectives.  Hobby Lobby, one of Forbes 150 top US  closely held corporations, spends fortunes to create a political agenda.

 Hobby Lobby need not account for how it spends  money:  a corporation can be a  “person” under US law.

And, Hobby Lobby, need not be consistent in belief and behavior.

Hobby Lobby, the corporation, unfettered, free, invests workers money wisely, even into funds of other corporations which are makers of medicines and devices for birth control.(These companies’ business violates Hobby Lobby’s ethical code.  But the fund makes a profit.)  No worker sues to divest this course.  Corporate freedom of investment remains unencumbered.

 Hobby Lobby denies  female workers  access to health care options which include contraceptive care.   Corporate owners announce that their personal moral and religious beliefs oppose reproductive planning health care. They oppose this care even if used to treat a strictly medical condition. The owners assert their corporation has the same religious views.  They assert the right for free exercise of religion by their family corporation.

The Corporation is victorious once again.

The Supreme Court will not require closely held corporations to direct money into undifferentiated funds which finance a variety of health benefits under comprehensive health plans, including reproductive care. Not when the Corporation asserts that the provision of reproductive care violates a sincerely held religious value. Never mind that many workers  have different but equally important and as sincerely held religious beliefs.  Never mind that these workers financially depend on the job for health care and insurance. Do not consider that any worker whose values are offended can opt out of the insurance program or the reproductive benefits.  Why these factors do not matter is not clear.  Corporate free exercise of religion, apparently, trumps all.

Before today, a worker at Hobby Lobby who wanted access to reproductive health care whether for contraception or medical reasons had insurance coverage to obtain it.   Now, no matter the individual worker’s belief system,  she has no reproductive health care insurance coverage whether it is for family planning or it is medically necessary.

What other corporate ethical codes will trump a worker’s own?  Hobby Lobby, and countless other corporate consciences, could contrive religious exemptions to many legal mandates.  Many heard before, will they find favor if raised anew?   “It’s against my religious beliefs to allow…” blood transfusions; antidepressants; vaccinations; anesthesia; gelatin covered, pig derived or animal tested medicine!   “My religion precludes me from…”  employing women, paying minimum wages; employing integrated races; employing integrated religions, employing homosexuals, providing professional services to persons not of my religion, not of my race, not of my sexual orientation.

But, is it again about the woman, the worker, the working woman’s womb?  Is it  coincidence that the challenge which reached the court concerned women’s health?  Should we overlook that this challenge  implicates contraception?

Byzantine though the anti-birth control politicians seem, they are relentless.  A fully realized woman, empowered, employed, sexually fulfilled, a mother, healthy,  and above all happy with this life, affronts grotesque puritan values.  Values which mock us around the modern world.  Values so rooted at home we do not feel the constriction.

The sun is shining bright in Philadelphia,  merely 90 miles away from that decision.  Still, no greater darkness has manifest in the life of women from the law, in decades.

   

http://www.blogsbywomen.org/

Ban Bossy? Think again!

 

cropped-cropped-girls_in_the_garden_oil_c-1906_frank_weston_benson2.jpgIt appears to be that some people attract controversy as metal rods attract lightning.

Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, appears to be one such person. The response to her March 8, 2014 Wall Street Journal Op Ed co-authored with Anna Maria Chavez, Girls Scouts USA, CEO has been vigorous. Ms. Chavez and Ms. Sandberg advocate banning the word “bossy” as applied to girls through a pledge campaign and to engage in other activities explained on a website banbossy.com.  These leaders reach into their own history and into the etymology and semantics of the word bossy.  Their conclusion is that this “B” word heard so often on the childhood play yard, in the classroom, and even in the Boardroom, Courtroom, or Senate Chamber is a social signifier.  It is a word which connotes deeply rooted negative gender stereotypes of women who exhibit competent leadership skills.  A bossy man is to be admired as a leader.  A bossy woman, no matter how successful, is somehow unlikable. A boy or man in charge is acceptable.  A girl or woman who is not kind and nurturing is deficient. Girls suffer, we are told, from these stereotypes, lose confidence, and fail to thrive in the race to the top.

I have no reason to disagree.

In my once male dominated profession of law, it was a good day if the “B” word directed toward me or a female colleague was “bossy.” Each of us have reached into our childhoods and told tales of how we were discouraged by the language of gender stereotypes. Each of us observed that a male lawyer who was a vigorous advocate was “able counsel” or something more superlative.  A woman conducting herself in an identical fashion was likely to be many things, perhaps “bossy” would again be the kindest.

