Sentiment and Sentimentality: Woman’s ChoiceMARY SHIVANANDAN
Women’s responsive and receptive nature, as wife and mother, is expressed by empathy, sensitivity and openness to others. This exposes her to the temptation to place affection (sentiment) above reason and objective truth. Only when she acknowledges the fullness of the image of God in herself and places her own integrity and obedience to God’s law above sentiment does she avoid the destructive path of sentimentality.
responsive and receptive nature, as wife and mother, is expressed by empathy,
sensitivity and openness to others. This exposes her to the temptation to place
affection (sentiment) above reason and objective truth. Only when she acknowledges
the fullness of the image of God in herself and places her own integrity and obedience
to Gods law above sentiment does she avoid the destructive path of sentimentality.
Womans role as mother is at the heart of the struggle for her soul. It
makes her both powerful and vulnerable. Feminists seek the power without accepting
the vulnerability. Sentimentality or false sentiment leads them from empathizing
with the plight of women with problem pregnancies to removing the reputed cause
of the difficulty, the unborn child. The true sentiment of motherhood, which accepts
pain and sacrifice for the care of both herself and another, succumbs to sentimentality.
Her own integrity is compromised first in yielding inappropriately to a man in
sexual intercourse, then even more in destroying her child
on this topic will begin with a theological account of the nature of man and woman.
Since Pope John Paul IIs theological and philosophical anthropology has
been the primary focus of my study during the past few years, I shall be drawing
especially on his work to illuminate the nature of woman. Both his apostolic letter,
Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women) (John Paul II,
1988) and his Wednesday Catechesis, refer back to the first pages of Scripture,
Genesis (John Paul II, 1981). The Genesis account is also the target of several
feminist theologians such as Phyllis Trible and Phyllis Bird. Their interpretation
gives a clue to the nature of the feminist distortion of woman s nature.
Theology, while the primary source for John Paul II s understanding
of the nature of woman, is by no means the sole source. He is also a keen philosopher
(Schmitz, 1993). In Love and Responsibility he deals directly with the issue at
hand, the temptation of woman to sentimentality (Wojtyla, 1993). A distinguished
Catholic philosopher, Edith Stein, also has much to say on womans strengths
and weaknesses in this area. Turning to feminist sources, it is interesting to
note that Elizabeth Cady Stanton, considered the philosopher of the womans
movement in the 19th century, made much of womans intuition as superior
to the logical, rational mind of man. At the first Womens Rights Convention
in Seneca Falls, New York, Cady Stanton with four Quaker women drew up the Declaration
of Sentiments, modeled on the Declaration of Independence. Many of the strands
of current feminism can be seen in her work.
Turning to the psychosocial
area, I have chosen to highlight two works that deal with womens confrontation
with motherhood: Carol Gilligans In a Different Voice (Gilligan,
1982) and Kristin Lukers Taking Chances: Abortion and the Decision Not
to Contracept (Luker, 1975). Gilligans thesis is that choosing abortion
is a step forward in a womans development and maturity, choosing to take
control of her circumstances rather than be a victim. Lukers work, more
sociological than psychological, comes closer to the heart of what contraception
and abortion mean to womens lives. Instead of giving them true freedom it
has actually restricted their opportunities to be appropriately assertive and
to protect their integrity.
Finally we shall look at the Churchs
prescription for restoring womans dignity and subjectivity, especially in
honoring motherhood. As Christian women, however, Scripture provides the most
complete models and Mary is the model par excellence not only of women but of
all human beings in their receptive relationship to the Triune God. In both the
birth and death of Jesus she accepted the pain of the cross with both courage
The Genesis accounts of the creation of man and woman have particular significance
for John Paul II because of his preoccupation with the dignity of the human person
and the communion of persons in marriage. He states in his Wednesday Catechesis,
published as Original Unity of Man and Woman (John Paul II, 1981), that
he is returning to the beginning because in St Matthews Gospel
Christ referred the Pharisees to the beginning in answer to their
question on the indissolubility of marriage. But he has referred back to Genesis
in many other contexts. In Sign of Contradiction (1978), his retreat for
Pope Paul VI, he calls the biblical account, something like an embryo, containing
all that will in time make up the full-grown person (Wojtyla, 1979, p. 24).
In Mulieris Dignitatem (1988), he also makes reference to the fundamental
inheritance of all humanity that Is linked with the mystery of the biblical
beginning (John Paul II, 1988, no 1).
He detects three
levels to the human being made in the image of God from the Genesis text. The
first and deepest is the level of the person although all three levels are simultaneously
present. As equal persons, man and woman each have a direct relationship with
God. As what he calls an original solitude they share dominion over
creation. But they cannot be complete in solitude. After forming Adam from the
dust in the second account of creation, as God says, it is not good that
man should be alone. I will create a helper fit for him (Gen. 2:18). And
so he created Eve.
