The Need for a Positive Counter-Narrative of Religious Involvement in Feminism by Ivy Helman
I’ve admired JC for years. That’s Joan Chittister, OSB the Benedictine nun of course. I first saw her speak when I was in graduate school and she visited Yale. I’ve also read a number of her books. Her life is an example of how religious people support feminist ideals. There is a story in Beyond Beijing: The Next Step for Women: A Personal Journal that I would like to share with you
Chittister began her historic journey on the Peace Train to the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. As she entered a conference room to register as a Peace Train participant, she was handed a large manila envelope. To her surprise it was filled with condoms. At first, she thought that the woman who handed them to her meant to hand them to someone else. However, Chittister was told (quite emphatically according to her) that she should distribute the condoms to the health workers she encounters while on the train and in the small towns she visits along the way to Beijing. Eventually after much thought, Chittister decided to do just that and stuffs the manila envelope into her backpack. Trying to find some humor in what she considered an awkward situation for a nun to be in she remarked, “Now all I have to do is to try not to die in front of some bishop with condoms in my backpack.”
My first reaction to this story is to laugh along with her. I am also struck by her thoughtfulness to share the story publicly. She could have been given the envelope, quietly distributed the condoms and then never told a soul. But, no. She includes the account of this feminist action she undertook in her book for the world to read. What an amazing amount of courage and integrity this woman has!
Here is what I propose: we do that here and now. I am going to detail one small but extremely important example that I’ve encountered recently. In the comments section, please add to this list. Hopefully, as we compile this list together, we will inspire one another and create a sense of hope and renewed dedication to our common struggles. Thank you for sharing.
1. The sign in every bathroom at my shul in Lowell, MA about Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. It lists a hotline number as well as explains the various options you have if you have been a victim of domestic violence and/or sexual assault. Some of the options include (I don’t have access to the sign as I write): you have the right to medical care including STI testing, you can choose what kind of treatment you do or do not follow, you have the right to be safe and anti-pregnancy pills can be taken up to 72 hours after rape.
Ivy A. Helman, Ph. D.: A feminist scholar currently on the faculty at Boston College teaching in its Perspectives Program and an Adjunct Lecturer at Merrimack College. Her most recent publications include: “Queer Systems: The Benefits of a More Systematic Approach to Queer Theology,” in CrossCurrents (March 2011) and Women and the Vatican: An Exploration of Official Documents(2012).