Books + Comics

Literally the Worst Thing Ever: Picture Book of Saints

For teaching me that the best thing a woman can be is a victim, that pain is a virtue, that the highest achievement in life is death—I bestow this honor on this accursed book.

When I was in first grade, I was given a copy of a children’s book. I can’t remember who gave it to me, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t look through it too closely before purchasing. It was entitled Picture Book of Saints, written by Reverend Lawrence G. Lovasik, and it was pretty much what it sounded like: a book of miniature biographies of various Catholic saints whom we might model our own lives after, with color illustrations depicting them at their most saintly.

The saints, Rev. Lovasik informs us in his introduction, “are your brothers and sisters in heaven. They want to help you get to heaven. Try to be like the saints in doing all you can to know, love, and serve God as they did, and in this way save your soul.” This sounded like a good idea to me, an observant little Catholic. And it might have been harmless or even helpful if it hadn’t been attached to this particular source material. But the reason I remember Lovasik’s advice lo these many years later is because of what followed: a cavalcade of horror stories that freaked me out way more than any scary movie ever could.

I took Lovasik’s exhortation seriously, studied his examples closely, and learned a lot from them. And while there is no one identifiable source for all of my many psychological hangups, if I had to rank things I took in as a child in order of how much they messed up my little brain, Picture Book of Saints would probably be at the top of the list. Here’s why.

Image via Picture Book of Saints

Let’s start with the first saint I tried to be like. I was young and female, so clearly the youngest female saint would be an appropriate role model, right?

Agnes was only twelve years old when she was led to the altar of the pagan goddess Minerva in Rome to offer incense to her. But she raised her hands to Jesus Christ and made the Sign of the Cross.

And, guys, she was so pretty! And principled! Like Katniss Everdeen, but with Jesus as her Peeta. Surely, everything would work out well if I behaved like Agnes.

The soldiers bound her hands and feet. Her young hands were so thin that the chains slipped from her wrists. When the judge saw that she was not afraid of pain, he had her clothes stripped off, and she had to stand in the street before a pagan crowd.

Oh. Oh my. You would expect the story to make at least a couple of stops before it landed on sexual abuse, but never mind. I was sure it would steer away from further horrors going forward, because Lord knows a reverend would not want to give his young readers any trauma-related complexes. Anyway, back to Agnes’s heroism in the face of leering men.

While the crowd turned away from her, a young man dared to look at her with sinful thoughts. A flash of lightning struck him blind. Agnes was offered the hand of a young man in marriage, but she answered, “Christ is my spouse. He chose me first and His I will be.”

OK, the idea of a 12-year-old being engaged to anyone, even Jesus, is disturbing. As is the fact this entire holy story has revolved around the nudity and bondage of a child. But Agnes has her principles, and now that she’s stood up for them, I’m sure we’ll learn a valuable lesson about standing by your beliefs and how everything will turn out all right in the end.

After having prayed, [Agnes] bowed her neck to the sword. At one stroke, her head was cut off, and the angels took her soul to heaven.

And this is a person whose (short) life we’re supposed to imitate?

If the book contained just one disturbing story, it would be only wildly inappropriate, but probably not the Worst Thing Ever. But, no, as you flip through this book you find that any saint who is portrayed as young, female, and pretty has a very specific life story. Pagans want to marry them, they refuse, and so they are tortured and murdered.

Image via Picture Book of Saints

The beginning of Saint Barbara: “Barbara was brought up a heathen. She was a very beautiful young woman, and many princes came to ask for her hand in marriage.” The end of Saint Barbara: “Her father came for her and took her to a mountain, where he himself beheaded her while she was praying to God to have mercy on his soul.” The beginning of Saint Lucy: “At an early age Lucy offered herself to God. The rich young man who wanted to marry her was so angry at her refusal that he accused her of being a Christian.” The end of Saint Lucy: “The governor ordered a fire to be built around her, but Lucy was not harmed. At last, a sword was buried in her heart.” The beginning of Saint Cecilia: “Cecilia was a member of a noble family of Rome and a follower of Christ. Her parents forced her to marry a nobleman named Valerian.” The end of Saint Cecilia, notable for the sheer levels of torture porn inflicted on a wee, impressionable audience: “The judge condemned her to be smothered by steam. But God protected Cecilia. Then the judge ordered a soldier to kill her with a sword. He struck her three times, but did not cut off her head. She fell down, wounded, and for three days she remained alive.” (At this point, if God was at all invested in protecting Cecilia, you’d think he’d have the decency to speed up the whole bleeding-to-death-from-gaping-neck-wounds thing.) And then there’s Saint Dymphna, notable for refusing to marry her own dad. (He was a pagan. I’m assuming this wasn’t the only factor in her decision.) Did this put her father in a beheading mood? You bet. Better question: are there any other moods in these stories?

Image via Picture Book of Saints

The problem with this book isn’t just that it is violent and sexual, although that is cause for alarm given its intended age group. The problem is that these stories praised women for being meek and mild and virtuous, and doing nothing to save their own lives in the face of persecution. They taught me something very specific about female heroism, which is that a good woman, a woman who stands by her beliefs, is a woman in pain. The best thing for a woman to be is a victim, for that is true virtue.

I don’t have a problem with vulnerability. I don’t have a problem with talking about suffering. Abuse, illness, grief, oppression, breakdowns, breakups, and just plain bad days—all of these exist in the world, and it’s only by admitting our pain that we can begin to deal with it. But there’s a difference between accepting vulnerability and pain, and fetishizing them.

The fact is, it’s not the Catholic Church that we should blame for all these stories of beautiful female victimhood. Our culture has always loved female victims. We go to museums to look at paintings of the fragile Ophelia, drowning herself in a wreath of flowers because no one loves her, rather than writing a couple of mean lute ballads about her ex. (“Yea verily, I thought that we were forever ever ever / Then you wore all black, and were a real jackass / We shalt not get back together.”) We swap Sylvia Plath quotes and poems on Tumblr, sometimes ignoring that Plath’s “madness” was not chic feminist alienation or a case of the bummers, but a serious and disabling illness. We idolize and memorialize fragile, doomed sex symbols like Marilyn Monroe or Edie Sedgwick. We love Laura Palmer, wrapped in plastic and bright blue, tortured and murdered just as surely as good St. Dymphna.

It’s natural to seek voices for our pain, and images to match. But pain isn’t a condition to which you should aspire. Pain isn’t glamorous, or deep, or special, or interesting. Pain is usually a sign that something is wrong, and if it’s fixable, you need to fix it. And any book that tells you otherwise is suspect. Such stories of female martyrs lead us astray—they’re a sly and sneaky way to prevent women from ever really standing up for themselves. Agnes, Dymphna, Barbara, Cecilia: they’re all defiant and principled. But to be defiant and principled, in this book, is to let people treat you terribly, and do nothing to stop it. Here suffering is something God actively wants for us; it’s only by submitting virtuously and constantly to it that we can prove we’re truly good. Too good for this world, in fact, which means we must self-destruct.

Of course, these are old stories, and they come from a time when women didn’t have a lot of options. But we had more in 1962, when Father Lawrence published his own interpretations. We had more in the ’90s, when this book was apparently still considered an appropriate gift to give a small child. And we have a lot more now, when I still see Picture Book of Saints on people’s bookshelves. Maybe it’s time to tell little girls different kinds of stories. ♦

114 Comments

  • lacecat January 16th, 2013 11:18 PM

    OMG! Picture Book of Saints! Yes, the best thing ever. When I was younger, my babysitter used to read me this book! I always used to think that it was a fairy and Saint Cecelia was Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. Haha, I’d thought I would never see this on rookie. :) <3

    • lacecat January 16th, 2013 11:19 PM

      I meant to say fairytale, sorry

    • kendallakwia January 17th, 2013 3:03 PM

      I think you missed the point of the article

    • poetess January 17th, 2013 3:33 PM

      What.

  • JillianYvette January 16th, 2013 11:20 PM

    This is so perfect. I completely forgot I owned this book when I was just a toddler until now! Of course, I never understood what it was trying to tell me. Good thing all I used it for was a paint palette.

  • Mintvirgin January 16th, 2013 11:30 PM

    I have given a children’s Bible when I was little. I really liked looking at the pictures and reading wonderful stories about Jesus and other Bible heroes.
    I like this article, so honest feelings are in it!

    http://mintvirgin.blogspot.ru/

  • Julia845 January 16th, 2013 11:39 PM

    “Pain isn’t glamorous, or deep, or special, or interesting. Pain is a sign that something is wrong, and you need to fix it.”
    ahhh thiiiis. this is something I need to tell myself every day. Thank you for the article!

