This month we’ve seen a strange confluence of developments, anniversaries, and events bringing the subject of “women and war” to the editorial pages of national newspapers and to the fore of the public consciousness. Last week, the US Senate Armed Services Committee included a Selective Service registration requirement for women in its version of the NDAA, making it likely that after a century of pursing freedom and equality—oftentimes in terms of a right to ownership over one’s own body—women might finally have an equal shot at indentured servitude. At Scripps College in Claremont, California, some students and faculty protested the choice of Madeleine Albright, first female Secretary of State, as their commencement speaker. This is all happening against the backdrop of Hillary Clinton’s second presidential run and the media hype surrounding the possibility of electing “our” first female president and thus “our” first female Commander-in-Chief. Earlier this month, Camille Paglia caused quite a stir when she wrote over at Salon that Clinton has “skimmed along in her bouncing gender bubble, virtually untouched…Far from Hillary…having a harder time as a woman candidate, she has been habitually shielded by her gender.” For writing that, Madeleine Albright would surely condemn Paglia to that “special place in hell” reserved for women who do not help each other!
And speaking of heaven and hell, this past Friday (May 13) was the 100th anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin Mary to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal, during World War I (if you count the apparition in 1917 as the first). Our Lady of Fatima said: “Do not be afraid. I will not harm you…I am from heaven….pray the rosary every day to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war.” Americans celebrate Mother’s Day in May, but for Catholics this takes on double significance, as the whole month of May is considered the month of Mary, our Divine Mother. Since 1999, May has also been designated Military Appreciation Month. By looking more closely at the Scripps College protests, I hope to show how all of these things are related, and to remind readers, especially female readers, that we are, in the words of Catholic monk Thomas Merton,“living in a time of ultimate decision.”
The Scripps College Controversy Memorializing Motherho... Best Price: $22.95 Buy New $22.95 (as of 08:15 EST - Details)
On March 4, in the Scripps College campus newspaper, a student named Kinzie Mabon expressed, with endearing goodwill and surprising humility, her opposition to having Albright as a commencement speaker. She called Albright’s atrocities “mistakes.” She concluded: “…we cannot allow people to escape from criticism simply because they’re women.” Some faculty members also wrote a letter, laying out their well-reasoned, well-supported argument that Albright is a “war criminal” and an overseer of “genocide,” which belied a detailed knowledge of Albright’s career and an all-too-rare conscientiousness about the moral issue of killing. They believed that the women’s liberal arts college should “not simply emulate and celebrate those individuals who participate in the U.S. state power and wield its violence.” I encourage you to read their letters for yourself, available here and here.
I was disappointed to see that in her L.A. Times column, Megan Daum flippantly ridiculed the Albright protests as immature “mewling” and dismissed the seriousness of the protesters’ arguments and thoughtfulness of their reasoning in their letters (which she didn’t bother to link to, so I won’t link to hers!) as “social media talking points.” This was funny because Daum’s column, itself, reads like a series of barely connected Tweets and quotes, shallow at best if you can make sense of it. The 442-word rant she cobbled together is a mishmash of vague references to issues as varied as political correctness on campus, morality in war, and the demands of “true” feminism; it seems almost intended to conflate and confuse. In another L.A. Times article, reporter Rosanna Xia framed the controversy as a breezy lesson on how you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Her article makes the choice of Albright sound dignified in comparison to the celebrities and bloggers that other (read: less serious) students would have preferred. The L.A. Times editorial board scolded the protesting students for being “so sensitive”. They wrote: “But is Albright really a ‘war criminal,’ as some students have charged? Does she belong in a category with Bashar Assad and Pol Pot? That strikes us as excessive.” But they don’t explain why it strikes them as excessive, they refuse to address the actual points made by the protesters, and they fail to define what constitutes “genocide” or a “war crime” or “excessive” in their view. Both the Xia article and the letter from the editorial board feature photographs of young women: not Kinzie Mabon, but the three young women responsible for bringing Madeleine Albright to the school (Jennie Xu, Grace Dahlstrom, and Meagan McIntyr).
