"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Friday, May 18, 2007

Feminism Friday: More Laws on our Bodies

I saw this thisWomen's E-News article covered last week on Our Bodies, Our Blog, and it was so frustrating and fascinating I had to share it. As a former teacher, it hit really close to home.

I recommend reading the whole article, but to summarize, it's about a teacher at a Catholic School in Wisconsin who was fired after becoming pregnant with twins via in vitro fertilization.

"School administrators told Romenesko she violated a 'morals clause' in her contract to 'teach and act in accordance with Catholic doctrine and Catholic moral and social teachings.' According to a November 2004 written decision of the school system's board of trustees, 'the medical procedure followed by Kelly Romenesko is in violation of church doctrine' and constituted a breach of the morals clause."

The article continues to highlight other such cases, including a teacher who was fired for having once been an escort for Planned Parenthood, and the President of the National Association of Catholic Teachers admits that when its union members ask questions about health coverage for reproductive procedures, she advises them to use their husband's medical plan in order to keep their decisions more private. This, of course, assumes that these teachers are heterosexual, married to men, and that their partners have adequate health insurance.

Now, I understand that these are parochial schools and therefore in many ways exempt from the same Equal Protection laws that public schools that are fully government (taxpayer) funded are required to follow. And I get that based on U.S. interest in protecting the free practice of religion, we often jump to the defense of religious institutions, but I can't help but get frustrated with a case like this. Because it's not just a religious issue. It's an employment issue. The article points out that there are 150,502 teachers in the Catholic school system who are not Catholic, and based on national statistics of teachers in general, one can naturally assume that majority of them are women. Women who are disproportionately effected by these policies that enforce "morality" as a condition of employment.

Not only do women have the burden of their reproductive biology making their "moral transgressions" more obvious than men's, but because of those nasty double standards, a woman's morality is always held to a higher standard, and a greater stigma is attached to her behavior if it is deemed questionable. The history of American education is riffe with stories of women who have been discriminated against for what goes on in their private lives, whether it's for becoming pregnant outside of marriage, not being allowed to work after marriage, or merely for "questionable" behavior that bothers parents or administrators. And it really gets under my skin that this is still going on. Not only that, but it's protected by our laws.