  • AKH January 16th, 2013 11:44 PM

    I would have to disagree with your point that these stories as sexual and glorifying violence. The point was not that these women were forced into sexual situations or harmed and killed, the point was that they stood by their faith despite these situations. No one would say “Go get yourself murdered for God.” They’re saying you should be faithful no matter the circumstances. The “pagans” who force these women and kill them are the bad guys. You could even say that some of the stories are the beginnings of feminism-women standing up to men in power, albeit for what they believe is a higher power. I rarely defend the Catholic Church, but in this case I believe your reading of these situations is thoroughly skewed so I wanted to provide another point of view.
    I do agree with the point of your article-pain for pain’s sake is a terrible idea. But the way you got to this point, I believe, is flawed.

    • pippilotta January 17th, 2013 12:05 AM

      AKH, your comment puts into words exactly what I was thinking as I read this article.

    • missblack January 17th, 2013 12:11 AM

      Yes, exactly. I was also thinking the same thing.

      It’s true that these stories are violent (after all, Christianity has a long history of violence – Christians have been persecuted and murdered for millenia) but the Point of them, and it is a very religious point, is that these people – and yes, I say people, because men are included among these saints, martyred men like St. Peter, who was crucified upside down, or St. Bartholomew, who was flayed to death, or St. Theophilus, who was buried alive, or St. Adrian, who was tortured and killed in front of his wife – were very strongly persecuted and were killed for refusing to deny their faith (because the only way for them to stop their suffering, as the article says, would be to deny their beliefs).

      I understand the point being made in this article that pain shouldn’t be glorified but I think that hijacking these religious stories and completely changing their meaning is not the way to do it.

      • hanalady January 17th, 2013 1:49 AM

        While I totally appreciate that you had a positive experience with these stories and I don’t mean to diminish or attack that in any way, I have to say that I object to the phrase “hijacking religious stories and completely changing their meanings.” Just because Sady’s reading wasn’t complimentary doesn’t mean it was necessarily invalid. She looked at the stories in front of her and wrote an essay about her personal response to the elements of sex, violence, and suffering and the effect they had on her worldview as a child. I’m not saying you are wrong to find these lady saints inspiring, I’m just saying that a positive reading is not the only valid one… there are plenty of Catholic scholars and lay-people who think the whole saint thing is a little weird and sexist too.

      • NotReallyChristian January 17th, 2013 4:44 AM

        Christian’s haven’t exactly been ‘persecuted for millenia’. They were a persecuted minority for approximately 300 years, but since then they’ve pretty much been in charge of everything. Yes, there have been incidences of violence against Christians since the battle of the Milvian bridge, but in general this idea of Christianity as a religion of martyrs is completely misplaced, and leaves a bad taste in the mouth when you know that since then Christians have done a lot of the persecuting.

        • writergirl January 17th, 2013 11:51 AM

          While it’s true that in North America and throughout many parts of Europe, Christians still experience a lot of privilege (and power), that isn’t the case in other parts of the world. Christians are persecuted in a lot of countries today. Recently, a lot of news coverage has been given to the persecution of Christians in Syria, but it’s also something that happens often in many other places. For example, in China many Christians have to meet secretly in “house churches,” and Christians are often sent to labour camps if they are discovered practicing their beliefs.

      • Roz G. January 17th, 2013 6:42 PM

        thank you I completely agree!
        It is not only female saints who are killed in gruesome ways. Male saints also suffered for their faith. I always admire somebody who can stand up for their beleifs even in the face of torture/danger/death, whether it’s “” fighting for women’s educational rights or Saint Lucy, beautifully refusing to give up the faith that gives her life meaning even thought doing it would save her life.

        Also, I really don’t think these female saints you mentioned (all of them, remarkably from the early days of christendom in the age of the great roman persecution) represent female submission in any way. Sure they are meek and accepting of God’s will, as Christianity preaches one should be. But they are brave and fierce and eager to stand up to men who are trying to force them into doing things they don’t want to do. St Agnes defied not only her husband-to-be but the very prefect of Rome. They are indeed good examples for young catholic girls who wish to be good women in the manner their faith proposes they be.

        If the girl doesn’t want to be catholic then she sould simply take example in the aforementioned courage and integrity.

    • Claire January 17th, 2013 12:49 AM

      Thank you, AKH!

      While I also agree with the main point of the article, the way you chose to make your point is, IMO, misguided & a little offensive.

      These aren’t just “stories” about women who were meek & didn’t stand up for themselves. If anything, these women were radical- they stood up for their beliefs to the extent that they chose torture and death over capitulating to societal pressures about what they should believe in. They refused to conform. Your point that, “Of course, these are old stories…” comes a little late in the article, like it’s an afterthought that using examples from ancient Roman societies might not translate easily to modern instances of the point you’re making. So, maybe the women made pretty radical statements? Maybe like Buddhist monks self-immolating in Tibet today? Or MLK’s non-violent approach to protesting?

      I understand you are writing this from a female’s perspective, however, it seems like you are skewing information by making it appear as if the female saints are the ones who bear all of the suffering. Male saints suffered some excruciating torture. It may be more of a saint thing than a female thing

      You are spot on in saying that this book should not be left in that hands of kids- it’s way too intense/grotesque! And I agree with the overall argument- but your decision to use female saints as your main example, & the article’s shallow understanding of why they chose that method & why they are now considered martyrs was what left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

      I love Rookie, but the angle here felt offensive and close-minded :(

    • plutosproject January 17th, 2013 1:22 AM

      I was going to make a comment on this whole article about this but AKH put it perfectly. Gah, whatever- I need to put in my two cents.

      When you wrote that these ladies were doing nothing in the face of persecution, one could look at it in the way that their martyrdom is their way of defying everything and protecting everything they believe. So in a way, it could be seen as a very rebellious/radical form of rebellion, not just standing by passively. And again, though I did not grow up with these stories, I think that the stories weren’t published to prove that female heroism is defined by a woman in pain, or a woman who is a victim who never stood up for themselves. To state that these women did “nothing” is unfortunate– it imposes a lot of questions; so is passive resistance doing “nothing?”
      Also, martyrdom in painful and unimaginable ways should not be narrowed down to females as it also exists for the men as well.

      The point of your article was made very clear with examples of Edie Sedgwick, Laura Palmer, etc. And I totally agree with that pain shouldn’t be glorified. But, like others, I don’t think that was the point of the picture book as for some people, when they were younger, that was the message they received.

    • marineo January 17th, 2013 1:37 AM

      ^^this

      i thought this sort of thing would be done after the “faith” month.

      yet again i am more than a tad disappointed with rookie for having almost all of their negative articles about religion about catholicism.

      i mean, i don’t even like church… i haven’t been to mass in two years… but really? this again?

      i am sorry sady that your experience with the stories of the saints came at such an young age (i mean, they are ridiculously not-appropriate for children.) but i feel that there are so many other interpretations of these stories that this article just makes me uncomfortable. these stories were taught to me as people, men and women, sticking up for what they believed in. ( as stated by others, in ancient times catholics were the ones being persecuted ) maybe my church just glossed over the bloody details, but i feel that the use of these stories in this article is mean spirited…

      • Anaheed January 17th, 2013 2:30 AM

        I’m so sorry that we didn’t make clear enough that this article isn’t criticizing these saints, or Catholicism — it is about one book. I’m sure you agree that offensive, sexist books can be written about any subject, including feminism, atheism, pizza, whatever. Can you let me know what we could have done to make the piece’s point of view clearer?

        • ICantThinkOfAUsername January 17th, 2013 4:40 AM

          Hi, I’ve got to say that I agree with marineo that though this article is, as you say, about one particular book and not Catholicism as a whole (btw I don’t know that you could have done anything to make this clearer – it’s right there in the title, and i don’t think the issue is one of clarity anyway), it does read as being very critical towards Catholicism. I think this is because, rather than critiquing this one particular book’s interpretation of these myths – by, say, comparing them to some of the original texts they appear in – Sady seems to be critiquing the myths themselves, referring to the book as merely a point of reference. The message seems to be that these myths, and the religion they belong to, are offensive, and that the book is offensive more by association than a fault(s) on behalf of the author.

          • Anaheed January 17th, 2013 2:53 PM

            Ah, OK, I get that. I think that when I read this piece I stil had in mind Sady’s piece earlier this month about fairy tales, and so I took this one in as more of a textual criticism — that she was questioning the reasons why this writer chose THESE stories — why did he pick these, and why did he leave out the ones he did, and what did he include or leave out within the stories?

        • reginageorge January 17th, 2013 7:19 AM

          I’m not marineo but for me it was the fact that the book itself is not that unsual. The quotes never indicate that the author of the book is saying anything about female suffering, just that he’s presenting the stories of the saints which you hear a lot about if you’re a young catholic person. He was probably coming from the more common perspective that saints of both genders stood up for what they believed in even when it cost them a great deal.

          She criticises the stories itself because of her take on it and then adds a “it’s not the Catholic Church that we should blame for all these stories of beautiful female victimhood” (oh, ok, so now it’s not just this book but the whole CC), before launching on a tirade to try to prove that these stories exist because our society is obsessed with female suffering.

          The only thing particularly disturbing about the book and the whole story is that clearly nobody bothered to check if her age group and personality made a book with stories about torture a suitable gift and nobody bothered to sit down with her and explain it to her.

