All posts tagged: gender

Sex and Symbol

I was reared in the cradle of Evangelical Protestantism. I passed from girlhood to womanhood in that world, and during the tumult of puberty an increasing awareness of my unruly female body introduced me to the contested terrain of “womanhood” itself. What is a woman? What is her place? What are her gifts and limits? In an Evangelical context, such discussions and demarcations focused primarily on the concept of roles. What is it that woman is supposed to do? Or, more to the point, what is she not supposed to do? I was something of a tomboy, with bushy eyebrows and generous facial hair. I was competitive, but also tenderhearted. I anthropomorphized everything, in accordance with the stereotypes of my sex, but I enjoyed doing boyish things. I loved sports. I wanted to be fast. I wanted to win. On the sports field, there seemed to be no limits. But lines were drawn starkly in church. A woman’s role, her task, was to be a helpmeet to her husband and care for her children. The …

The Assumption and Gender

On November 1, 1950, Venerable Pope Pius XII in His Apostolic Constitution, Munificentissimus Deus (The Most Generous God) solemnly defined and decreed the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is the teaching that Mary−because she was preserved from the stain of Original Sin inherited by the Fall of our first parents—did not undergo the corruption of the body at the end of her earthly life, but was lifted body and soul into Heaven. It is really an incredibly bold dogma, and one which can even scandalize our separated Protestant brothers and sisters, but it is very reasonable and meaningful, and is in need of particular attention in today’s world. It is important to realize that this dogma was not invented in the 1950’s. As Pope Pius XII’s encyclical points out, this tradition is found in the ancient liturgical books of both East and West. It is also attested to by St. Sergius I, Pope in the late 17th century, who even prescribed a litany to be prayed on the feast. But …

Natural Family Planning and the Myth of Catholic Contraception

Is our culture close to turning a corner on Humanae Vitae, half a century after its promulgation and the widespread rejection of it that followed? There are reasons for cautious optimism. The historical context of the encyclical is important, given that it came just 38 years after Pope Pius XI’s Casti Connubii, which had already reaffirmed the longstanding Christian prohibition on contraception. What occasioned Humanae Vitae was really the emergence of the pill, which unlike barrier methods of contraception did its work inside the body, and so looked scarcely different from confining sexual intercourse to the woman’s infertile period.[1] But while the pill is still the contraceptive of choice for many, there is now growing disquiet about its side effects. This is significant not just from the perspective of health but also a feminist one: We once thought the oral contraceptive liberating, but today the discourse is shifting towards recognizing that women are made to disproportionately bear the hormonal burden of birth control. Additionally, given our contemporary attraction to all things organic and natural, there …

Desire Can Also Be Destructive

SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. Is it a video? Call Me By Your Name’s final moment is an elegantly enigmatic yet unambiguously poignant shot of Elio (Best Actor nominee Timothée Chalamet) staring into a roaring winter fireplace, transfixed by the memories of his summer romance with Oliver. The long unbroken take as the credits roll over his face is accompanied by the repeated refrain of Sufjan Stevens’ “Visions of Gideon” murmuring its yearning question: “Is it a video? Is it a video?” This last moment crystallizes the course the film charts: the troubling ambiguity of falling in love (or not) with an Other. Call Me By Your Name, based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel, is a tour-de-force portrait of desire which has prompted flurries of controversy concerning power imbalance, pedophilia, agency, and the depiction of queer romance on screen. This review will not attempt to enter those debates, but instead will attempt an explanation of why this film would necessarily raise those discussions. The project of a theological sexual ethics is interested …

Editorial Musings: Is Hypermasculinity a Problem?

This week, in honor of the Edith Stein Conference taking place at Notre Dame, Church Life is focusing on themes related to gender and human sexuality. A recent M.Div. graduate, China Weil, thinks about how to engage in pastoral ministry with those who use pornography. Drawing from the resources of the Christian iconographic tradition, she argues that we ought to form men and women to contemplate salutary images rather than those that lead us to exercise the pornographic gaze. In addition, we are featuring an interview with Kimberly Baker, Associate Professor of Church History at St. Meinrad School of Theology and Seminary, on a conference on Women in the Church held in the fall. And we have two articles dealing with parenting and fertility: one by Claire Fyrqvist on learning to practice (sometimes in difficult moments) the joy of parenting, another by Dr. Hanna Klaus on the problem of treating fertility as a disease rather than a gift and thus intrinsic to human sexuality. In our editorial meetings leading up to this issue, we determined that something that …

Man, Woman, and the Mission of the Laity

Many of us living through this period of history look on with confusion and concern as we watch while our culture appears to unravel before our very eyes. It is becoming increasingly difficult to gain any traction for our efforts to defend our families and our communities from forces that seem determined to undermine the traditional understanding of the moral life that has governed Western culture for centuries. We find ourselves increasingly marginalized in public discourse about issues that cut to the heart of what it means to be human, let alone Christian. The controversies extend across many fronts, from religious liberty to women’s “rights,” from the breakdown of the family to same-sex unions, from local economic realities to the sometimes dubious benefits of globalization. As lay Catholics, we rely on our faith in the promises of Christ in the face of this situation, and rightly so. We renew our commitment to prayer and regular reception of the sacraments. We keep our families close and do our best to guard our children from the toxic …

Don’t Make Gender Platonic

According to a wise theology professor, heresy is “trying to find a simple solution that squashes the frustrating nuances and baffling complexities of the truth.” It is fitting that something so personal and holy, such as our gender, our very mode of operation in this world, would be buried under centuries of heresy, error, and social taboos. Certainly, we seek to understand something so mysterious and sacred as the gender of the human person, and it is doubly certain we fall miserably short of comprehending it. Recently, a friend shared with me a blog piece with the provocative title: “Why Man and Woman are Not Equal,” which perfectly captured one of the most common gender heresies (especially among conservatives and the neo-Victorians dwelling among us): the Sentimental Heresy. This piece posits: Women create, shape, and maintain human culture. Manners exist because women exist. Worthy men adjust their behavior when a woman enters the room. They become better creatures. Civilization arises and endures because women have expectations of themselves and of those around them. As I …

Which equality?

Americans have always been marked in a particular way by the ideal of “equality,” as the famous French traveler to our young nation, Alexis de Tocqueville, noted in his extensive travel log, Democracy in America. And no matter how much the ideal has been put into practice, the pursuit of equality never ceases to abate. On the contrary, it is stoked to a point of missionary fervor in the face of territories apparently still untouched by the civilizing ideal. This is especially true now where the relation between men and women is in question. At first glance, there couldn’t be anything more obvious than men and women being thought of and treated as equals, in the sense of equally human, even if this has not always been evident to everyone, as for example in the famous medieval querelle des femmes or “woman question” debate—though we would need a sense of humor to understand some of this. And there couldn’t be anything more desirable, especially since the equality of the sexes would be the reason for …

Approaching a Theology of Womanhood Through the Door of Empathy

What does it mean to say, as Pope Francis did in 2013, that “we need to work harder to develop a more profound theology of the woman”?[1] For that matter, what would it mean to say that we need a more profound theology of manhood? For many in the Church today, particularly in the United States, this is a moot question, as even implying that there are essential differences between women and men is enough to spark a heated debate. Too often, however, a just advocacy for equality between men and women becomes a misguided quest for uniformity, resulting in articulations of difference and complementarity (to say nothing of gendered language) being stricken from the record in favor of a kind of neutered theological discourse. The problem with such an approach within the context of the Church is that it presumes that a person’s encounter with God is something that can be experienced, interpreted, and lived out apart from the body. However, whether we like it or not, we human beings are embodied creatures; therefore, …