One observation on which I agree with Rosanna Xia is that the controversy seemed to center on the question of “what constitutes a female role model.” The faculty letter complains that: “representing the category of ‘woman’ in this way [with Madeleine Albright] evacuates feminism of its anti-racist, anti-paternalistic, and anti-imperialist potential to address those lives that are systematically made vulnerable to sickness and death.” I would more or less agree. It is too bad that many people today can no longer even hear the word “feminism” without shuddering in disgust. First wave feminism was really very different than the movement we know today. One thing that makes feminism’s “potential” clear is the history of Mother’s Day; it also shows us that the “evacuation” of the potential that the faculty speaks of is part of a larger historical pattern. There are two women who are widely recognized as the founders of Mother’s Day, and it is interesting that if you look at both of their legacies, you see that Mother’s Day, unquestionably, grew from peace movements.
Julia Ward Howe
Julia Ward Howe was an abolitionist. In 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, it was she who penned “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” A far cry from an antiwar song, this popular “hymn” promoted ideas about sanctified warfare in the spirit of the Crusades, painting the South as demonic, the armed forces of the North as an instrument of God’s justice, and those who die for the North’s cause as martyrs. Her husband was one of the “Secret Six” who backed John Brown in his raid on Harper’s Fairy. This woman clearly had no problem with war or violence! But something must have changed, because by 1870, after the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, she was singing a different tune. She started advocating for June 2 to be declared a “Mother’s Day for Peace,” and she made her “Appeal to womanhood throughout the world,” otherwise known as the Mother’s Day Proclamation:
Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether our baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly : We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of council. Killing from the Insid... Best Price: $15.00 Buy New $16.99 (as of 06:45 EST - Details)
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God. In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women, without limit of nationality, may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient, and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.
When Howe’s campaign for a Mother’s Day of Peace wasn’t successful, she went one step further and started saying that Independence Day, itself, should be changed to a Mother’s Day for Peace! Howe envisioned that on this day women would “gather in parlors, churches or social halls to listen to sermons, present essays, sing hymns or pray… the theme of the day [being] how to bring God’s peace on earth” (25). An inaugural Mother’s Day for Peace happened in 1873, but it failed to catch.
Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis
Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis (1832-1905) was a dedicated community leader and beloved peace activist in western Virginia. She borne thirteen children, but only four of them survived to adulthood. Diseases like typhoid and measles were running rampant and grief was a constant in her life. In 1858, when she was pregnant with her sixth child, she organized “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” with the goal of improving sanitation, education, and public health. The clubs invited physicians to give lectures on the proper cleaning and feeding of children, organized quarantines to contain outbreaks and offered aid to ailing mothers who couldn’t care for their own families.
During the Civil War, she repurposed these clubs to provide aid for soldiers. In a state torn between allegiances to North and South, she was adamant that her clubs remain neutral, providing clothing and food for all soldiers, whether they wore blue or gray. Legend has it that when a Union soldier was killed in the area by a Confederate, Reeves was the only Christian present who was willing to say a prayer over the dead body. When the war was over, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis continued her work for peace. In a state seething with post-war bitterness and hate, she planned a successful “Mothers Friendship Day,” which brought soldiers and families together from both sides to talk, reconcile, and heal.
It was a prayer that she once said aloud, which her daughter Anna Jarvis overheard, that sparked the idea for a national holiday: “I hope and pray that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life.” Three years after her mother’s death, Anna Jarvis began to campaign for a national holiday, insistent that it should fall on a Sabbath so as to minimize the possibilities of commercialization. Six years later, in 1914, Woodrow Wilson signed the flag resolution that designated Mother’s Day to fall on the second Sunday in May. That summer, World War I began.
World War I
By 1916, peoples from overwhelmingly Christian nations had been slaughtering each other for two years in what almost all of them considered, from their own’s nation’s perspective, a just, even a holy war. The Great War, what Wilson called, “The War to End All Wars,” and what historian Andrew Preston would call “Christendom’s Ultimate Civil War” lasted from 1914 – 1918 and claimed the lives of at least 10 million combatants and 7 million noncombatants. In 1916, the United States was a neutral nation, but calls for American “preparedness” were increasing. Americans were regarding the European war with growing horror. Playing on the radio was the hit song “I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier.” Released in 1915, it was the first commercially successful antiwar song. It was written from the perspective of a woman, more specifically a mother.