John Paul II is at pains both to affirm the absolute
equality of Adam and Eve as persons and to maintain a certain order in creation.
More and more man and woman as a communion of persons are seen to reflect the
Trinitarian community of persons. Orthodox theologians are coming to see that
gender in human beings may image the Trinity in some way. David Schindler has
brought this out well in the theology of Hans Urs Van Balthasar. While the Father
is the principle of generativity in the Trinity itself, the Son is receptive to
the Father and the Holy Spirit is receptive to both the Son and the Father. Joyce
Little has also linked the Trinitarian relations to a theological anthropology
of sexual equality and difference in the Church.
Receptivity is not
a lack but a fullness of being. Without an answer, the Word is barren. Towards
the Father, the Son is total receptivity. Yet towards the world, the Son is the
principle of generativity and all human beings stand to Him in a receptive, bridal
relation. In this way, the man (Adam) represents the Fathers principle of
generativity and the woman Eve, the receptivity of the Son towards the Father
and that of the Holy Spirit towards both Father and Son. Femininity reflects this
Trinitarian receptivity of the Son. Just as Father and Son are equal persons so
man and woman are equal yet different. Note that it is an active not a passive
receptivity, one that actively responds
The difference is most clearly
visible in the respective roles of men and women in parenthood. That is the third
level of the person John Paul II finds in Genesis. The blessing of fertility flows
from their creation as two sexes. This is precisely the level that feminist Scripture
scholars have the most difficulty with. Because the Genesis account seems to introduce
a hierarchy that is detrimental to women, Phyllis Bird declares the creation narratives
deformed and limited by their cultural and historical
context (Bird, 1994 #16 pp. 527-528). Another feminist scholar, Phyllis Trible,
devalues the role of parenthood asserting that parents are not part
of Gods creative activity (Trible, 1978, p.104). Parenthood is made possible
through sexuality but the roles of mother and father are not central. Bird dissociates
the difference of the sexes from the idea of the divine image and associates it
simply with material creation and the regeneration of the species. Such an interpretation
of Genesis profoundly devalues the role of woman especially as mother. It also
introduces a sameness that undermines the equality of initiation and receptivity
that characterize masculinity and femininity. The denial of difference, far from
benefiting women leads to an inability on the part of woman to integrate into
her personality, the specific characteristics associated with motherhood, empathy,
sentiment, and care for the weak arid vulnerable (Bird, 1981, p.134).
Because woman represents the receptivity of mankind towards God, one might surmise
that Satan particularly tempted Eve. He proposed to destroy the very icon of receptivity
towards God. But he also approached Eve for another reason. Carol Gilligan cites
the research of Janet Lever on the different developmental paths of boys and girls
which shows different attitudes towards rules. In middle childhood, for example
boys play by the rules. Girls, on the other hand, make exception to
rules because they shy away from confrontation. Their empathy for others influences
them to bend the rules (Gilligan, 1982, pp.9-11). God had given a very definite
command in the Garden of Eden not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good
and evil (Gen 2:16). Satan knew that the man would not as readily go against a
rule. Eve could be more easily swayed. Both were at fault as John Paul II says,
but in different ways. Eve was influenced by appearances not truth, while Adam
was influenced by her. In pronouncing punishment, God castigates Adam for listening
to the voice of Eve rather than His voice.
The temptation of Eden, John
Paul II says, is repeated throughout history. While the womens suffrage
movement has accomplished much in championing legitimate rights such as the right
to vote, its flawed philosophy has also gravely hurt women. Cady Stanton lauds
Eves role in the Garden of Eden. She wrote in her newspaper, The Revolution,
March 25, 1969: When Eve took her destiny in her own hand and set minds
spinning down through all spheres of time, she declared Humanity omnipotent, and
today thinking people are rapt in wonder and admiration at the inventions and
discoveries of science, the grandeur of mans conceptions, and the magnitude
of his works (Sibel, 1982, p.189). It is ironic that the date of this pronouncement
is March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, the day we celebrate when the new
Eve gave her momentous fiat. Nearly thirty years before in 1840, Cady Stanton
had made a bold statement by convincing the Scottish clergyman to leave out the
word obey in the marriage ceremony (Sibel, 1982, p. 8). How reminiscent
of Eves non serviam, I will not serve!
