Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

April 26, 2010

Women and the Church

True to my promise in a post from couple weeks ago AND in reply to our commentator Anthony from my What Would Mary Do? post, I want to revisit the theme of femininity and masculinity particularly as they pertain to roles in the Church.

First let me propose Anthony's challenge to me in the aforementioned post:
So if I am reading this correctly, you are saying that women are NOT equal to men and are not WORTHY to lead the lay people in their faith in the way that men are?? You mention that feminists would be opposed to what Lisa Miller said, but I'm pretty darn sure Miller herself is a feminist, and I can't think of a single feminist who in her right mind wouldn't agree with Miller.
Can I just say, Thank you, Anthony for bringing up this intriguing critique. You beg the burning question: Are men and women equal? Are the equally worthy to lead the Church? To at least that first question, I would emphatically answer YES, men and women are indeed equal in dignity before the Lord and very much equally human. I think that second part of the question is where I, and perhaps other women who are feminists of my thinking might have some issues. Let me explain.

Last year, Julian wrote a post summarizing a common interpretation of the feminist movement that posits four distinct waves of feminist thought. I won't go into too much detail about them here, but I will say that with few exceptions, I can say that the first two waves of feminism promoting women's suffrage, property rights, and equal protection under the law, are entirely acceptable to me. The problem is with that messy 'third wave,' which took a rather radical turn and, as far as I can tell, is internally contradicting itself. This third wave of feminism claims men and women are equal - equal rights for equal pay. Yes, I am on board there, of course, as long as equal work is really being done. But, then it goes on - Equal everything, women are just like men, we can do all things men can do without exception, etc. And yes, the abortion rights - absolute control of sexuality, birth control, sexual liberation, the "right" to have sex like a man - etc.

Here is where I find myself scratching my head and bewildered. Men and women are of course equal in many ways, but they are well...different, aren't they? So, should they be forced to do all things the way men do them? Well, you can think of some scenarios where that is probably not optimal. For example, friends in the military have told me that when a woman gets shot in military duty, it lowers morale of the troops significantly more than when a man gets shot. While that is anecdotal evidence, I think can we understand that, right. There's just something different about a woman being wounded than a man. In terms of sexuality - is a woman capable of 'having sex like a man' (Carrie Bradshaw's opening question in the Sex and the City series) or of being 'sexually liberated?' What does that really mean? Well, we can look at the fruits of it: increase in STD's,increase in divorces and unfaithful marriages, increase in teenage pregnancies, increase in abortion, low birth rates, etc. That does not seem to be liberating to either men or women, it seems to have merely enslaved us all our sexual appetites. I'd love to hear some other perspectives on my assertions here.

Now, what about women in the Church? After all, that is what Lisa Miller was writing about in her Newsweek article. Why should not women be priests? After all, I have asserted that we are equal in dignity before the Lord and equal before the law. Why shouldn't they be equally allowed to be priests (or priestesses). Here, I'd like to refer to my beloved namesake, Edith Stein, from her Essays on Woman. Regarding priesthood for women, she writes:
If we consider the attitude of the Lord Himself, we understand that He accepted the free loving services of women for Himself and His Apostles and that women were among His disciples and most intimate confidants. Yet He did not grant them the priesthood, not even to His mother, Queen of Apostles, who was exalted above all humanity in human perfection and fullness of grace.... It seems to me that such an implementation [of women priesthood] by the Church, until now unheard of, cannot be forbidden by dogma.

However...the whole tradition speaks against it from the beginning. But even more significant in my opinion is the mysterious fact emphasized earlier-that Christ came as the Son of Man.... Yet He bound Himself so intimately to one woman as to no other on earth; He formed her so closely after His own image as no other human being before or after; He gave her a place in the Church for all eternity as has been given to no other human being. And just so, He has called women in all times to the most intimate union with Him: they are to be emissaries of His love, proclaimers of His will to kings and popes, and forerunners of His Kingdom in the hearts of men. To be the Spouse of Christ is the most sublime vocation which has been given, and who ever sees this way open before her will yearn for no other way. pp. 83-84
I hope, commentator Anthony, this begins to explain my position in the previous post on feminism.

To explain a man's view, I found this article from Inside Catholic particularly poignant. I'll give you a taste and hope you'll read the whole article (and I might write more on this later because I find it fascinating.)
The author asserts,
We may yet have a male-only clergy and hierarchy, but where the rubber meets the road -- in those mundane areas of church life where laity and institution most commonly interact -- the flavor is feminine. Whether you want to speak in terms of liturgy, ministry (lay and clerical), religious education, or sheer congregational numbers, official ecclesial power may not rest in the hands of women, but considerable unofficial influence clearly does, and has for some time. And we in the Church have been subject to its effects.

Not all these effects, as we shall see, have been bad. But one of the worst has been a subjugation of traditional masculine virtue: the concept of distinctly and properly manly Catholicism repressed, stigmatized, covered up, or otherwise forgotten for lack of practice. And the more "feminized" Catholicism thus became -- the more its pews became recognized as the province of wives, children, and the effete -- the more likely were men and their post-pubescent sons to stay away. All of this is making today's Church, according to Leon Podles, author of The Church Impotent, "essentially a women's club with some male officers."
The author brings up a point not often meditated upon: overly-feminized leadership in the Church keeps the men away from it. Sometimes we women can be so indignant about what we perceive to be grievances against femininity, that we forget that what we do as women, and especially as women within the Body of Christ, has a profound effect on men.

Photo found here.


Aaron said...

Picture credit? I particularly like it?

Edith Magdalene said...

No particular history on it, though admittedly I did not look that hard. The link is at the bottom of the post!

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