Buddha and Women, Pt. 1

Henry Karlson

Inter-religious dialogue tells us something about gender:  it can show us how different cultures have dealt with the questions that New Feminists ask today.


Dialogue is an important part of the human experience.  Our existence as persons comes to us through our relations with others.  To establish good, healthy relationships, we need to be able to speak, to learn from each other. Through dialogue, we get to hear the views of others.  We get to understand them and who they are: we find a way to respect them as a person even if we do not agree with their views or actions. 

The dignity of the human person requires an openness to the other, to let the other make themselves known. It also expects reciprocity.  When we come together to dialogue we want to be heard.  We must come willing to share who we are, what we believe.  Especially important in dialogue is the need to be honest about oneself, one’s experiences in life, one’s beliefs and practices.  We shouldn’t hide from someone that which we think they don’t want to hear.  We must be able to reveal to the other; that is, we must become vulnerable to them.  We can’t hide what appears to be a point of contention with someone else.  If we do so, we are being dishonest.  We are giving them a false sense of who we are and they will come out of the discussion not really understanding us.  This is what I have learned through my exploration of inter-religious dialogue.  It is a truth not just for inter-religious dialogue, but for all dialogue when we come across someone who is different from us.  It shows us how and why we can learn from people from all kinds of faiths. 

Inter-religious dialogue also can tell us something about gender. It can show us how different cultures have dealt with the questions that New Feminists ask today. We can learn about the difficulties people have faced as a result of their gender, difficulties which might raise questions as to what different religious traditions believe about gender even today.  Since New Feminism is concerned about the human experience, about the real-world lived experiences of people from all faiths and backgrounds, I want to bring up two interesting examples from Buddhism where the question of gender had been raised.  Through them, we can see the questions which come to us today are not new ones, not ones exclusive to the Western tradition: they are universal questions which can be examined time and time again, always reforming our thought. 

The first example comes from the beginning of Buddhism.  Siddartha (the Buddha) was a man of his time.  Though he questioned the structures of society and ontologically overturned them, he also saw that cultural traditions were not something one can entirely repudiate and expect people to listen.  His way was a middle way, where he accepted the relative value of one’s culture while working to transform society from within.  He criticized the absolute nature of the Hindu caste system, but he saw one could use it as a relative structure for morality, emphasizing that the true “brahmin” was not one who was born a brahmin, but one who earned it through deeds. 

Because he relativized the caste system, one might think Siddartha would have dealt with the place of women in society.  In reality, it took the action of his friend, Ananda, to raise the question.  Siddartha had been teaching men how to become monks, but he had nothing similar for women.  Siddartha’s aunt, Mahapajapati, wanted to become a nun.  Ananda asked the question:  are women incapable of entering Nirvana?  Siddhartha said no, they could also attain Nirvana.   

That being the case, Ananda asked why the Buddha had been hesitant in allowing women to form their own monastic communities?  Siddartha said that if women were willing to follow eight conditions he set forth, he would allow the creation of a female order within the Buddhist community (the Sangha).  In this way, Siddartha was to establish a rule for women, to allow them to become nuns, separate from, different from men, but nonetheless, capable of Buddhist practice and attaining Nirvana.  The ramifications of this would be questioned time and again. 

In my next post, I will explore them as I address one of the most important  and interesting ways the question of gender was re-addressed in Buddhism, one in which cultural biases were further negated.  The response allowed a positive value of the feminine gender while denying the prejudices against it from times past (unlike the Buddha’s).

Breast Cancer, Pt. 2

Angela Lanfranchi, M.D.

We know for sure that there is hope for prevention of breast cancer.


Look at what happened in 2002 after the Women’s Health Initiative Study became known to the public when it made the 6 o’clock news. Women found out that hormone replacement therapy, Pempro, increased breast cancer risk by 26%.  That summer 15 million or half of the 30 million women that were on HRT abruptly stopped.  As one of my patients said, “I’d rather have hot flashes than cancer.” 

Just a few years later in 2007, it was reported that there was an 11% decline in breast cancer rates in women over 50 with estrogen receptor positive cancers. After much scientific debate, those in the medical field conceded that the decline in rates was attributable to the reduction in the use of HRT. 

