I am not superhuman

Opus Dei member Olivia Darby stresses that members of Opus Dei are just like everybody else. She gi

If you have learned about Opus Dei from the media and Da Vinci Code, it is easy to believe that it is a shadowy sect, governed by some sinister Dr No type figure, high on power and attempting world domination.

I am a member of Opus Dei. I take the bus with you. I walk past you in the street. I might be behind you in the supermarket queue, and you might buy me a drink at a bar. I am 23, I work for a charity, I love cooking, reading, and walks along the Thames. I struggle to get up every morning and I find it impossible to be tidy. Superhuman – I don't think so. When my brother asks me whether I've been brainwashed, I can only sigh, "I wish!” Maybe Opus Dei could wave a magic wand and help me keep my room tidy!

I am in the middle of the world – your world – but you probably wouldn't notice me amongst the hundreds of other people you pass on your way to work. I'm not a nun. I do not live in a dungeon, nor an ivory tower. Members of Opus Dei live their lives side by side with everyone else.

I guess this can lead to the other fear – the infiltration of society by a group of people who you don't quite understand. There are two good reasons to laugh at this. Firstly, I am free. Contrary to popular expectations, I have never been instructed to kill any infidels. I joined Opus Dei four years ago. I think I may have got an inkling of this if it were the case, and if someone did ask me I would a) say no, and b) make them an appointment with their doctor. Secondly, there are about 500 members of Opus Dei in the UK, out of sixty million people. None of us has super powers!

But hold on, I may have missed the key point: the vocation to Opus Dei is a vocation to be saints in our daily lives. Saints have to emulate Jesus. They have to love people. Saints are people who try every day (even though they might not always succeed) to love God a little bit more, and consequently make the lives of those around them easier.

What does this mean to me? I work with around 180 disadvantaged children a week. I chose this work because I hope I can have a positive impact on their lives. But perhaps more importantly, I try to see each child as an individual, as a child of God, just like me, regardless of their religious background. With so many children, there is the temptation to see them as numbers, and just look at the statistics (x number passed their exams, no one got pregnant this year). But the real point is to develop the personality of each child, to help them to learn about themselves, to pass their exams so that they can give something back to society. Too see the joy on a girl's face when she realises that she is worth something after she has helped a younger child achieve something.

My vocation means looking after my friends. Not to be a fair weather friend, but to be there through thick and thin. My vocation means that of course I want my friends to come closer to God, because I believe that fulfilment comes through loving Him. But this does not mean that I would pressure them into it. My boyfriend is not a Catholic. I would love him to share my faith, but faith is a gift –it cannot be forced on someone. I love him just the same.

My vocation means trying to build a deeper relationship with God, through daily Mass, prayer and sacrifice. People get a bit worried about the sacrifice bit. But really, we all make sacrifices for the people we love. You don't know that someone loves you until they give you their last rolo. And we make so many sacrifices for much less important reasons- stilettos, leg waxing, nails so long that you're almost disabled (vanity, vanity). What is forgoing salt or getting up on time for love of God compared to blisters from too-tight shoes?

I chose to join Opus Dei. No one even suggested it to me before I said that I wanted to. And ever since I have been a firm believer in St Augustine's "our hearts our restless until they rest in You alone, O Lord". Accepting my vocation, which crept up on me and was never in my life-plan as a teenager, has given me a great peace. I couldn't have said no, not because anyone forced me, but because saying no to God, when he has called you, does not make one happy. Trust me - as a nineteen year old it wasn't what I had thought I wanted - but I was also quite sure it was the right thing to do. I'd be lying if I told you it was always easy - as I said before, I'm not superhuman - but it is always worth it.

Olivia Darby joined Opus Dei at age 19. She is now 23 years old and works for an educational charity helps disadvantaged children in London.
Getty
Show Hide image

A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.