Nor do I diminish the significance of the observations and goals of banbossy.com.  Reinforcing a child’s self esteem is crucial .

Chavez and Sandberg suggest that being bossy can help us live fulfilled lives:” The lesson to children, and to the parents and teachers who raise and nurture them, should be that there is pride in being opinionated, motivated and motivating—that is, bossy.”  (March 8, 2014 Wall Street Journal Op Ed).

My question is more basic.  Why do we need anyone to be bossy?  Motivated, Motivating, Opinionated…..

The starting point in the argument of “Ban Bossy” (the website indicates that this is not a first amendment issue: there is no literal request to abolish a word) accepts the current definitions of “success” of the upper middle class (or higher), highly and well-educated, corporate, largely white, world. The little girl labeled bossy raises her hand too much, tells her friends how to complete the project, seeks out the highest class office. She is the kid who joins all the clubs, has more time for events than for friends, she gets the best grades,  and often she is “good” at everything, from music to sports.   She grows up to be Margaret Thatcher or Hillary Clinton. When she is a known world leader, she is not called bossy; she is called cold, unfeeling or mean, and nasty.

What if we changed not merely the word, we changed the narrative.  The child who gets the highest score on the math test or read the most books over the summer is a success.  But the child who exhibits such emotional intelligence that at lunch she sits next to the little boy who doesn’t speak much English is also a success.  The girl who stands next to the child whom the class bully just disparaged is a success too.  And the one who built a bird house from twigs in the yard is counted among the winners.

If the narrative is altered to include a more diverse vision of “success,” diversity in “motivation” and in methods to motivate others might readily follow.  An Ivy League level education is no longer the pre-requisite to being a “success” in the chosen profession.  Columbia does not even have a Carpentry Department!  When the narrative changes and the means to motivate change, perhaps, the dialogue can also be altered.  “Being opinionated” might no longer be of such high value.  Listening skills, engaging in a meaningful dialogue which moves participants forward might become paramount.

Maybe I am an idealist.  I remind myself of a young woman I knew well when she was me in Women Studies Classes in the 70’s.I thought by now an equal society would have evolved.  Banning words was not a strategy I recall considering.

We anticipated a future wherein boardrooms, courtrooms and senate chambers were open to us.  We even believed a woman would be elected US president.  We considered a future wherein the choice to become a cook or a weaver or a teacher would command financial and social respect.  We read the futuristic novels of feminism’s “first wave” and believed that under our watch child care providers would garner wages which truly reflect the importance of the work performed, the provision of healthy food would be honored, the work of the homemaker would be valid.

Most critically, as our political consciousness grew, many of us began to prefer the attribution “feminist humanist.”  We professed freedom for women necessarily required the same for men. The evisceration of gender stereotypes, or so the argument proceeded, would mean that women could embrace power and men could embrace emotion. In a practical fashion, we sought equal work and life partnerships.  We marched into parenthood armed with the determination that we would talk with our sons about their dreams and feelings and bring our daughters to sports events and political rallies.  Even better, we would seek out the individuality in each of our children and cultivate that precious gift as best we could  regardless of gender.

Decades on, the world is much changed, in many respects to the detriment of the economic, social and political status of women in the US. The ban bossy campaign is started.

Perhaps, the study of conflict resolution and bully prevention strategies has led me to hopes which amplify  earlier ideas as to how to reach  a more equal society in terms of gender.  Banning words is still not a strategy.

Achieving social justice on a real level for women, girls, men or boys demands more than caution with words.

If we continue drowning our daughters from the earliest stages in marketed images of “perfection,” the anorexic, sexualized teen, the air-brushed, perfectly coiffed Kate-Middleton clone mom, words, no matter how pernicious, count little in the construction of gendered stereotypes.  If our films persist in featuring suicidal astronauts or depressive narcissists as leading role models for women even when women of wealth are acquiring a greater voice in what movies are being produced, we must look to new forums.

If these same vehicles persuade our boys that violence and vulgarity are hallmarks of manhood, youth will be trapped in an endless cycle of diminished fulfillment.  If our role models for male success continue to be styled as “tough on the outside, tough on the inside,” men will struggle within roles which inhibit most, limit many and completey exclude more than a few.

