Which she continually does—with wicked humor and cogent arguments—with virtually every post, and this newest one, from Questions from a Ewe, is magnificent.
I have been remiss in not acknowledging the Pontifical Council on Culture’s change in artwork for its outline document on women’s culture. Without fanfare, explanation or apology, the council switched the cover art a few weeks ago. We may never know what swayed the seemingly recalcitrant Pontifical Council leader, Cardinal Ravasi… Was it the uber-orthodoxy’s concerns about female nudity or those expressed about female bondage conveyed by Man Ray’s “Venus Restored,” their original cover art choice, that tipped the scales?
I waited to write about this because I’m still uncertain if the new artwork is an improvement or not. Instead of a nude, headless woman’s torso in ropes, the report cover now sports Petrus Christus’ 15th century painting, “Our Lady of the Dry Tree.” Yes, it is now the Virgin Mary…the clergy’s default, prevalent, unrealistic image of women. Instead of celebrating the councils’ action, I shook my head and sighed at the predictability: women were first portrayed as naked “T & A” and then as the Virgin Mary.
Many if not most clergy imprison themselves to seeing women as either a virgin or a whore with no middle ground in how they identify women. Therefore, I’m not surprised that their mental limitation manifested itself in their art choices. Should we call it a “win” that they didn’t leap to the Marian image first?
However, their mental limitations also manifested themselves via their writings. The council’s working document speaks about the body as a key factor in one’s identity. It continues by describing feminine identity thusly: “So the feminine identity is the point of convergence of daily fragility, of vulnerability, mutability and multiplicity between emotive interior life and exterior physicality.”
Putting this in everyday language, the council believes that feminine identity is a combination of being fragile (on a daily basis), being vulnerable, being changeable, and being varied … all intermingled between internal emotions and external physical appearance. I’m not sure if using less academic language helps in the statement’s understandability. But it perhaps helps one determine if the statement reflects a convergence of the clergy’s daily misogyny, pseudo-chivalry, immutability, and hegemony harbored in their interior thoughts and manifested in their exterior actions more than it describes feminine identity.
Let’s start with “daily fragility.” What exactly is that? The definition of “fragile” is “easily destroyed; not strong or sturdy; vulnerable.” I don’t know what women the council members interact with, but regardless of poverty or wealth, sickness or health, most women I know possess and exhibit tremendous strength and grit. To portray women as egg-shell thin porcelain dolls constantly on the brink of being smashed to smithereens…every single day…perhaps projects how the council members wish women were but does not reflect who they actually are. Aha…now we’re getting somewhere with regards to women’s identity. It’s not what council members desire it to be and they can’t unfetter themselves from being enslaved to their own ideas rather than to truth.
“Vulnerable” is a synonym for “fragile” so I have to deduct points for redundancy, repetition and saying the same thing more than once.
Not sure where the council was going with the “mutability” angle. Yes women change over time…as do men…but it’s not like women are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or anything. Oh, that’s right; we couldn’t be because the TMNT are kick-ass crime-fighters not dainty little teacups that need to be packed in bubble-wrap.
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