Information that these hormones could cause breast cancer was in the medical literature for over 20 years.  But when that knowledge was put in the hands of women who needed and considered it, many acted upon it and breast cancer rates fell. 

What do you think will happen when women learn that these same hormones are in oral contraceptives but in much higher doses?  Will half of the 75% of premenopausal women in theUnited Stateswho take hormonal contraceptives stop these hormones like their mothers did after menopause? 

Since 1975, according to the National Cancer Institute SEER data, non invasive breast cancers have increased in women less than 50 by 400%.  What if they learn that in 2005 the UN’s World Health Organization listed oral contraceptives as Group 1 carcinogens, the same group that contains asbestos and cigarettes?  I bet that they will learn about the safer methods of fertility control, especially if they have a family history of breast cancer. 

Breast cancer rates would fall for premenopausal women too. 

What if women knew that having children and breastfeeding decreased breast cancer risk substantially?  Would we wait so long to have our children if we knew that a woman who waits to have her first child at 30 has a 90% higher risk of breast cancer than the woman who has her first child at 20?  I wouldn’t have waited until I was 41 to have my first and only child if I had known. Unplanned pregnancies could bring unplanned joy and adoption could be a better option. 

It is often said by cancer organizations that 70% of women with breast cancer have no identifiable risk factors and that we should give them money to find a cure.  It is simply untrue that 70% of all breast cancer patients have no identifiable risk factors.   If 75% of women of reproductive age have taken oral contraceptives they are at increased risk.  If 20% of the women in this country remain childless, they are at increased risk.  If 50% of post menopausal women have taken hormone replacement therapy, they are at increased risk. 

Let’s be more than “aware” regarding breast cancer.  You’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to be aware that breast cancer exists and is a threat to many women.  It’s on the TV news and cable channels, radio, the internet, magazines, newspapers, and even the shopping channel as a patient once told me.  You can’t even go to the grocery store during “awareness” month without being faced with pink ribbons on food containers to benefit one organization or another. 

Let’s be proactive and not just aware. Let’s be proactive make women aware that breast cancer is curable in many cases if not in at least half those diagnosed with screening mammograms. 

We already know lots about what causes breast cancer and what can increase a woman’s risk.  Breast cancer is not the fickle finger of fate randomly pointed at women.  There are many other avoidable risks. We can hope and expect to reduce breast cancer rates with prevention. 

And what of the hope in survivorship? 

There are 2.5 million survivors of breast cancer in our country right now.  Wouldn’t it be a shame if they worried everyday that their cancer might come back, waiting for the other shoe to drop or with the sword of Damocles over their head?  Not able to enjoy life to the fullest?   Or didn’t do the things that would reduce the risk of it coming back?

They need to know that there is a wonderful survivorship programs around the country. The name of one program is Transitions.  It is a national Wellness Community program that helps women to overcome the challenges of survivorship.  There is also a Kids Connect program that helps children to overcome the challenges of having a parent with a cancer diagnosis. 

In a nutshell, hope comes through knowledge and the gift of faith. Both are free for the asking. Visit www.bcpinstitute.org

(This two part post was adapted from a speech given by Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, MD FACS during the 7th Annual Shades of Pink Celebration Proclaiming Breast Cancer Awareness Month.)


Breast Cancer, Pt. 1

Angela Lanfranchi, M.D.

Breast cancer not only affects a woman, it affects her spouse, family, friends and most especially her children.  What better way to conquer fear than the grace of hope.  Hope in a cure.  Hope in prevention.  Hope that whatever it is they will be challenged with, that they will be able to surmount it and live their lives to fullest each day into their survivorship. 

This is part 1 of a two part post on breast cancer.  Today, I focus on the hope in a cure.   

We all hear that 1 in 8 women, or 12.5% of women, will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. That is the cumulative lifetime risk for breast cancer. It is a statistically derived number that assumes all women will live to be the age of 82 and not die of something else first. Many times, women hear that number 1 in 8 and they look about the room and start counting off: “1, 2, 3” and they believe that someone in that room will get breast cancer if there are more than 8 of them. 

But we also need to know that if a women has no risks for breast cancer (other than that she is a woman, living in this country and getting older) her risk of getting breast cancer is only 3.3%.

Unfortunately few women have no risk factors.  But even if she has a risk factor that increases her risk 100%, or doubles her breast cancer risk, her risk is now only 6.6%.  That’s a lot different from one in eight. 