          The article doesn’t just say “I was a kid and this book was totally scary”. If it did everyone in the comments would be sharing their stories about creepy childhood books or religious things they were scared of. Instead, it tries to be some kind of social critique with the book as the starting point, and not a good one at that – she addresses only the one theory that supports what she thinks, without considering other more common points like the one the book tries to make or explaining why she disagrees.

        • a-anti-anticapitalista January 17th, 2013 12:46 PM

          But the point is that there is nothing sexist here, you overlooked the entire context of the book and catholic ideology itself in order to make a totally unrelated point. I am not a Catholic nor a defender of it, and I actually do believe that many times the Catholic religion DOES advocate for people (particularly the less powerful) to simply accept their lot in life instead of fighting back, and indeed there is a loot of sexism embedded in it, but this is just not relevant to these stories -which are in fact the opposite of all that- and not a valid critique of the stories at all and could seriously misguide anyone trying to find out about the subject.

        • Roz G. January 17th, 2013 6:59 PM

          I think the article reads as a critique on Catholicism as a whole in the way it attacks one of the greatest pillars of it. Catholicism preaches that the son of God himself came down to Earth to DIE and SUFFER for all sinners. In so doing Chirst sent out the message that the way one must look at pain is indeed as if it were a virtue. That is to say, a way to strenghten character and faith.

          That is way the major symbol of Catholicism is their God suffering grossly upon a cross (an artifact whose modern equivalent would be an electric chair or a shot of morphine).

          This is a view particular of Catholics, that pain on earth should be endured with fortitude and in anticipation of the other world God has prepared for them.

          It is not a view of all religions nor is it something everybody should agree on. Mother Theresa had many a sick Hinduist man criticize the cross she wore around her neck and wonder about a God that would suffer and praise suffering.

          Like I said, no reason to agree with Mother Theresa or any catholic on this matter. But for a magazine that has such an amazing respect for cultural differences I was surprised at seeing so little respect shown towards religious ones. I would not like to read an article saying how praying to God five times a day facing the Mecca is THE WORST THING EVER, even though I’m not Muslim and so on.

          I love Rookie so much, but I was very sad to read this article.

        • Old Camelias January 17th, 2013 8:29 PM

          I think it’s hard to convey literary criticism when you listed this under “everything else” instead of “books+comics”. Sady’s social critique just seems to hang on to old catholic myths for fuel but in the end she goes beyond it. Plus she doesn’t say that the view about women’s weakness she’s criticizing is the book’s. She specifically says: “The fact is, it’s not the Catholic Church that we should blame for all these stories of beautiful female victimhood.”

          • Anaheed January 17th, 2013 9:00 PM

            Oh, that was a mistake on our part — I am recategorizing it now. And I totally understand your other points; thank you.

      • marineo January 18th, 2013 1:59 AM

        I totally agree that sexist boks can be written on any subject… but it’s just that although I have grown disillusioned with the Church in Rome itself (for it’s positions on gay rights, abortion, contraception etc.), I still believe in the saints and what they stand for, even if their stories were written by sexist humans. And that is always what I always took from the stories of the saints. Although these people were great for standing up for what they believed in (and I do believe that they were real people who existed although the stories are undoubtably embellished), their stories were written by humans, men in particular, and obviously sexist ones. I view that as the fault of the authors. Although I now see that maybe this is what Sady was going for–it certainly did not read that way for me. I read it as an attack on the saints themselves and the religion, even with the disclaimer, which came near the end of the article anyways, so by the time I got to it I was already pretty irritated.

        So it is not a question of being “clear” but simply they way the whole article was written. Although her intent may have been to criticize the authors, it did not read that way (for me), and that is what counts, unfortunately. Perception is reality. I now somewhat see that this was not her intent but the article still doesn’t sit well with me. I feel there was surely a better angle to take, maybe to emphasize stronger that the *authors* of the book were at fault, not the saints themselves. I’m not really sure.

      • marineo January 18th, 2013 2:00 AM

        This is a very nuanced issue for me that I haven’t exactly figured out all the answers to.

        My main problem with this article is that with many people already having an extremely negative view of Catholicism, this will only add fuel to that fire. Although I have distanced myself from the church, I don’t want people to see Catholics as evil people who hate women etc. but as humans who simply follow a religion led by other inherently flawed humans.

        My life experiences obviously influence my reaction to these articles. As I stated before (here and on other articles) I was raised catholic, and have had kids at school tell me (on multiple occasions) that all Catholics were evil and awful people. I grew protective of my faith because I was constantly on the defensive, trying to tell people that even thought the bureaucracy of the higher Church in Rome made a lot of bad decisions throughout history (indulgences, anyone?) that I was not a pontificate, I was not evil.

        During the times that I can’t bring my self to believe in God (like now, for example) the saints are something I can believe in. I know this might sound contradictory, but it is honestly how I feel. (this is one reason I don’t go to church anymore, some people [cough cough looking at you confirmation leader cough cough] couldn’t accept that I believed only certain things and not *absolutely everything* that the church taught.) I was never taught that their deaths was what made them saints, but rather the fact that they stood up for what they believe in.

      • marineo January 18th, 2013 2:01 AM

        3/3

        Therefore it’s hard for me to view this as just a book critique.

        I hope this can explain a bit more my earlier comment because I often respond quickly and don’t take the necessary time to edit and clarify.

        But thanks Anaheed for responding, that was really cool of you.

        (and sorry if this seems like I am trying to start a whole other argument, this is just my way of concluding my earlier remarks.) (and sorry this is so long I really spent a long time writing it so I hope it makes sense…)

    • a-anti-anticapitalista January 17th, 2013 12:38 PM

      I totally agree, it feels to me like the author was just trying to interpret this to fit her own beliefs in a very forced and dogmatic manner. Especially considering that this is not the nature of female saints but all saints -and martyrs across ideologies. It’s just a very forced “feminist” reading of it all. If anything, I think the author should have made their point considering all saints and saying that, in gerenal, people should stand up for themsleves instead of being tortured – but that still ignores the whole point of the stories: in this context being martyred IS standing up for what you believe in. What was this supposed to end in? the saint giving in and marrying the pagan? or killing everyone in the crowd? or escaping? isn’t denying the easier route and dealing with suffering and pain in public something brave? wouldn’t a “weak female” have done the easier thing and married the pagans? (not that I think it would have been more cowardly to kill yourself before they got to you -but people who face torture largely do it to make a point for society, and this is something which can be found in real-life and fictional stories for various ideologies for all sexes, like the May Day Haymarket Martyrs)

    • laliscooter88 January 17th, 2013 7:16 PM

      Thank you AKH! You took the words right out of my mouth. unfortunately I found this article somewhat offensive :(

    • Taylor WM January 17th, 2013 7:34 PM

      I definitely agree with this point…

    • Nikilodeon January 20th, 2013 5:18 AM

      AKH, missblack, Roz G, and Claire, thank you. I was going to comment on this but your own comments were very well-said. I love rookie so much, but I was so offended upon reading this article. I understand that perhaps the author may have had a negative experience with this book and perhaps Catholicism, but I feel that this is indeed a close-minded article that tries to use a picture book to summarize a religion. Anaheed, thank you for your clarification about this not being directed towards religion – I understand that this was not intended to bash one’s faith. However, I was deeply offended by the article. I know this sounds redundant after all the other comments, but to me, these saints did not represent how pain and suffering is the only way to good – rather, they represented how important it is to stick to your beliefs even though people give you shit for it. And I thought that was what rookie was all about! Prime example: your article by Tavi last year on “how not to care what other people think about you.” I love rookie because of how it celebrates individualism and being one’s own person, and in my opinion, I felt that this article went completely against what rookie stands for as a magazine by somehow insulting a religious group through the means of this picture book. I understand now that this was not the point. But it certainly did not come across as literary criticism to me. Even if Sady mentioned that “it’s not the Catholic church we should blame” this article seemed to insult the religion. It ridicules and satirizes this religion which is not funny at all to me.

  • junebug January 16th, 2013 11:50 PM

    I was grossly fixated on that book or something similar as a kid. It was like something twisted I couldn’t look away from, you know? And it was my CCD homework/my parents wanted me to look at it, so…

    But I honestly think it kind of fucked with my mind to be honest. Catholicism is so weird, looking back.

    • Isabelle97 January 17th, 2013 5:01 AM

      I totally agree with you.

  • MaggieBean January 16th, 2013 11:59 PM

    I was raised Catholic, and while my book of Saints wasn’t illustrated, I certainly had one.

    My patron saint is St. Margaret of Scotland, notable for her charity work and the reforms she helped introduce to the Scottish Church. She is usually pictured reading her devotional. She is one of the many female saints who seems to have achieved sainthood by marrying well and having some notable kids, but I’ve always been a fan, as she was actually doing stuff besides dying in weird ways for Jesus.

