The summary below of the outline Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference, was originally written to be part of my consideration of the use of a sculpture by Man Ray, Venus Restored, on the Vatican website to represent this document. However, the article became too long and so I have posted it here separately for those who wish to know more.
Content of Women’s Cultures: Equality and Difference
The outline begins with a wonderful articulation of the male-female difference and what it means to be feminine.
“The expression “women’s cultures does not imply any division from men’s cultures, but shows our awareness that there is a women’s “perspective” on the world and all that surrounds us, on life and on experience.”
John Paul II wrote that femininity is woman’s way of being in the world. It is how she experiences it, and masculinity is man’s way of being in the world. Masculinity and femininity do not refer to set traits, but general experiences that shape the life of the person in question, making him masculine or her feminine. Both are complete as they are, not in need of the other to be complete, as the opening quote by Edith Stein to this outline so beautifully states.
“I am convinced that the human species develops as a twofold species, ‘male’
and ‘female’; that the essence of the human being, of which no trait should be
missing, is present in both, manifesting itself in two ways: and that the entire structure of being highlights this specific mould.”
The outline begins with an articulation of the presence of a women’s culture, which is experientially different then a man’s culture, because woman experiences the world differently, as a woman. The document takes a realistic view that at one time these different cultures created different spheres of influence for the man (public) and the woman (private), but in time that gap has lessened. Despite the narrowing of the gap, a woman’s reality continues to be quite different than that of a man, and she identifies herself with different terms. The writers propose some important questions regarding the co-existence of equality and difference.
The next section focuses on the concept of generativity and the nature of woman to be linked to and defined by her body. “Putting it in an excessively simplified way, we can affirm that the generative path is divided into four moments: desiring, bringing into the world, looking after, and finally, letting go.” Woman’s genius is not limited to her bio-physiological orientation towards child-rearing, but also in every day practice, the way she goes about the world. “Women executives and managers, for example, who develop managerial processes based on respect, welcoming, making the most of differences and skills, generate and protect life expressing fecundity.”
Recognizing the value of the feminine body, the document goes on to examine the abuses that happen specifically towards women and how these abuses are linked to her body through poverty as “both a cause and consequence of violence on women”, slavery, feminicide (“selective abortion, infanticide, genital mutilation, crimes of honour, forced marriages, trafficking of women, sexual molestation, rape”), domestic violence, non-medical plastic surgery, reducing woman from generator to producer of children, and using woman’s body for marketing, commercialization.
The last section explores the role of women in the Church, which John Paul II called for, as coming to fruition. Continuing the hard, realistic look at the state of things, the authors ask, “What is not working, today, so that the image of womanhood that the Church has kept, does not correspond to reality?” Woman’s engagement with the Church seems to be diminishing. Rather than calling for the replacement of men in positions of liturgical power with women, the authors continue to plea of John Paul II:
“A realistic objective could be that of opening the doors of the Church to women so that they can offer their contribution in terms of skills and also sensitivity, intuition, passion, dedication, in full collaboration and integration with the male component.”
In Catholic circles, we’d like to think that the good we see makes up the majority of the reality, but unfortunately it is not so. Faithful and informed Catholics are quick to point out the Catholic Church has a singular historical role in valuing woman and her contribution (through motherhood, the saints, the Virgin Mary, mystics), educating women (through convents/monasteries, Catholic schools) and creating positions of power (abbess) and importance (teaching, Catholic hospitals). Woman is valued, perhaps now, more than ever and her role discussed with great honor and respect via the writings of John Paul II.
With only a like button possible to quickly post our views, we’re tempted to post only positive things because if we talk about the negative, communication online quickly breaks down. Nevertheless, the conversation is important and must be pursued. I hope you will take a look at this document, and further the discussion of what we can do to help women in society to discovered, with unbridled freedom, her glory and dignity.