We also need to hear that a woman’s chance of dying from breast cancer in this country is 1 in 35, or less than 3%. 

So can we really hope for a cure?

 Most women are unaware that it’s already happening.  Lots of women are being cured without great fanfare. You see, one is only officially cured of breast cancer when one dies of something else first, like a heart attack in old age. That’s just how statistics are done and reported.  We hear about 5 and 10 year survival rates.  Maybe some 10 year survivors will have a relapse of cancer.  So we have to wait until they die of something else first before we say they were cured.

But what about women who have stage 0 breast cancer, also known as ductal carcinoma in situ or DCIS? With a partial mastectomy and radiation, they have a 97% cure rate.  With mastectomy they have a 99.9% cure rate.  No chemotherapy is needed to cure them. According to the American Cancer Society, there were 62,280 women diagnosed with in-situ breast cancer in 2009. We can expect that a minimum of 60,411 to be cured!  We just can’t know who they are until they die of something else first.

What about women with Stage 1 invasive breast cancers? Those are the women with small tumors, less than ¾ of an inch, which have not spread to the lymph nodes under the arm. Those women have a 95% cure rate. Since there are many patients with Stage 1 breast cancer treated at my clinic, I would expect the vast majority to be cured with present treatment regimens.

At the Steeplechase Cancer Center where I work, 53% of all patients who are found to have cancer were detected just because they went for a screening mammogram – nobody thought they had cancer when they were screened.  Slightly over half, 53%, were Stage 0 and Stage 1.  That’s why mammograms are so important.  They give women excellent odds for a cure and no bookie would take a bet against them. 

Based upon data when treatment wasn’t as sophisticated and effective as it is now, the 5 year survival rate for tumors up to 2 inches and which had already spread to local lymph nodes, or Stage 2 breast cancers, is 86%.  So I do believe there will be even higher cure rates in the future. 

Tomorrow, we will take a look at the hope in prevention of breast cancer.

Religious Convictions

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

Stand Up for Religious Freedom San Francisco rally took place on Friday, March 23 at the Federal Building Plaza.  It was one of the 140 rallies held on Friday across the country, coast to coast.  Armed with copies of the Women Speak for Themselves open letter to President Obama, Michele Coldiron and her fellow New Feminists gathered over 250 signatures.  I spoke at the rally and offered the New Feminist perspective on the HHS mandate.

Good afternoon everyone! I am here to talk to you as a FEMINIST.

I am a lawyer and a feminist:  a New Feminist.  I come from a long line of authentic feminists who caused change in this country: ending slavery and child labor, treating the poor with compassion, securing the right to vote for women. 

These authentic feminists caused change because of their religious convictions.  Susan B. Anthony fought for the right of women to vote from her religious conviction that God gave women the same dignity as men. Katharine Drexel fought racism and the Ku Klux Klan from a religious conviction that God made all persons with equal dignity. 

I could stand here all day and go through long list of women who changed this country because they acted upon their religious convictions.  These are women – like all of the women here today – who say, “I cannot just sit around and talk about my religious convictions.  That’s ridiculous.”  Religious conviction without action, without the right to act upon it, is hot air.

President Obama wants to take away the right to act, the right of Catholics and people of faith to act upon their religious convictions regarding abortion and contraception.  He wants the Catholics to go to the back of the bus and stay there.  He wants them to stay in the back of the bus and chat among themselves.     

I am a Catholic and I do not want to go to the back of the bus.  I don’t want my bus fare to pay for abortions and contraception that I know are bad for women, men, children and families.  I know these are wrong through my religious convictions. 

You may not agree with me about my religious convictions, but I think you will agree that I have a right to say so and to act upon my religious convictions.

President Obama and Secretary Sebelius think my religious convictions on these issues are nothing but hot air.  They should know better.  They should remember Rosa Parks.  In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to stay in the back of the bus.  She was a woman of religious conviction and action.

One day Rosa Parks said, “No, I will not go to the back of the bus today.  I will never go to the back of the bus again.” 

Every woman here today, every single one of you is just like Rosa Parks.  We are women like Rosa Parks and we are sitting down in the front of the bus today. We are demanding our right to act upon our religious convictions. 