Cady Stanton rejected
the Calvinism of her childhood and became a deist much influenced by New England
Transcendentalism. While rejecting the divine inspiration of the Bible, she acknowledged
its importance and recognized that it contains some grand and beautiful
sentiments (Sibel, 1982, p.149). She declared:
Men write Bibles and
translate them from their own standpoint, they make constitutions and states in
their own interest, and then claim that they, being in direct communication with
the Most High. speak by special inspiration. (Sibel, 1982, p.252)
a two-volume work called The Womans Bible. As John Sibel says, Cady
Stanton saw that her task was to search out the true intuitions in the Bible and
then to rectify the aberrations that had been introduced by the male element
(Sibel, 1982, p.252). Surely as Ecclesiastes says, there is nothing new under
Stanton had a great deal to say about the nature of man and woman. She was especially
fond of the notion of sentiment as a particular feminine gift and its superiority
over logic and understanding which she saw as the males lesser gift. Sentiment
did not mean for her something derived from emotion but the way to arriving at
truth by intuition rather than by argument. Sentiment is the process of reason
intuiting as opposed to the process of ratiocination. In her view, the individualss
natural rights are intuited by transcendental reason and the logic of understanding
guides their exercise according to the individuals desires, capacities and
powers. As a result the rights of the individuals are supreme (Sibel 1989, pp
147, 163). (She was much influenced by John Locke, John Stuart Mill and Thomas
Paine. She preached, in her own words, the new gospel of individual sovereignty.
The highest good for the individual, which brings about true happiness and salvation,
is self-development (Sibyl, 1982, pp.169, 193).
Cady Stanton began her
reflections on womens rights by adopting a single anthropology,
in which there is little difference between the sexes but changed later to endorsing
the complementarity of the sexes. She believed that it was easier to argue for
sexual equality if it could be seen that men need women and vice versa. She maintained
womens moral superiority versus mens physical superiority. Her view
of the male might be complementary but not complimentary! He is governed by animal
appetite and functions through understanding not intuitive reason. She described
the male element as:
a destructive force, stern, selfish,
aggrandizing, loving war, violence, conquest, acquisition, breeding in the material
and moral world alike discord, disorder, disease and death...The male element...has
fairly run riot from the beginning, overpowering the feminine element everywhere,
crushing out all the diviner qualities in human nature itself. (Sibel, 1982,
p.183)Yet she approved of girls carrying fire-arms to protect
themselves and of wearing unisex costume such as the so-called Bloomers, which
she wore herself (Sibel, 1982, pp.173, 238, 239).
It is especially pertinent
for this topic that Cady Stanton felt the marriage relation to be pivotal for
women rights. She rejected marriage as a sacrament, holding it to be a mere human
institution based on the mutual help and happiness of the spouses which is its
first object. Its second object is the establishment of a home and family. If
the spouses cease to live harmoniously and to bring each other companionship and
happiness, then for that very reason the marriage ought to be annulled. Individual
sovereignty and happiness are the supreme criterion. This includes a wifes
right to her own body. We are familiar with Margaret Sangers battle
cry a womans right to her own body, but Cady Stanton claimed
this right well before her. Cady Stanton did not endorse promiscuity or free love
but asserted womans right alone within the marriage relationship to say
when a new being should be brought into the world. Since there was no reliable
contraception at that time, she recommended abstinence from sexual intercourse
as the way to secure her reproductive rights (Sibel, 1982, pp.205-213).
Cady Stantons philosophy, while it erred in many respects, acknowledged
the complementarity of the sexes and sought to give due weight to womens
particular gifts. It also affirmed her as an individual. A philosophical analysis
of women by a Christian philosopher shows that while some of her insights are
correct, her downgrading of motherhood vitiated her overall view of women and
their relationship to themselves, men and society. The clear and irrevocable
word of Scripture, writes Edith Stein, declares what daily experience
teaches from the beginning of the world: woman is destined to be wife and mother
(Stein, p.43). From this it follows that, while she shares the same human nature
with man, her faculties differ in a basic way.
Woman seeks to embrace
what is living, personal and whole. Her maternal desire is
to protect and nourish others. She is not at home with abstraction or with lifeless
facts unless they advance the personal. Her thought is naturally directed towards
an intuitive and emotional grasp of the concrete whole rather than being analytical
and conceptual. An attitude of caring extends to her role as life companion to
a man. While he is absorbed in his enterprise, he expects those around
him to be equally consumed and finds it difficult to interest himself in the affairs
of others. The womans sympathetic concern, on the other hand, empowers her
children as well as the adults in her life. She seeks to become and help others
become a whole human being. Obedience and subordination as directed by Gods
work (my emphasis) are required by participation in her husbands life. Such
obedience also extends to his role as protector of the family (Stein, 1987, pp.44,
Having given a portrait of the feminine ideal, Stein points to
the distortions of womans nature resulting from original sin. Her penchant
for the personal can become self-centered so that on the one hand she gives in
to vanity, the need for praise and unrestrained self-disclosure. On the other,
she takes an exaggerated interest in the lives of others. Her tendency to grasp
the whole influences her to a superficial dabbling in many areas because she lacks
the requisite discipline to master one. She becomes absorbed in the affairs of
others in an unhealthy way to her own detriment and that of others (Stein 1987,
p.45). While it is the role of both men and women to understand, enjoy and create,
womans joy in things and desire to enjoy the good life can make her greedy
and lead her to yield to her own desires in relationship to a man. (In the Garden
of Eden. Eve coveted the fruit for its beauty and usefulness.) She has a tendency
to surrender completely to another human being. The selfish woman either shirks
her maternal duties or treats children as her possession (Stein, 1987, pp.73,
Woman, however, has a special sensitivity to moral values and
a desire for union with the Lord. Her strength lies in her receptivity and her
emotional life which suits her orientation to the personal (Stein, 1987, pp.77,
78, 222). Emotions occupy the center of her being. Stein gives
a definition of the emotional life somewhat akin to the sentiment
of Cady Stanton:
It (emotion) has an essential cognitive function: it
is the central pivot by which reception of the existent is transmuted into personal
opinion and action.
