This is a guest post by Zuzu. Zuzu is a former Feministe blogger.
Jill forwarded this post to me a couple of weeks ago as something of a joke. “You’ll enjoy this,” she wrote. Actually, I found myself pissed off. Here’s a very long explanation of why.
Here’s the tl;dr for this post: Dawn Eden made herself a nuisance to this blog and others about five or six years ago. Just Google her name along with that of pretty much any feminist blogger or blog and you’ll see what I mean. Now she’s reared her head again, mentioning me and this blog (and my reviews of her first book) in an interview about her new book. I don’t care all that much about what she said about me, personally, but the interview and book bring up a lot of issues that Dawn and I (as well as other feminist bloggers) have gone at each other over before and which I feel merit a response. Dawn has long been an engaging if fundamentally dishonest writer, particularly on the subject of feminism and women’s sexuality, and in the interview and her book, she accuses feminists of, essentially, causing child sexual abuse by supporting sexual freedom for adult women. In addition, there’s a good bit of inside-baseball stuff about the Catholic church and the clerical sex abuse scandal, and how Dawn addresses – or rather, fails to address – that scandal in the context of a book, written from a specifically Catholic perspective, about using Catholic writings and teaching as a means of healing from childhood sexual abuse.
In late 2006 or early 2007, Dawn wrote a book called The Thrill of the Chaste. I reviewed it in a series of posts in which I took pains to say that while Dawn may well have made the decision for herself to be chaste, and that might be the right choice for her, it wasn’t the right choice for everyone. Unfortunately, Dawn’s whole angle was that chastity was the only right way to find a husband for everyone – and even the only right way to have friendships. She had a lot to say about the proper way to have married sex (even though she had never been married), took the position that kissing was the same as sex, and reacted poorly to the idea of contraception and abortion. Indeed, Jill captured the essential Dawn Eden in this post: feminism and the ‘60s are to blame for everything bad in the world because no one had sex before then, and sex is the root of all evil.
Dawn has written a new book, May Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds With the Help of the Saints. In this book, Dawn reveals that she was sexually abused as a child by a janitor at her Temple, then disbelieved when she told her mother, her mother told the rabbi,* and the janitor denied it; she also says (though her mother disputes this) that her mother told her not to tell her father what had happened because they were divorcing and she did not want Dawn’s father to have grounds for custody. The book itself is about her use of Catholic teachings, writings and philosophy to heal from that abuse and the way she was treated after talking about it. I have nothing but sympathy for her abuse, and I know that being abused in any way and then disbelieved is a hellish experience. But while it’s apparent that she’s doing some image rehab as part of the publicity tour for the book and claims that she has changed and seen the light, she hasn’t really changed at all.
She’s still doing the same things that annoyed us so much when she was calling us sluts and babykillers: universalizing her own experiences and declaring that because she herself had an experience or feeling, it must be applicable for all. Because she’s arrived at an explanation, regardless of whether this explanation is true or supported in any way by reality, everyone else is wrong. Because she wants to protect the moral authority she has attached herself to at all costs (in this case, the Catholic hierarchy), anything that disagrees with that is bad and wrong and to blame. More damagingly for the purposes of this post, she has shielded this moral authority from any responsibility for its own role in causing or contributing to the same kind of harm that she suffered. It was all shits and giggles when she was defending chastity in her typical vicious narcissistic way, but now she’s 1) accusing feminists of supporting attitudes that lead to the sexual abuse of children; and 2) completely ignoring the massive Catholic clerical sexual abuse scandal even as she prescribes Catholic teachings as a way to heal from such abuse. And, typically, she puts the blame on liberalism, her mother, and feminism.
I will have a great deal more to say about her handwaving of the Catholic sexual abuse scandal, but let’s begin with her blaming feminism, and feminist bloggers in particular, for making sexual abuse happen.
This is what Dawn said about me (and feminist bloggers) in the post linked at the top:
Q: Those of us who are longtime fans of your writing notice a change in your topics and tone: You used to be known for getting into heated debates with secular feminists, but you don’t do that anymore. Did this journey of healing have anything to do with that?
Yes. There was one event in particular that led me to reconsider the way I’d been acting out against feminist bloggers:
I discuss this in more detail in the book, but there was a time several years ago when I antagonized feminist bloggers, because I saw them as encouraging the same kind of attitudes that fostered my childhood sexual abuse. Though I make no apologize for proclaiming those truths about human life and dignity that the Church proclaims to be true, it was wrong of me to lash out in uncharity.