Here are the lyrics:
|Ten million soldiers to the war have gone,|
|Who may never return again.|
|Ten million mothers’ hearts must break,|
|For the ones who died in vain.|
|Head bowed down in sorrow in her lonely years,|
|I heard a mother murmur thro’ her tears:|
|I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier,|
|I brought him up to be my pride and joy,|
|Who dares to put a musket on his shoulder,|
|To shoot some other mother’s darling boy?|
|Let nations arbitrate their future troubles,|
|It’s time to lay the sword and gun away,|
|There’d be no war today,|
|If mothers all would say,|
|I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.|
|What victory can cheer a mother’s heart,|
|When she looks at her blighted home?|
|What victory can bring her back,|
|All she cared to call her own?|
|Let each mother answer in the year to be,|
|Remember that my boy belongs to me!|
As We Go Marching (LvMI) Best Price: null Buy New $4.99 (as of 03:15 EST - Details) Julia Ward Howe’s “Mother’s Day Proclamation” could easily be this song’s antecedent, but the rivalry between parent and State goes back much further, if not to the beginning (there was no government in the Garden of Eden) then back at least 2,000 years. These days it surfaces most visibly with issues like homeschooling and vaccination. The State is a jealous creature, covetous of the unique role of the parent, with its rights, duties and privileges: It wants to co-opt that role. It was not for nothing that Catholic activist Dorothy Day nicknamed the government “Holy Mother State.”
The song is not merely a dirge. It is a bold critique. It asks questions like: To whom does a person belong? To what or whom do we owe our highest allegiance? What takes precedence, ultimately, the family or the State? Does the individual exist to serve the State or is it the other way around? It speaks to the years a mother invests in raising, nurturing, and educating her child, to help him grow into a fruitful human being, to form his heart and mind (in a Christian home, hopefully with Christ-like love). It recognizes that the State fans the flames of enmity among groups of people in order to advance its own ends. The last line in the song is a bold statement of defiance.
At the time, women were already stirring up trouble with their suffrage movement, so not everybody appreciated the little diddy. Former President Teddy Roosevelt said it should be accompanied by a song called “I Didn’t Raise My Girl To Be a Mother”. (Because destroying human beings, for a man, is just as natural as giving birth to them is for a woman, don’t you know?)
It is a mother who tells the story in the Irish antiwar song from the end of the 18th century called “Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye” of crossing paths with her old beau and father of her illegitimate child after he comes home from war. The narrative beings as an account of horror over what this young man has become, and an expression of compassion for the suffering he must endure, but it ends as with a refusal, and a promise to protect the baby in her arms from a similar fate. A few excerpts:
|Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo|
|Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo|
|Where are your legs that used to run|
|When you went to carry a gun|
|Indeed your dancing days are done|
|Oh Johnny, I hardly knew ye.|
|Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo|
|Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo|
|Ye haven’t an arm, ye haven’t a leg|
|Ye’re an armless, boneless, chickenless egg|
|Ye’ll have to be put with a bowl out to beg|
|Oh Johnny I hardly knew ye.|
|They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo|
|They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo|
|They’re rolling out the guns again|
|But they never will take my sons again|
|No they’ll never take my sons again|
|Johnny I’m swearing to ye.|
There is a double-meaning, and a double sadness, in the phrase “Johnny I hardly knew ye,” if one thinks about “knowing” in the Biblical sense. One suspects it was not only this young man’s arms and legs that were blown off in battle. Swords Into Plowshares... Best Price: $4.00 Buy New $15.99 (as of 11:36 EST - Details)
It is women, and presumably mothers, who, in Aristophanes’ ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata band together and decide to withhold sex from their husbands in an effort to end the Peloponnesian War.
It is a mother who stops Aeneas from killing a defenseless civilian in the second book of Virgil’s The Aeneid when Troy is being sacked. Aeneas spots Helen of Troy, the supposed cause of the war (right — ha ha!), and is “filled with an overmastering fury” to “make her pay” and execute “justice where it was long deserved.” He wants nothing more than to murder her. Virgil writes that his “Divine Mother” (Venus) appears: “She took my hand and held me back, enhancing restraint.” His mother convinces him to stop “charging into the thick of things” in order to prove that he is a man who “dares all, even unto death,” and tells him to attend to his elderly father, wife and child instead.
It is Coriolanus’ mother and his wife who convince him, in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, not to attack Rome, to instead “frame a convenient peace.” He says: “Ladies, you deserve to have a temple built for you. All the swords in Italy, and her confederate arms could not have made this peace.”
