A new Lenten discipline

George Weigel

For Lent 2016, I adopted a new Forty Days discipline in addition to intensified prayer, daily almsgiving, and letting my liver have its annual vacation: I quit sports talk radio, cold turkey.

This was not easy, as the purchase of a car with an XM radio years before had turned me into a reasonable facsimile of a sports talk radio addict. I’d listen to Steve Czaban when driving early in the morning, Dan Patrick when driving mid- to late-morning, Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon on my way home, and whatever-was-available-that-wasn’t Stephen A. Smith at other times. I never called in, mind you. But I had half a dozen sports talk shows pre-set on my car’s XM system, and if nothing grabbed me among the nationally-broadcast yack fests there were always the locals in Washington and Baltimore.

It’s now been a year since I tuned-in to a sports talk radio program and I am, I hope, a better man for it – albeit no less a sports nut.

I should admit that, before I made the decision to shake off the coils of this addiction, the sports talk radio world, ESPN (from which I auto-liberated at the same time), and Sports Illustrated (which I’ve been reading since the fourth or fifth grade) were beginning to annoy me with their self-conscious political correctness. As if to prove that sports people, those who make a living jabbering about sports, and sports fans really aren’t knuckle-dragging Neanderthals, sports talk radio and a lot of the rest of the Sports Industrial Complex has become an avid promoter of the LGBTQ agenda, often in the silliest ways. Sports Illustrated may have something useful to say about the concussion epidemic in football; Sports Illustrated has nothing useful or sensible to say to the citizens of North Carolina about their views of “bathroom rights.” Enough of this was enough, and I was glad to be quit of it, as we say below the Mason-Dixon Line.

More positively, breaking the sports talk radio habit cleared my mind. I didn’t have to pretend that even the best of the talkers, like Mr. Patrick, weren’t constantly repeating themselves while trying to find that sweet spot where the millennials, and others with the disposable income advertisers crave, live and breathe and have their being. And when you get below the Dan Patrick level, there’s a ton of nonsense being talked to fill all that airtime, for there’s really only so much to be said about our games. Then there was the aggravation of artificially ginned-up hysteria. As mainstream television news became weather-hysteric after Hurricane Katrina, the sports talk radio world was indulging in one hysteria after another, all surnamed
“-gate”, of which Deflategate was the most ludicrous in breadth, depth, and length (if not necessarily in, er, volume).

Better yet, breaking the habit opened up all sorts of other possibilities while driving. I could pray the rosary. I could listen to a lot of good music – and I did, discovering classical masterpieces I hadn’t known before (like Handel’s Keyboard Suites), or finding renditions of previously beloved compositions I hadn’t heard before (like Anne-Sophie Mutter’s transcendent performance of the Dvorak Violin Concerto), or reliving the best of Sixties rock. What, I ask you, is the audiocast of “Pardon the Interruption” compared to that?

And then there was the happy possibility of simply driving in silence, seeing things I hadn’t noticed before, and thinking thoughts I hadn’t thought before, when I was being harried by prattle about the incomprehensible, like the NFL Combine or the Cleveland Browns’ draft choices. Silence, as Cardinal Robert Sarah argues in a fine book being published next month, is essential to the spiritual life. God came to Elijah, not as a sport talk radio host would – loudly – but as a “still small voice” [1 Kings 19.12]. That voice is hard to hear amidst the cacophony of contemporary life. If we wish to hear it more clearly, we have to tune out the static, turn down the volume, and listen to the silence.

So my fraternal counsel to fellow-Catholics of the sports-nut subdivision: take a break from sports talk radio this Lent. It’s a good discipline in itself, and it just might open you up to some surprising, if quiet, transmissions from another Source.

COMING UP: Don’t be fooled: Feminism isn’t really about choice

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OK, call me crazy. But I the only one who remembers, in my formative years, hearing repeatedly from the feminists that feminism was about freeing us women to make our own choices about our own lives? If we wanted to pursue high powered careers, we should be free to do that. And if we wanted to stay home and raise babies . . . well, that was a valid choice as well. One got the impression that they didn’t understand why any self-respecting woman would make such a choice. But they nevertheless gave some good lip service, sometimes through rather clenched jaws, to our right to choose it.

Well, apparently not so much anymore. Everything I have been reading lately indicates that the facade is gone. Motherhood is out. Careers are in.

That previous incarnation of feminism — the one where women get to make their own choices about their own lives — is now called “Choice Feminism.” And it is so 1995. If you don’t believe me, just google it. I did.

What I found was a whole lot of academic, Marxist-sounding ideology about class and the patriarchy and struggle and some “queer” stuff that I didn’t quite understand. Basically it all boiled down to this: we women may think we are making our own choices. But we aren’t, because our choices are all so influenced by the patriarchy and the oppressive conditions under which we are forced to exist.

So, we should instead choose what they tell us to choose.

At least that’s what it all sounded like to me.

I understand the criticism of “choice feminism” to a certain extent. Many writers spoke out against this idea that any choice a woman makes is somehow a feminist statement. The most-common example I saw was that of the “liberated” stripper who celebrates her stripper-ness as some kind of victory for feminism. Which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

But, do you know what the second-most common example was? The choice of a mother to stay at home with her kids.

It seems to baffle them that any woman would make such a bizarre sacrifice. It must be because of the patriarchy. Or because child raising is still perceived by our sexist society as “women’s work.” Or because we are still tethered to a ”1950’s male breadwinner model.”

It doesn’t seem to occur to them that it could be because women, having nurtured these tiny little creatures within their own bodies, may actually want to spend their time nurturing and raising them.

The piece de resistance was a widely circulated article in the Australian magazine RendezView, which actually proposes that mothers of school-aged children be forced, under penalty of law, to be “gainfully employed” outside the home. Says Sarrah Le Marquand, somewhat awkwardly, “Only when the tiresome and completely unfounded claim that ‘feminism is about choice’ is dead and buried (it’s not about choice, it’s about equality) will we consign restrictive gender stereotypes to history.”

So, I’m thinking that by “choice” she means “freedom of self-determination”; by “equality”, she means “women being just like men.”; and by “restrictive gender stereotypes”, she means “biological and psychosexual differences that impact our lifestyle choices.”

But the women of the world clearly aren’t voluntarily marching into her brave new world of gender uniformity. And so it is time to employ the long arm of the law. Says she, “. . . it’s time for a serious rethink of this kid-glove approach to women of child-bearing and child-rearing age. Holding us less accountable when it comes to our employment responsibilities is not doing anyone any favours [sic].”

(I have to confess I’m somewhat curious about what will happen to unemployment numbers in Australia when every mother exercises her “employment responsibilities” and enters the workforce. But I digress.)

And so, the mask is off. Feminism was never about allowing women to choose what they want. It is about coercing women to choose what these feminists want them to choose.

It is not not surprising that, in a recent poll, 85% of women responded that they support equality for women, yet only 15% said that they identify as a “feminist.” The movement has moved away from the women it is supposed to represent.

As for me, I don’t want the State, or the Feminist Powers That Be, to issue a list of acceptable choices for women. Particularly when it comes to the often complicated question of whether a mother works or stays at home.

I still subscribe to the apparently antiquated notion that decisions like these are best made by the couple in question.

I know. Call me crazy . . .