My Body Image: Between Perception and Incarnation By Cynthia Garrity-Bond

No matter what shape or size, the words “body image” conjure-up pictures of the self that are like looking into those funny mirrors which distort and expand the body.  With few moments of relative slimness in my life, I have struggled with a poor self-image. It started when I was a child, who while deeply wanted, was not the hoped for frail and delicate daughter my parents had imagined.  My mother, all 5’ 100 lbs was forever reminding me that I took after my father’s Swedish side of the family, more akin to “peasant stock,” you know, those larger boned women who could birth a baby one day and return to the fields the next—you get the picture.  This is the image I came to accept of my own body, which was far from the wispy, delicate girl I longed to be.

And then my baptism into feminism, with all its corrections of the androcentric world to which I belonged. Of the many hopes within feminism, it was the release from my own body image that I longed for.  I wanted to feel at home and at one with what I was, not what I hoped to be.  Truth be known, it has never happened.

A few years back in my Medieval Theology course we were examining the Catholic doctrine of the Resurrection of the Body through such thinkers as Irenaeus, Aquinas and Bonaventure. In what my instructor thought was an affirmation of the body, she interpreted the doctrine to mean that after death we will take on our bodies as they were in life, meaning, we would look pretty much the same as we did while tromping around on earth.  In contemplating her words I sought clarification.  “So” I asked, “the body I have now will be the body I carry with me throughout eternity?”  “Well, yes” my slight and thin professor responded. Letting her words sink in for a moment I finally responded with a resounding, WTF!”   I don’t want this body to haunt me in the next life, I want Ashley Judd’s, or Jennifer Aniston’s, hell, I’ll even consider an anonymous model from the LL Bean catalog, but not THIS body!” Continue reading “My Body Image: Between Perception and Incarnation By Cynthia Garrity-Bond”

The Cross of Reality: The Linguistic Hiddenness of Naming Rape By Cynthia Garrity-Bond

In a recent Facebook thread, I read with interest the 2010 National Catholic Reporter article (“Women Won’t Let Us Go”) about the four American churchwomen, Maryknoll Srs. Ita Ford and Maura Clarke, Ursuline nun Dorothy Kazel and laywomen Jean Donovan on the 30th anniversary of their murders while working in El Salvador.

What instantly drew me in was the raw language of their ordeal, in which each of the four where raped, tortured and then shot to death. The word “rape” jumped off the page as if a foreign term, and I wondered why I felt this way. Not until I exhausted my search on the women did I understand my heightened surprise: in nearly all of the Google searches, the word, “abused” and not “raped” appeared in the telling of their story. Again, why the softening of the act through the use of the term abused? While I applaud NCR contributor Cheryl Wittenauer’s use of the word rape, I’m confused why so many others seemed unable or unwilling to call it what it is: rape.

When the six Jesuits from El Salvador were executed, the following formula was used to describe what occurred: “Date + six Jesuits, + “along with a housekeeper and her daughter killed by members of the El Salvadoran military.” In his recounting of the death of his Jesuit community, Jon Sobrino is one of the few who names the usually unnamed women: Julia Elba Ramos, 42, cook and housekeeper and Cecilia Ramos, 15, her daughter. Sobrino1 gives further details of the killings by informing the reader of the thirty men dressed in military uniform each carrying machine guns. The first three Jesuits were taken outside and executed. The remaining three Jesuits plus the women were then killed in their beds. Let’s step back from this gruesome scene to imagine what could be missing details of the deaths of Julia and her daughter Cecilia. While I have attempted to uncover the reality of that night, I have not been able to verify my suspicions, that before the women were executed, the military men first raped them, as was their custom. If I am correct, why the silence about their rape all these years later? Does their rape somehow lessen their lives and deaths? Are they considered martyrs as well? Continue reading “The Cross of Reality: The Linguistic Hiddenness of Naming Rape By Cynthia Garrity-Bond”

Feminism in Disguise By Cynthia Garrity-Bond

Recently CNN ran a feature article on GOP presidential runner Michele Bachmann, an extreme conservative congresswoman from Minnesota, whose political ideologies are shaped and endorsed by the Tea Party []  The article raised the question if Bachmann, like Hilary Clinton, could be considered a feminist icon, with the distinction of Bachmann as an “evangelical feminist.”  While the article gives a brief history of evangelical feminism, starting with the appointment of Christian conservative Elizabeth Dole during the reign of Ronald Reagan, a huge assumption is made by not clarifying what, exactly, is a feminist and what makes one a feminist?  This sin of omission thus renders the term “evangelical feminist” as a binary coupling that locates feminism to a 1970’s reformist notion of women’s equality with men, but men in their shared social status. While Bachmann may object to being identified as a feminist, I find it interesting that the writer for CNN has no difficulty (or sense of clarity) with the consideration of her as a feminist.  What, I wonder, in Bachmann’s political trajectory is considered “feminist”?