Through the emotions, it (the soul) comes to know
what it is and how it is; it also grasps through them the relationship of another
being to itself, and then, consequently, the significance of the inherent value
of exterior things; of unfamiliar people and impersonal things. But the emotions
need direction through the intellect and will. If discipline of mind and will
are lacking, the woman may yield to sensuality. (Stein, 1987. pp. 96, 97)
Cady Stanton and Edith Stein have given us definitions
of sentiment that are both similar yet differ in some respect. For the feminist,
sentiment is the primary way of arriving at truth, is less involved with the emotions
and holds greater cognitive value. An alternative word for her is intuition. A
specifically feminine gift, it incorporates mercy and love (which, incidentally,
have to do with emotions) and stands in contrast to the cold and barren logic
of masculine understanding (Sibel, 1982, pp.182, 183). For Edith Stein, emotions
are central to sentiment. They are the gateway through which the person grasps
what exists, forms an opinion and acts. Cady Stantons minimizing of the
emotional aspect of sentiment is in line with her depreciation of the maternal
role of women.
Websters New World Dictionary gives as a definition
of sentiment: a complex combination of feelings and opinions as a basis
for action or judgment or A thought, opinion, judgment, or attitude,
usually the result of careful consideration, but often colored with emotion.
It can also refer to a generalized attitude, the sentiment of romantic love.
Its root is the Latin word for feel or sense.
Both Cady Stanton and Edith
Stein view sentiment in a positive light. It can degenerate, however, into sentimentality
which, in its mildest form according to the dictionary, suggests emotion
of a kind that is felt in a nostalgic or tender mood or in its negative
definition is having or showing such feelings in an excessive, superficial
or maudlin way: mawkish or influenced more by emotion than reason.
John Paul II, as the philosopher Karol Wojtyla, makes several references to sentiment
and sentimentality in his book on responsible parenthood, Love and Responsibility,
which are particularly relevant to the discussion.
In discussing the
person and love, he distinguishes between sentimentality and sensuality. In relations
between the sexes there is always an impression which may go with an emotion.
When the emotion is connected with the possible enjoyment of the body as an object,
it is sensuality. But the emotion may be connected to a response to the masculinity
of the man or the femininity of the woman. In that case it relates to an impression
of the whole person and is called sentiment Sentimental sensibility,
says John Paul II, is the source of affection. Sentiment is
not associated with the desire to enjoy or use the other person; and is congruent
with a desire to contemplate and appreciate beauty. As such it is good (Wojtyla,
Such a sentimental love draws the two people together
and absorbs them. They want to be continually near each other and to express their
love eternally. This may be by words or looks and not necessarily by bodily contact
since such an affectionate love is not centered on the body as such. But it can
easily lead to sensuality although in a disguised way. The man is generally more
attracted by sensuality and the woman by sentimentality. The man more readily
recognizes the sensual nature of the relationship while for the woman, sensuality
is hidden by sentimentality. (Wojtyla, 1993, pp.110-111).
and imagination are active in a sentimental love. The person becomes idealized
in the eyes of the lover, out of all proportion to reality, and such an idealization
strengthens the emotional commitment. These idealized values are usually ones
which the lover wants to find in the beloved. As a result the person is not so
much an object of affection as the occasion for affection.
is, above all. subjective and exaggerates values which the person yearns for in
himself. In this aspect it is less objective than sensuality which is focused
on the body of the other person. When the person discovers that the values do
not actually exist in the beloved, disillusionment and even hatred may set in.
