This is part two of a post started yesterday. At the end of it I asked why a woman cannot be a follower of St. Ignatius and a Jesuit.
The days of separating religious communities because rape is a possibility should be behind us–as we all know separating the sexes does not prevent rape anyway. Let’s get real, if I can understand the Ignatian exercises, use them in discernment, prayer, and reflection, understand the concepts and gain the graces, through doing them in a similar fashion as male Jesuits, what’s the big mystery, what’s keeping me out of the Jesuits–except that that it is a male club that is exclusive. Exclusion of any kind is oppressive, whether it is for racist, sexist, or other reasons.
Communities based on separation and exclusion because of sexual temptation ignore the simple fact that all people need to be responsible for their own actions. Male religious in exclusivist communities are like the Iowa dentist who fired his assistant because she was “too” good looking. He said could not control his own urges, his own temptations. An all-male court was unanimous in upholding his right to fire his assistant of more than 10 years. Is not an all male court a biased court? The woman in question certainly did not get a decision rendered by her peers!
That such a trial could even take place is an aberration of colossal proportions and reeks of the male, misogynist, supremacist backlash that is going in society right now in America and everywhere. This backlash is once again putting the burden of sexual urges that men cannot control on the “evil” Eve. Let’s not call a male-not-wanting-to-be-responsible “innocent.” Let’s name his lack-of-taking-responsibility-for-himself.
The press reported that the dentist’s wife told her husband to fire his assistant. If the dentist took responsibility for his own thoughts and urges and controlled them, this situation would not have arisen in the first place. How can we in education and ministry work with women and men to stop the unjust treatment of women in situations like this one?
Let’s return to philosophy, and flip it on its ear. If male philosophers are operating from a hierarchal postion, “but[if] it is no longer assumed that the agent of knowledge occupies a distinctive position in the hierarchy of beings which constitutes the universe,”* then let’s try for a moment to think what it means when no hierarchy exists in philosophical discussions. What if no one has the upper hand and all share equally in the discussion? How do we erase gender and other privileges? How can we arrive at the answers that will change the system? How do we persuade those who are so invested and entrenched in the current system that it seems to impossible to persuade them to change?
Let’s take Buber’s I-Thou, I-It paradigm one step further. What about I-Thou, Thou-I or I-It, It-I. Is not a relationship a process of give and take, back and forth? The dance between the self and other includes coming together and yet remaining unique, while at the same time being forever changed in the encounter. If we are doing our job in philosophy, then we need to break the hermeneutic circle and open it beyond the confines of an ever-repeating circle that goes nowhere, but keeps doubling back on itself, never evolving, never progressing, never open to learning anything more.
Katy Perry’s song “Wide Awake” suggests that closed circles can be broken. Perry punches out Prince Charming and flattens a myth to the ground. She refuses to play the role of a fragile princess. She has awakened from the dream that has been told to so many little girls: that a girl is like Cinderella awaiting Prince Charming to rescue her from her fear of being alone. Perry tells every girl that she is already awake, no longer half asleep in the dreamlike state of delusional romance. She is her own person and can find her own way, knowing that a real Other will either be there or not, and either way, she is OK.
*Seán Hand, The Lévinas Reader, Blackwell Publishing, Maiden, MA 1989, p.60
Janice Poss is a Ph.D. student at Claremont Graduate University in Religion and Women’s Studies, holds MA.Th. from Loyola Marymount University and BA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and sits on the parish council at her church. Her whose interests are in theological, philosophical and spiritual aspects of religion as they are expressed aesthetically in the visual arts.