A turning point came after a woman named Zuzu began a series of blog posts reviewing The Thrill of the Chaste at the blog Feministe. She was picking and choosing things to insult me about, setting out to thoroughly shame and embarrass me, making fun of me in the most uncharitable way.
At first I just wrote her off as a mean-spirited person. Then one day I saw a blog entry of hers[**] about her childhood, in which she talked about the difficult aspects of her relationship with her mother. She gave specific examples of her mother transgressing certain boundaries, and while they weren’t acts of sexual abuse, learning about them made me have so much compassion for her. I realized that it was a shame that I had burned so many bridges, and therefore couldn’t reach out to Zuzu and say, “I know how you feel.”
It was a point of conversion of heart for me, which led me to seek to avoid vitriol and uncharity in my public witness.
Well, to quote Billy Joel, she never cared for me. But did she ever say a prayer for me?
As I said earlier, I don’t care much about what she said about me (see the footnote for why I’m just sort of perplexed about it) or my book review posts, which stand on their own. In fact, having read them again in order to research this post, I can see why she wouldn’t like what I had to say about the book, but I don’t see where I was “picking and choosing things to insult [her] about, setting out to thoroughly shame and embarrass [her], making fun of [her] in the most uncharitable way.” I really did review the book, and not her. It’s not my fault the book was terrible.
So what pissed me off about her response in that interview? This [my emphasis]:
I discuss this in more detail in the book, but there was a time several years ago when I antagonized feminist bloggers, because I saw them as encouraging the same kind of attitudes that fostered my childhood sexual abuse.
Here’s how she more fully explains that bit in the block quote about feminist bloggers encouraging the kinds of attitudes that she felt led to her childhood abuse:
[From pp. 143-144] Under the guise of defending Christian teachings on marriage and the sanctity of life, I picked fights with radical [! – z.] feminist bloggers, calling them names and attacking them in personal terms. They offended me because I saw in their writings the attitudes that had enabled my abuse. In their denial of the personhood of the unborn child, I saw the denial of personhood of all children. In their praise for what they termed sexual freedom, I saw the elimination of sexual boundaries – the boundaries that, had they been enforced in my childhood home, would have protected me from harm. In their ridicule of modesty advocates, I saw my mother’s laughter at me when I, as a child, complained of her and her boyfriend’s household nudity: “Oh, she’s becoming modest.” In their efforts to convince young women that purity was “repressive,” I saw the culture that had enabled the efforts I made to “free” myself by means of sexual encounters that served only to re-traumatize me. In their advocacy for “sex workers,” I saw the encouragement of the damaging lie that sex is “only physical.” (To this day, I cannot understand how people can simultaneously decry the sexual objectification of women while insisting upon the “right” of women to sell their bodies.) Even though I was not yet able to name the pathology of dissociation (described in chapter 3), I knew that trying to separate body from soul was a deadly game.
There’s a lot of fail here. Once again, I understand that she has been abused, and that can mess a person up. But the thing is, this paragraph is vintage Dawn Eden: she’s lashing out, attacking, insulting, mischaracterizing and strawmanning the positions of her opponents (who are all lumped together indiscriminately; she’s eliding feminist bloggers and her mother). She’s dressing it all up in high-minded language, but in the end, what she’s doing is presenting a construct, a caricature of feminism as a way of working out her own issues through application of a rigid formula which places the blame for whatever ill she perceives well away from her and her current moral authority, and preserves her sense of righteousness. Note that she never says she was wrong to characterize the positions of feminists the way she does here (and I defy her, or anyone else, to find anything in the archives to support this, particularly given that, in fact, feminists have worked very hard to have bodily autonomy respected and not abused or violated, for children as well as adults, and have worked very hard for justice for survivors of sexual abuse), just that she was wrong to be “uncharitable,” and later, to be angry and wounded. I see she still, like so many anti-feminists, has problems conceptualizing “consent” and “bodily autonomy” in the context of sexuality. She also fails to elaborate how feminism influenced the 73-year-old-in-1974 man who abused her.
But here’s the other thing that really pissed me off about Dawn Eden and this book: she has written a book about her childhood sexual abuse and about using the teachings of her new Catholic faith – including writings by the current pope – as a means of healing. She goes so far as to recommend that all victims of childhood sexual abuse can find healing in these works.