It was mothers who became a worldwide symbol of nonviolent opposition after the military coup in Argentina in the 1970s and the “Dirty War” that followed: tens of thousands of “subversives”–countless fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters–were “disappeared,” taken from their homes and workplaces never to be seen again. Known as the Mothers of the Plaza, they assembled in the center of the government district weekly to witness to the disappearance of their children and to protest the government’s institutional violence.
It was women, many of them mothers, who in in Liberia in 2003 launched a non-violent campaign uniting women of all classes, Muslim, and Christian, to form the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace.
It is women who formed Code Pink, among the most strident and unrelenting antiwar movements in this country since the turn of the century, though they have been for the most part either ignored or ridiculed.
Women are often censured when they move beyond an attitude of grief to a position of critique, or when they express anger instead of sorrow. Women are then branded emotional, irrational. Hippocrates, the founder of western medicine, first coined the term “hysteria” from “hystera” or uterus, and “female hysteria” (a disorder originally attributed to a “wandering womb”) was an actual medical diagnosis up until just a few decades ago. The Mothers of the Plaza del Mayo were called ‘Las Locas,’ or Crazy Women.
Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a dead American soldier, has been one of Code Pink’s most visible and vocal activists. She dared to admit that she was angry about her son’s death. She said the unsayable: “My son died for nothing.” One quick Google search of Cindy Sheehan practically crashes my computer with an overload of vitriolic bile. If you haven’t read the article Matriotism, written by this “paranoid,” “shameless,” “embarrassment,” this “Bin Laden-ist,” this “vulgar” “wacko” and “attention whore,” it is well worth the read! Sheehan writes:
The neocons exploited patriotism to fulfill their goals of imperialism and plunder…
Matriotism is the opposite of patriotism…not to destroy it, but to be a yin to its yang, and balance out the militarism of patriotism.
Not everyone is a mother, but there is one universal truth that no one can dispute no matter how hard they try (and believe me, some will try): Everyone has a mother! Mothers give life, and if the child is lucky, mothers nurture life. And if a man has had a nurturing mother he will already have a base of Matriotism. War is a Racket: The A... Best Price: $2.55 Buy New $7.01 (as of 05:45 EST - Details)
A Matriot loves his/her country but does not buy into the exploitive phrase of “My country right or wrong.”… A Matriot knows that her country can do a lot of things right, especially when the government is not involved. … However, a Matriot also knows that when her country is wrong, it can be responsible for murdering thousands upon thousands of innocent and unsuspecting humans. A true Matriot would never drop an atomic bomb or bombs filled with white phosphorous, carpet bomb cities and villages, or control drones from thousands of miles away to kill innocent men, women and children.
There is one most important thing that matriots would never do, however, and this is the key to stopping killing to solve problems: a matriot would never send her child or another mother’s child to fight nonsense wars…
It is a woman, specifically a mother, who objects to the first killing of a child in the name of sacrifice and war, which “had” to happen according to her husband, or someone (it’s confusing), in order for the Trojan War, the first war in the recorded history of Western civilization, to take place. The fictional character of Clytemnestra, in Aeschylus’ play Agamemnon, might just be my favorite “mujer loca” (crazy woman) of all time! But I’ll have to explain that more at a later point.
Looking at just these few examples from history and ancient literature, it seems that the potential inherent within feminism, which the Scripps College faculty members described in their letter as the “potential to address those lives that are systematically made vulnerable to sickness and death,” could have something to do with that which is inherent in a woman as a creature distinct from a man. To admit that women are different from men, let alone that women might have some natural gifts that men, in general, lack, is incredibly unfashionable these days. But John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Women (1995): “Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the person because they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them. In this way the basic plan of the Creator takes flesh in the history of humanity and there is constantly revealed, in the variety of vocations, that beauty—not merely physical, but above all spiritual—which God bestowed from the very beginning on all, and in a particular way on women.” This beauty he called the “feminine genius.”
Holy Mother Church
The Catholic Church is a mother. Thank God she is led by men, otherwise, her unceasing exhortations telling her children to seek peace and prevent war would be ridiculed as crazy and irrational! Instead, they are considered irrational but inconsequential, and are ignored and dismissed by most Catholics and thus naturally by the wider world as well.