In Feminism is for Everybody, author bell hooks takes to task what she identifies as “lifestyle-based feminism” which hooks argues, “suggest[s] any woman could be a feminist no matter what her political beliefs.” Enter Michele Bachmann and her beloved Tea Party. Admittedly the Tea Party is all over the map in their ideology, yet a few constants can be teased out.  For example, they overwhelmingly disapprove of President Obama’s policy of engaging with Muslim countries.  They support Arizona’s immigration laws, feel gay and lesbian couples should not be able to marry, global warming is simply made-up, the repeal of the Health Care legislation, repeal of minimum wage, and reduction or elimination of reproductive rights for women and men.  All of which begs the question, can an individual who invest in a political ideology of extreme nationalism while further excluding those on the margins through racist immigration laws, homophobic fears, classist response to the poor and sick while promoting a misdirected Biblical position of dominance of the earth and its limited resources be consider a feminist?

Recall in the last post Rosemary Radford Ruether’s understanding of feminism as “a critique of patriarchy as a system that distorts the humanity of both women and men.” One form of distortion arises when patriarchy co-opts feminism as power gained through the exploitation and oppression of others.  In what hooks identifies as “power feminism” of the 90’s, wealthy white heterosexual women became the icons of feminist success by appropriating feminist jargon while sustaining their commitment to Western imperialism and transnational capitalism. Which goes back to my initial point, we must clarify what we mean when we use the word feminist or feminism.  Is it a chameleon-like identity or a political movement that seeks to end sexism, exploitation and oppression of women and men? Continue reading “Feminism in Disguise By Cynthia Garrity-Bond”

Feminism, Ontology and the Priesthood of all Believers

At a surprisingly early age, perhaps nine or ten, I became the author of my own spiritual narrative, meaning, I took it upon myself to initiate and pursue the deep mystery of my faith.  Weekly Mass was an event, not an obligation, and something to which I attended without my family. The singleness of my worship at such a young age drew stares and whispers from those families who had arrived in tact. And while I was not unaware of their curiosity, I found it easier to lose myself in the absolute wonder of my environment. This was the world to which I belonged.  I was at once home and alive in a devotion filled with sacramentals, those objects of religious piety that created a force field of God’s protection around me. 

While the mystery of God’s love enveloped and graced my adolescence, a slow and creeping suspicion began to take hold of my faith. Because of my “girlishness,” I was barred as an alter server, and I began to absorb my otherness. I worried about my difference, and began to question the fairness of God. Telegraphic messages of inferiority caused me great confusion. The implicit reality that as female I was ontologically challenged, slowly sifted its way into my psyche and I would argue, my soul as well.

As a budding young feminist, what I found within the teachings of the church, either implicit or explicitly, did not coincide with what I felt to be the inner me.  On the cusp of adulthood, the collision between self and Church [read as God] was inevitable. The catechetical formation of my youth, of coming forth equally male and female in the image and likeness of God seemed like a childish myth and certainly not the reality of the andocentric church to which I was now departing.

Fast forward twenty years, and I cautiously found myself back in the Catholic Church, only this time in the arms of feminist theologians. I was hooked.  Their writings informed my life choices, directing me towards my current doctoral pursuit.  Yet I have found the academic arena is able to shield and protect me from the pain I continue to feel within the institutional church. To demonstrate the interweaving of the challenges and nourishment I experience as a Catholic I addressed above, I would like to share with you the following story. Continue reading “Feminism, Ontology and the Priesthood of all Believers”

Between Mother Mary and Mother God: It’s a Mystery!

“It’s a mystery!” was the repeated response my mother gave to me whenever I asked her theological questions that fell outside the realm of the Catholic Baltimore Catechism.  To be fair, my questions were usually a bit precocious for a young child, but who are we kidding, I was a rather strange and overly religious kid.  My idea of a good time was kneeling before our three-foot statue of the Virgin Mary as our family recited our Lenten rosary.  And while my brothers were contorting themselves into positions that would qualify for Cirque de Soleil, I was piously straight and focused.  Mary was my pathway to the big three, The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost.  And while I knew I was suppose to desire the Three-in-One, they did not hold the same sway over me as the Mary who stood atop the world while crushing Satan in the form of a snake. My love for Jesus was more a sense of obligation for the unfair rap he had to endure while on earth, the Great Sacrifice for the sin of Adam and Eve.  My image of God as a not-so-nice-Father-to-his-only-Son sealed itself into my consciousness early on.  “Why,” I would ask my mother, “if God is love would he insist on such a bloody and painful sacrifice for a sin that honestly does not seem so bad.” You guessed it, “It’s a mystery!”  was her response.

But I have since come to learn that it’s not a mystery, but rather a matter of shifting the theological lens from an abusive Father to a God who has been totally misrepresented.  A God who is both unnameable and pronounceable.  Who offers us the mystery of God’s self in every single seen and unseen element of the earth and cosmos.  But still, that does not always work for me.  I need more.  In times of heartache or sorrow I need an image with skin and bones and a heart that is larger than my pain. I need a Creator God that will rock me back and forth, soothing my fears and yes, even caressing my face with cool breaths that remind me I will survive this latest insult to life.  In these times I know what God is not. I know God is not a rock, or a wispy tuft of air.  God is not the mighty King on high able to judge my enemies.  Nor is God a warrior who kicks ass over the unrighteous.  God is my Mother.  Maybe this is why Mary has always worked for me.  Maybe she never really was the mediator between Them and me, she is Them.  Theologically I may be on shaky ground, but the mystery between Mary as Mother and Mother God is one I know, not one I can defend. And it is one that continues to sustain and let me know that I am never too old to be held in the Mother’s embrace.

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