Friday, February 6, 2015

Mary Hunt on Vatican Council on Women: Funny If It Weren't So Insulting

In the hope of encouraging you to read Mary Hunt's wonderful essay on the Vatican council on women at Religion Dispatches today, I'm going to pick out some of its finest lines and point you to them: first, 

Only by ignoring women can Francis fans herald his achievements.

About Man Ray's "Venere Restaurata" artwork* illustrating the program for the conference:

For too many people such imagery is not fifty shades of anything but violence and oppression.

Vis-a-vis the strange fixation of the working document on tummy tucks as one of the most significant moral issues regarding women in the world today:

I bet the mere suggestion of penis enlargements as a moral issue for men would stop more conversations than it would start. 

About violence towards women:

The question is not, "Why are women killed by a husband, fiancĂ©, partner or ex-partner after years of life together…" but, "Why do men kill?"

As Mary notes, one of the deeply problematic aspects of the council's working document is its choice to straitjacket the term "generativity" — for women, that is — in a physicalist way that makes female generativity totally dependent on biology, on the womb: 

A sample suffices to give the document’s flavor: "The physicality of women—which makes the world alive, long-living, able to extend itself—finds in the womb its greatest expression." (p. 5) 
What about women’s brains? Would we say that men’s physicality finds "in the penis its greatest expression"? Sadly, maybe in some circles, but I hope not. Such objectification of persons, such reduction to the purely physical is never appropriate.

And, as she adds, 

It seems to me that generativity is a human quality that some women at some moments in their lives choose to exercise in a physical way by giving birth. Why not simply say so and move on to the many other ways human beings are generative? Otherwise, men are excluded from generativity, and women who choose not to bear children are left aside. 

The biological reductionism of magisterial Catholic thinking about matters of gender and sexuality, the straitjacketing of the concept of generativity — exclusively for women — through the reduction of the concept to the womb and childbearing, the refusal to recognize that people and relationships (including gay unions) can be generative in many other ways: this approach to these issues has had tragic consequences. It powerfully undermines the moral authority of the leaders of the Catholic church when they talk about anything at all, since it is obviously such a wrongheaded way of looking at gender and sexuality that it's rightly ignored and ridiculed by large numbers of people everywhere, who think about these issues with any seriousness.

It quite specifically harms women by turning them into objects and by implying that men have some kind of God-given entitlement to subdue and control women, to practice violence against them. It harms LGBT human beings by denying the plain generativity of their lives and relationships. 

Mary ends by noting that she has recently watched a video of a 1985 conference Catholic women held in Washington, D.C., to consider women's issues and the Catholic church. She was dismayed to see how how little, how not at all, the leadership structures of the church have budged on any of these issues from that time to the present. As she notes, their constant approach to the question of women in world and church has been to oppose, to set one obstacle after another in the way of the women's movement. 

And the result:

Thirty years ago women focused on equality in U.S. church and society. Today that expectation remains largely unfulfilled around the world. The institutional Roman Catholic Church is widely seen as the epitome of male privilege run amok, covering up some of its leaders’ criminal sexual behavior and illegal financial dealings by focusing on the perceived shortcomings of women. I fear this current discussion of women, and even the seemingly helpful efforts to eradicate sex trafficking that are being discussed in Rome this week may be more smokescreens than picture windows. I long to be proven wrong.

So much is to be laid at the feet of the Roman Catholic hierarchy at this point in history, because of its sinful, obstinate refusal to recognize the equality of women with men, and of LGBT people with straight ones. So much needless harm, so much suffering, so much dashing of the hopes and lives of people who have had much to offer the world, but who cannot do so when reduced to objects by religious teaching, when demonized and excluded from participation in the structures of church and society by malicious religious teaching. 

Mary Hunt is right about all of this.

*(Please note the petition to which Soline Humbert points us in a comment here two days ago, which asks the Vatican to remove the disturbing image of a headless woman from its website. I encourage you to give thought to signing it.)

The photo of Mary Hunt is from the website of the WATER group of which she was a founder.

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