I’ve often said on this blog that, although I’m a new feminist, I refuse to align myself with feminist theologians. However, I haven’t really had a chance to explain exactly why. Since there have been a few comments of late that lump the two schools of though together, I thought that now would be the time to explain myself. Once and for all, let’s get one thing straight – the “new feminism” and “feminist theology” as academic/theoretical camps cannot be reconciled.
Feminist theologians apply secular tools (postmodern tools, in fact) to try to understand the plight of women, their place in the Church, and their relationship with God. As I said in a post last week, postmodern thought has been highly influential in forming their understanding of the position of women in the Church and within society. According to postmodern theory, knowledge (with regard to the Church – Scripture, the Magesterium and Tradition) has been constructed by the winners in society (in this case the patriarchy) and has therefore left women marginalised and excluded. Postmodernity rejects the absolute, conceiving all knowledge as a human creation. Feminist theologians have sought to apply these principles to theology. From a secular perspective, it appears that males dominate the Church; powerful men have created all knowledge (scripture, tradition and magesterial teaching). Therefore, there is a grave need, according to feminist theologians, to re-write history from the perspective of women so that they can be inserted into the Christian narrative.
Likewise, some Catholic Feminist theologians have turned to the tools of postmodern cultural analysis against the Virgin Mary, for whom it has little patience – at least in the form the Church paints her. For instance, they will often refer to the Simone de Beauvoir’s’ infamous reading of Genesis. She argues that the narrative created by powerful men in the Church throughout its history, and by in large is responsible for the deplorable and humiliating situation that women find themselves in. According to her reading, from Genesis woman has been declared man’s servant. She should be obedient, submissive, and accept her inferiority without revolt. To be in a subordinate position is God’s will for her and this is how she will attain salvation. Eve is created second, she is the one who eats the fruit first and then offers it to her husband, both are punished but Eve by far receives a worse lot – she is confined to suffering pain in childbirth and she was declared to be “subject to her husband”. According to Beauvoir, this continues into the New Testament. Mary declared herself the handmaid of the lord. Beauvoir writes “As servant, woman is entitled to the most splendid deification” Mary is praised for her obedience and submission. She is rewarded with becoming the mother of the Saviour by declaring herself the handmaid of the Lord. According to Beauvoir her final defeat is sealed when, after giving birth to a male child, she kneels in front of him and adores him. This act of adoration constitutes the ultimate male victory.
Another example of postmodern feminism applied to Christianity, is the call for goddess or Sophia worship on the grounds that a male God and Savior of Christianity does not reflect women’s experience.
Is Feminist theology a real Christian understanding of a true fight for authentic women’s rights? Give me a break! The new feminism (authentic feminism) advocated by JPII advocated a concrete understanding of the human person, both man and woman. He never based his thinking on the relativistic ideology of postmodernism. Women’s right to equal treatment and respect, like their right to equal partnership in the mystery of redemption, derives from their equal value as persons in the eyes of God. Moreover, a Catholic Feminist is one who embraces the notion of equality between man and woman but at the same time acknowledging that woman will most fully flourish and attain her true dignity if she embraces her vocational difference from man. Catholic Feminism isn’t about trying to change the nature of God and neither is it about trying to re-write the scriptures to be inclusive of women. I hate to break it to you, if you’re a feminist theologian, but scripture and tradition already upholds woman’s true dignity.
However, I think it is a matter of implementation. JPII actively promoted what he called a “culture of equality”. He has written that “respect for the full equality of men and women in every walk of life in one of civilisations greatest achievements” And he sadly acknowledges, “unfortunately even today there are situations in which women live, de facto of not legally, in a condition of inferiority”. Such injustice makes it even more “urgently necessary to cultivate everywhere a culture of equality, which will be lasting and constructive to the extent that it reflects Gods plan”.
Moreover, authentic feminism has nothing to do with fighting against the patriarchy; in fact, women can work together with men to truly attain an authentic promotion of the dignity of women. I think its time us Catholic feminists commence on an active apostolate by promoting a culture of equality, not wasting our time seeking to apply relativistic theories and philosophies. Viva la revolution!