Neither sensuality nor sentimentality are adequate as the basis for love between
the sexes, says John Paul II (Wojtyla, 1993, pp.1 12-113, 124). Emotions which
are at the base of sentiment, can protect the love between a man and a woman,
since they do not view the other as an object of enjoyment, but they cannot guarantee
it. And they can easily degenerate into sensualism if the love is not safeguarded
by the virtues, particularly the virtue of chastity. (Wojtyla, 1993, pp.151-153)
Up to this point we have been discussing theological and philosophical
perspectives on differences between men and women. It has become clear that womens
natural strengths and weaknesses are particularly evident in their lives as wives
and mothers. Women, as psychological researcher, Carol Gilligan of Harvard has
posited, adopt an ethic of care rather than an ethic of justice. When she presented
moral dilemmas to a group of grade school students she found that the solution
of the girls differed significantly from that of the boys. Where one boy saw a
cut-and-dried case of logic and law, the girl viewed the situation in terms of
a problem of relationship. Someone is going to be hurt (Gilligan, 1982, pp.25-31).
It is not coincidental that Gilligan has chosen the abortion decision
to highlight womens different approach to moral problems. As she says,
When birth control and abortion provide women with effective means for controlling
their fertility, the dilemma of choice enters a central area of women s
lives. Then the relationships that have traditionally defined womens identities
and framed their moral judgments no longer flow inevitably from their reproductive
capacity but become matters of decision over which they have control (Gilligan,
Gilligan makes a number of assumptions: (1) that there
is a basic conflict between femininity and adulthood, (2) reproductive sexuality
binds women to a self-sacrificing dependence and (3) the abortion decision involves
a conflict between autonomy and compassion (Gilligan, 1982, pp.70-71).
Seeing that the abortion decision goes to the heart of womens identity,
a study was designed to clarify how women construct and resolve abortion
decisions. It was a small study, mainly significant for the personal
stories of the women. Twenty-nine women of different ages and backgrounds participated.
Most of the pregnancies occurred because of a failure to use birth control but
in some cases the pregnancy was a way of testing the relationship itself. Twenty-one
of the women chose an abortion while four chose to have the baby. The women were
interviewed in the first trimester of pregnancy and at the end of the following
year (Gilligan, 1982, pp.71 72).
Women in the study posed the dilemma
of abortion in terms of selfishness versus responsibility rather than one of rights
and rules. Gilligan traces a three-stage evolution of moral thinking on the part
of these women which she characterizes as the development of an ethic of care.
Initially the women focus on their own survival, then they come to consider that
attitude selfish. They articulate a concept of responsibility and maternal caring.
But since this seems to place care of others above care of self, there is a further
development towards validating both care of self and care of others. The woman
takes responsibility for the decision but places her own needs and those closeest
to her above the life of the baby. Gilligan clearly sees this as a step towards
maturity especially in moral judgment (Gilligan, 1982, pp.73-74).
illustrates her conclusion from the testimonies of the women themselves. In doing
so she shows how superficial her own understanding is of womans nature.
She describes how 17-year old Josie, for example, was initially happy at being
pregnant. It made her feel good. I started feeling like a woman, she
confessed. But she soon realized the difficulties of the situation. Then she interpreted
the situation in terms of her own selfishness at wanting a child and concluded
that the more adult thing to do was to do what was necessary and get an abortion.
Josie describes herself as feeling more mature from making a hard decision.
Gilligan confirms this judgment by saying: For Josie, the abortion
decision affirms both femininity and adulthood in its integration of care and
responsibility. She applauds another adolescent who says: Abortion,
if you do it for the right reasons, is helping yourself to start over and do different
things (Gilligan, 1982, pp. 77-78). Absent from all Gilligans judgments
is any recognition that killing an innocent human being is objectively wrong,
or that it violates in a fundamental way the nature of woman.
case of a 24-year old Catholic married woman called Janet, Gilligan spells out
how the legalization of abortion, which changed the rules, impacts the lives of
In the absence of legal abortion, a morality of self-sacrifice
is necessary in order to ensure protection and care for the dependent child. However,
when such sacrifice becomes optional the entire problem is recast.
wants an abortion because the pregnancy would strain the financial and emotional
resources of the family and she claims it is against medical advice. In addition
she doesnt want to be tied down with two children. Yet Janet believes that
abortion is taking a life. She comes to the conclusion that her own concern with
the morality of the abortion decision is selfish. Putting it aside both for her
own convenience and in deference to the wishes of those around her, she aborts
her child (Gilligan, 1982, pp.83-85).
Another Catholic, Sandra, also
considers abortion murder but rationalizes it as a lesser sin when
you have to do it. Sandra had already put up one child for adoption
and did not think that she could go through the same emotional experience a second
time. Sandra is also concerned about the effect having a child would have on the
parents with whom she lives. But she acknowledges that she, herself, does not
want the burden of a child now. Sandra comes to the conclusion that the
abortion is morally wrong but the situation is right, and I am going to do it.
She realizes that now she has a conflict between two definitions of right and
wrong. Asked how she can reconcile them she says.
