Da Vinci Code and Jesus the feminist

May 18, 2006 at 1:21 pm Leave a comment

My maiden speech was a reaction to the a letter lambasting feminism, written by then Cardinal Ratzinger. In light of the debate on the Da Vinci Code movie, we’ve decided to post below my speech on feminism as a way of renewing our appeal to the public to critically reflect on our faith and celebrate a spirituality that is both liberating and humane.

FEMINISM IS HUMANISM
Privilege Speech by Akbayan Rep. Ana Theresia Hontiveros Baraquel
August 9, 2004

Ginoong Speaker, ginagalang na mga kapwa Kongresista, mga kabaro at kapatid na lalaki, magandang hapon pos a inyong lahat!

My party, Akbayan, deeply protests the “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World” written by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith last 31 May 2004 in Rome and approved and ordered to be published by Pope John Paul II.

In the spirit of sisterly correction, I ask why, in the latter years of a Pope who has meant so much to us in many of humanity’s struggles for democratization, social justice and a humanist culture and ecological healing, among others, the Vatican has seen fit to reaffirm its earlier, painful marginalization of the feminist movement from these parallel strivings for a fully human life. Just like all sisters living under Islam, all sisters practicing the indigenous spiritualities of their ancestors, all feminists who profess a faith and whose political consciousness and social involvement were formed in great part by this influence, I say, we, too, are Church. We appeal to its leadership not to turn a blind eye to the role and gains of the feminist movement in building more humane societies, and to re-examine the virtual abandonment of this movement embodied in the Cardinal’s letter.

In his introduction to the “question of the dignity of women and women’s rights and duties in the different areas of civil society and the Church,” the Cardinal wrote of “certain currents of thought which are often at variance with the authentic advancement of women.” Feminism is precisely a worldview that celebrates the feminine principle alongside the masculine in all of life and upholds the dignity, rights and responsibilities of women in that context. Are these not positive energies that can propel the authentic advancement of women? Does the Cardinal not recognize women and feminist’s capacities for discernment and self-criticisms in these matters? And did he seek out and listen to the voices of women in the Church, both lay and religious, who bear the multiple burden of running the Vatican and other institutional households, engaging in various apostolates and missions throughout the world and witnessing to their faith in all arenas of human endeavor?

In his identification of currents of thought on the question of women, the Cardinal wrote that “a first tendency is to emphasize strongly conditions of subordination in order to give rise to antagonism: women in order to be themselves, must make themselves the adversaries of men… the identity and role of one are emphasized to the disadvantage of the other.” The adversity is precisely rooted in and exacerbated by these very conditions of subordination in our innermost selves and our most intimate relationships up to our societal institutions. How can we free ourselves unless we recognize this truth? We must name and respond to these conditions in order to resolve the antagonisms. In this, we seek and gladly accept the solidarity of feminist men, just as we struggle against macho tendencies within our own selves and ranks as women. We seek, not another power over others, but power within ourselves and with others.

The Cardinal wrote of feminism that “lead(s) to harmful confusion regarding the human person, which has its most immediate and lethal effects in the structure of the family… it natural two-parent structure of father and mother, and make(s) homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality.” Can the Cardinal not concede that women and feminists also have clarity and insight regarding the human person, equal to and as deep as his? More that its structure, feminism recognizes and appreciates the spirit of the family, its traditional and alternative models of human beings in committed relationships of mutual caring, building homes together and bringing forth new generations to inhabit the earth. These are diverse expressions of human solidarity that feminism celebrates.

The Cardinal wrote of feminism that “in this perspective, physical difference termed sex, is minimized, while the purely cultural element, termed gender, is emphasized to the maximum and held to be primary.” On the contrary, the first thing inquired about a new-born baby is precisely his or her sex. Whatever family, school, economic sector or community we are a part of, a large part of our history, opportunities and destiny is tied up with whether we are female or male. The seed of women’s captivity and liberation of our selves and of others is embedded in our womanhood, whatever our location in society. Feminists challenge society’s cultural constructs as they entrench political and economic structures and strive to create new constructs and radically reform structures through gender sensitivity and justice.