Being here today means you are a woman of action and a woman of faith. Nearly 25,000 women of action and women of faith have signed a letter to President Obama demanding our rights to practice our faith in public.  We want you to join us and sign the letter.  There are women in the crowd who can give you a copy of the letter and take your signature.  Or you can go to www.WomenSpeakForThemselves.org and sign the letter.

It’s short and sweet and to the point. 

We are women who support the competing voice offered by Catholic institutions on matters of sex, marriage and family life. Most of us are Catholic, but some are not. We are Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Many, at some point in our careers, have worked for a Catholic institution. We are proud to have been part of the religious mission of that school, or hospital, or social service organization. We are proud to have been associated not only with the work Catholic institutions perform in the community – particularly for the most vulnerable — but also with the shared sense of purpose found among colleagues who chose their job because, in a religious institution, a job is always also a vocation.

Those currently invoking “women’s health” in an attempt to shout down anyone who disagrees with forcing religious institutions or individuals to violate deeply held beliefs are more than a little mistaken, and more than a little dishonest. Even setting aside their simplistic equation of “costless” birth control with “equality,” note that they have never responded to the large body of scholarly research indicating that many forms of contraception have serious side effects, or that some forms act at some times to destroy embryos, or that government contraceptive programs inevitably change the sex, dating and marriage markets in ways that lead to more empty sex, more non-marital births and more abortions. It is women who suffer disproportionately when these things happen.

No one speaks for all women on these issues. Those who purport to do so are simply attempting to deflect attention from the serious religious liberty issues currently at stake. Each of us, Catholic or not, is proud to stand with the Catholic Church and its rich, life-affirming teachings on sex, marriage and family life. We call on President Obama and our Representatives in Congress to allow religious institutions and individuals to continue to witness to their faiths in all their fullness.

Please join us.  Please sign this letter.  Refuse to take your religious convictions to the back of President Obama’s bus.

My Sister’s Keeper

Jennifer Lahl

What does it say about a society which permits, no, which condones the use of medicine and technology for the sole purpose of creating human life just to destroy it? It says we are a culture that has morally lost its way.

My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult’s novel turned film takes on an important and real-life issue known as “savior sibling.”

A “savior sibling” refers to the creation of a genetically matched human being, in order to be the savior of a sick child in need of a donor. This requires creating human embryos in vitro, then, using pre-implantation technology, the embryos are tested, and the one deemed genetically compatible is implanted into the mother’s womb. Once that baby is delivered, the cord blood is collected because it provides a perfect match for the sick sibling. Later on, bone marrow, blood, or even organs, can also be taken and used for transplantation for the sick sibling.

Savior siblings are already a reality, and the use of such practices in the United States is not prohibited. Adam Nash is a well-known savior sibling in the U.S. Adam was born in 2000 to rescue his sister Mollie, who was diagnosed with Fanconi’s anemia. Mollie would have otherwise succumbed to death if not for a matched donor. The Nashes created 30 embryos and went through four rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) to finally produce Adam. Of course, the ethics of the disposition of the 29 other embryos is quite problematic. Adam was chosen, 29 other human lives were not, simply because their DNA was not able to rescue Mollie from a deadly diagnosis.

In Picoult’s story, the film opens with a voice-over narration of Anna Fitzgerald, the savior sibling. Anna describes herself as a “designer baby.” Note to self: Beware of euphemisms. Euphemisms are rampant in the world of IVF. Selective reduction refers to a situation in which many embryos are transferred into a mother’s womb, and then if too many of them implant, the physician, (with the parents’ consent), removes the “extra” embryos. Family balancing, social sex-selection and gender selection are terms used to discuss the use of these technologies to intentionally select your children based on their sex and your preference for a boy or a girl. The practice of social sex-selection is banned in Canada, so Canadians who wish to order the sex of their children come to the U.S. Surely these are symptoms of a culture in decline!

Anna Fitzgerald, the self-described designer baby — designer not as in Prada, or Gucci — was designed for the purpose of being the donor for her sick sister, Kate. Anna suggests that the doctors took the best part of her mom’s DNA and the best part of her dad’s DNA and voila — the perfect match was made. If we as a society are going to be able to have an earnest conversation on the ethics of creating savior siblings, we must be intellectually honest with the facts. Embryos — as in multiple embryos, were created, and then tested, and only the one that would provide the genetic match was brought to term. The other embryos were discarded.