And she does so while washing her hands of the entire, massive, worldwide Catholic clerical sexual abuse scandal. A scandal that goes right up to the Prada Pope himself. From the introduction to Dawn’s book:
[p. xxiii] In addition, although I share my fellow Catholics’ grief and anger over those who have abused their sacred office, I will not focus on the scandal of abuse committed by clergy. The reason for this is not out of any desire to diminish the very real and often devastating experiences of those who have suffered such abuse. I fervently hope this book will help them and those who minister to them. However, I am taking a more general perspective, based on my personal experience as part of a large population whose needs are not being met. By far, the largest category of sex-abuse perpetrators are family members, who are responsible for one-third to one-half of cases. After that (in descending order) come family friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and strangers; only a small percentage of cases are committed by clergy.
I take her point that the problem of sexual abuse of children is widespread and that Catholic clergy are not the only perps. However, when you write a book which deals with sexual abuse from a specifically Catholic perspective, using Catholic theology and Catholic writings and teachings, and you don’t address the international criminal conspiracy to cover up child rape which involved the guy who’s now in charge of the entire religion, you have a massive hole in your perspective. You can’t airily dismiss the fact that you’re choosing to ignore the great evil perpetrated by the very people whose writings you’re now offering to their victims as a way to heal and to fit what happened to them into God’s great plan. You also can’t declare that these victims are having their needs met when the Church is trying very hard to undermine the organization that survivors have put together to fight for accountability.
Dawn and I got a little into it back in the day over the whole cradle-Catholic/convert business. Re-reading her response in light of what she’s now writing about, I’m even more put off than I was back then:
Blame The Da Vinci Code.
Suddenly, everyone wants to be Catholic — if only so they can retain their politically correct credentials while bashing the Church. It’s sort of like Jews’ using their religion as an excuse to tell “Abe and Sol” jokes (a pet peeve of my sister the rabbi), or black rappers’ arguing that the n-word’s not racist when they use it.
Now, Feministe’s Zuzu writes in a post titled “Converts’ Zeal” that she, as an “officially apostate” Catholic, is infuriated when new converts like myself claim to express the Church’s teachings. . .
[A commenter quoted in the Feministe post] then brings up a few of the Church-connected horrors which I have unfairly escaped as a recent convert, including the Magdalene laundries. The message is that I, knowing only the “nice” Church, have no right to assume that the dogmas I learned in the Catechism will lead to a world of niceness. In fact, according to Zuzu and her amen corner, the Catechism points to drunkenness (apparently that professor wasn’t so far off) and white slavery.
This is just incredibly dismissive of the victims of the Church. Should I really be that surprised that she would ignore what the Church has done to so many children so that her own image of herself can remain intact? Back then, she was just trying to score some cheap points from her online following of recent converts; maybe she didn’t appreciate the full horror of the laundries or the extent of the clerical abuse (and cover-up) at the time. Does she ever re-read this and cringe? She should.
The above is not only dismissive of the victims, it’s dismissive of those who were raised in the Church and have had to come to terms with what was going on and decide whether they can continue to belong to the Church.*** If you decide, as an adult, to embrace a religion and all its teachings (and to get up the nose of cradle Catholics you deem to be insufficiently committed to the catechism because they use contraception or are pro-choice), you sign on to its problems as well. You can’t simply ignore them, and like it or not, you’re not in the same position as someone who was brought in as a child and for whom the religion is part of cultural identity: you walked in with your eyes open. And there’s an enormous problem in the Catholic Church involving the systematic abuse of children and the coverup of that abuse by the hierarchy (as well as the harboring of fugitive criminals like Bernard Cardinal Law, former Archbishop of Boston, who’s reportedly up to some mischief in his new, cushy gig at the Vatican). Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Ratzinger, was the official in charge of investigating such abuse when the shit started hitting the fan in the 1990s and the 2000s – well before Dawn converted. Read that BBC article I linked above: Ratzinger is being sued for his role in failing to act on a request by an archbishop in Wisconsin to discipline a priest who was accused of abusing 200 deaf children in his care. TWO HUNDRED.
And this wasn’t the first time he may have known about abuse, have been in a position to do something about it, and failed to act. While the wave of new revelations in the US seems to have slowed now that there have been over a billion dollars of church funds spent to settle civil cases, the truth is just beginning to come out in Europe, particularly after the revelations of horrific abuse and slave labor in Ireland. Who knows what will be next? Sinead O’Connor wrote, shortly after the revelation of Ratzinger’s role in the Wisconsin abuses, that Benedict’s pastoral letter of “apology” to the people of Ireland rang hollow because it failed to do the one thing that could truly provide healing to the victims, take responsibility:
Despite the church’s long entanglement with the Irish government, Pope Benedict’s so-called apology takes no responsibility for the transgressions of Irish priests. His letter states that “the Church in Ireland must first acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed against defenceless children.” What about the Vatican’s complicity in those sins?