As early as 1891, Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum asserted the need for a new international order in which peace would be based on justice rather than military defense. Dismissed.
At the outbreak of World War I, Pope Benedict XV immediately declared the neutrality of the Holy See, condemning the war for its futility, calling it a “useless massacre” and “the suicide of civilized Europe”. In his encyclical, Ad Beatissimum, he outlined the causes of wars and methods of attaining peace. He devised and offered peace plans to both sides based on reconciliation and forgiveness and not revenge. They were dismissed in favor of another approach at Versailles, to which he was not invited.
Pope Pius XII declared in his Christmas message of 1944 that: “There is a duty, besides, imposed on all, a duty which brooks no delay, no procrastination, no hesitation, no subterfuge: It is the duty to do everything to ban once and for all wars of aggression as legitimate solution of international disputes and as a means towards realizing national aspirations.” He said it was our supreme obligation to make “war on war”. Dead Wake: The Last Cr... Best Price: $1.99 Buy New $6.10 (as of 08:10 EST - Details)
In 1963, Pope John XXIII moved ever closer to a total repudiation of war in the modern world, writing in Pacem in Terris that “…in an age such as ours that prides itself on its atomic energy it is contrary to reason to hold that war is now a suitable way to restore rights which have been violated.” At the time, the U.S., under the leadership of a Catholic president, was ramping up its war in Vietnam. President John Kennedy gave his famous commencement address at American University that June, in which he asked Americans re-examine their attitudes towards peace, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War. He was assassinated later that year.
In Gaudium es Spec (1965), Pope Paul VI wrote: “We should fervently ask God to give these men the strength to go forward perseveringly and to follow through courageously on this work of building peace with vigor. It is a work of supreme love for mankind. Today it certainly demands that they extend their thoughts and their spirit beyond the confines of their own nation, that they put aside national selfishness and ambition to dominate other nations, and that they nourish a profound reverence for the whole of humanity, which is already making its way so laboriously toward greater unity.”
Vatican II also said that acts of war that aimed to obliterate entire cities were “acts against God” and came out officially in support of the rights of conscientious objectors.
The message of Pope Paul VI on the inaugural World Day of Peace, on January 1, 1968, sounds a lot like Julia Ward Howe’s vision of a Mother’s Day of Peace: “We extend the invitation … that of dedicating to thoughts and resolutions of Peace a special observance on the first day of the civil year… for, the meditation upon, and the fostering of the great and yearned-for gift of Peace, of which the world has so much need.”
In 2003, John Paul II said in his message to American military chaplains: “By now it should be clear to all that the use of war as a means of resolving disputes between States was rejected, even before the UN Charter, by the consciences of the majority of humanity, except in the case of legitimate defense against an aggressor.”
Pope Benedict XVI said unequivocally in response to the American invasion of Iraq, “There is no allowance for preemptive war in the Catechism.” He called the Just War Theory “a problem,” and said, “we should be asking ourselves if it is licit to even suggest the existence of a just war in this day and age.”
Pope Francis has repeatedly voiced opposition to war and the use of violence: “Religion can never be used to justify violence.”
All this irrational antiwar talk has me concerned. Somebody call the doctor: I think the Bride of Christ might be suffering from a wandering womb! Despite all of this, however, many Catholics still cling to a theory about war conceived by pagans during the time of the Roman Empire and are quick to attack anyone who dares to question it! Eighty-thousand Catholic priests are said to have fought for the belligerent nations during World War I, and 375,000 Catholics are currently fighting the U.S. government’s “war” on “terror” today. It seems obvious which direction Holy Mother Church has been moving in with regard to war and peace in the last century, at least at the highest levels. Who has the ear of her children? their attention? their allegiance?
The Grinch Who Stole Mother’s Day
In her fascinating history of Mother’s Day, Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for the Control of Mother’s Day (West Virginia Press 2014), author Katharine Lane Antolini avers that the Foremothers of Mother’s Day, Julia Ward Howe, and Anne Marie Reeves Jarvis, originally envisioned a day that would acknowledge and celebrate “the collective social power of motherhood and the public scope of the maternal influence” (22). Historian Stephanie Coontz writes: “The people who first inspired Mother’s Day…wished to celebrate mothers’ social roles as community organizers, honoring women who acted on behalf of the entire future generation rather than simply putting their own children first”(6).