And here is the heart of the ethical matter. Technology, apart from any ethics, has progressed to the point where, for the first time in history, we are able to intentionally create human life and allow it to fully develop solely because we need that life to save another. And perhaps even more worrisome is the reality that other lives were created and destroyed because they did not meet the need of another. In our desire to relieve suffering, seek healing, and avoid death, we have crossed a bright ethical line by seeking to use one human life for the good of another.

Whether we look for moral guidance from our religious texts or to secular historical documents, it is important that we as a society remain rooted in the belief in the inherent dignity of all persons. The U.N. Declaration on Human Rights warns that wherever there is “disregard and contempt for human rights,” “barbarous acts” are sure to follow. Surely, the rights of the savior sibling have been denied when from their first breath they are being used as a means to an end.

Early in the film, Anna hires an attorney and announces, “I want to sue my parents for the rights to my own body.” From the moment of birth, she has been denied the full rights to her own body, and to willingly and freely be her sister’s keeper.

Holistically Speaking: Part Two

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

So what is holistic health, and how can women on all sides of the issue come to practice it?

Holistic health is not just eating organically or not eating organically. For if holistic health only accounts for the food we put into our bodies, it is not truly holistic. To be holistic, we must view the human being as a whole—not as many parts. We must see all of that whole—mind, body, soul—as valuable, and perhaps even sacred. Holistic health takes into account consequences to any part of the self or to those outside of the self. It only allows for harm if harm is an unintended consequence of a good action. It never allows for harm for the sake of some good outcome.

To treat the body holistically is to constantly pursue that which is good for the human being with regard for that human being’s total self. If we are splitting the self into parts—seeking the good for only the body, only the mind, or only the soul—then we are not fulfilling the duty we have to our loved ones and to ourselves.

And so I challenge those who fall into the category of the stereotypical holistic health promoters: be more holistic. To those mothers concerned with their children’s fruit and vegetable intake versus their sugar intake—be concerned also with their good intake versus their evil intake and admit that such a distinction exists just as clearly, if not more. For I can guarantee you, from a holistic health perspective, the evil will actually cause more harm than the sugar. To those women (and men) who avidly practice yoga and meditation to bring balance to their bodies and spirits: learn and master the practice of virtue to bring balance to everything. Although I’m pretty sure yoga is helpful, I know with full certainty that virtue is.

The other day I was talking with my friend on the phone about green smoothies. We were sharing tips and various health advice and after getting off the phone with her I thought about how nice it is that we can encourage and even challenge each other in our pursuit of bodily health. But then I immediately thought of how much luckier I am for the conversations I’ve had with her and other friends about our pursuits of moral health. Because this type of conversation is all too rare.  In fact, such conversations among friends have become fairly taboo. We figure that moral decisions should be completely up to the individual and that we shouldn’t meddle. And yet, we find it entirely appropriate to meddle in peoples’ health decisions. Most mothers haven’t stopped taking their kids to the doctor. But many mothers have stopped taking their kids to church. Most girlfriends work out together and give each other tips on staying in shape, but most girlfriends don’t give each other substantial tips about how to stay married or how to find deep fulfillment in life. Something seems to be terribly out of balance! (And anything out of balance should not be allowed within the ideology of holistic health.)

And on the other side of the spectrum—those who see the hypocrisy of the stereotypical natural health gurus and therefore completely dismiss such ideologies—I challenge you as well to be truly holistic in your thinking. I speak to the moms who do mind what comes out of their kids’ mouths… but don’t mind so much about what goes into them. Or those who take their children to church, but don’t take their children to see different doctors when maybe the mainstream one isn’t taking into consideration the child’s whole body perspective. To this group (and I used to be part of it)—you know the body is a temple. And that’s not just a quote to encourage fifteen-year- old girls to be modest. It means that God gave you something very precious to take care of and it is your solemn duty to do so. Do whatever research, get whatever second opinions you need—find out how it is best to take care of that temple and do it well. Be open minded because we don’t fully understand the body yet and there are always new ideas coming out about how we can better take care of it. Don’t be stubborn and lazy. Don’t snicker at the juice-drinking, bra-less yoga teacher when she stands on her head. She may have a virtue that you don’t have. Sure, you may have some she doesn’t have. But both the body and soul are important, and as one who understands the soul you should know well the duty you have to your body.

