Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Illusions of Equality

Jun 28, 2011
Elizabeth Scalia

About 15 years ago a new Catholic parish was erecting its single-building church and social center. The pastor asked the religious sister who acted as Director of Religious Education to choose the tiles for the parish center’s bathrooms. The gentleman’s bathroom was outfitted in a rather pretty shade of gray with darker accents. The ladies room, however, startled everyone who entered it; gazing into the mirrors at their bilious reflections, woman after woman grimaced and asked “who on earth decided on spicy-mustard yellow?”

Complete to a shade—with brown accents, no less—the lavatory quickly became known as the “vomitory,” and Sister Decorator made a sincere apology for the Jaundice Surprise. “I thought pink or rose would be too feminine, too Barbie, and the yellow would be less stereotypical,” she explained.

This was consistent with Sister’s feminist conscience, which had earlier caused conflict when she tried to introduce inclusive language to the Gloria, because “some people have issue with their fathers, and this makes it difficult for them to recognize God-as-Father.” Her intention was to wipe out any and all “feminine social constructs” while simultaneously inserting feminine perspectives or downgrading the masculine, wherever she could. There was a staggering incoherence to her efforts: femininity was bad, but women were good; men were alright but masculinity was a horror, except when a woman could achieve equality with masculine constructs. Equality was the highest good.

Sister was a good person; she was very kind and a hard worker, but she was so obsessed with notions of equality that she lost her ability to see people as anything but types and categories. At a ministry thank-you dinner, we shared a table and, emboldened by wine, I suggested her version of the Gloria was insensitive to many: “You’re right that some people have issues with their earthly fathers,” I said, “but it’s for that very reason that we want to hear about—and need to know—our Heavenly Father. When you take that from us, we have nothing—no earthly father, no heavenly one, either.”

The astonished sister answered that she had never heard such an idea before, and that she was sure I must represent a very small minority, and as interesting as she thought my sentiments, she was certain that the larger society was better served by gender-free prayer. Language mattered: it made us all equal before God and God equally accessible to all of us. the rest-excellent! image


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