This past Friday in the little town of Lexington and its beautiful surrounding Rockbridge County, we held a Women’s Rights Rally. An incredibly smart and self-possessed high-school senior ran the show, and she was accompanied by other wonderful high school, middle school, and college women activists. Many people in attendance were inspired by the energy and youth in this resistance protest. I am so gratified to have heard these young people raise their voices fearlessly at a rally on a chilly Friday in March in front of about 325 people.
The rally served to protest the anti-women stances of our local representative, Virginia Delegate Ben Cline. I thank my friends and colleagues in our area for bringing the following information about Delegate Cline to light over these past several years. In 2012, Delegate Cline supported keeping pregnant women inmates in shackles throughout their labor. He suggested that women who got arrested while pregnant deserved to be shackled as they gave birth. “Choices have consequences,” said Ben Cline, as he promoted these torture tactics for the incarcerated. Encouraging mothers to bring children into the world under those circumstances is certainly not “pro-life.” It is not even “pro-baby.” The liberal ACLU and the conservative Family Foundation collaborated to encourage Cline to move away from this stance. Nevertheless, Cline persisted. (I’m going to have to use this line in every blog post from here on out. It is too delicious not to.) It will come as no surprise that Ben Cline also sponsored the barbaric transvaginal ultrasound bill in 2012. His extremism causes real harm to real women.
Delegate Cline also supports Personhood Bills that give fertilized eggs the same rights as women. Most of us understand how enormously problematic this is. I would like to see him sponsor a bill that decides that sperm have the same rights as grown men. That crazy Monty Python song about “every sperm being sacred” is still just satire. For women, the analog is real; it is oppression. Related to these limiting, dehumanizing policies, Ben Cline has also supported the defunding of Planned Parenthood, which provides necessary health services to women and men, and especially to women in communities underserved by other healthcare options.
At this point, you probably understand why 325 people gathered in front of Delegate Cline’s law offices to protest, right? We have appreciated that Ben Cline is willing to hold real townhall meetings at which he is actually present and that he has been responsive to constituents’ concerns. This past Friday, Mr. Cline was not at the rally, but I sure hope he has answers to the many questions asked. I hope he is thinking about a legitimate response to the young protesters who advocated for body autonomy and the older protesters who expressed frustration at how we’ve gone backwards. Two retired nurses poignantly told stories from decades ago about the dangers of limits on reproductive rights.
Our delegate is a member of the local Catholic Church. I can’t speak for him when I wonder about his rationale for oppressing women (all women: of color and white, trans-women, in underserved communities, the young, middle-aged, and old), but I can certainly guess that his church’s traditions, politics, heteronormativity, and misogyny influence how he votes. This one man, a state delegate for the 24th District in Virginia’s House, has been in power for way too long. In fact, he’s simply held power for way too long. In my view, my protest against Delegate Cline’s policies connects directly to the continued misogyny practiced by his church.
Today’s The New York Times (3-5-17) features an op-ed by Austen Ivereigh titled, “Is the Pope the Anti-Trump?” Ivereigh compares Pope Francis and Donald Trump, seeing their populist appeal as a common element, while also drawing distinctions between their styles. For example, Ivereigh writes, “Pope Francis and President Trump provide rich material for contrast. One is, notwithstanding his weaknesses, a spiritual leader of extraordinary maturity; the other, his strengths aside, is a thin-skinned, petulant narcissist. One is a celibate who lives in simplicity and austerity, embracing the disabled and the diseased; the other is a thrice-married germophobe who lived in a gaudy gold tower and mocks the feeble.
And yet: The world’s two most compelling populists have more in common than some might admit. Take, for example, their extraordinary capacity for connection, bypassing traditional methods; their defiance of convention, even their iconoclasm; or their delight in challenging existing elites on behalf of the people. Both seem energized by opposition, even if they respond to it differently — Mr. Trump by ranting and belittling his critics; Francis never directly, but gently, in pointed asides.”
Pope Francis is, of course, a well-educated, well-spoken man whose broad appeal is undeniable and, I think, well-deserved, for a pope. He speaks many languages, understands the stretch of cultures across the globe, and understands that walls don’t work. I respect the many ways in which he has both effected change and advocated for necessary change in his church and in the world. We cannot credit Donald Trump with these skills and understandings (understatement of the millennium). But, but, well…, Ivereigh’s lengthy article, while it does address Pope Francis’s statements about and sensitivity towards people of the three major world religions, immigrants and refugees, people living in poverty, and dangerous neoliberal policies, does not address Pope Francis’s Church’s retrograde policies towards and about women. Misogyny politics are part and parcel of the Catholic Church, even if many Catholics across the globe advocate for more progressive approaches to women’s rights (reproductive rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, women’s leadership in the Church hierarchy, etc.). The official Church stance hasn’t budged in the grand scheme of things, and so I can’t yet envision Pope Francis or any pope as the polar opposite of the current occupant of The White House (or, more correctly, the current occupant of Mar-a-Lago).
A politician like Ben Cline gets his cues from his church. He is not going to let go of hard-core misogyny politics until he sees his Church’s leader do so. I think we’re a long way from that. Maybe the Friday afternoon protest will become a weekly event for another thousand years. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
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