Wednesday, May 12, 2010

'Potty Parity,' Conservative / Liberal Values, and a Universal Church

I grew up in the sixties, so when I read "potty parity" in a news item's teaser, I was prepared for serious weirdness. (Do you realize that, in many parts of the world, humans still can't legally marry non-human animals?)

Here's the news item: but don't expect a standard-issue rant about crazy liberals and their newfangled ideas.
"Congress Examines Restroom Inequalities in Federal Buildings"
FOXNews (May 12, 2010)

"The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held hearings Wednesday on the "Potty Parity Act," a bill that seeks to address the unequal number of restroom facilities for women in federal buildings.

"Men may still be left holding their peanuts at the ballpark while waiting for their dates in the ladies room, but a House panel on Wednesday was considering whether to rectify the disparity in wait times for the loo in federal buildings.

"The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held hearings Wednesday on the "Potty Parity Act," a bill that seeks to address the unequal number of restroom facilities for women in federal buildings by requiring at least a 1-to-1 ratio for women's and men's restrooms.

" 'A lot of times people, when I dealt with this bill, called it "potty parity." They made jokes,' said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., who proposed similar legislation as a state lawmaker that was enacted in the 1990s.

" 'The fact is, it's not a joke. Not only is it not a joke to women, it's not a joke to men who go with the women who have to wait while they're standing in line,'..."

'Potty Parity?' Works For Me

Actually, I think that if the "Potty Parity Act's" stops at "requiring at least a 1-to-1 ratio for women's and men's restrooms" it will be missing a critical point. It isn't the number of restrooms available: it's the number of fixtures in the restrooms.

And "equality" in a strict one-to-one sense won't cut it. Like it or not, women aren't men - even making us all wear the same clothes wouldn't change that. (It's been tried.)

Aren't Catholics Against Women's Rights?

The Catholic Church isn't for "women's rights" like killing their babies or marrying their girlfriends. As someone at the Vatican said about another issue, our hands are tied: the Holy See can only pass along what God provides. When He changes the rules, we'll let you know.

By the way, I realize that runs counter to the values of America's dominant culture: but that's the way it goes.

For what it's worth, the Catholic Church runs roughshod over men's rights, too. Did you realize that I'm not allowed to kill my wife? (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2268) I can't even starve her if she doesn't give me sex when and where I want it. Talk about oppression! And insensitivity to cherished cultural values. (August 22, 2009)

A little background about me will help. I'm a man, but:
  1. I'm married
    • To a woman
  2. Even before I got married, I thought women
    • Were people
    • Mattered as much as men
  3. My views aren't
    • Liberal
    • Conservative
  4. I'm a Catholic
Point (3) may be a little puzzling, particularly in combination with point (4). In some circles, it's assumed that Catholic and "conservative," in the American sense of the word, are effectively synonymous.

Catholicism is Very Conservative, Right?

I've gotten the impression that a fair number of Americans think there are three possible philosophical stances regarding social issues and politics. Four, if you count apathy.

America's dominant culture seems to view the three non-apathetic positions as:
  1. Liberal
    • Supporting
      • Pre-, extra-, and non-marital sex
      • Abortion
      • Animal rights
      • Social justice for all people who
        • Have been born
        • Meet a few other qualifications
    • Opposing
      • The death penalty
      • Public expressions of religion
      • Pollution
        • The assumption is that conservatives
          • Don't care about the environment
          • Want to kill pandas and fur seals
      • Nuclear power
        • This may be changing
  2. Conservative
    • Supporting
      • Traditional marriage
      • The military-industrial complex
        • Particularly Big Oil
      • The death penalty
      • Judeo-Christian beliefs
        • And other forms of male-dominated oppression
    • Opposing
      • Minority rights
      • Clean
        • Air
        • Water
      • Protection for
        • Fur seals
        • Whales
        • Pandas
        • Spotted owls
      • Womens' rights
        • Like getting an abortion when
          • She feels like it
          • When told to by her
            • Husband
            • Boyfriend
            • Employer
            • Professor
            • Whatever
  3. Moderate
    • Supporting
      • A calm, open-minded view
        • That filters out the crazy end of liberal positions
      • Whatever will result in
        • Re-election
        • Promotion
        • An easier life
    • Opposing
      • Radical right-wing policies
        • And anything else conservatives want
      • Anything that might get in the way of
        • Re-election
        • Career goals
        • Leisure activities
Sounds like I'm conservative, doesn't it?