Benedict’s apology gives the impression that he heard about abuse only recently, and it presents him as a fellow victim: “I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.” But Benedict’s infamous 2001 letter to bishops around the world ordered them to keep sexual abuse allegations secret under threat of excommunication — updating a noxious church policy, expressed in a 1962 document, that both priests accused of sex crimes and their victims “observe the strictest secret” and be “restrained by a perpetual silence.”
Benedict, then known as Joseph Ratzinger, was a cardinal when he wrote that letter. Now that he sits in Saint Peter’s chair, are we to believe that his position has changed? And are we to take comfort in last week’s revelations that, in 1996, he declined to defrock a priest who may have molested as many as 200 deaf boys in Wisconsin?
Benedict’s apology states that his concern is “above all, to bring healing to the victims.” Yet he denies them the one thing that might bring them healing — a full confession from the Vatican that it has covered up abuse and is now trying to cover up the cover up. Astonishingly, he invites Catholics “to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland.” Even more astonishing, he suggests that Ireland’s victims can find healing by getting closer to the church — the same church that has demanded oaths of silence from molested children, as occurred in 1975 in the case of Father Brendan Smyth, an Irish priest later jailed for repeated sexual offenses. After we stopped laughing, many of us in Ireland recognized the idea that we needed the church to get closer to Jesus as blasphemy.
Just like the Vatican, Dawn is looking for anyone to blame but those who were responsible; the Vatican, like Dawn, blames Woodstock, feminism, gays and the ‘60s. If blaming feminism for the Church’s ills sounds familiar, you might have been paying attention to the recent Vatican efforts to clamp down on American nuns for being “radical feminists” and failing to preach the anti-abortion gospel, instead spending all their time ministering to the poor and tending the sick and such. And just like the Vatican, Dawn offers victims of the Church deflection, dismissal, guilt and the insulting suggestion that they need to get closer to the very people who were complicit in their abuse (and who tried very hard to keep a lid on things by silencing the victims and moving around the priests). Maybe Dawn, as a convert, has had too little exposure to the nuns and too much to the priests and bishops and identifies with the hierarchy rather than the laity. Or maybe she’s just a hack.
* The rabbi acknowledges that, in 1974 or so when this would have happened, he had no idea what to do and thus mishandled things. He would not do so now, no doubt because of the greater awareness of sexual abuse of children. For which I’m sure Dawn gives feminists no credit.
** I can’t be entirely sure which post she’s referring to, but I think it may be this one. It made more sense before my sister took down her blog so you could see what I was referring to. Long story short: my mother was somewhat controlling about our hair, used bribery to get us to submit to her pressure to cut our hair, I took the bribe but my older sister got my father to intervene (which I hadn’t known about), thus keeping both her long hair and getting the bribe. Childhood photo complete with cultural-appropriative mid-‘70s dance recital costumes lost to an earlier webhost. How exactly this compares to her experiences of sexual abuse or would have made her compassionate towards me, I’m not sure. I can say that I never finished my review of The Thrill of the Chaste, for two reasons: First, the book was dishonest, awful, and just plain boring, and I was running out of ways to say that she was universalizing her own shit. Second, I read this article, and realized that she had so many serious issues that it would be unsporting to continue to mock her.
*** I’m one of those people; I chose to leave. The priest who performed my First Communion and saw me through Confirmation abused as many as 50 boys, many of whom I knew. He was moved from parish to parish and was not removed from ministry until the efforts of the Diocese to prevent one of his victims from telling his parents failed; this victim eventually sued, and the family was under a gag order as part of a civil settlement until they began to become aware of other victims and spoke out. My family first became aware of the abuse by Father Hanley when a male relative of my parents’ generation warned my mother in case Hanley had abused my brothers. He’d found out about Hanley’s abuse – which was not yet public knowledge — because he himself was in a support group for victims of clerical sexual abuse – his had taken place in a nearby town in the 1940s and 50s (so much for Woodstock being to blame) and he was pressured into silence. And then we moved to a different state, where it turns out the priest who married my sister abused at least eleven boys. According to reports, the Diocese had had complaints about him dating back to the 1960s, but did nothing other than move him to different parishes until victims started going public in 1993.
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