Monday, November 05, 2007

Nonne: Are Feminists Asking the Wrong Questions?

[This lecture was given at Oxford University, sometime in the early '90s, in a "Women's Theology" series organized by Graham Ward. Over time, the word "feminism" has taken on many, sometimes conflicting meanings, so the lecture must be read with this in mind.]

‘The sky is dark with the wings of chickens coming home to roost.’ —Alan Bennett

I am going to make some highly critical comments today, but I want to emphasise that however they relate or do not relate to what I consider the central task of theology, the issues raised by feminist theology must continue to be explored, even if they cease to be theology, properly speaking, and for the infinite number of reasons suggested in this lecture series.

It is not perhaps irrelevant to begin by telling you that my other name is Maggie Ross, nor is it irrelevant to say that I am not sure who M. Ross is, because this is one way of asking who is the final author of this or any other text that bears my name. Who, finally, is the author is a fundamental question of hermeneutics, as those of you attending Graham’s lectures will know, and because Christianity is a religion of the Book, Christian life is necessarily one of interpretation.

It might be useful for you to know where I ‘stand’ on feminist theology.

Only one person to my knowledge has ever called M Ross a ‘feminist’ theologian, and that was John Cobb; in the same time-frame and in reference to the same book the Bishop of Durham was careful to say that M Ross was most assuredly not a feminist theologian, which only goes to show the relevance of Pam Anderson’s remark about ‘all the feminisms’.

I both agree and disagree with Luce Irigeray that while it is important for men and women to explore who they are as men and women, I disagree that this task can be accomplished by isolating men from women. In the first place, there is too much that is shared in common among human persons. In the second, the desire for men to find out who men are in isolation from women and vice versa is, as I hope this lecture will show, an exercise in futility, a presumption in the strongest British sense of that word: an imposed, arrogant ignorance.

Briefly, sex, gender and sexuality are all areas in which the old adage, the more we study, the less we know, applies. What seems most obvious may be most equivocal. We know now, for example, that the foetus may change its sex several times before it settles on one or the other—if indeed it does settle. In addition there have been verified examples of lactating men and partheogenic women. In our age to change one’s sex is now possible as never before. Gender is perhaps the most mutable, to what extent remains unknown. And virtually the only thing that can be said about sexuality with any certainty is that it is the animator of intention, whether it is my intention to pick up this glass of water, to procreate, or to behold in contemplative union with God.

This is not to say there are not different personality types, but phrases such as ‘women’s sins’ referring to self-encapsulation and self-victimization, obsessive centripetal thinking, self-hatred and excessive guilt apply equally to some men—seen, for example, in the creepy resemblance between some of the most vociferous advocates of women’s ordination and their most extreme opponents. And anyone who has some experience of listening to men and women talk about prayer soon realises that approaches to God that can be grouped by family resemblance do not differentiate along the illusory fault line between ‘male’ and ‘female’.

To sum up my position: I am working towards the goal when, to quote Graham, the fact that it is a woman doing theology is irrelevant; towards the time—and these are not Graham’s words!—when men and women simply regard each other as ‘persons’ without first checking out the physique—their own or the other’s. Only God is true person; we are but faint fragments of personality. And it is our task to discover the indwelling divine person within each fragment.

So, to answer the question that is this lecture’s title: yes, I most certainly do think feminists are asking the wrong questions.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog is now part of my "daily" (I check each day to see if there is more!)... Thank you for it.

I hope that, like so many of your other subjects, today's topic is only the beginnng ...
If not, then, please, at least giive us these wrong questions and the correct ones.

Thank you, M. (oops!) Maggie Ross.

12:40 pm, November 05, 2007  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Thank you, kind friend. Yes, the article will continue. I generally post about once a week unless I am sick or traveling. There are, of course, exceptional weeks when I post several times.

1:02 pm, November 05, 2007  

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