    The other famous Saint Margaret was a pious young virgin who refused to marry a Pagan and was then eaten by a dragon, from which she escaped, but then was killed anyway. Cruel and unusual!

  • Iona January 17th, 2013 12:09 AM

    This article is Rookie at its very best! Thank you Sady, this was a wonderfully honest and true article (also a hoot to read!). So many stories from western culture are like this, it goes unquestioned that the heroine must be meek and mild and not swashbuckling and being totally bad-ass on a horse! The only saint that has my respect is Joan of Arc, as she managed to do both, although, sadly came to an unfortunate end in the process…

  • emmahope January 17th, 2013 12:23 AM

    I actually studied this in university and it was fascinating, but no way in hell appropriate for kids…the thing I disagree with though, is that these saints are victims. THESE STORIES ARE ALL ABOUT STANDING UP FOR YOURSELF! (sorry caps cause important lol) Yes they are placed in positions of victimhood but through their narratives they find empowerment and strength, which is a super rare depiction of women when reading such old texts. one, saint Margaret, is just a badass bitch who beats up a demon! They speak out against their captors and frustrate them with their wit and sass. They suffer, but the whole point of their suffering is that it gives them strength, and that they are standing up for what they believe in, even though this puts them at a huge amount of danger (also, pretty sure none of them are ever actually raped). Admittedly though, there is a lot of sensual detail about their soft virginal bodies being cruelly whipped, so I deffo agree with you on the fetishisation part. If anyone is interested I would suggest giving some of the original texts a read!

    • Anaheed January 17th, 2013 2:24 AM

      I have to preface this comment by saying I know NOTHING about Catholicism or pretty much any religion, but I have been looking through Picture Book of Saints for fact-checking purposes, and while it’s true there are women in it who aren’t tortured (like Margaret), and men who are (e.g., Sebastian, John), it is striking how MOST of the women are praised for suffering for their beliefs, while MOST of the men are praised for acting on them (teaching, helping people, etc.). The men are mostly agents; the women victims. The book’s entry on St. Margaret doesn’t even mention that she beat up a demon — that sounds amazing! But all her page says is that she loved Jesus and that he chose her to spread his message on earth. So, basically, it makes this badass lady into nothing but a vessel for Christ’s word.

      I’m not saying anything about Catholicism, and I don’t think Sady is, either — I’m just talking about this one book. I haven’t read all of it, but what I have has seemed to promote victimhood in women and positive action in men. If I’m wrong about the book please say so and I’ll read the whole thing.

      • emmahope January 17th, 2013 9:07 AM

        Like I said, I’m sure this book is totally not a good thing to give to children and I don’t want to invalidate the effect it had on the author, because she definitely took something positive from it! Just that the original texts, not the creepy GROW UP AND BE A MARTYR picture book, are definitely worth reading if you’re into gender studies :) I haven’t read this book so I wasn’t commenting on that, I just happened to have written a length essay on the subject recently and thought I’d offer a different interpretation, cause I actually grew to really find these stories fascinating from a feminist perspective.

        • Anaheed January 17th, 2013 10:03 PM

          I would LOVE to learn how & why these stories were changed over the years — I’m sure that the fact that this book came out in the early 60s has a lot to do with its emphasis on male action and female suffering.

  • feviano January 17th, 2013 12:25 AM

    As a child I owned this book and read all the stories which including the women who were sexually abused. However, I believe that this book helped me form my own beliefs independent to many of those of the Catholic Church. As I read about these women who were raped and abused I realized that women were (and still are) objectified. These saints showed me that I could stand up for MY faith and defend what I believe in even if others disagree. Looking back this book helped form me as the person I am today and I think it is literally one of the best things ever.

  • Tangerine January 17th, 2013 1:05 AM

    I had this exact same book as a kid! Arg. I remember being encouraged to use it to help me pick my patron saint. I hated the book, and complained to my sunday school teacher how “depressing” all the female saints were, until she let me pick from a book of bad-ass old nuns instead.
    Unfortunately, I completely forget who I chose, along with everything else involving my communion/confirmation. And after I was free from mom-pressure to go to church, I went Pagan for years, and then came out/around as atheist.
    Female martyrdom! It’s lame!

    • Isabelle97 January 17th, 2013 5:04 AM

      bad-ass nuns sound awesome :O

  • silverlines January 17th, 2013 2:54 AM

    Anyone forget Mother Teresa?

    • Anaheed January 17th, 2013 3:07 AM

      I don’t believe she was ever canonized as a saint. She was beatified, which is the step before sainthood, but some cursory googling hasn’t turned up anything that says the process went any further. (If I’m wrong, please correct me!) In any case, this book came out in 1962, long before her beatification, even.

      • NotReallyChristian January 17th, 2013 4:49 AM

        Mother Teresa is also somewhat controversial – like the fact that she often refused to give patients painkillers because even the non-Christian ones should be ‘honoured’ to experience the suffering of Christ. Okaaay.

      • Emelie January 17th, 2013 12:25 PM

        Hey Anaheed,

        Mother Teresa is under consideration to become a saint, and the fact that she’s already been beatified only six years after her death suggests that there’s a lot of momentum to keep the process rolling. There are a bunch of technical processes, as well as a few witnessed miracles that have to happen and be ratified before the process can go further.

        The sainthood process is really geared towards dealing with miracles, mystical events, and painful martyrdom–basically, all the kinds of things described in Sady’s book (which I totally remember as a sort of creepy relic of Sunday school–those illustrations were really ghoulish). The issue is, these situations just don’t happen that frequently–being a really great Catholic looks really different in 2013 than it did in 1513.

        There are a few pretty cool saints from the 19th century who have been canonized (or just beatified) for the kind of work Mother Teresa did. But the “practical” saints, who built schools, told great jokes, were really good accountants, and cared about people in trouble generally don’t hit as high on the mystical event scale–which means that it’s harder and takes a longer time for them to become saints via official church processes. (And this holds true for both men and women, although there tend to be more female contemplative orders than active, so the number of practical lady saint candidates is a little lower from sheer numbers.)

        On a side note, as a kid in Catholic school, I usually went straight to the Old Testament for strong female characters. Esther and Judith were THE BEST.

        • Anaheed January 17th, 2013 2:45 PM

          Oh, this is cool to know. Thank you, Emelie!

    • youdonotdo January 17th, 2013 6:42 AM

      I’m not sure if you’re in support of her or bringing to light the fact that she was far from saint like but she refused poor women any form of birth control and advocated strongly against abortion. She called AIDS “retribution for improper sexual conduct?”Also, despite the millions in donations she received, her clinics were slums, where no forms of proper sanitation were used and people in extreme pain and even the dying were refused simple pain relievers like aspirin. This is why we must question things like the book of saints and not accept everything, especially from the Catholic church, at face value.

  • uuultraterrestrial January 17th, 2013 3:16 AM

    Woah, this article is great and I am a little surprised (at the same time not) at a lot of the negative comments. I guess it’s STILL daring to question the archetypes and fundamentals that comprise Catholicism especially regarding women. I would bet my bottom dollar that these precious stories were written by men, just like THE ENTIRE BIBLE!!

    I don’t really agree that allowing yourself to be murdered is “standing up for yourself”. I also don’t think that “Jesus” would have wanted people to allow themselves to have their head chopped off for simply publicly admitting they believe in him.

    Allowing yourself to be killed publicly for admitting your faith is essentially putting more value in other people’s superficial perception of you then in the significance of your own life. It’s a passive act. It’s not inspiring. It’s not strong. There are so many other ways they could illustrate the idea of ‘standing up for your faith’, yet they chose this? It definitely deserves serious scrutiny.

    I am even bothered by statements like “may we like her remain constant in faith”. So… are you bad if your doubt and question? Are we condemned from freedom of thought? The implied message to that is YES. That should disturb you.

    Let’s not lose our ability to objectively analyze what is being communicated. Thank You Sady..

    Becca

    http://uuultraterrestrial.tumblr.com/

    • soretudaaa January 17th, 2013 8:03 AM

      “I don’t really agree that allowing yourself to be murdered is “standing up for yourself”. I also don’t think that “Jesus” would have wanted people to allow themselves to have their head chopped off for simply publicly admitting they believe in him.”

      (but that’s basically what he did.. he ended up in a cross for that because he went again religious laws that ruled at that time and proclaimed to be God’s son…. and he died for our sins and yadda yadda yadda.. so I think yes, he’d definitely approve!)

    • reginageorge January 17th, 2013 8:11 AM

      You need to educate yourself about Catholicism. I am not a Catholic anymore but I was raised as one and claiming that all of Catholicism is always absolutely horrible for women is offensive. There are many people who find their own personal meanings and that gives them much strength and solace, especially among women, gay people, or people of color.

      So you don’t agree that being willing face the dangers arising from your beliefs is standing up for yourself? I’m curious and I would like to know how these stories could be made less problematic for you. Would you rather if the saints ran away or agree with the demands being put on them? I don’t think there were many more alternatives. Their goal wasn’t to be killed but to resist things that were against what they believed in. Would you say that MLK was not heroic for being willing to do dangerous activist work even when he got death threats and was killed.