I'll grant that the American "conservative" political philosophy is the one least unlike my view of the world. Except where I'm 'obviously' a bleeding-heart liberal. (November 3, 2008)

It's a Good Thing I Saw "Potty Parity" First

Congressman Steve Cohen's own website calls the "Potty Parity Act" the "Restroom Gender Parity in Federal Buildings Act" and says: "The Congressman authored Tennessee’s restroom gender parity laws when he was a member of the Tennessee State Senate." (Cohen Testifies at Hearing on Restroom Gender Parity in Federal Buildings) That would not have endeared me to the bill - although I'm pretty sure I'd still have read the article.

Sex, Gender, Language, Politics, and Getting a Grip

I remember the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. It wasn't, but that's another topic.

Growing up next to a college campus, I absorbed quite a bit of the (sophisticated?) philosophies of the day. As I started the typical adolescent process of sorting out what my parents had told me, what I learned from society, and my own views of the world: I noticed that women aren't men. And vice-versa.

Like so many of 'the masses,' I just couldn't be taught that all genders are completely equal - particularly men and women, who are totally equivalent. Call me dense.

The wacky side of gender politics isn't pushed quite as hard these days. I think it's partly a matter of marketability. Even after decades of education, many people can still see (and feel) fascinating differences between the sexes.
Isn't it Nicer to Say "Gender?"
Not all Catholics use the word "sex" as much as I do. With my rather straitlaced upbringing, I'd rather say "gender." But I can't do that.

I think one reason that social conservatives - and quite a few Catholics - started using "gender" when they meant "sex" is the old-fashioned notion that sex is sort of dirty. I've felt that way - but I also know that God made sex. I'm not about to tell the Almighty God, Lord of Hosts, that He's got a dirty mind: so I say or write "sex" when I mean "sex."
Gender, Sex: What's the Difference?
Depending on the language and culture, things like boats, pens, rocks and Frisbees can have gender. Animals - humans included - have sex. Which is how we get children. Yet another topic.

"Gender" can mean "sex." Sort of. Here's what shows up in one online dictionary's "gender" entry, as a second definition: "the properties that distinguish organisms on the basis of their reproductive roles."

Mostly, though, "gender" means: "a grammatical category in inflected languages governing the agreement between nouns and pronouns and adjectives; in some languages it is quite arbitrary but in Indo-European languages it is usually based on sex or animateness." (Princeton's WordNet)

Before 1970, give or take a few years, people came in two models: male and female. That was boring, or oppressive, or something: so after that the male and female sexes were replaced by "genders." By America's better sort, anyway. The masses kept on blindly acting as if men were male, women were female, and that the differences could be fun.

The circles I tended to be in or near viewed the replacement of sex by gender as a bold step toward abolishing the stifling confines of a hierarchical, hide-bound, oppressive, male-dominated system: freeing the human spirit to explore it's full potential.

I won't say that I agreed with them. Even though the idea was supposed to be 'oppressive,' I still thought women weren't men. And I liked it.

I became increasingly convinced that human sexuality was woven tightly into our beings - and wasn't something that a bunch of men thought up a few thousand years ago.

What can I say? I've always had a hard time being 'sophisticated.' It's just too hard to keep a straight face while saying the 'right' things.
Gender, Sex, and Oppressor Classes
The idea, as I recall, was that hidebound oppressors wanted the masses to think that there were only two sexes. Forward-thinking persons preferred a reality where mere physical sexuality was only the beginning: that the human spirit could - and had - transcended that limitation by discovering new "genders."

Homosexuality, bisexuality and lesbianism were obvious examples. Bestiality was discussed - 'I had sex with a dolphin' articles seemed to be big for a short while - but never got traction. I'm a little surprised at that - there was such an obvious tie-in with animal rights and environmentalism.

At one time there were over a dozen "genders:" I lost track somewhere in the eighties, so I've no idea how many there are today.

Because I remember the 'good old days' of gender politics so well, I don't like to use "gender" when I mean "sex."