Unfortunately, I cannot find the speaker of this quote, nor the quote in its correct form. But I once read a quote on a tea bag said by an Asian philosopher and it went something like this: Your body is the only house your soul will ever have. If you destroy your body, where will you go? I think it makes a good point to those who like to think they can eat, drink, and exercise or not exercise however they like as long as they go to church on Sunday. Conversely, I know of a Jewish philosopher who once said: What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? I also think that this quote makes a wonderful point to those who like to think they can act however they feel according to their changing and relative morality, as long as they attend their yoga classes, drink their juice, and recycle their plastics.

Being holistic isn’t easy. I’m always finding glitches in my program and gaps in my life where I’m not reaching the good for my whole self. Being holistic can be frustrating, and sometimes it may not seem worth it. I’m sitting here typing and my back and legs hurt from the fibromyalgia pain I can’t seem to cure. My head also hurts because I haven’t developed the discipline to go to bed earlier and get the sleep I need. And my soul? What about the courage and patience I wish I had more of? Sometimes I wonder if any of it is progressing at all. But I am ever reminded that holistic health is not a result, but instead, a way of life. Holistic health won’t always “cure” everything. In fact, it may not seem to “cure” anything—and that is in no way our fault. As soon as we worry about the specific results, we become compartmentalized in our thinking and miss the point. And what is that point? That we do the best we can. Because in the end holistic health is about love. About sacrificially loving everyone and everything who has been entrusted to us completely and entirely. And that love has the potential to lift the human person above and beyond the sickness, (even if the sickness remains). The attitude of holistic health won’t always cure, but it will bring about true peace for the whole self, even when the parts may be disjointed, stubborn, or falling apart. It is an attitude that actually sees beyond death—and into a time when everything will be made whole again.

So let us, for the sake of ourselves and all who depend on us, think and act holistically.

Holistically Speaking

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

About eight years ago my mom tried acupuncture – and it changed my life.

At first, I protested, NOOOO YOU CAN’T!! THAT’S NEW AGE! But one of her doctors had highly recommended acupuncture and pointed to some science to back it up. My mom wasn’t selling her soul to anything, and it was worth trying if it could help her feel better.  But I remained as skeptical of acupuncture as I was about all the environmental/health issues which we often associate with liberalism, new age-ism, and/or radical feminism.

Now, just a few years later, I am a pescatarian, gluten-free eater, acupuncture client, whole foods-shopper, seasonal eater, backyard garden grower, almost completely raw diet eater, herb user, and in the process, have almost cured my Crohn’s disease and many other bodily ailments.  Perhaps more important than any of these cures is the realization I came to during these past years.

I already knew that women tend to be the ones most concerned with our health. (Yes, sometimes it’s the men who are the health conscience ones in the family—but not usually.) We are the mothers, the wives, the sisters; the ones who make sure we eat our greens and brush our teeth and go for our yearly physicals. As my fiancé remarked the other day, “I see now why men get so unhealthy when they’re single… I can’t wait till we’re married and you’ll make me eat healthy.” And it’s true. My fiancé completely supports my pursuit of holistic health, but on many occasions, when left to his own devices, his meal may consist of string cheese and gummy worms.

My realization instead was this:  Holistic health has been associated with the wrong group of women. It is actually not in line with the manifestos of those who preach relativism, new age religion, or those who demand birth control insured by their employer.

In fact, if you use birth control to control birth, you are not thinking about health in a holistic way. You are thinking about health in a compartmentalized and short-term way. To take the morning after pill, to preach that abortion, premarital sex, euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, and the like are relative issues, and then to insist that parabens in shampoo are bad for you or that it is best to eat locally is very contradictory.

Conversly, while there is hypocrisy among the stereotypical holistic health promoters, there is hypocrisy also among those on the other side. There are those Catholics, Christians, conservatives, etc who have no interest in or may be close minded toward the holistic health movement or health in general. As I will later address, these are the people who, according to their doctrine, ought to be most in favor of holistic health.

As women, we are born nurturers. It is a biological fact. And for the rest of our lives, people, including ourselves, will depend on us and come to us for care and healing—whether it be our children, our husbands, our boyfriends, our friends, our mothers, our fathers. Thus it is our responsibility to open our minds, whichever side we are already on, and consider what is best for the total well being of those we love.