      I’m not sure how you expect people to not die if they live in a society hostile to their religion where that is punishable by death, even if they went underground if they were discovered they would have died anyway.

    • stephiewonder January 18th, 2013 7:40 PM

      “Allowing yourself to be killed publicly for admitting your faith is essentially putting more value in other people’s superficial perception of you then in the significance of your own life. It’s a passive act. It’s not inspiring. It’s not strong.”

      Maybe you’re just not familiar with basic world history, but I doubt you would critique Gandhi for his passive resistance. Or MLK for that matter. Why do you feel it is sexist to glorify females who do the same? Martyrdom is not synonymous with victimhood! It’s likely you appreciate political martyrdom, from Patrick Henry’s declarations to Inez Milholland’s death. I doubt you would label them as weak or uninspiring.

      “Suffragette leaders explicitly ruled out taking the lives of others; they risked only the health of their own members. Martyrdom, not murder, was their style.” – Brian Harrison, The Act of Militancy: Violence and the Suffragettes

  • reginageorge January 17th, 2013 8:18 AM

    I feel kind of cheated by Rookie. I love you guys, but I feel like most articles about Catholicism here are always from the perspective of (possibly white) girls with comfortable lives and harp on the old idea that Catholicism is all the same thing. What about presenting views from people who derived strength from it, even in subversive ways? You have presented articles about people from other religions finding solace in them even when the mainstream notion is apparently misogynistic and stuff, but your articles about Catholicism are disproportinate.

    Not everyone lives in your society, not everyone has the same background and education as you, and for many people I know who don’t fit the “white straight men” pattern Catholicism is still a source of comfort and help. There is more than just what goes on in the Vatican, there are grassroots communities helping women and poor people, groups of LGBT+ Catholics pushing for a change and women who feel stronger in the face of colonialist after-effects and misogyny from their worship of Mary, for example.

  • writergirl January 17th, 2013 9:00 AM

    “So, basically, it makes this badass lady into nothing but a vessel for Christ’s word.”

    The thing is, many Catholics would say that being “a vessel for Christ’s word” is the most badass thing you can be. The idea of being exactly that – of becoming as much like Christ as you can, by treating others with love and by standing by your beliefs (in Christ’s word) in the face of criticism – is central to the Catholic faith. That’s the entire goal, that is what Catholics spend their entire lives working towards.

    I get that the point of the article isn’t about criticizing Catholicism, but about one particular book that serves as an example of how our world problematically glamourizes the passivity and pain of women. But when the book you choose is about saints, which are a huge part of the Catholic faith (and in fact, something that you only find in the Catholic faith), it’s hard to separate the book from the church. Some sensitivity towards the beliefs of Catholics would have gone a long way in the writing and editing of this piece.

    Also, as has been mentioned before, there are plenty of female Catholic saints whose lives don’t follow this narrative, women who have founded religious orders, who were prolific theological and philosophical writers. Edith Stein – or St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – is an example of the latter. She was an academic and philosopher, who worked with Martin Heidegger and Edmund Husserl, and whose work dealt a lot with phenomenology and empathy, the experience of being a woman, and the challenges women faced in modern society.

    • Tangerine January 17th, 2013 6:45 PM

      “Also, as has been mentioned before, there are plenty of female Catholic saints whose lives don’t follow this narrative”

      I think the point this article makes is that none of the ladies you mention are in this book. Literally every female saint in PBOS died horribly. Considering I received the book when I was like, nine, it’s worth exploring why the best and most widespread info on saints is biased towards female martyrs and not activists/scholars/writers.

  • darksideoftherainbow January 17th, 2013 10:34 AM

    i had this exact book when i was a kid. i loved it and i wish i still had it. i really love the saints and their stories. i agree that the stories might not be appropriate for really young children since i was obsessed with being martyred as a kid (i’m talking younger than eight years old) and prayed at night that God would give me the stigmata. i think that you need to be a certain age to be able to understand what it all means. by the time i was old enough to do my confirmation, i chose maria goretti. i was really moved by her strength and her faith and even though i no longer pray for some things to happen to me, i still hope that i can stand for what i believe in, whether it be related to faith or not. thank you for the post.

  • Lascelles January 17th, 2013 10:54 AM

    OMG! I am not catholic but these stories are amazing… Sady is right, probably not a great idea to explain this specific part of history in a children’s story WHATEVER the vague morel. They are amazing stories though! No wonder people repeat them and kids remember them. I am looking up St Lucy right now. So messed up :D Like passion play for kids or something.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MOvCWnLenw

  • Mary the freak January 17th, 2013 10:56 AM

    this article was so great! I always have felt like there’s something wrong in those stories, but I actually never really thought about it. Saint stories are really sexist, and I hate how everything is so great in the beginning and the good one is murdered in the end. I mean, what shall we learn from this?! Be nice and you will be killed? Don’t think about helping yourself, wait for a lightning?! Don’t pull your clothes on again, but stand still and suffer in silence?!
    I could go on like this forever, but I’ll don’t. It frightens me that young people want to be like saints. Or not really saints, but martyrs.
    I am not a profi feminist, so I’ll stop now.

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • ShockHorror January 17th, 2013 10:56 AM

    Whoawhoawhoa – you mean Saint LUCY?

    Who a guy wanted to marry because she had lush eyes, – SO SHE PULLED THEM OUT AND HANDED THEM TO HIM so she could marry God and not him?

    And then God gave her some even better eyes and in all the paintings of her she’s holding them on a wee plate.

    BY THE WAY. In Sweden she has a day, where they eat buns that represent her eyes. If memory serves.

  • Mimi7 January 17th, 2013 12:13 PM

    I really liked this article. I’ve always been disturbed by actually most stories in the bible and religous childrens books. It seems like its just showing men controlling women because women are weaker which is horrible. Maybe my view will change later, but this is it now and if there is a god I think she, he, it would be kind and accepting.

  • wilkergirl January 17th, 2013 12:45 PM

    Wow this article is really great. I think it’s a much-needed reminder that no matter what story is being told, it’s REALLY ALL-CAPS IMPORTANT to think about how that story is being told and who that story is being told to.

    For example, one of the saints that was canonized most recently actually lived in the area that I’m from. She has a shrine here, the local Catholic parish (I think that’s what it’s called, I’m not Catholic myself so I’m not sure) is named after her, etc. so I’ve heard about her and read a lot of things about her pretty recently. Basically her name was Kateri Tekakwitha, she was Mohawk-Algonquin, and she’s the first Native American saint ever to be canonized, which is pretty cool. She also devoted her life to the thing that was most important to her (her religion), which is especially cool because there were no structures at the time for Native American women to become Catholic nuns. In some versions of her story though, it’s said that upon her death, the scarring that she suffered after surviving smallpox vanished and (here’s the problematic part) the angels made her skin become pale and white. Yikes! A total needle-scratch moment, right? That’s what I mean about HOW we tell our stories being important.
    It sounds like the book in this article failed to do that, which is a shame, because I know from my Catholic friends that many saints, male and female, are fascinating individuals and worthy rolemodels.

  • kitsune January 17th, 2013 1:20 PM

    While reading this, i feel glad that i grow up watching Xena the warrior princess and Buffy the vampire slayer. It cemented in my young mind that a woman should be strong.

  • puffling January 17th, 2013 1:37 PM

    Just wanted to chime in and say I liked this article a lot, Sady.

    I think the points behind this article transcend subject matter – whatever folk tales, myths or religious fables you look at from the past, women are passive or punished or both and it’s important to have an understanding and a critique of this.

    It is more than possible to be a devout and practising Catholic, AND to recognise the problematic narrative of good Christian womanhood that these stories give us.

    Discussing the historical misogyny contained in a religion does not make one anti-religious… it is surely what is to be expected from any progressive social-justice minded religious person – which many of you in the comments have demonstrated that you are.

    I’m very surprised at the defensiveness and the attitudes shown in many of the comments in this thread.

    • hanalady January 17th, 2013 8:36 PM

      agreed agreed agreeeeeed

  • pen2sword January 17th, 2013 1:45 PM

    When I was young and I would hear stories about martyrdom, it came with the disclaimer from my friend’s mom: “But if there was a trap door underneath, they would have definitely tried to escape.” What she meant was that they didn’t go around like, “Hey, I’m a Christian, come kill me!” They did things in secret and if they were found out and the only way to not give up their beliefs was to die, that’s what they did.

    I agree that the book is weird and horrid and definitely not suitable children’s reading material. And that pain, mental illness, etc often gets glorified by our culture. I also agree, however, with the people who’ve said that it seems like every time Catholicism gets mentioned here on Rookie, it’s in a bad light. And yeah, obviously, you don’t have to agree with the church. And yeah, just like anything else run by humans, it has some major issues that it needs to work out. But it just seems like the weights are all unbalanced and partial against it.