So long as we persist in defining our world as full of “winners” and “losers”, our schools will instill confidence in some and a sense of inferiority in others.  So long as we accept a society in which it is a norm that some children will go to bed hungry and some seniors will freeze to death impoverished on city streets, intolerance is almost a necessary aspect of our culture.  If we equate being “opinionated” with leadership we are failing to teach essential listening skills which alone offer us access to understanding.  Understanding the point of view of the other is the only true benchmark of the kind of growth which allows for leadership.  As we see in the world around us, one can easily bark at and boss the converted and lead them into an impasse.  Progress and growth demand more.

Chavez and Sandberg must be applauded for identifying issues which must be addressed.  They may be commended for developing a strategy.  If they are the leaders they contend they are they must continue thinking.

Initially posted at BeaconResolution.com

Wadjda

cropped-praying-girl-1.jpgWadjda is an award-winning movie  marketed as the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia.  As a western feminist, I consumed available press about the film  and decided to watch it as an act of support for the woman who made it and the story I understood that it told.  My conjured  images of black shrouds in the searing sun suggested that I would be moved and educated by this film.  How surprising, then, is the discovery of delight!

Black forms moving slowly on sunlit streets do in fact inhabit the film.  My western eyes see this without fully comprehending as I am willing to suspend judgement.

Behind the gates and doorways, in the daily action of the real lives of the largely  middle class women and girls we encounter in this movie, all is completely as we know it.  Appliances are modern, gleaming and available for the plentiful food.  Western popular music stimulates the tween girl as she surreptitiously creates bracelets and other “black market items.”  Mother and daughter share intimacies in large airy well-decorated rooms.  Discreet tensions and open conflict overflows from these spaces to the rooftop above where the women still dress in jeans and cool shirts looking down on their world.

Certainly the conservative culture controls female life.   Wadjda  watches her dignified, beautiful mother carefully groom her hair and apply her make-up in the morning before disappearing in a swirl of darkness.  The girl  flares in anger when a taxi driver, clearly economically and educationally disadvantaged and possibly an illegal immigrant, chides the woman like a child for being tardy in getting into his taxi for the three-hour ride through the desert to her employment.  The woman’s friend ultimately rejects this ordeal to find liberating employment in a local hospital.  The dynamics gently explored include the powerlessness of the women , the control of the driver, the ingenuity of the children and the authority of a male even if a mere boy.

Wadjda watches the mother she adores measure her own worth through her father’s eyes in terms of the quality and quanity of  food she prepares.  She struggles to comprehend why this beauty  subverts her own desires for style of dress and hair to please a man so rarely present.  Wadjda is beginning to comprehend  too well that, in her world, biology is destiny.

Contemplating the viewing of this film, I considered that this would indeed be a “foreign” culture.  How startling then to understand the complexity of emotions seen in Wadjda as she endures her conservative, female-dominated religious school.  The insistence of conformity in appearance, down to the shoes which are worn, the  absolute prohibition of any feminine decoration, including nail polish, the suspicion of female friendship, much less love, remain cross-cultural signifiers of  patriarchal social systems and female enforcerment.  Similarly, scenes where students mindlessly recite memorized “beliefs,” use of  shaming and group ostracism as disciplinary tactics and consequent consistent competitive subcultures are also well recognised.

Startling and joyous to feel recognition of the delight of  a child’s physical freedom.  As Wadjda runs down the street, even skips a bit, walks solitary but dreams of riding a bike, the memory of that joy is irrepressible.  When a child is lucky enough to have a full stomach, a secure roof and no present threat of physical harm or illness, exploring the sun -filled day with muscular limbs is a complete pleasure.  Even from my sedentary perch, watching Wadjda, I could recall so many  hours jumping in the sun-drenched Chesapeake waters. I could almost feel again the breeze through my hair on a spring evening as I rode my bike through shaded  streets of row homes or as I explored city spots which I could pretend were dark forests.

Watching Wadjda play with her precocious friend Abdullah, I envisioned my fair-haired daughter racing her friends aside a swimming pool in the summertime.  I remember the tension and  gladness I felt as I watched her small frame dart through other little bodies in pursuit of a soccer ball on a fall day.  I felt contentment that, though grown up, she still chases my puppy down the lane.

Wadjda is not a film which will change the world, if indeed any film can.  It is not a soapbox for any particular ideology.  The movie treats character and culture with respect but not without a critical lens.   For me the movie was a surprise.  It was a reminder that there are universals in life which transcend culture and political or religious systems:  childhood, sunlight, clean and open air, curiosity, hope, movement, friendship and love.