I’m often called a bitch. No surprise really. I am a woman working my way into roles that are considered men’s. As a woman in leadership, my decisions are rarely respected. I am just a bitch making unreasonable demands. As a woman in the academy writing about gendered issues, I am just a bitch with an axe to grind. Who do I think I am? Well, the truth is, I am a bitch. I am a woman who is “Being in Total Control of Herself,” and it is this that makes others so uncomfortable that their only response is to demean me.
There is no doubt that a double standard exists in our society. But where it stems from is what I think we must discuss. Complementarity, as I have written about before, is the foundation of our ideas about gendered roles in society. The Christian ideal that men and women have distinct but complementary roles relegates women to the underside of dualism. Women must remain in the home, be wives and mothers, cook and clean, and care for their families. And so, a woman who attempts to share her gifts with the world in any other way is breaking the norm. In doing so, the reaction is simple: You are not following the rules. You are not keeping your mouth shut. You are a bitch.
And it is more than this. As women, we are not supposed to be in control of our bodies, our sexuality. How dare we ask for foreplay, an orgasm? Don’t we know that we are simply objects to be poked and prodded on demand – at the will of men? Lie down and take it. Don’t speak. Don’t respond. It is the male orgasm that determines when it is over.
Purity legends and virgin martyrs have taught women about our sexuality. Our hymens should be protected at any cost, including our lives. As Church Father Jerome says, not even God can repair a broken hymen. For women, we are supposed to live quiet, obedient, and pure lives. To not do so is to sully ourselves for God. Like men, this male God wants women all to himself, for HIS pleasure, we are to be obedient.
But is this God? Does God demand such roles for women? Or is complementarity a male construct that has become a substructure of our society?
A question I am often asked is: “Why stay? Why be part of a system that is so damaging for women?”
The thing is, I cannot quit society which I find equally damaging. My society deems me a bitch. My society says I do not have a right to control my body. My society says I do not have value. But I cannot say, “I quit. I am leaving.” No, I have to participate. I have to be strategic. I have to find ways to subvert these misogynistic structures.
Likewise, these substructures of society are founded on religious ideals. So to subvert one is to subvert both.
We each find different ways to work towards dismantling such structures. Every action counts. My personal battles are waged within the Catholic Church. I refuse to accept that my religious tradition calls for me to simply be an obedient passive object that exists only for men’s will.
And so, I am a bitch and I am okay with that. I make choices every day that allow me to be in control of myself. I will not be valued less. I will not forego my gifts in favor of a dualistic ideal. I will not bow down. Not to man, not to society, and not to a misogynistic God.
My God is not a woman-hating, demanding, possessive God. My God calls me to be a bitch. And it is that call I answer.
Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Religion and Gender Studies at Ursuline College and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion. She writes for The Huffington Post, has authored multiple publications and is the co-editor of the highly acclaimed Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay. Messina-Dysert is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the world. Messina-Dysert is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter @FemTheologian, Facebook, and her website ginamessinadysert.com.