    Plus, I feel like people making these articles about Catholicism are people who don’t know much about it or have not researched other sources besides creepy, bizarre children’s books from the ‘60s to find out about what Catholics believe & the theological reasoning behind it. Which again, you don’t have to agree with, but it bothers me to see not only my beliefs nagged at, but also nagged at out of context.

  • dearmia January 17th, 2013 2:29 PM

    Man, I kind of have to agree with some of the comments being made here. I’m not a Christian in any way, in fact I am atheist. However, a lot of the articles here that mention Christianity/Catholicism always seem to have a negative point of view. I mean yeah Christianity is super popular and other religions need to have their day, but respect is respect. Show some love for the Christians of Rookie! Have at least ONE article of someone having a positive experience with Catholicism. It’s only fair.

  • sophie.rose January 17th, 2013 3:01 PM

    I have to say that as a Christian (Protestant, not Catholic but with much love towards my Catholic sisters and brothers) this article is pretty offensive. The saints to us are role models. They died for what they believed in. How can you get more bad-ass than that? They stood up for what they believed was right.
    Now: should the author have been given a book as a child that detailed the sorts of atrocities they went through? Certainly not. you can honor the saints without needing all the gory details, especially as a child. But to say that books about the saints try to make pain glamorous is an untruth. There were times in history that Christians were persecuted merely for the sake of being Christians. That’s just a fact. It happened. And these men and women died not because they couldn’t stick up for themselves as the author suggests but because they believed so strongly in something that they refused to back down and renounce their faith. There is nothing bad about that. If anything, isn’t that what Rookie is all about? Encouraging girls to be passionate about what they believe in and not back down?
    My two cents. I love you, Rookie, but this time I think you dropped the ball …

  • garconniere January 17th, 2013 3:02 PM

    I WAS JUST TALKING ABOUT THIS BOOK THE OTHER DAY. My non-Catholic friends were shocked I knew such detail about pretty horrific stories

  • KK January 17th, 2013 3:02 PM

    Yeah I’m pretty sure that the women saints couldn’t do much when they’re tied to the stake so I don’t think it could be decided that they didn’t fight back. The suffering they went through was terrible and I’m very sure that if they had a way out, they would take it. I think the book is trying to hold them up as extreme examples for holding firm to your beliefs even when everyone around you is prosecuting you. However, as a Christian, this book kind of makes me sad because so many children or adults could read it and think that the only way to be saved is through your own work…like the only way God will love you or you’ll go to heaven is if you are persecuted and killed. I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my salvation. I did nothing to earn my salvation. I usually think that rookie’s articles on religion are pretty respectful but I think this article went over to far into criticizing the catholic faith rather than just the book.

    • KK January 17th, 2013 3:04 PM

      **NOT saying that women saints couldn’t help themselves when tied to the stake and men saints could

  • rockslita January 17th, 2013 3:42 PM

    This article is SO good! You must be so smart. Love, Rosalie

    http://www.rockslita.com

  • quirkflower January 17th, 2013 4:24 PM

    I have to agree with some of the more negative comments on this thread. I was pretty confused while reading the whole article. I didn’t understand how the saint stories really connected to Sady’s argument that glorifying pain (especially women’s pain) is inappropriate. In all the other examples, like Sylvia Plath or Marilyn Monroe, the women were in pain due to mental illness or the sexism of the world around them. The saints were punished for standing ground on their beliefs- I think this is a totally separate issue.

    I do like the point about more male saints being teachers/activists, with more female martyrs. That definitely is sexist and plays into the archtype of the mild, more passive female. But the saints were not meek! They refused to toss aside their convictions, yet they didn’t stoop to the level of violence that the pagans threatened them with. I can’t think of anything more brave or admirable.

    Nonviolence does not equal cowardice. I know that that wasn’t the point of the article, but it was an undertone that I’m definitely not comfortable with.

    I do appreciate that Sady questioned the virtues of those that our society holds as measures of morality. So important!

    • kirsten January 18th, 2013 6:56 PM

      Seconded! Sady does make some good points but they get lost within the negative attitude towards Catholicism/Christianity.

    • pohtaytoe January 22nd, 2013 4:09 AM

      agreed!

  • stephanieaurora January 17th, 2013 6:11 PM

    I definitely 100% agree with AKH’s comments and those that are similar. I’m too lazy to read all the comments, but the way Sady delivered her point about this book was totally biased with her way of manipulating the message of the book. I agree about the “wrongness” of glorifying the violence, but c’mon. The feminist card again? During that time period, violence was extremely common, too. Christianity, along with several religions, has its imperfections. But this book, here, I’m pretty sure dealt more with sacrifice and the power of faith through all circumstances.

    It’s nice and refreshing to see opposing viewpoints such as AKH and others, considering how the views of Rookie Magazine tend to be extremely skewed. On another note, regardless of how I feel about Rookie Mag, this website is still great!

  • roxy189 January 17th, 2013 6:21 PM

    The last saint looks like Lady Macbeth …. just had to point that out.

  • sa93 January 17th, 2013 6:24 PM

    Perhaps you should look at the other side of Catholicism – Old testament

    Indeed in one of my high school theology classes, we learned about allll the Biblical Women including Esther 1 and 2, bathsheba, etc.
    There are some strong characters in those stories even though highly Patriarchal society.

    One thing I dislike about Rookie – being able to incorporate religious items like rosaries, crucifixes, Virgin Mary statues- candles into all those photoshoots
    BUT then choosing to dwell on elements that are highly negative and somewhat outdated of the Catholic faith..

    • -alexandra- January 17th, 2013 8:12 PM

      I completely agree with you. I dislike how Rookie incorporates religious motifs and symbols in an ‘eye candy’, ‘just for funsies and aesthetics way’, and then criticizes what those items represent in religious culture.

      I really, really dislike this article and consider it very close-minded, negative (I really despise this whole “Literally the WORST thing ever” because I think Rookie should be about celebrating things that are awesome, and not be about hurting its readers with negative commentary)

      However, I appreciate this post for the intelligent and respectful discussions in the comments seection (something not apparent in the article)

      • Claire January 17th, 2013 11:45 PM

        Yes to both of these comments!!

  • diana94 January 17th, 2013 6:51 PM

    Unfortunately Catholicism is one of the most misunderstood religions. i strongly disagree with this article. but i understand it is seen from a secular point of view.

  • silvermist January 17th, 2013 7:54 PM

    While I don’t really agree with your point – but I understand it! – can I just say that this was exactly the kind of stuff that drew me away from Church? I liked all the talk about how Jesus loves everyone and how we are supposed to be good, I mean, all the things about loving sounded ‘good’ to me, but it always made me cringe when the talk was about sins and saints and martyrs and apparitions and shrines. I really tried to understand them as part of the faith but all these never stopped being creepy to me.
    I have a soft spot for Saint Therese of Lisieux though :)

  • friendlyalien34 January 17th, 2013 8:33 PM

    I have to admit, I didn’t read all the comments either…Who has time for that? I didn’t find this article in any way offensive to Catholicism, and found it a great use of sarcasm to bring to light a very important point. I would assume Sady was not trying to offend anyone, and I think we should all admit that being forced to deal with pain inflicted on us by someone else should not to be glorified for any reason. I understand the argument that these women were standing up for their faith, but how can we teach our children that sitting back and allowing pain and suffering happen to them is virtuous for whatever moral, religious, political, etc. reason. From personal experience, I can say that these ideologies are very detrimental to intellectual and emotional development.

    In my experience (having left the church after spending 18 years of my life practically living there), I think more discourse over religion should be made. After all, listening to other’s viewpoints, even opposing ones, helps us learn more about ourselves and this fucking confusing world we all share.

  • hanalady January 17th, 2013 8:33 PM

    EVERYBODY CALM YOUR BUTTS. Nobody here is the official arbiter of the correct interpretation of any stories, Biblical or otherwise. Sady wrote an article about how SHE interpreted these stories, and that’s that. It’s one thing to say that you disagree with her perspective, but it’s just obnoxious to claim that someone is actually WRONG about how they interpret something. That rule doesn’t change just because these stories come from the Bible–any Biblical scholar worth their salt will tell you there is always more than one valid way to look at religious texts.

    • -alexandra- January 18th, 2013 9:07 AM

      It’s not that I am saying she is wrong about everything, just that this article lacked respect for this religion, something that I think is apparent in other articles that were given during the ‘Faith’ month. Of course I realize that there are many valid ways to examine religious text- its just that this article does not read as a commentary on viewing The Picture Book of Saints through a feminist critical theory lens, but it reads more about Sady’s own personal, disrespectful rant/rage over religion, something many people feel sensitive about. It is something you would see more on a blog reflecting her own views, not on Rookie.

    • Old Camelias January 18th, 2013 10:58 AM

      first off I’m sure you’ll notice none of the stories mentioned in the articles are from the Bible, but old legends or myths or whatever you want to call them from roughly 200 years after the Apocalypse (the last book of the Bible) was written.