Anna Jarvis, the daughter who campaigned for the holiday, went to great lengths to fend off political opportunists, social crusaders and profiteers of all stripes, most famously greeting card companies, anyone who wanted to exploit the day for their own gain. She believed that it should be about children expressing their love and appreciation for their mothers, in the form of a handwritten card or a simple phone call. One has to admire her tenacity in trying, for decades, to stem the tide of commercialism. But in trying so hard to preserve the purity of her day, she caused a contraction of the original vision. Sadly, Jarvis rarely referenced her mother’s civic roles when speaking The Art of Peace Best Price: $19.47 Buy New null (as of 11:36 EST - Details) about her inspiration for Mother’s Day and she never once acknowledged Julia Ward Howe. Antolini writes: “Jarvis replaced a Mother’s Day observance originally designated as a vehicle for social action with a Mother’s Day that exclusively venerated a mother’s private service to her family” (41). Hence, the original connection with peacemaking was lost.
Then, after the United States joined World War I, Holy Mother State saw an opportunity! The “public dynamic of maternal identity” was once again embraced and acknowledged on Mother’s Day, but only insofar as it was connected with — you guessed it — war! Antonlini writes:
“In his fourth official Mother’s Day Proclamation, Wilson asked for special attention to the patriotic sacrifices of American mothers selflessly offering their sons to fight and die in the defense of liberty and justice…Women’s groups promoted a day of international prayer to ask God to grant mothers the ‘Spartan heart’ required to send their sons to war…Following the centuries old tradition of nations mobilizing for war, motherhood was drafted into service during World War I, but this time with the help of the new holiday…On the big screen mothers who nurtured a sense of duty and honor in their sons, thus inspiring them to fight for her and their home, were the heroines. In contrast, mothers who smothered their sons, raising a generation of cowards, were the epitome of villainy” (97,99).
In fact, Anna Jarvis had a 20 year battle with the American War Mothers, an exclusive social club and political organization that would accept into their special circle only women with “blood ties” to sons and daughters who had served in World War I; in return they demanded a say in political affairs, a seat at the table. When in 1925 Jarvis crashed the AWM national convention in Philadelphia, she almost got arrested for disorderly conduct! Jarvis wasn’t necessarily antiwar, but she thought AWM tried to make Mother’s Day about their own special club, elevating certain mothers above others, when it was meant to glorify all mothers equally. Jarvis thought “every mother who dedicated herself to the preservation of the home, who quietly and unobtrusively attended the daily needs of her family, was a patriot in service to her country” and “patriotic tributes were not reserved only for mothers of heroes and martyrs” (113).
Who “Run” the World?
There used to be a quaint little feminist notion that if women ran the world there would be no more war. But does anyone honestly think, after Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice, that electing Killary Clinton as the first female President of the United States will bring new hope for peace, by virtue of the fact that she is a woman? Clinton represents, to me, the triumph of second wave feminism. If first wave feminism was about legal and political equality (a woman should be able to sign contracts, own land, vote), then second wave feminism was more about a Machiavellian quest for power merely for power’s sake, and the belief that in order to obtain power, women needed to become more like men, just like men. The symbol of second wave feminism in my mind is that relic of fashion: the shoulder pads. As women moved more and more into the public sphere, they felt they had to stamp out feminine qualities, and perhaps abandon traditionally female concerns, which were now seen as liabilities, weaknesses rather than strengths. No one wants to be seen as irrational, or worse too “sensitive.” Could those kinds of women ever become Secretary of State?
Perhaps it was a naive notion to think that women were nobler, superior creatures, not prone as man is to original sin, somehow uniquely able to resist the temptation of having power over all of the kingdoms of the world. And there is also something rather unfair about singling out individual women and saying that they do or do not represent and uphold what it means to be A WOMAN. Yet, I do believe that women are different than men. I believe that those differences are extremely important, especially at this time in history, and I find hope in the words of Pope Paul VI from one of his Discourses: “Within Christianity, more than in any other religion, and since its very beginning, women have had a special dignity, of which the New Testament shows us many important aspects…it is evident that women are meant to form part of the living and working structure of Christianity in so prominent a manner that perhaps not all their potentialities have yet been made clear.” And it gives me hope that there are young women like Kinzie Mabon, who haven’t fallen prey to our government’s pervasive and persistent propaganda, who wish to admire and emulate women who represent something more, something other than the “equal” ability to wield U.S. state power and participate in its violence.
