Tuesday, January 17, 2017

some thoughts on feminism

Praying the Litany of the Saints with friends this evening, I thought of what a beautiful prayer the litany is to begin the year. There, we pray with all those holy scholars, hermits, simple folk who have gone before us. We begin the new year in a community, reminding ourselves that we always are in community, and our community transcends the one gathered in the wooden chapel at twilight.

Yet I found myself taken aback, as I sat in Malloy chapel, praying along with my friends, that there were so few women named in this list of the blessed. Given that fifty percent (roughly?) of all humans created are women, I would assume that fifty percent of those enjoying the beatific vision are also women. I would presume, in a topic that does not bear presumption, that there are equal numbers of holy women as men.

Yet in the litany, the women were tacked onto the end, just a small fraction of women amidst a large list of men. I am not advocating for the removal or diminution of any of those men. But I thought of how our lack of female saintly figures is going to impact our image of sainthood. Saints are not just virgins and widows. I thought of the saints I have seen in my own life: my mother, Simone Weil, Flannery O'Connor, Annie Dillard, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, so many sisters, daughters, mothers, single women, women who make art, women who teach, women who care for corporations, women who carve out the Kingdom in this filthy world, women I have been privileged to witness living out holiness. Perhaps they will quietly go into the darkness, their witness never being recorded. But it is not they who will be hurt if they are not remembered: it is the Church who will be weakened for forgetting the brilliant lives of half her members.

It is not the Church's fault she has lived in a world that has tended to forget the lives of women, a history that is focused mostly on the feats of men. But it is something to be conscious of. And perhaps the Church can (does, and has) lead the charge in being a keeper of women's stories.

Just a thought.

Speaking of stories, I recently watched Hell or High Water, which is an excellent contemporary Western cowboy movie, set in the sticks of West Texas. My grandmother hails from West Texas, and she had just been telling me how paradisiacal she thought it was in her youth, when I encountered the less-than-Eden-like world presented in David Mackenzie's 21st century Western. It's a beautiful film: about brotherly love, about the tension of modernity and tradition, about honor, sacrifice, and love. It's the quintessential American bandit movie: the outlaw as the quintessential Individual who stands up to The Man.

It's a beautiful film. As is Lion. As is Manchester by the Sea. As are, I'm sure Moonlight and Hacksaw Ridge. As I made my way through the Golden Globe Best Picture nominees, I was struck by how all these movies are all about men. The ones I have seen so far are all beautiful pieces of art: deeply felt, elegant, meditations on filial and familial relations, on pain, on moving on, on the simple and catastrophic tragedies that shape our lives, and how we mold ourselves around them. But they are stories about brothers, not sisters; they are stories of fathers, not mothers; stories of men finding themselves and women as their guideposts along the way.

These are true stories. They are beautiful stories. They are stories worth telling.

But if we never see the inverse, again, it is we who suffer.
If we never see stories of women finding their way home, of mothers healing from deep tragedies, of sisters sacrificing for each other, of women coping with change, and the men they encounter along the way, then our picture of the human race will only be half-developed. Rich stories will be left un-explored.


This week, the Women's March encountered their own drama, as they removed the pro-life group New Wave Feminists from their list of event sponsors. I had so desperately want to go to Washington to march, and seeing this news, and the backlash against this pro-life feminist group from fellow feminists filled me with great frustration and sadness.

I thought of a passage from Rowan Williams' book on the Resurrection which speaks of Christ the victim. God is ultimately identified with our victim. No matter what, God is always on the side of the person we have oppressed. "God is with the powerless, the excluded," writes Williams. We must see the face of Christ in ALL victims or none at all, argues Williams. We must not simply see God in those it is fashionable to stand in solidarity with. We must see "Christ as criminal, Christ as madman, Christ as alcoholic vagrant: all this and more is implied in the unconditional identification of God with the victim." (Resurrection, p. 19)

The moment we begin to oppress someone, the moment we inflict violence upon someone, Christ is always identified with the person we have hurt: our mother, when we speak sharp words, the cat-caller on the street we spurn, the unborn child. Oppression and violence are not wrong because our victim is innocent or guilty. Oppression and violence are wrong because our victim is human. A human who is Christ's image, even perhaps a morally culpable human, should never be violated or victimized. Christ, the scorned man, the man despised by others, is always identified with the victim.

Feminism is a position of non-violence. Therefore, violence towards the unborn is entirely unacceptable. Of course, it is a woman's right to choose what to do with her body. That is entirely undeniable. But, there are, of course, limits to every right. There are correct things to do and not do with our bodies, which are not dictated to us by men, but spoken to us by our hearts. I completely understand why women are pro-choice, why many women see this as a necessary option in a world that is mostly against them. As much as I disagree, I would be proud to march alongside them, knowing that we have a common goal of working for a more equal world for women, even if there is division between us. But I really cannot understand why fellow feminists would reject marching alongside a woman who believed that women can achieve liberation and equality through non-violent means. In fact, non-violence is the only way any group of humans will ever achieve true liberation and equality. Violence enslaves. And violating our sacred bodies, and the rights of our sacred offspring to live is never a path to liberation.

Also, in the sexist world we live in, it would strike me as a fairly obvious assumption to make that more young female children are killed than young male children. Women seem to be the victims of abortions on both end--from a society that forces them into this option, and those infant women who are killed. And Williams reminds us that God is with the victim--the invisible victim, the victim that is uncomfortable for us to acknowledge--and woe to us who perpetrate the harm against them.

Just a thought.

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