The Cardinal wrote of feminism that “strengthens the idea that the liberation of women entails criticism of Sacred Scripture, which would be seen as handling on a patriarchal conception of God nourished by an essentially male-dominated culture. Second, this tendency would consider as lacking in importance and relevance the fact that the Son of God assumed human nature in its male form.” This is the most startling part of his letter to the Catholic bishops. Feminists criticize not Scripture, but some of its patriarchal interpretations that exclude women from the promise of fully human life in our male-dominated societies. Wasn’t the New Testament and Jesus’s proclamation of the commandments of loving God and our neighbor a critical take on the Old Testament? Does the Cardinal not appreciate the role of positive, critical discourse within the Church in revealing the rich meanings of Scripture? The Catholic Church would be poorer as an actor in the world if not for the critical perspectives of liberation theology, creation theology and yes, feminist theology, among others. And no feminist debates the fact the Jesus was born a man. Instead, we Catholic feminists cherish Jesus Christ as a feminist man and a sign of the feminine principle in God. Akbayan is interested to learn through interfaith dialogues how Muslim feminists and feminists of other spiritualities would view similar questions about their Sacred Scriptures, about God and about their holy prophets as these questions impact on their actions in our societies.

On the importance of feminine values in the life of society, the Cardinal wrote that “although a certain type of feminist rhetoric makes demand s “for ourselves,” women preserve the deep intuition of the goodness in their lives of those actions which elicit life, and contribute to the growth and protection of the other.” There is no compartmentalization, let alone contradiction between caring for ourselves as women and caring for other. We are enabled to elicit life, care for its growth and protect it in various ways as dynamically as we are supported in achieving quality of life for women, surviving victimization and moving on to dignity and achieving substantive representation in society, among other. Authentic humanism recognizes that relationships to our selves, others, society, the material world and a transcendent are intimately linked to, not torn apart from and placed in an illusory opposition to each other.

The Cardinal wrote that “it cannot be forgotten that the interrelationship between these two activities – family and work – has, for women, characteristics different from those in the case of men.” Akbayan appreciates his calls for a just valuing of the work of women within the family and households, and economic, legal and cultural support for women, whether we choose to be full-time homemakers or work as well outside the home, as measures to bridge the historic production-reproduction divide. I add my party’s concern that similar encouragement be given men who wish to work more within the home, because the characteristics of the interrelationship between family and work are more similar than different for women and men.

Just as the basic sectors struggle for their basic sectoral agendas – women in these sectors struggle also particularly for women’s access to the benefits of assets reform and support services in male-oriented programs, for gender sensitivity in macho sectoral formations, government agencies and private sector entities; and for representation in indigenous institutions. Conscientious women and men struggle for the radicalization and reform of our crisis-ridden democratic institutions and processes, for a humane model of global economic interrelationships in which the common good of humanity and all creation is the bottomline, not the capital and profit championed by neo-liberal globalization; for humane and liberating cultures. Feminism has a shared tradition and a continuing complementary role to play these struggles.

President Macapagal-Arroyo signed Proclamation 622 on 29 April 2004 declaring the year 2005 as the centennial year of the feminist movement in the Philippines. May she hold fast and not be deterred by the Vatican’s criticism of feminism, as she had been wont in the past to buckle to pressure from Catholic Church leaders on gender issues. To borrow from one of the greatest public servants in the Catholic tradition, she may be the Church hierarchy’s dutiful daughter, but she is the people’s servant first.

Mr. Speaker, respected colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, Akbayan appeals to you to critically reflect on the Cardinal’s letter and the responses of the feminist movement in this predominantly Catholic country, especially in the midst of our current legislative debates on reproductive health, a population policy, social justice, anti-corruption measures and sustainable development. This morning, feminists from various organizations walked in the rain to the office of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines to deliver a response letter to the Cardinals. Akbayan hopes that our bishops will engage feminists in a positive dialogue on this matter so close to our hearts, and that the House of Representatives will take this into consideration as we create a policy environment for human development in our country.

Marami pong salamat sa inyong lahat !

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Entry filed under: AKBAYAN in Congress, Speeches, Women and Feminism.

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