I would have to change
morally wrong to morally right. (How?) I have no idea. I dont think you
can take something that you feel is morally wrong because the situation makes
it right and put the two together....They dont go together. Something is
wrong, but all of a sudden, because you are doing it, it is right (Gilligan, 1982,
Gilligans comment on Sandras dilemma is that the
morality that condones self-destruction in the name of responsible care,
i.e., having the baby, is not repudiated as inadequate but is rather abandoned
in the face of its threat to survival. The womans survival becomes
the paramount moral concern. (Gilligan, 1982, p.87)
In the case of another
woman, Gilligan frames what seems to be her own solution to the abortion dilemma
as the woman coming to equate her own self interest with that of others, primarily
the adults in her life. In the process the childs interests find little
or no place (Gilligan, 1982, p.92). Objective morality is brushed aside in favor
of a concept of caring based on relativity and self-interest. The trend noted
already in the early feminist philosopher, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to exalt individual
sovereignty at the expense of motherhood is evident in Gilligans work. That
the women in this study were ambivalent about motherhood points to the need to
take a deeper look at the issues surrounding procreation. For that we shall turn
to a study by sociologist, Kristin Luker, Taking Chances: Abortion and the Decision
Not to Contracept.
Luker states the reason for her study was to discover
why California women with ready access to contraception prefer abortion as fertility
control. The study was conducted in the early 1970s of women undergoing abortion
in a clinic in California. The book, containing the study results and Lukers
recommendations, was first published in 1975 and was reissued in 1991 since it
was still considered valid in the 1990s. Certainly the statistics have changed
little. Abortion was made legal in California in 1967. The abortion rate went
from 5000 in 1968 to 65,000 in 1970, to more than 103,000 in 1971. In fact it
had become a de facto method of birth control. And it was not because contraception
was not readily available. (Luker, 1975, pp.x, viii)
A study of the clinic
records revealed that more than half of the women seeking abortions had used a
prescription method of birth control in the past and 86 percent had used some
form of birth control (Luker, 1975, p. 20). The latest figures show that there
has been little change. More than 90 percent of sexually active women in the United
States use a contraceptive. Studies in the 1990s show that 58 percent of women
undergoing abortions were using a form of birth control when they became pregnant,
up from 51 percent in 1987. A related study revealed that many of the women were
using the birth control method incorrectly (Family Health International, 1996).
Luker argues that not becoming pregnant is only one concern of women who are making
decisions about contraception. (Luker, 1975, p.16)
Luker is not making
any moral judgments in her book. Rather she is showing that women in weighing
the relative costs of contraception, pregnancy and abortion are making rational
decisions. Using contraception is an extremely complex decision, involving notions
of sexuality, masculinity and femininity, cultural and political norms. To use
contraception well, the woman must plan ahead for possible sexual intercourse,
which means acknowledging that she is a sexual being; think of herself as a sexually
autonomous individual rather than a woman who is aroused by a man. She must be
able to articulate her desires openly and finally she must place her long-term
needs ahead of the mans immediate pleasure (Luker, 1975, pp.xi, xii). In
other words it involves a series of deliberate acts that do not accord with womans
sentimental nature in relationship to a man.
Luker lists the immediate
costs of contraception to women against the less immediate costs of pregnancy.
Taking the necessary steps to obtain contraception can make a desirably
warm and intimate emotional experience appear impersonally `cold-blooded
and hence costly. This is not limited to the woman. One boy friend said:
It seems kind of phony to use contraception. It doesnt seem natural
or the right way. To be effective contraception must be used consistently
and many of the women in the study were not even in steady relationships. In addition,
to be prepared for intercourse is to lose face as the promiscuous woman is regarded
with contempt. Women rarely continue contraception after a steady relationship
breaks up. If sex is a womans way of giving everything, because
she is very much in love, to continue using contraception is
to devalue both herself and the gift. Luker acknowledges that this is a heavy
emotional cost to a woman. There are also costs to spontaneity. The mechanics
of barrier methods can interfere with spontaneity. Then there are the costs of
obtaining contraceptives, the medical and biological costs and the costs of maintaining
contraception. (Luker, 1975, pp.42, 44, 47, 49, 51-64)
Opposed to the
immediate drawbacks of contraception are the perceived benefits of pregnancy.
Luker recognizes that to be pregnant is to be at the core of the traditional
definition of the female role. Here Luker makes the same discrimination
as Gilligan of a distinction between femininity and adulthood. She pits all
the traditional female virtues compliance, nurturance, dependence, self-effacement
against the assertiveness and independence of adulthood. Becoming pregnant increases
self-worth since becoming a mother is a time-honored role. Pregnancy confirms
that a woman is fertile. Getting pregnant can be a way of clarifying the relationship,
pushing for commitment. It can also force a situation with parents or act as a
plea for help. Risking pregnancy can also add excitement to the act of sexual
intercourse itself. (Luker, 1975, pp.66-77)
Lukers conclusion to
her original study was that, since abortion had become de facto a method of birth
control, clinic delivery services should be organized to take that fact into account.