It seems to me women, especially American women, have an urgent choice to make: patriot or matriot? This choice can be aided by the selection of good female role models. For Catholic women, the role model is clear: Mary, Queen of Heaven, Queen of Peace, Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Mercy; yet there seem to be structural protections in place to ensure that the ancient rivalry for the Christian mind and heart, between Holy Mother Church and Holy Mother State, does not surface in our consciousness and stir up trouble. Yet I do not think the rivalry can stay hidden for too much longer, nor the choice indefinitely put off (and by Holy Mother Church I do not mean the current church hierarchy of bishops and pope but the Mystical Body of Christ). But I will have to deal with all of that at another time. This essay is already too long.
For now, it suffices to say that I do not look forward to the election of “our” first female president with anticipation and excitement. I can only imagine what a spectacle the inaugural ball will be. I imagine Beyonce performing her song “Run the World (Girls)” and Clinton clapping along, ecstatically. Will there be some of that sexy police state imagery that keeps popping up in all of the music videos? (I just love that charming moment at the end of Beyonce’s girls-run-the-world video when the scantily clad women, who have been dancing and putting on defiant airs, suddenly salute the militaristic men in riot gear.) At the ball, “our” new President will probably bring out Capt. Kristen Griest, the military’s first female infantry officer, for caresses and applause, followed by a slew of breastfeeding Army moms, as a demonstration of progress. Will there be a dedication to “Maya,” you know, the super-secret woman who hunted down Osama Bin Laden and was played by Jessica Chastain in the super-true-to-life film Zero Dark Thirty? This would actually be oddly appropriate: A collective salute to the faceless, anonymous workers in the irrelevant agencies that run our world.
I do not look forward to the day when, under “our” first female Commander-in-Chief, Congress passes a law requiring bright young women like recent Scripps College graduates Kinzie Mabon, Jennie Xu, Grace Dahlstrom, and Meagan McIntyre, to register for the draft, and then the day when I have to watch “our” first female Commander-in-Chief careen us into World War III. Not to worry, though, ladies, because the U.S. military will freeze your eggs for you so that you don’t have to listen to your biological clock ticking while you’re overseas blowing up hospitals. And if an IED destroys your ovaries, girlfriends, no worries: your eggs will be waiting for you when you return—-maybe in a wheelchair or with a brain injury, granted, but all ready for motherhood nonetheless! And if you get raped by your fellow soldiers and have to make some “hard choices”, the military will cover your abortions. Yes, women really can have it all. But to avoid that inconvenience, isn’t it best you take some preventative measures? The government will give you free birth control if you get drafted. Actually, it’s required. Would you like something implanted in your uterus or in your arm? Ladies’ choice. And if you show up with a child when you are supposed to be deployed, because there is no one else to look after it, the government will finally give you the second wave feminism dream of free babysitting: The child will be safe in foster care until you are allowed to come home. And if you don’t show up for deployment because you have nobody to look after your child, the child will be safe in foster care while you are in jail. And if you refuse to register for the draft, you will be thrown into a “mental rehabilitation center” where you will be forced to watch Beyonce videos all day long for the rest of your lives. But on the upside, you might finally learn all of the moves to “Single Ladies.”
Under a female Clinton presidency, surely war, and all acts of war, will be “safe, legal, and rare,” and best of all, women will finally have equal opportunity to participate in it, and not just in the background by making babies, er, sorry, fetuses, as if our wombs were simply one more machine on the assembly line of the military industrial complex, but on the front lines, where we too can have the power, the glory. Just remember when you are deployed: there is a special place in hell reserved for women who do not help each other, but this only applies to women from the same country. As for other women, you can bomb them, their husbands, their children, their fathers, their mothers, their brothers, and their little dog Toto too. Don’t be so sensitive! It’ll all be totes “worth it.” Maybe President Clinton will increase the number of innocent civilians allowed to be killed by a drone strike from 10 to 20. Anything can happen! The potentialities are limitless. Who knows, under a female American president, Beyonce might even get inspired to start conjugating her three-letter verbs.
Antolini, Katharine Lane. Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for Mother’s Day. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2014. Print.