wNov 23, 2009

Beyond Anger (?)

A little while ago, I read the book Beyond Anger: On Being a Feminist in the Church, by Carolyn Osiek, R.S.C.J.

The book is about identifying as a feminist while also identifying as a member of the Catholic Church, which, as one might imagine, can cause feelings of anger. It's been a while since I read it, but I at least marked a few favorite passages. I think I'm just going to post them with brief commentary, and leave it at that. Hopefully you all find them as interesting as I did.

After giving examples of why a feminist might be angry in church (only males wear distinctive clothing that sets them off as officially belonging in the sanctuary, language of worship does not seem to include women, etc.), the author says of these moments of realization:
Such an event is a true turning point because it evokes a crisis. Life is not as it was before, and can never be so again. It cannot return to the comfort of denial. One's self image of loyalty and one's experience of oppression come to a screeching collision with one another and seem henceforth incompatible. How can I remain loyal to a person, institution, or tradition that has done this to me? But without that commitment, what do I have left? Who am I? This intense experience of dissonance provokes a predictable reaction.
She goes on to validate anger as an emotion, and then analyzes the destructive power of sexism, and its inherently sinful nature.
Sexism and patriarchalism have worked against both women and men in three ways. The first is to dehumanize women institutionally by disqualifying them on the basis of sex from access to the sacred and to leadership. The second way is to attempt theological justification of the oppression of patriarchalism, so that it would seem to be perpetrated in the name of God. The third way that sexism works against all of us is by promoting a "false consciousness" which permits both oppressor and oppressed to blindly accept and internalize their roles.

The dehumanizing of women is the dehumanizing of men as well, for if women are demoted to second-class citizenship, men are allowed the illusion that they alone are first class, that what is done is God's will, and that it therefore cannot be changed. In this way the Church participates in the structural violence of society against women, a structural violence which implicitly condones and even promotes personal violence against them by casting women as victims of male aggression.

Because we are properly speaking here of sin, "social and ecclesial structural sin," there is a moral conversion that is called for. Patriarchalism is a form of classism, the subjection of one social group to another. It is a hierarchiacal view of human society which makes dominance and submission the operant models of human relationship and renders true mutual presence to one another impossible. Religious patriarchalism further renders a true perception of equality before God just as impossible because social conditioning and the impact of culture are inescapable factors in the formation of religious persons and communities. It puts the ideal of "equal discipleship," which is all women are really asking for, beyond reach. It is a sin against persons as well as against God.


Beyond intellectual conversion there is yet spiritual conversion. Are we as Church being called to a deeper living of the way of Christ by the prophetic voices of women? It is not only a human sense of fairness that calls us to justice, but Christ himself. It is not only our experience and ideals of democracy that calll us to affirm the full human dignity of every person, but the demands of the Gospel as well. Women today are calling the Church to live what it says in this regard. The voice has become part of the ongoing revelation of God to us, as the mystery of that revelation unfolds in history.

She analyzes the power of Bonaventure's quote, "It is for man to act, for woman to suffer."
This belief, or, better, excuse, has provided religious justification for reinforcing the passivity of women by encouraging them not to follow the inspirations of grace but to become more fixated in their inculturated tendencies to self-hatred and self-doubt by seeking out suffering, self-abasement, humiliation, and self-denial as signs of God's favor.
Hence it is not easy to speak of a theology of the cross to women who have experienced this kind of oppression and have rejected it as illegitimate and unhealthy. A consistent position taken in this book is that our religious tradition is redeemable for women, and that its riches are worth recovering. An important and powerful symbol within that tradition is the cross. To abandon the symbol because it has been misused would be once again to turn over the power of interpretation to those who have misused it. Anger at the abuse is justified, but capitulation to the abusers is not. Rather, the symbol needs to be recovered, reclaimed, and reappropriated into a new context where it will no longer aid the cause of oppression and passivity, but the cause of free response to the claims of the Gospel. The cross can become for women a symbol not of victimization and self-hatred, but of creative suffering, actively embraced, which transforms and redeems.

She does describe three phases of the transformation of suffering in three changes; I'd rate myself at #2: mute, pasive acceptance / awareness and articulation of one's suffering, no longer hidden / organization for change.

Osiek most bluntly calls for action thusly:
The role to which women are called today in the Church holds many of the characteristics of the prophetic vocation: to speak and act publicly in the name of God to recall members of the community to their destiny and identity before God; to interpret the signs of the times; to condemn injustice; to keep before the eyes of all the vision of the reign of God in its full purity in the midst of historical compromises.
This book does a great job of validating and giving voice to the same feelings of anger that I have. However, the title lead me to believe that this book would go further into explaining what can be done to be a feminist while still going to Church, how to make the Church a more feminist place to be, etc., and I don't think that I really got that. I'm not sure what I expect from a book in terms of how to move beyond anger to productivity, but I guess I was expecting more than the 13-point list at the end, which included things like "have healthy outlets" and "be realistic." I mean, those are find things to take as advice, but not great for action, in my mind. I'm angry, a book was spent validating my anger, and then it just kind of flickered out.

Although written the year I was born (1986), this book still resonating with me really well. It's starting to creep me out, though, the non-fiction about the oppression of women written at the time of my birth (or before, as mentioned when I blogged about bell hooks not that long ago) says things that validate what I'm feeling right now so well. It's like history's spinning its wheels in a rut, never moving forward, but repeating itself forever. Creepy, and disheartening.

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scribbled mystickeeper at 9:03 PM

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