      Secondly, I hope you’ll agree that Sady wasn’t precicely interpreting these myths from within their context, that is to say the catholic religion. Most of the people that need to “calm their butts” are simply claiming that these are well-beloved stories that belong to an ancient religion and should be read within this context and that the fact that they mean so much to thousands of people shouldn’t be so blatantly disregarded.

    • soretudaaa January 19th, 2013 8:24 AM

      There starts to be a problem when someone’s point of view is deeply offensive not only to your religion but to your entire culture. That’s when people’s butts start to get un-calm (which is as valid as any interpretation).

  • Megara January 17th, 2013 11:24 PM

    what a shit storm, keep it up!

  • AthenaP92 January 18th, 2013 12:56 AM

    I absolutely love Rookie, but one thing that does bother me is the seemingly negative viewpoint of Catholicism and Christianity. (Please note that I am not saying that the Rookie staff members actually feel discriminatory towards these religions, only that the articles tend to come off that way.) I adore the way you write about other religions and world views in such a positive manner, but to then publish articles showing Catholicism in a negative light is, I feel, both contradictory and offensive. Furthermore, it makes me as a Christian feel like my religion isn’t valid here.
    Another thing I wanted to point out is, like Alexandra said, the purely aesthetic use of Catholic and Christian symbols in photographs here on Rookie. I’m sure you ladies would never do a photo shoot using motifs from say, Hinduism just “for fun”, so why is it okay to do with Christian symbols? I understand that, here in America at least, Christianity is far more accepted than Hinduism and many other religions, but I still find the casual use of ANY religious symbol just “for fun” or because “it looks cool” to be rather offensive.
    I know that Christians tend to be known for quite a few negative things such as sexism and homophobia, but we’re not all like that. Some of us are gay feminists like myself and readers of this magazine.
    I would really appreciate if, in the future, Rookie articles featuring Catholicism and/or Christianity would be written in the same positive, kick-ass way as Rookie’s other articles!

    • Nikilodeon January 20th, 2013 5:25 AM

      I agree with you 100% on this! Especially with the use of christian motifs. I never realized anyone else noticed that, but I do find it rather offensive how something sacred to a religion, like a symbol of a christian cross for example, is used for decorative purposes on this website, whereas (at least as far as I know) sacred symbols for other faiths have not been used for decorative purposes. It cheapens those symbols which, in my faith, are very important and sacred.

      “I would really appreciate if, in the future, Rookie articles featuring Catholicism and/or Christianity would be written in the same positive, kick-ass way as Rookie’s other articles!” <– YES! Could not have said it any better.

  • AthenaP92 January 18th, 2013 12:58 AM

    After all, don’t we want this to be a positive, welcoming place for people of all backgrounds and religions?

  • birdy January 18th, 2013 1:56 AM

    I had this EXACT BOOK when I was little (in Spanish, though). I remember that as a kid I never actually read the stories, but rather looked at the images, some of which I found frightening. I dreaded having to do some religion class project at catholic school because it meant having to look through this book and possibly run into an image that would keep me up all night. I think that all religions should be respected, but I do agree that there is a way to convey their messages to children without scaring the living daylights out of them.

  • Samantha January 18th, 2013 7:37 AM

    “a good woman, a woman who stands by her beliefs, is a woman in pain”

    That’s so sad. I really enjoyed reading this article, it has a lot of great insight.

  • BritishFish January 18th, 2013 3:25 PM

    This is where we all start the Church of Buffy.

  • yinyang23 January 18th, 2013 4:42 PM

    wow i cannot belive this is not the best gift for a young child

  • AKH January 19th, 2013 12:23 AM

    I think if the article had emphasized the fact that an author had chosen these particular stories, and articulated that the number of stories of females who were saints because they were martyrs was far larger than the number of stories of males who were martyrs, the article would have been more valid/less offensive. When you write about things concerning religion in a critical way I feel it is always best to emphasize EXACTLY what you are criticizing. From Anaheed’s comments, it would appear Sady was definitely criticizing the book and the choices made by its author, whereas the article appears more as if it’s criticizing the actual stories.

  • zigazagahhhh January 19th, 2013 3:09 AM

    I can see where Sady is coming from with this article but I also agree with some of the criticisms that have been put forward. As a liberal Catholic, I do notice a lot of misunderstandings of my religion in the wider media and they penetrate the consciousness of a lot of people.

    While the Church is not fantastic with women in a lot of ways (priesthood being number one), the role of woman is extremely important. I think if you ever met a nun you would realise how important and valued they are. Mothers and women who care for those around them are revered. Mary is venerated almost on the same level with Jesus. Female saints are important and have awesome stories. One need only look at the life of possibly the most famous saint, Joan of Arc (curiously missing from this article), to see that women were also praised for breaking convention to fight for their beliefs.

    But on the whole, many of the saints would have been martyred. Why would this be important? Well, since the general philosophy of Jesus is to turn the other cheek and to reject the Old Testament belief of “an eye for an eye”; it would be seen as a sign of true strength to die for your beliefs. It is not Kill Bill. Not a revenge fantasy. It is not sex and death – it is about a particular time when Christians were persecuted by the Romans.

    Above all, I think Sady really needed to look at these stories through the lens of historical context. To examine how limited the options would have been for the majority of women at this time. But I applaud her for starting such an interesting discussion.

  • Jasmine January 19th, 2013 4:19 AM

    This was the first time that a Rookie article offended me.. Ouch.. >_<

  • GlitterKitty January 19th, 2013 12:33 PM

    I’m going to start this off saying that I’m not a super religious Catholic but I go to a Catholic school and was baptized, confirmed, etc. I don’t know about all the saints but I’m going to talk about the ones I do know.

    I think what a lot of people forget about Catholic stories is that the actual events took place hundreds, even thousands of years ago. It was a completely different culture from the one we have now. So when she talks about how a lot of these female saints were tortured by men, it was really just that men were leading the world back then so they controlling everything. Not that this was okay, but that is just how it was. I also didn’t like that Sady only mentioned female saints. Maybe they were just more relevant to her but I think it makes the article seem unbalanced and prejudiced.

    Also, the line “a good woman, a woman who stands by her beliefs, is a woman in pain” is really what bothered me. Yes, many of the saints (male and female) were martyrs and experienced a great deal of pain. But the pain part is not really the point, it’s the fact that they stood by their beliefs no matter what. This is one of the main points of Catholicism. I understand that not everyone is okay with that but I don’t think it’s fair to criticize it.

    However, I do think Sady wrote a great article because I never really saw the other side of the saint stories. It gave some great insight and a completely different opinion tha n what I’m used to. And it is a completely inappropriate book for children and it’s totally understandable that she was upset by it.

  • stellar January 19th, 2013 2:12 PM

    using pretty women as role models for this doesn’t help either. sounds like a way of living that wld leave one sweaty and with mussed hair…lol. just unrealistic since u can never be that ‘perfect’.

  • the_boudica January 19th, 2013 3:44 PM

    Speaking as a feminist, I agree that all these virginal martyrs send out a crooked message to young girls – be good and the best you can hope for is decapitation? (And Heaven, of course, but still – decapitation!)

    On the other hand, I couldn’t help but notice that all these saints come from the first few centuries AD, and therefore much (if not all) the female-oppressing can be put down to Classical misogyny. Let’s not forget that, for the ancient Romans, it was normal for girls to be betrothed as young as 12 – and married and for those marriages to be consummated. It was also normal for a woman to be the property of her father and then, after marriage, of her husband. Strictly speaking, the Roman head of house had power of life and death over his wife and children.

    So all this violence against women in stories of early martyrs is really a reflection of Classical society, which explains why it’s so out of place for today’s audiences. Unfortunately, that has all become inextricably mixed up with Catholicism, even though the Gospels are fairly ok with women, on the whole.

  • literaryarte January 20th, 2013 6:56 AM

    Like some people on here, I have to disagree with the negative comments made towards Sady’s article.

    I was raised a Catholic but I’ve recently started to question my committment to it, regarding the fact that I find difficulty with its sexist views about women.

    Like Sady says however, the Catholic Church isn’t only responsible for the objectification of women – the problem lies in the format of society and our culture which has always depicted women to be inferior, whether our attitudes are starting to change today or not.

    Yet the problem with this book is that the saints are in fact submitting to a faith which they have adopted from Jesus and God’s teachings. Preaching that pain is a virtue, specifically amongst women who are pretty, young and have no life ahead of them, does not do anything for female empowerment.

    To submit to a God who is always depicted as the father in Christianity just reinforces the patriarchal system of objectifying women.

  • kimbo1986 January 20th, 2013 9:28 PM

    To each her own, but it’s surprising to me that the message you get from martyrdom stories is that we should praise women for being meek and mild and virtuous. There are a lot of ways to describe a woman who defies a mob that wants to kill her for her beliefs, but “meek and mild” isn’t one of them. Personally, I remember being an empowered little Catholic kid thinking, “YEAH! You TELL that Alexandrian mob to shove it! Go Saint Apollonia!”

