Sunday, May 13, 2012

What is "radical feminism" and is it "bad"?

The Vatican has accused U.S. religious sisters of “radical feminism”.  The term might conjure images fit for a reality T.V. show, “Nuns Gone Wild”, where after delivering a university lecture for her “Dismantling Family Values 101” class, Sr. Mary She-Ra firebombs Fr. Pete O’File’s residence on her way home before enjoying a celebratory meal with fellow sisters, dancing naked around a statue of their patroness, “St. Lorena Bobbitt”.   I’m not sure if that’s the image the Vatican intended by using that term, but I’m not sure it wasn’t either.  Regardless, it’s not an accurate image of “radical feminism.” 

So, what is “radical feminism” really?  The word “radical” means “at the root”.  “Feminism” advocates for women's rights based upon the belief that women should have political, social, and economic equality to men.   Since the church teaches that sexism is a sin, one would expect the church to support something that tries to understand gender inequality’s roots.   

Why then is the Vatican seemingly strongly against “radical feminism”?  “Radical feminism” developed a theory that asserts patriarchal social structures are a root of gender inequality.  Therefore, to have true gender equality, one must work to dismantle patriarchal structures which unequally divide power and money based on gender. 

Irrespective of “radical feminist” theory's accuracy, based upon church teachings regarding sexism alone, if the church’s patriarchal governance structure causes sinful sexist oppression of women, then church governance must change to eradicate the sin of sexism.  Herein lies the rub.  Evidently though church doctrine supports gender equality on paper, if that support actually requires tampering with the all-male hierarchy’s patriarchal system of power, then those patriarchal leaders quickly revert to George Orwell’s Animal Farm definition of equality.  "ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL, BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS.”

Is it valid to say that the church’s patriarchal system oppresses women, thus justifying radical feminism in the church?

According to Webster’s dictionary, “oppression” is “unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power.”   Cruelty is in the eye of the beholder provided it passes a test of reasonableness.  Therefore, to some extent individual females decide whether or not they experience cruelty at the hands of the all-male church leaders.  However, only men in the church decide the institutional rules, and those rules bar women from one sacrament and certain activities as well as completely eliminate them from decision-making bodies to establish those rules.  Only the all-male leadership decides what constitutes “just” or “unjust” behavior towards women.  Such a system that excludes female voices from defining justice and setting rules in an organization to which they belong seems inherently unjust towards them. 

Furthermore, church leaders strip away females’ right to their own feelings by telling women how they should feel.  For example, church leaders say a girl, who is denied (based upon gender alone) the opportunity to be an altar server, has an "equal" opportunity to serve the church by cleaning - much as the clown shoveling horse excrement has an “equal” opportunity as the horse and its rider in a parade.   Because church leaders say the opportunities are equal, they say a girl should not feel offended when rejected from one and relegated to another, no matter how strongly she senses a calling to do one versus the other.  Church leaders tell her she is selfish and prideful to not be content with what they have determined is her calling.  Such rape of mind by forcibly thrusting one’s feelings into another person is cruel beyond expression.  It is dehumanizing.

This rape of mind is very present in the Vatican’s document censuring the nuns and actually becomes a rape of their souls too.  The Vatican invalidates the sisters’ Spirit-inspired prophetic voices bestowed upon them in their baptisms and renewed in their confirmations and religious vows, by saying that their prophetic voices are only valid if the all-male church leaders say so.  Church leaders forcibly thrust their experience of the Spirit into these women’s souls trying to conquer the Spirit’s presence in a domain that is beyond their knowledge and control.    

Even worse, in the case of women sensing a call to ordination, church leaders insert their words and opinions into Jesus’ mouth and mind, and then say that Jesus is the person raping women’s minds and souls, not them.  At best their stance is, “We raped your mind and soul because Jesus made us do it.”  Should we be surprised that men, who continue to side-step accountability for their enabling role in the rape of countless children’s bodies, minds and souls, have no compunction raping the minds and souls of women, or blaming their actions on Jesus?  

Why is this group of unmarried men pre-occupied with controlling women’s sensations of the Spirit and doing so based upon anatomical body parts?  Why are they pre-occupied with controlling women’s bodies?  Why do they think “radical feminism” is “bad?”  Since sexism is a sin, aren’t we all called to be “radical feminists” trying to purge this sin from our institution?

I think one could assemble a plausible argument that Jesus, who repeatedly ignored social and religious gender-based norms, was a “radical feminist”.  But, he too committed the same error in the eyes of the church hierarchy as the sisters by focusing on corporal works of mercy rather than teaching about an all-male priesthood or homosexuality.  Would Cardinal Levada and Pope Benedict XVI censure Jesus as well?   

Does the church provide fodder for a reality T.V. show called "Nuns Gone Wild" or one called "Clergy Gone Wild" where Fr. Pete O'File is on trial for serially raping youths with Msgr. Teflon, Vicar of Clergy, who moved dozens of priests like Fr. Pete and thereby endangered the lives of thousands of kids, and whose only defense is, "It's not my fault; I just followed the orders of Cardinal N. Abler who just happened to die the night the courts said he would have to testify at my trial."  In this episode we see Catholic parishes and schools being closed and sold to pay monetary restitution to victims who are actually blamed for the scandal instead of the clergy. One need look no further than the criminal trial underway currently in Philadelphia to find footage. 

Is this censure of the sisters really about “radical feminism” or “radical chauvinism" and "radical clericalism?”  


  1. I think Jesus was a 'human'ist he saw people as people no matter what - this is our problem that despite St Pauls affirmation that we are all clothed in Christ we find it hard to believe. It seems that there have to be exceptions and the prejudices start from the simple gender to more complicated doctrine. Do we think that there is not enough room in heaven for all of us?

  2. Well stated, and especially well stated is the point about girls being told how they should feel about their exclusion from the altar.

  3. Ewe, you are fabulous and think like I do!

  4. What would be everyone's attitude if "Jesus" was a woman? Is that even possible for some people to fathom?
    And that is why it would be likely, as we cannot even conceive of Christ as a woman.
    Something to knock our proverbial socks off. Something to wake up out of the trance.

  5. are we still at the stage were we expect women to remain in the kitchen with gloves on washing dishes. do we expect women who take voews as religious to reject their sexuality?