Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Vatican responds...

Several women complained to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on Culture about using the sculpture “Venus Restored” (see previous blog article for a picture) as cover artwork for its working document on women’s culture.  One of my friends received the following response today signed by Cardinal Ravasi, the Council’s head.

I have received your objection to the use of “Venus Restored” by the artist Man Ray on the Pontifical Council for Culture’s website to illustrate the working document of the Plenary Assembly on “Women’s Cultures: equality and difference”.   While registering your complaint, we have chosen not to remove the image, as we believe it speaks clearly for one of the central points of our document: many women, alas, are still struggling for freedom (bound with rope), their voices and intellect often unheard (headless), their actions unappreciated (limbless).
Gianfranco Ravasi

First, I appreciate that Cardinal Ravasi at least responded to my friend, though he has not yet responded to my complaint.  But let’s look at his response for a moment.

He defends using the artwork saying it speaks clearly to the issue of women’s voices and intellect often being unheard…  kind of like the intelligent women’s voices being ignored by him on this very topic...

In two simple sentences Cardinal Ravasi encapsulates the hierarchy’s historical role in binding women, ignoring their voices and under-appreciating them.  We objected but our voices were unappreciated and ignored in favor of being bound to his decision.  Richer irony there never was than him dismissing intelligent women’s concerns as unfounded at the same time he envisions himself as some sort of knight in shining armor advocating for greater appreciation of women's intellectual contributions.

My 50 years of experience and observations indicate the intellectual contributions from women the hierarchy most appreciates tend to be ones that echo, promote, adulate or enshrine the hierarchy's contributions.  Women's intellectual contributions that challenge the hierarchy's ideas and worldview usually suffer dehumanizing non-acknowledgement, dismissal, scorn, censure or are outright demonized.  Currently the hierarchy often ascribes the term "radical feminist" to women offering intellectual contributions differing from those of the hierarchy.  Unless women grab their pom-poms and perform perky cheers about the hierarchy's intellectual contributions, they stand little chance of being heard and even less chance of being appreciated. 

Cardinal, you have no women members on your council.  Why?  If the plight of unheard female voices troubles you, the council should be led by a woman and have a majority of women members.  The total absence of women members immediately nullifies the council’s and your personal credibility because you chose to continue the hierarchy's male hegemonic praxis of excluding women.

Rather than include women you make this strange comment that women are “directing the dance” which male council members will perform.   Cardinal, your response to intelligent women’s concerns punctuates that women are not directing any of your dance steps.  If we were, that statue would be gone and an apology would be posted.  But, no, you send what comes across as condescending patronizing statements instead, “There, there you ignorant woman…what do you know of your own plight?  Me and my fellow male celibate buddies know women’s plight much better than you do.”

Sir, many intelligent women are shouting at you, “THAT STATUE IS OFFENSIVE!  STOP USING IT!!”  Help me understand why you think your opinion should carry more weight than ours?  Please elaborate on your credentials as a woman and if you have none, then your opinion is secondary to ours.  Furthermore, if you insist that your opinion must prevail, then you have gag and rope firmly in your hand, twisting and tightening them around women. 

Yes, Cardinal Ravasi, we understand that this statue expresses demeaning treatment women endure now and have endured throughout history because, you see, we have experienced it often at the hands of the church's hierarchy, of which you are a high-ranking member.  Our dilemma as second class citizens has many roots in the male hegemony of the church's hierarchy that espouses in the church and endorses in society the marginalization of women. The lack of women members on your council exemplifies how at ease the hierarchy is with discriminatory and degrading practices. That's what makes the artwork so offensive.  Women have long suffered at the hands of the hierarchy the very injustices you say the artwork in question provocatively portrays.

The wounds the hierarchy inflicts and has inflicted upon women are too numerous and raw to endure abiding it, as a primary source of injustice, to use artwork that gut-wrenchingly captures the state to which such injustices reduce women.  Furthermore, the hierarchy’s lack of self-awareness as perpetrator of injustices against women and delusional self-portrayal as benefactor and defender of women adds to the artwork's absolute and infallible contextual offensiveness and inappropriateness.  It is time for admission, penitence, apologies and altered behaviors, not perpetuation of the hierarchy's sins by marginalizing women's voices on this topic.Your inability or unwillingness to hear women on this accentuates what progress we can expect to arise from any council about women led by you, does it not?

If a group of slaveowners held a conference about the culture of slaves and depicted slaves in chains with lash marks from the whip to promote their conference's proceedings, would you expect the slaves to appreciate the artwork?   Would you think it was contextually appropriate?


  1. The slave-owners would not care a bit about what the slaves would think...
    Same here :-)

  2. very well said and I hope women will apreciate effort to stand up and be heard. x

  3. I love the way the Cardinal frames his statement, using the passive voice to describe the struggles of women. It is as if the Church is looking at this issue without regard to its role in creating these outcomes. But perhaps we can use the Church's decision to use this offensive image to push for a more candid acknowledgement of how the Church's policies and practices ignore, restrict and humiliate women. (There is nothing more humiliating than to strip a person naked, bind them and then parade their genitalia in front of others.) Why not ask that the Vatican post its reasoning for the use of this image on their website? In that way, the Vatican would be explicitly acknowledging the Church's understanding of the struggles that women face but its expectation that the Council will address those struggles. To that end, the Council should first ask that its membership be restructured so that voice of women can be heard. Otherwise, the Church is simply perpetuating the headless, voiceless image of women.

    1. You're right. I think of those poor Jewish women in the gas chambers trying to preserve their modesty.

  4. I especially 'like' the fact that he put what he means in parentheses because, apparently, women are kinda dumb and need help understanding analogies, e.g., "struggling for freedom (bound with rope)."