Quite a few folks with non-liberal values don't have my background, and do use "gender" that way. That's okay, I suppose: but I think we should get used to the "s-word." God made us male and female - and was rather blunt with his instructions to Adam and Eve. (Genesis 1:28)
Isn't Saying There are Only Two Sexes 'Hate Speech?'
I've discussed this before. ("The Catholic Church and Homosexuals: Harsh and Soft, Judgmental and Understanding" (March 13, 2009)) Bottom line: As a Catholic, my standing orders are to love everybody, and hate nobody. I'm also supposed to distinguish between what a person does and what a person is. (We are, by the way, human beings: created by God in His image.(Genesis 1:27))

Back to the "Potty Parity Act"

I haven't read the text of the "Potty Parity Act" - or, more accurately, the "Restroom Gender Parity in Federal Buildings Act." I'm not likely to, either. My guess is that it's going to pass - and on the surface, it looks like a common-sense measure. I could be wrong, of course.

Me, My Wife, Men, Women, and Catholic Teaching

I've mentioned that I'm married. To a woman. Talk about being old-fashioned.

I knew from the start that it was simple good sense to listen to my wife. It helps that we have quite a few common interests: like clothing, fashion, interior decor and power tools. She's the one with the power tools, by the way.

It wasn't long after we were married that she straightened me out on the matter of "potty parity." Remember the idea that women aren't men? They aren't. We aren't women, either. There are some significant differences that no amount of legislation or social engineering are going to change. Maybe genetic engineering - but I don't want to think about that just now: I'll be sleeping in a few hours, and don't want nightmares.
Learning about Catholicism by Reading the Catholic Catechism: What a Concept!
The Catholic Church has quite a bit to say about men, women, and social justice. The basics are in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If you've been getting your information about Catholicism from America's later-day Maria Monks or traditional news media, get ready for a few shocks.

Before getting to those excerpts, I'd like to point out a couple of things about the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The official English translation of the Catechism uses non-inclusive language. Some phrases may be a bit startling to American readers. The book often uses the term "man" to mean both halves of humanity. In today's America, we're not used to that: but it's the way the English language works.

The Catechism does not conform to America's cultural norms. This is, for me, particularly obvious in discussions of human sexuality and social justice.

Now, those excerpts:
"Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to him:
What is at stake is the dignity of the human person, whose defense and promotion have been entrusted to us by the Creator, and to whom the men and women at every moment of history are strictly and responsibly in debt.35"

"The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it:
Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God's design.40"
Despite ways that 1935, taken in isolation, could be interpreted: You can't get the Catholic Church to recognize a marriage between, say, a man and a beagle - of either sex.

Back to the Catechism:
"There exist also sinful inequalities that affect millions of men and women. These are in open contradiction of the Gospel:
Their equal dignity as persons demands that we strive for fairer and more humane conditions. Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples of the one human race is a source of scandal and militates against social justice, equity, human dignity, as well as social and international peace.44"

"Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way. The union of man and woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator's generosity and fecundity: 'Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.'121 All human generations proceed from this union.122"

"Access to employment and to professions must be open to all without unjust discrimination: men and women, healthy and disabled, natives and immigrants.219 For its part society should, according to circumstances, help citizens find work and employment.220"
You may not like what you read in those excerpts. What the Catechism says may contradict an idea or belief that you like a whole lot. If that's the case, welcome to my world.

I've had to ditch several of my cherished beliefs and assumptions, in order to conform myself to Catholic teaching. One of the hardest for me to give up was the 'clockwork' model of the universe. (June 8, 2009)

Teachings of the Catholic Church seem 'un-American.' As a matter of fact, they are. They're also un-French, un-Italian, and un-Chinese. At the same time, what the Church teaches is for all people, in all times.

Which is why one serious thinker called the recent Caritas in Veritate "vague." He expected the Encyclical to conform to American cultural standards. It didn't.

It'd be easier for Americans, if the Catholic Church focused on this country, as it is today, and gave clear, direct guidance on all contemporary issues. That may happen sometimes. In documents like the Catechism, though, the Holy See is explaining what the Universal Church believes - as it applies to all cultures and all times.

As I wrote, explaining how the Catholic Church is for capitalism - and isn't:
"Catholic 'economic' teaching is applicable to the contemporary global economy. It would also be applicable in the sort of economy we had when Ig and Og ganged up on Oog to steal his stick. We're against that sort of thing, by the way."
(March 13, 2010)
My guess is that, 2,000 years from now, Catholic teaching will still insist that it isn't right to take Oog's stick away from him by force - and it'll be criticized by the serious thinkers of 4010.

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.