(Luker, 1975, 143) This recommendation is made in spite of the fact that Luker
recognizes that current social acceptance of contraception and abortion greatly
diminishes womens power in man-woman relationships. Modern hormonal contraception
such as the pill and injectibles, has changed the pattern of courtship and responsibility
and accountability in the sphere of sexuality and reproduction. Luker describes
the change in courtship patterns as extraordinarily pervasive and dramatic
to the detriment of women. (Luker, 1975, pp.113, 114)
In the traditional
courtship both men and women stood to gain. In addition to a good partner, each
obtained the right to sanctioned intercourse, enjoyment of a more efficient division
of labor and the opportunity to bear and raise children. Modem society has made
it possible to obtain services such as laundry and cleaning much more easily from
outside the home. Children have also been devalued so that bearing children is
less of an inducement to marriage. The devaluing of these rewards of marriage
affect women the most but the greatest loss to women, says Luker is in the area
of sanctioned intercourse as a bargaining power for marriage The stricter
the norms against premarital intercourse, she says, the more valuable
sex becomes as a currency of bargaining the marriage market. (Luker, 1975,
The sexual revolution of the 1960s was especially related
to women engaging in premarital sex, made possible by contraception. It is now
considered old-fashioned and unliberated for a woman to withhold sex.
Even when a woman does withhold sex, her bargaining power is diminished because
sex can be so easily obtained elsewhere. If she risks a pregnancy to force the
mans commitment, it is seen as her responsibility for failing to use contraception.
Women, in general, prefer to risk pregnancy than ask a man to use a condom. Yet
she feels used since she takes all the responsibility for contraception, pregnancy
and abortion. She also has the sense that she must use contraception to have
control of her own body. It is part of the mystique of liberation. Luker
calls this liberation illusory since rights only having meaning in
the context of choice.
Women have the right to control their own bodies,
because neither the social structure nor the normative climate permit them any
other option it is a right that society is only too willing to accord them
(Luker, 1975, pp.122-130).
This dubious liberation extends beyond courtship,
marriage and the birth of a child. As Deborah Shaw and Charmaine Crouse Yoest
write in Mother in the Middle: Mothers no longer have the power to expect
the men in their lives to provide for them (either financially or emotionally)
so that they can work at mothering small children (Straw, 1996, p.113).
Mothers feel deceived and angry because no one told them the cost of subscribing
to the new liberated social contract, which requires them to work outside the
home, especially when their children are small. Whether women were employed or
stay-at-home mothers, Shaw and Yoest found they were tired of knowing, with
all their hearts, that caring for their children was important and too
seldom feeling that belief validated by their men (Straw, 1996, p.119).
It is in the light of these facts that we can see the wisdom of John Paul IIs
Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women, Mulieris Dignitatem
(August 15, 1988). The pope recalls the fundamental nature of human persons as
willed for their own sake and only able to find themselves by a sincere gift of
self to another. This truth, he says, opens up the path to a full understanding
of womens motherhood (MD, no.18). Parenting is a shared task but the
woman has the more demanding part. It is the woman who pays
directly for this shared generation, which literally absorbs the energies of her
body and soul, says John Paul II. And there can be no program of equal rights
if the man does not acknowledge that fact (MD, no.18).
When the woman
is deprived of the opportunity to give herself to the child she cannot fulfill
herself. All in the family are impoverished, the child who is deprived of the
mothers loving care, the woman herself, and the husband who becomes the
object of resentment as so many women told Shaw and Yoest.
This is where
the Churchs teaching on the inseparability of the unitive and procreative
aspect of marital love is so providential. It restores fertility to its rightful
place which is especially important for the woman. It affirms her potential to
be a mother and stresses the joint responsibility of the man as father. On the
part of the woman it requires a choice to place her integrity before any sentimental
yielding to her own or her husbands inordinate desires. It is in honoring
her own dignity as made in Gods image that she becomes both fully a woman
and fully adult.
One husband referred to his wifes tough
love She once told him that she might not have married him if he had insisted
on a chemical form of family planning. He described his experience of marital
sexuality using natural family planning (which enjoins abstinence during the fertile
phase if the couple seek to avoid pregnancy) as a mixture of pain and redemption.
He discovered that the difficulty with the abstinence period was not so much continence
but what continence revealed, that he was continually tempted to place genital
intimacy before true relational intimacy. Continence, he says, does
me a favor. It provides me with a rhythmic opportunity to make sure
it is love and intimacy, not sex, which bind me to my wife. Natural family
planning both keeps the procreative aspect of sexuality to the fore and aids the
man especially in the growth of relational intimacy (Bishops Committee for
Pastoral Research and Practices, 1990, pp.25-27). (Chastity provides the same
opportunities for growth before marriage.)