    Saint Apollonia, for those who are interested, had her teeth smashed out of her face, was thrown into a fire, and, when she didn’t burn, then beheaded #themoreyouknow

  • indyea January 21st, 2013 2:13 AM

    So I know pretty much everyone has said this before but I agree with some of the comments. To me, it doesn’t seem at all like the people are being “meek and mild” when they’re being threatened with death and torture, versus a marriage with someone not of their choice. They are picking the hard way out, and standing up for themselves. It would be easy enough to say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not a Christian, it’s all a misunderstanding, I’ll marry you.” Instead, they choose to stay strong.

    If say, an athiest was forced to call themselves a Christian or die, how would you react if they chose not to go against what they believe? If they chose to stand for what they believe in?

    Another point (sorry it’s long, first Rookie article to get me fired up about something), I remember reading comments complaining when a bindi (Hindu religious symbol) was used in an eye candy shoot or fashion shoot, and how it was totally sacreligious and you pretty much promised never to do that again (if I remember correctly?). Yet crosses, saints and other Christian or Catholic imagery is used freely without complaint or acknowledgement. It seems a little double standard to me. Maybe you should think about that.

    And last (but not least), it’d be nice to see some more positive articles on Christianity. Just because it was/is a dominant religion, doesn’t mean you can attack it. I know it has it’s bad spots, but so do most religions and you don’t point them out at all, it seems.

    thanks for starting a thought provoking, intelligent and interesting discussion with free speech here though!
    india

    • architrave January 21st, 2013 2:37 PM

      “Another point (sorry it’s long, first Rookie article to get me fired up about something), I remember reading comments complaining when a bindi (Hindu religious symbol) was used in an eye candy shoot or fashion shoot, and how it was totally sacreligious and you pretty much promised never to do that again (if I remember correctly?). Yet crosses, saints and other Christian or Catholic imagery is used freely without complaint or acknowledgement. It seems a little double standard to me. Maybe you should think about that.”

      It’s different because in the west, one of the cornerstones of art is well, the Bible and christian art associated with it and biblical symbols are common cultural motifs. The majority of N. Americans, Europeans grow up in the church with varying degrees of involvement, or at least have a good deal of exposure to Chrisitianity. Not only that, crosses, saints, martyrs are pretty common visual themes in lots of subcultures (metal, punk, goth, etc).

      So if these people grew up and decided to draw on the symbols and the tradition that are part of their culture that they know about, even if just for aesthetic reasons, i would be much less offended than if these people grew up and decided flippantly to co-opt symbols and traditions of another culture that they knew very little about.

      Also, there’s a huge history of colonialism and cultural misappropriation soooo let’s not forget that when comparing the use of religious symbols for aesthetics.

      But I mean, it seems silly to me to use symbols you don’t know very much about, in general.

  • MissGroupieSupreme January 22nd, 2013 8:48 AM

    After reading a lot of these comments (and skipping quite a few too, sorry but there are a LOT of them), I have to agree with the point that has already been made about this article unnecessarily attacking the Catholic church and their beliefs (because after all, that’s what Picture Book of Saints is about). Despite being an atheist myself and disagreeing with a lot of the Christian teachings, I think this particular issue is not to be blamed on the church. I’m not familiar with most of these stories but I would assume that they take place around two thousand years ago when the role of women was very different, and it’s not like these women had a choice; they were bound to suffer anyway, but what they decided was to stick to their beliefs no matter what.

    However, this article did certainly make a very valid point that was overshadowed by the religious aspect. Being a major Peaks Freak, I spotted Laura Palmer’s name instantly and started thinking of the female role her character portrays. It is very much true that pain and suffering are glorified in our society, Laura being a prime example; she suffered silently, put on a happy face confiding in no one but her diary and ended up dead, loved and praised by everyone. The fact that these types of female characters constantly appear in our culture and what the effect of this might be on teenage girls, for example, would have made a better and less offensive focal point for the article, and definitely a great theme to explore!

  • Charlotte January 23rd, 2013 4:24 AM

    While I do think that this reading of these stories is valid– and not NECESSARILY ‘offensive’– i do think it may be somewhat misguided. While the narrative of “female who stands up for her beliefs= female who suffers” is problematic in today’s world, one must take into account that suffering because you stood for what you believed in was the reality for women for thousands of years (and definitely in some cases today!).But also, I think in many ways, these stories could be interpreted as proto-feminist. I know that my aunt, who was raised Catholic, considers female saints as her first feminist icons, before she knew what “feminist” even meant. I think that, throughout history and today, many women who did not/do not have access to modern feminist narratives often looked to the stories of both female saints (aswell as the Virgin Mary) as representations of female empowerment. I understand that this too, could be problematic, but I don’t think it is fair to completely discount some of the most –and some of the ONLY– female figures that are portrayed in a positive light within Christianity as a whole. And I also don’t think that it’s true or fair to dismiss the fact that SO many women HAVE suffered and CONTINUE to suffer for standing up for what they believe in (this certainly was the case back when these saints were around.) Also, in terms of this book being ‘not appropriate for children’ I think we sometimes underestimate what kids can handle. the D’aulieres Greek Myths picture book was one of my most beloved books as a child, and it was just as graphic/sexual.

  • Lady Jade January 23rd, 2013 12:48 PM

    Having been in Catholic school and more importantly an Opus Dei Catholic school, these were stories that we read, it was practically mandatory. We were to borrow them from the chapel library, find a Saint with your name or something that sounds like it and learn from them.

    I grew up with Saint Agnes, Agatha, Anne because they were closer to my name. These are still women i look up to today.

    Fun fact: My school was taught ENTIRELY BY WOMEN. My class all agreed that we were lucky to be Christians in a today’s “tolerance times”, i mean women’s circumstances then were horrible in terms of acknowledging them as humans instead of inferior beings really so unfortunately, they were bound to be punished the way they were. Secondly, this has to be argued in a spiritual angle, it just has to be or it risks being irrelevant. They taught us that not everyone will be accepting of your faith and will try to shake it out of you, loose confidence in what you believe but, these women stuck to what they believed in despite the consequences, because in the end Faith is about the Soul. This cannot be blamed on the Church.

    I think Kids should read this but explained to properly by an adult.

    Also, Im not Catholic.

  • KirstenCT February 4th, 2013 8:46 AM

    Hi! I just came across this slightly more inspiring bunch of saints:

    http://heymonster.tumblr.com/tagged/strong-female-characters

  • alyssa.j February 13th, 2013 9:02 PM

    My cousin gave me this book when I was very young. I admired all the Saints in the book, because of their passion and love for what they believed in. Maybe these stories are a little disturbing, but when you are a little kid you don’t realize it. In fact, most religious stories, especially those in the Bible, are a little disturbing. Jonah was swallowed by a whale, Sara had a child when she was 500 years old, Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt. I attended Catholic school for 11 years, and we were taught these stories in 1st or 2nd grade. But we didn’t take them literally, we studied admired those people’s unfailing faith. When we read religious stories, I don’t think we need to take them 100% literally. Maybe they are 100% true, maybe they are not. But what you gain from these people’s stories is up to you. You can look at them as disturbing and inappropriate, or can learn from the people in them.

    Second, when you receive the sacrament of Confirmation, you choose a Saint to guide you through your life. I chose Dymphna. I admired her ability to stand up for what was right. I don’t think these women were weak. I think it is harder to stand by and take it, then it is to fight back against other people’s cruelty. They stood by their faith and their God no matter what, and made the ultimate sacrifice for their faith. All three women are stronger then I could ever be, and most people are. I honestly hope that I can one day have as much passion and love for something, as these women did for God.

  • Sarah Harlow February 20th, 2013 11:35 PM

    This book was distributed to my third grade class at my catholic elementary school. On Halloween each year the third grade, taught by a nun named Sister Rose, had to dress up as a saint instead of their actual costumes for the school parade. I remember my mother being shocked when my best friend Molly had to carry around a plate of eye-balls with her saint costume. Her saint had her eye balls ripped out for proclaiming her faith. I remember being shhhsed for saying I woulda lied about it, if it meant keeping my eyeballs! I’m sure God would understand right?

  • Paprika March 29th, 2013 1:25 AM

    Many of the negative commenters seem to be under the false pretense that the female saints themselves are being attacked by this article, while the only thing under attack is the underlying misogynism of the stories themselves. I don’t care how strong these women are, or that they were “standing up for their beliefs”, the simple fact that the writers of these stories chose for them in particular to be raped, molested and terrorized is proof enough of misogyny.

  • Bridget April 28th, 2013 5:57 PM

    This was disappointing to me personally; my grandmother was discriminated against as a Latino, and her Catholicism was a huge part of her culture that she valued. She gave me this book for my first communion, and although I’m not very religious anymore, Catholicism is a huge, important part of my Latino heritage. These women were not weak; they were strong and rebellious in their own right; just as my grandma was when she slapped a group of boys calling her a “catlicker” and ethnic based slurs.