Saturday, April 18, 2015
Teresa, a nun: The Church is misogynistic but God is also a woman (Part 1)
Corriere della Sera I Blog (in Italian)
April 18, 2015
"The Church says: 'The most beautiful thing is to represent Christ; you women can not!'. Christ offered us his body and blood and then someone can represent him only if he's a man -- this is clearly unfair and doesn't make sense. Not just that. In the Church there is clericalism; only priests can represent God. I don't agree. Then it also happens that only priests can make decisions about the operation of the Church, which is made up of men and women. That's why I believe the Church is misogynistic."
The speaker is a Benedictine nun of Catalan origin, Teresa Forcades i Vila, whom I met at the Sant Benet monastery in Montserrat after reading the article by Michela Murgia, "Persone da conoscere: Teresa" ["People to know: Teresa"]. A long chat about the differences and similarities of gender, gays and queers, married life and freedom, clericalism and patriarchy has confirmed to me the idea of a thinker we will hear about more and more. Yes, because Teresa, who has a medical degree and a doctorate in the United States in alternative medicine and psychology, is at the forefront, "unexpectedly", on the issues of feminism, in denunciations against the pharmaceutical lobby, in the ethical criticism of capitalism and even against the Church's position on burning issues such as homosexuality and abortion, and against its patriarchal structure. In July, the Italian translation of her book La teologia femminista nella storia ["Feminist theology in history"] (Casa Editrice Nutrimenti) will be in the bookstores.
Meanwhile, we are publishing a two-part interview with Teresa Forcades i Vila.
Let's start with gender differences. You say they're not just a cultural value. What does that mean?
"You said value. First, we can try to understand why even today there is a tension between what we usually call "difference feminism" and "equality feminism". I have great respect for all women. But for me, defending equality between the sexes and the uniqueness of the individual is essential. Everyone is unique; we aren't a number in a list of something generic. This is a value for me and it is what equality feminism talks about: let's let people grow up freely without waiting for a pattern to emerge."
But then, according to you, what are women who argue for the differences between the genders thinking?
"If we look at males and females, there's a clear difference. Women who argue for this difference have begun to analyze what happens at the beginning of life -- in the mother-son and mother-daughter relationships that -- as well as those with the father -- mark our being a woman or man. Me too, now that I've become an adult and older, say that I tend to look like my mother. I think: "How is it possible?". It is so: many women begin to talk and move like their mothers. So, what we call gender (male and female) is not only a cultural construct. For a child, whether male or female, the referent of emotional, intellectual and physical life is a woman. The first subjective identity is a slow and difficult process of separation from the mother, a different experience whether you are male or female. All of us, from childhood, ask, "Will I love my mother? Will I be like her too? Or will I be different?". Here, the male can't easily play the role of mother, which for him is not natural, and so he passes through an experience of contradiction: "I want to be like her but I'm not." This is the same starting point for all. However this childhood subjective identity is also the basis of the stereotypical error of difference feminism and certainly of the patriarchy that says: "Because of this difference, we decree that this subjective identity must be so forever in life."
"It's the fossilization of an initial dichotomy, which doesn't have to stay like that forever. For a little one, it's good that the mother indicates what is good or right, but at some point he has to go his own way and should be allowed to go. To clarify what I mean, I want to mention the first chapter of John's Gospel, which tells of the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a grown man, a doctor of the law who is familiar with Scripture and the Torah. He is very fascinated by Jesus but doesn't want to be recognized as his follower and therefore seeks him out at night to talk to him and asks how we can become mature adults. Jesus replies, "You must be born again." Nicodemus is surprised: "How can an adult go back into a woman's womb?." Jesus says: "This is not the road to rebirth; you have to be born through water and the spirit." For me this means being queer. Queer is an English word, untranslatable for us. In its original sense, it means strange, askew, something that is outside the canon. It's a word of rupture with the habitual patterns in which we talk about reality. A "straight" person is usually a heterosexual person, a queer person is someone who deviates from the straight path. Actually it means going beyond labels of any kind. I don't imagine life as a linear path -- you start from the childhood subjectivity to get to a point where you make the jump and you're queer. No, that's not it. We must gain our identity every day. If my childhood subjectivity comes out every time I'm in trouble, what Julia Kristeva, a Lacan psychoanalyst, calls "a crisis" happens. The crisis occurs when an adult loses his head, loses himself, acts like a child, without reasoning. It can happen to all of us, especially if something threatens our security. That's why in times of crisis violence against women, who are seen as those who sustain needs (the one who gave me her breast, looked after me, supported me in my desires), reemerges overpoweringly. Even women, when there's a crisis, require themselves to be like a mother. It's a very complex process; according to Kristeva, it's the crux of the problem of violence against women."
