Religions Disarm Women: Exhibit 1, Tom & Katie

from Flickr user Wamponi

I don’t really follow celebrity gossip.

But I’ve wondered what the hell was happening in Katie Holmes’s head when she married Tom Cruise.  His notorious religious zealotry would be enough to scare me away.  And the seventeen year age difference.  Sometimes I feel like being four years my partner’s junior is too much.

I used to work at a fancy restaurant that hosted the local Scientology clan, and those folks were SOOO cagey!  They closed the doors during their “meetings” (which appeared, from the window of the kitchen door through which I spied, to be fundraising sessions), wouldn’t even let us in to refill their coffees, and they were fastidious about collecting ALL of their documents and paperwork before leaving.  Which, if you’ve ever waited tables for business or church luncheons/dinners, you know is weird.  Typically, after those sorts of things, every surface is cluttered with piles of papers, folders, pamphlets, stickers, bookmarks, etc.

And I’ve always thought Tom Cruise was creepy, even when I was a kid, before I knew that there was such a thing as scientology.  In fact, my grandma was Christian Scientist, and for a long time, I thought that Scientology was the short version of Christian Scientist.

Maybe it’s his role in Magnolia that did it for me, and Katie Holmes’s role in Wonder Boys that made me feel like she’s a kindred spirit, but crazy lives in the eyes, and Cruise’s little ferret beads have always struck me as off.  Even in interviews, when he’s trying to be glib and good-natured, it seems like there’s a violent tide ebbing just below the veneer.

So over these years when I’ve thought about Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, I have pictured her, bruised below the neck and cowering under the stairs, moist eyes, praying that Suri doesn’t wake up. Or I have imagined her brainwashed, copying from L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction every day.

And then I read this article about how Christian women are sometimes convinced by emotionally or physically abusive men that God says to stay put, or they are self-imprisoned, they believe it is their duty to God to endure.  The piece is a book review of sorts.  But it’s frank and openly critical of that mindset, from the perspective of a Christian woman. Here’s a taste:

To begin with, the author assumes that only those husbands who abandon their faith become angry, bitter, and abusive — and she offers no help for women whose abusive husbands are fully committed Christians acting in accordance with patriarchal teachings derived from the bible; she quotes random bible verses out of context to convince abused women that they are safe from actual violent abuse so long as they remain close to God; she appears to believe a woman’s display of piety (praying out loud for her abuser and telling him that she is giving him over to the Lord, for example) is the way to truly intimidate her abusive husband and get him to back off; she advises victims not to “make the abuse worse” by reacting to their abusers’ anger (followed by the whiplash-inducing about-face when she admonishes victims to never allow anyone to convince you that the abuse is your fault); and to top it all off, the author encourages abuse victims to take charge of their lives by finding a hobby.

Laughable, isn’t it?

I have read, though I don’t recall where, perhaps on Facebook? that some women who wear burqas and participate in the other religiously mandated demurring view this as a feminist behavior.  And as a fair-minded feminist, I have to concede that it is their right to do that if it pleases them.  But I also have to wonder if they would feel the same if they could separate themselves from their contexts intellectually.  What mammal enjoys being caged?  Don’t we cage felons as a matter of punishment?  Don’t we cage people for lesser offenses than domestic violence, however it shapes itself? Don’t we make it insanely difficult for women to seek protection from physical and non-physical abuse for themselves and their children?  Isn’t there a kind of prevailing sense that “she deserved it”? What is a Burqa if it is not a cage?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how women remain at a disadvantage in most heterosexual love relationships.  Our men–the ones who are not thoughtful, who do not express and research feminist ideals as a matter of principle and awareness–are so culturally ingrained that their lives, work, preferences, goals have greater weight than ours; and more than that, though some men do bond with their children fully, women, by virtue of having carried and birthed our progeny, and by virtue of being culturally expected–and often desiring–to take a more active interest and role in our children’s lives remain indentured servants, relying on our partners to fill in the financial gaps, so that if we wish to flee, it is almost inconceivable.  We give up financial support, a partner in child care, our homes, sex.  Even rich women like Katie Holmes.

And so it strikes me as particularly insane that we women will imprison ourselves for religious reasons in addition to the cultural ones that many of us already fight (or embrace) on a daily basis.

Read this blog.  It’s terrifying, but I think that too often women put up with shitty behavior from their partners because they don’t leave physical marks.  Because we are taught from an early age that we are little more than accessories.  It is the exception for a woman to be both regular looking and successful.

My aunt stayed with us for a while when I was eight.  She and I shared a room and traded messages in a tiny mailbox.  It was cool.  As a kid, I had no idea what had happened, but she used to make me toast with butter all the way to the edges.  She had been sprung from her not-physically-abusive marriage by my dad.  He went and got her from this guy who’d beaten her up verbally to such an extent that she couldn’t swallow.  Her psychological damage had manifested physically.

I think the internet and television and the way our constant global access is shrinking the world is a good thing for women.  I applaud Katie for getting away from Tom and for fighting for custody.  I applaud her for seeing her way out of whatever extent to which she was beholden to the Scientology doctrine.

And I think that this global shrinking and the power of words and writing will ultimately disarm the patriarchy.  It will allow us to examine our own lives in light of other women’s, to find solidarity remotely, to work remotely for work-life balance, to, though there are feminists who have said very publicly recently that women can’thave it all.

[It’s not fair to suggest that Slaughter says women can’t have it all, she doesn’t say that.  She says women can’t have it all in the current paradigm.  She seems to harbor great hope that women of my generation and after will be able to reconfigure the way the world views women’s contributions, to redefine feminism & having it all.]

I’m reminded of my favorite scene from Mary Poppins and how ridiculous it is that this song–from a film in 1964–is still so relevant, more than 50 years later.

Solidarity, sisters.  Fuck the patriarchy.


Author: April Line Writing

Writing about whatever the f*ck I want.

2 thoughts on “Religions Disarm Women: Exhibit 1, Tom & Katie”

  1. I love the Mary Poppins’ song …. I can’t believe I didn’t read this one before! Thank you for linking to me … and, wow, terrifying. Right. It is terrifying, my story … these stories. Too common and terrifying. The story of Tom and Katie has always freaked me out, too. Sigh. Nicely written… I enjoyed reading this one (and so many of yours).

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