It is significant that John
Paul II begins Mulieris Dignitatem with a reflection on the Mother of God
and the moment in salvation history when Jesus became incarnate in her womb. At
that moment, he writes, Mary attained a union with God that exceeds
all expectations of the human spirit (MD, no.3). Mary represents the whole
human race in her union with God in Jesus Christ. Her fiat expresses her total
awareness and acceptance of herself as a creature of God, reversing Eves
refusal to acknowledge Gods fundamental rights over the human person (MD,
Just as Eve in seeking
what was forbidden by Gods command came under the domination of man instead
of sharing dominion with him, so the woman today suffers when she seeks a power
over herself contrary to Gods command. Her choices are diminished rather
than expanded. She suffers both as wife and mother fulfilling the prophecy in
To the woman he said, I will greatly multiply
your pain in childbearing, in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire
shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.
choice was given to Eve in the Garden and it is given to woman today. Will that
choice be one of sentiment, which incorporates feelings appropriately in judgment
of right action or will it be one of sentimentality which brushes aside truth
in favor of giving in to feelings of false compassion, romanticism and an illusory
liberty? Mary is the model of the valiant woman, courageous, competent and compassionate.
She accepted Gods plan for her in spite of the suffering it caused in her
life, especially as a mother. It is precisely through her acceptance that she
became co-redemptrix with Christ. Perhaps we can paraphrase the Letter to the
Hebrews, It is not as though we do not have a mother who is unable to sympathize
with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are,
yet without sin (cf. Heb. 4:15).
- Bird, Phyllis. 1981. Male and Female He Created Them: Gen. 1?27b
in the Context of the Priestly Account of Creation. Harvard Theological
Review 74 (2).
- Bird. Phyllis. 1994 Bone of My Bones and Flesh
of My Flesh. Theology Today 50, no 4 (January): 521?534.
Committee for Pastoral Research and Practices, and National Conference of Catholic
Bishops. 1990 Parenthood. Washington, DC United States Catholic Conference.
Health International 1996 Newsbriefs. Network 17 (no. 1. Fall):2
Carol 1982. In a Different Voice Psychological Theory and Womens Development
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- John Paul 11 1981 Original
Unity of Man and Woman: Catechesis on the Book of Genesis. Boston. St Paul
- John Paul 11 1988 On the Dignity and Vocation of Women (Mulieris
Dignitatem), Apostolic Letter, Aug. 25, 1988. Washington ton, DC: United States
- Luker, Kristin. 1975 Taking Chances: Abortion
and the Decision Not to Contracept paperback ed. Berkeley. CA:! University
of California Press.
- Schmitz, Kenneth L 1°.9}. At the Center of the
Human Dramas The Philosophical Anthropology of Karol Wojtyla / John Paul II:
Washington, DC: Catholic University Press.
- Shaw. Deborah, and Charmaine
Crouse Yoest. 1996. Mother in the Middle: Searching for Peace in the Mommy
Wars. paperback ed Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, House.
John J. 1982 Elizabeth Cady Stantons Philosophy of Woman, Rights:
Sources and Synthesis. ad lauream, Philosophy, University of St. Thomas, Rome.
- Stein, Edith 1987 Essays on Woman. Translated by Freda Mary Oben.
Edited by L. Gelber and R. Leuven. paperback ed. Vol. Two. The Collected Works
of Edith Stein: Sister Benedicta of the Cross. Washington. DC: ICS Publications.
- Trible, Phyllis. 1978. God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, Overtures
to Biblical Theology. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
- Wojtyla, Karol. 1919
Sign of Contradiction Slough, England: St. P Paul Publications.
Karol. 1993 Love and Responsibility. Translated by Willetts, H.T. Revised
1981 ed. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Mary Sentiment and Sentimentality: Womans Choice FCS Quarterly
permission of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars.
Shivanandan is Associate Dean and Professor of Theology at the John
Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, Washington, D.C. Her
most recent book Crossing
the Threshold of Love: Contemporary Marriage in the Light of John Paul
IIs Anthropology is the
most exhaustive and
scholarly assessment of [John Paul IIs] Christian anthropology ever written.
It examines the scientific data and the theological analysis that underlie his
teaching on marriage and sexuality and is both lucid and multidisciplinary.
She is also the author of Challenge
to Love, a book on couples’ lived experience of the Church’s teaching
on responsible parenthood. Mary Shivanandan is on the Advisory Board of The Catholic
Educators Resource Center.
Copyright © 1997 Fellowship
of Catholic Scholars