When you say that patriarchy is built by men and women together for psychological reasons, what do you mean?
"The patriarchal society is one in which men and women live as adults with the same child identity, without being reborn in water and the spirit. Being reborn means something new every day, something different for each of us. It's a challenge, it's the beauty of a life lived fully and consciously. It's also scary, because you have to take responsibility for yourself. Sure, we love freedom, but in reality we're afraid of it. And the fear of freedom in gender issues leads to going backwards, to the subjectivity of childhood."
To overcome that pattern, therefore, we have to be reborn in water and the spirit. One way is Christianity, but I suppose it's not the only path...
"Of course not. You can be reborn in water and the spirit but also be queer. Many queer people aren't Catholic, most of the movements promoted by queer people have nothing to do with Christianity but have a human life that drives them to this openness shown by Jesus in the Gospel of John -- overcoming the childhood pattern to be reborn to something profoundly new and unique."
Let's go back. Do you think that the Church is misogynistic?
"It's obvious that the structure of the Church is objectively patriarchal. If by "misogynistic" we mean hostile to women, of course it is. Obviously I consider it very serious not to allow women to represent Christ, because what do I, a woman, learn with respect to the fact that I'm female? As a child I didn't want to become a woman because I felt that it was disadvantageous. Males are allowed to do things that females are not allowed to and this is really a bad message for girls, but also for boys. For all of us, it's a patriarchal, misogynistic message. A message given by the Church, irrespective of whether this Pope or that Bishop is good or bad. It's a structural issue that I believe should be changed. How? By opening up to women the opportunity to represent Christ as priests do. I personally know a group of women who are fighting for it. Some of them are bishops and have been excommunicated, but I think they will continue to fight, to dream of a different future for women in the Church. I hope that their battles soon bear fruit in the Church."
How do you stay in a "misogynistic" Church ?
"I'm here, in this monastery, simply because I was called by God completely unexpectedly. I came here when I was 27. I was finishing my master's degree in medicine and I needed a quiet place to prepare the thesis. I sought hospitality in the famous monastery of Montserrat, but there was no room and the Benedictine monks suggested that I go over to the nuns. At first I didn't want to. I imagined that the place would be sad and the nuns, boring. Then I realized I was falling into a contradiction: I, a feminist, was assuming that the nuns could not be interesting. So I accepted the challenge. I came to stay here, I found a very interesting community, and after a month of study, I, who had come not to become a nun, not because of a vocation, but only to prepare for an exam, I felt something growing in me. It was God's call. I really believe that God has called me to be a nun."
How do you bring a female point of view, and fight for it in a misogynistic structure, without becoming an enemy of men?
"The institutional battle isn't a problem because you can always separate institutions from people, from men. If a bishop, a cardinal, a priest or even the Pope behaves in a misogynistic way, I have no problem saying it or writing it. I don't judge, I don't feel like an enemy. I simply describe what seems obvious to me. Within a couple, it's different. The couple shares a total intimacy, emotional, sexual life, and I think it can act much more in depth than I do, even if this requires a lot more effort. The real challenge is to try to understand what it means to be free within the couple, be free and be one, have my space and make room for the other. Freedom!"
To be continued...