To be continued in my next post.


Can Feminists Dialogue? ~Pt. 2

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

I continue my post whether Feminists can dialogue from yesterday, when I described, I hope fairly, Trend One, Progressive Feminists. 

Trend Two, New Feminists.  Here fall many women who have taken birth control pills, had abortions, practiced promiscuity, marched, screamed and shouted at sexist, porker pigs – and then changed their minds, reemerging as New Feminists.  Many of us are so similar to Trend One women in education, background, experience and privilege that no demographic can sort us neatly.  Trend Two includes women who did not go the route of Progressive Feminist but who have appreciated and defended many of the legal and cultural achievements of the original American feminists, and who were not side tracked by agendas to neutralize, denigrate or, now, commoditize women’s fertility and the mother-child relationship.

Some Trend Two women have reported religious conversions or experiences that resolved anger or dissonance.  Others have concluded that Mother Nature had a far greater hand in creating differences between the sexes than could fairly be blamed upon sexist, porker pigs and that the progressive feminist movement had become oddly determined to make women into better men than men.  Many Trend Two women object that girls and young women are being encouraged in lifestyles and choices that lead to emotional and physical illnesses later in life.  Trend Two women often say that they could no longer pretend that a tiny fetus with a beating heart was not a child; and that being a mother and wife brought out very powerful feminine attributes that benefit all of humanity.  

Some Trend Two women parted company with Trend One thinking to resolve a nagging discomfort with moral relativism – a relativism that seems to threaten humanity with a pre-modern domination by a superior, worthier class. This blog, www.NewFeminism.co, for example, is dedicated to such a Trend Two woman, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese.  Professor Fox-Genovese wrote of her own taking leave with her Trend One senses,

[M]y commitment to women’s right to develop their talents predisposed me to support the legality of abortion, at least up to a certain point. Even then, I found it impossible not to take seriously the life of the fetus that was being so casually cast aside. The emerging discussions of assisted suicide only intensified my discomfort, as I found myself worrying about one human being deciding whether another’s life is worth living. “How do we know?” I kept asking myself. “How ever can we know?”

An interesting example of a Trend Two woman is the wife of Kelly’s “Mad Man”, jerk and dinosaur, Rick Santorum.  That “wife” is actually a well educated woman whose life and background speak volumes about the assumptions still driving Trend One passions.  Subject of a recent Trend One hit piece by Nancy Hass, it turns out the Karen Garvey Santorum was once pro-choice and progressive, the live-in girlfriend of a Pittsburgh abortionist.  In a more thoughtful consideration of her rejection of both abortion and the abortionist she lived with, and her decision to embrace an orthodox Catholic lifestyle, the New York Times set Ms. Garvey’s transformation in the complex relational context that have lead many Trend One women to question, and even abandon, the basic Trend One assumption that unrestricted individualism offers the primary path of female fulfillment.  That context included meeting and falling in love with Rick Santorum who, himself, was not practicing religion at the time or asserting the conservative positions that would emerge from his partnership and marriage with Ms. Garvey.

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I can count among prominent women leadership in America today dozens of Trend Two women, running nonprofits, winning political office, writing and speaking on social issues facing women.  Steadily the voices of Trend Two women are being raised in search of policies that preserve feminine qualities, protect the unique role of women within families and regard female fertlity – and the female body – as worthy of protection as the environment itself.  

It is unsettling that the greatest opposition and scorn to women’s “new” feminism voices come from other women.

The lack of nuance and basic respect by Trend One commentators toward “Beatrices” (see yesterday’s post), non-Western (often religious) women and women who question Trend One assumptions, brings to mind a note our daughter once received from the “most popular” girl in the 6th grade class of her new school.  The note read:

You’ve been here 2 months.  It’s almost Christmas break.  You need to know that me and my friends do not like you.

The prevailing Trend One message is equally transparent:  the “Beatrices” of the world – no matter how faithful and loyal in their work and families – as well as Trend Two women – no matter how educated or accomplished – know that Trend One women do not “like” any us.  Trend Two women have been criticized, snubbed, yelled at and called rather vicious names, often on the Internet and in public – often by people who we thought once were friends.  It’s a stark fact that Trend Two women, New Feminists, often raise their questions and concerns at the cost of friendships and professional relationships they held dear. 

