The Pope and His “Patriarchy Problem,” Again – The Feminist Wire

The Pope and His “Patriarchy Problem,” Again

By Zillah Eisenstein

I am writing this on the train traveling from Milan to Venice, Italy. Many people here are excited that Pope Francis arrives in the U.S. to so much acclaim. And many inside the U.S. are happy to have a reprieve for a bit, from the Republican presidential fiasco. The Republicans are filled with such hate and the Pope is filled with so much love. Pope Francis is deeply concerned for the poor, while so many of our own politicians have only disdain for them.Pope Francis

I admire that Pope Francis speaks on behalf of the poor and against the excesses of capitalism leading to climate change, horrific poverty, and immense suffering. But, at the risk of being a feminist killjoy, as Sara Ahmed might have it, I cannot abide his refusal to acknowledge how women have a special relationship to poverty, and the violence connected to it.

Poverty is a world problem/crisis suffered disproportionately by women and girls of every color in every global site. Their lack of full equality both inside and outside the Church AND their lack of birth control and options for abortion make their lives economically precarious and vulnerable.

No one can successfully address poverty or inequality without recognizing the structural dependence between capitalism and (racialized) patriarchy. Patriarchy is part of poverty and inequality, like capitalism is. Being equal and controlling one’s body and its reproductive needs are key to women, as key as controlling labor is to her and the proletariat. It is time to stop speaking of inequality as though economic equality is not simultaneously racial and gendered.

The Pope needs to radically pluralize and complexify his vision. He needs to have an “intersectional” view as offered by Kim Crenshaw that recognizes capitalism as structurally embedded in misogynist and racist practices. Without this focus, there can be no resolution to the massive poverty of today. The problem of inequality is not just capitalism. It is capitalist racist patriarchy.

Pope Francis’s critique of capitalism needs to become fully revolutionary and embrace the connection between capitalism and its foundational structures of patriarchy and racism. And, progressives as well as media persons who continue to praise the Pope need to query their own viewing of inequality in singular terms.

I love that Pope Francis is speaking up for the poor, but his continued silence about abortion, women’s voices in the church, and the horror of sexual violence is unconscionable. Women do not need forgiveness for having abortions. They need access and rights to have them when needed.

If we connect women’s rights to human rights, we should at least tie her rights to her body. And if economic inequality is a problem, so also is the racial and patriarchal inequality that a woman suffers. The nuns protesting in Philadelphia demanding ordination agree with me, at least in part.

I have said much of this before in my article published previously in The Feminist Wire. Watching from Italy, I felt I had to remind us all again.


Pope FrancisZillah Eisenstein has been a Professor of Politics at Ithaca College in New York for the past 35 years and is now “Distinguished Scholar in Residence” there. Besides her recently published THE AUDACITY OF RACES AND GENDERS: A PERSONAL AND GLOBAL STORY OF THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN (2009, Zed Press, London; Palgrave, U.S.), her books include among others: SEXUAL DECOYS, GENDER, RACE AND WAR IN IMPERIAL DEMOCRACY (London, Zed Press; New York, Palgrave, 2007); AGAINST EMPIRE, ibid.; HATREDS: RACIALISED AND SEXUALIZED CONFLICTS IN THE 21ST CENTURY, (Routledge, 1996); GLOBAL OBSCENTITIES: PATRIARCHY, CAPITALISM AND THE LURE OF CYBERFANTASY (NYU PRESS, 1996); and MANMADE BREAST CANCERS, (Cornell Univ. Press, 2001). For more information see:


  1. Naomi Dagen Bloom

    September 28, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    Refreshing to read a woman’s, a feminist perspective on the Pope’s visit. You sum it up on the statement, “I cannot abide his refusal to acknowledge how women have a special relationship to poverty, and the violence connected to it.”

    Americans, understandably desperate for the expression of kindness and generosity in the public space, responded to his aura.

  2. Pingback: #allelse: #ShoutYourAbortion, women's careers, sex crime, gender inequality, the pope (feimineach)

  3. Carole Boyce Davies

    October 2, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    Thank you for this Zillah.

    The announcement by Kim Davis PR machine that the Pope gave her audience which she herself gleefully popularized left me feeling that we were “conned,” “hoodwinked” as Malcolm X once said or “played” in common expression. How could The Pope or his handlers not know that her getting an audience with him was not strategic. If so, then he was part of it. If not, then the Catholic bureaucracy made sure it happened to counter his reluctance to engage this publicly. So while many of us were happy with his presence, his charm, his visit to prisons and the homeless, what happened to women’s rights in all this? Zillah nails it here. It is easy to forget that Pope is also Papa in Latin American languages. He is technically the big father, read patriarch, Latin American or not, of Catholicism and given its imperialistic history, the fact that he presided over the canonization (making a saint of) a priest who many indigenous peoples saw as ushering in the violence provides us with another “intersectional” sign glaring back at us now.