Well, it's not the first time a women's protest has been about sex. In 411 BC, Aristophanes's play Lysistrata involved the women of Athens and surrounding city-states going on sex strike until their long-suffering husbands signed a peace treaty and ended war. And certainly throughout history women have been demanding their sexual rights. Lysistrata complains that while the men are off waging war, young women are languishing at home, only getting older. It's not fair, because while old men can still marry and have children, women have a definite window of opportunity. The men at war are depriving the women of their right to marriage and children.
There's a rich Biblical tradition of sexual protest as well: Genesis 19 recounts how Lot's daughters, cut off from civilization, get their father drunk and have sex with him so that they may bear children by hook or by crook. Genesis 38 tells the story of Tamar, whose first two husbands refuse to give her children through primitive forms of birth control. And since her father-in-law Judah (the ancestor of Jesus) won't marry her to his third son and give her the right of having children, she disguises herself as a prostitute, has sex with Judah himself, and conceives that way. Ruth demands her right of marriage (and children) from Boaz by making herself attractive and laying down near him as he sleeps, and then making her request when he startles awake. (Ruth is praised for her initiative by the elders of the city, who compare her to Tamar in her audacity.)
So, two thousand years later, women are still protesting and demanding their sexual rights, wearing pink pussy hats in lieu of rich robes and perfumes of Araby, and those rights are still centered around children. In this particular culture, however, women aren't demanding that men stop withholding children from them. The explicit demand, the entire official purpose of this modern protest is the right to kill the child. Sex is not connected with the stability and the relative immortality of bearing children to perpetuate a name and a family, but with immediate gratification, with expressing oneself, with reducing the richness of womanhood to nothing more than a vagina.
Two thousand years from now, who will be making history? What will sexual protest be about in 4017? Probably something as inconceivable to modern women as abortion on demand would have been to the ancients. We're constantly lectured by bumper stickers that "Well Behaved Women Don't Make History" -- because only women who make noise, who make love, who dare to wear pussy hats have any chance of carpe diem-ing, while the meek inherit the housework. And yet, what woman has had a more outsized impact on history than the Blessed Virgin Mary? Her sexual protest involved questioning even an angel itself: "How can this be, since I do not know man?" She stands -- alone, not amidst a supportive mob of you-go girls -- and asserts her virginity against God Himself offering her the gift of being the mother of the Messiah. And God honors her courage, granting her both the child and the virginity.
Throughout her life, Mary stands not amidst, but against the crowd. She stands at the foot of Jesus's cross, quiet against the howling of the mob. (Every mob demanding its own will ends, in effect, by shouting, "Crucify him!" -- a good reason why the assembly at Mass faces the image of the crucified Christ, to remind them that they come to serve his will, not their own.) Her protest is silent and internal, unless she is addressing God Himself. There she is not shy about making demands: "Son, why have you done this to us? Don't you know your father and I have been looking for you?" "They have no wine." She makes no waves. She makes no splashy headlines. She makes no strategic alliances with evil. And yet she has changed the lot of more women for the better, has garnered more sexual respect and rights for women, than any other woman in history. Perhaps the key is in the only recorded bit of advice she utters: "Do whatever he tells you." In that is contained the key to sexual freedom, and every freedom.
Learning Notes Week of Feb 20
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