That, however, does not change our experiences and our wish that Trend One women would stop blaming a vast right wing conspiracy of Alpha males for opinions that are originating and resonating with other women.  Trend Two women invite Trend One women to step up to the pressing need for dialogue among women, about women.  We could start, for example, with the elimination of girls through abortion worldwide.  

So I ask again, can women with deep differences dialogue respectfully?

Can Feminists Dialogue?

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

To what do we attribute the public bickering of the women of Planned Parenthood and the women of Susan G. Komen over effective breast cancer funding?  Why did the women involved come across as emotional and unable to dialogue over differences?  I suggest that two trends are clashing and I ask, 

“Can women with deep differences in
perspective dialogue respectfully?” 


In today’s post, I offer:  Trend One, Progressive Feminists.  Tomorrow, I’ll post Trend Two, New Feminists.  I invite you to consider both descriptions, call me out (nicely please) and consider whether these two groups of feminists can dialogue. 

Trend One, Progressive Feminists.  Often demanders of free contraception and morning after pills for all menstruating females and unrestricted abortion without parental consent (including late term and for sex selection), these women are intensely earnest and often privileged.  They fight along the same battle lines drawn by Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan.  Trend One women favor terms like “inner raging feminist,” “pissed off” and “outraged.” 

Trend One is well represented by “Kelly” who blogged recently in response to opposition to the HHS contraception mandate: 

“You all can kiss my healthy, birth-controlled, educated, middle-class, well-traveled ass.” 

To explain, this blogger – a veteran Foreign Service spouse – featured her maid, an African woman who cared for her children and cleaned her house during her husband’s 1990s post in Zambia. Kelly offered her employee “Beatrice” as a poster child for her personal opinions on contraception which, Kelly passionately believes, is a woman’s entitlement in order to avoid the nightmarish existence of the “Beatrices” of the world.  Kelly posted a photograph of Beatrice embracing a little, blond haired white child (presumably Kelly’s child) and described Beatrice to her worldwide audience as follows.

Beatrice was about 35 at the time she worked for me, and had eight children, which was actually below the average per woman for Zambia at that time. But hey, she still had a good ten years to work on that. She was always tired, slightly stooped, and walked like a woman twenty years older than she was. Her breasts were long, wrinkled tubes that she pulled out of her blouse and literally unrolled when her youngest needed to nurse.


According to Kelly, it was Beatrice’s uncontracepted brood that brought Beatrice to this state, not caring for Kelly’s children or cleaning house for United States Foreign Service spouses.  Like many Trend One women, Kelly earnestly believes that she represents all women.   As Kelly put it, “we have just about all known at least one “Beatrice.” and “I have not yet heard one woman of my acquaintance express [a point of view that opposes the HHS mandate or agrees that the HHS mandate implicates religious freedom.]   Not one.  Because we know that contraception is as basic to health care as childhood immunizations.”

From Kelly’s perspective, the push back on the HHS mandate reflects the “plot” of a persistent men’s collective of “jerks and dinosaurs” and “Sexist Porkers” who are “probably terrified of women. . . . All I can say,“ Kelly wrote on behalf of her and her friends, “is I KNOW these guys.  As women, we’ve all met a few.“  Kelly points to Rick Santorum as an example of this male collective of “Mad Men,” mentioning only in passing, and unnamed, his wife and mother of seven children.  Kelly summarized, “I am deeply suspicious when a sanctimonious twerp like him starts talking about birth control being “unhealthy.”  

I want to say two things about Trend One women here, and then continue to Trend Two, New Feminists tomorrow.  First, I understand Kelly’s pointed point of view.  We educated, privileged American women have all  interacted with women who we conclude have not enjoyed an education, range of choice and options that allow them to hold primary what most women hold dear.  Second, I do not understand the judgmental exposure of personal detail to the entire world of a woman who has served so personally in order to make a political point – has any male ever publicized the state of his male employee’s penis to make a political point?  Are we as women to sacrifice compassion, sisterhood, dialogue and context upon the altar of our own political opinion?  What is more important?  ~our personal political opinion or our sisterhood? 

More tomorrow . . .