Sunday, April 8, 2012


I recently read an article in The New Yorker where "aggressive medievalism" popped up. Those of you who know me have to realize I can't put this phrase out of my mind. The article focused on one religious group that wanted its principles to be the laws of the land. Right now, I can think of three situations where aggressive medievalism fits. There are countless others, but three will make my point.

The article discussed the rise of ultra-Judaism in Israel. One plank of ultra-Jews is the role of women in society.  They wear wigs as a sign of modesty. They cover their hair in public. Ultra-Jews would take all rights away from women, including the right to vote, to right to speak your mind, the right to control what happens to your body. Your husband is all-powerful. To live in that society under the religious rules of this group, women would not be much more than property.

Look at radical Islam in Afghanistan. Women must cover themselves from head to toe when out of the house. They must travel, even to shops, with a male relative going with them. They should not go to school, hold jobs, do anything but keep their husbands happy and bear sons. Radical Islam would not allow women to get educated, vote, move about freely. Or so we read in newspapers and magazines.

Radical Christianity isn't far behind. Some in our country would like to take women's control over our bodies and families away. Some would like health care to require women bear children resulting from rape or incest, as well as from loving relations. Some would like women to return to "traditional" roles.

No one has defined traditional roles other than through health care. Do they include wives being chattel? Being pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen? Voting the way their husbands or fathers tell them? Stop working? 

My gut tells me that the latter is not part of aggressive medievalism. If we weren't two (or more) income families, many more would live in poverty. If we are forced to bear unwanted children, we push more families deeper into poverty. If we are forced to care for disabled or seriously ill children without some insurance umbrella, we drive families into depression, despair -- possibly violence.

Women need to roar against aggressive medievalism. Strength in numbers can change thinking. It can at least force people to think before they open their mouths. Or not.