Monday, 26 November 2012

Femininity and the call...


I began this post the day after I read about the trouble with women bishops in the Church of England but, like so much else recently, you lose your place, you make a mistake, a sentence doesn't quite make sense and you're flooded with feelings of hopelessness, and you just give up. But I decided to return to the matter after a conversation with arguably the only decent man at work on Friday morning. It was asked: ''when did women cease to be feminine?'' Eventually I said ''…which is why I don't like lesbians,'' to which my friend said ''you really are an oddball, Patrick!'' and laughed. I can't say I blame him. Now, my relationship to the fairer sex is complicated by my own ''problem,'' with that and with domineering women (like my mother); nevertheless I like women and like the society of women. But I can't understand sexual attraction to women, even less sexual attraction among women. Even more confusing is that lesbians generally dislike men, and yet many (if not most) look like men (more than me!) and are attracted to other women who look like men! But the question is apposite all the same and is not solely restricted to ''butch'' women. You don't have to cut your hair short, grow out your body hair, put on weight and wear boots to be considered an inferior woman by me. I can think of a number of women who like to dress up, wear their seven inch heels out and instigate drunken brawls with some unlucky sod. Femininity has little (if anything) to do with how much foundation you paint onto your face. Femininity is an innate quality and means rather a woman's deportment, how she carries herself, her dignity, her grace, her gentleness, the things she finds amusing. Unfortunately this concept is maligned these days and you're considered a weirdo by some for thinking of it, a misogynist by others; feminists accuse me of trying to pigeon-hole women into one particular ''idea'' of womanhood - at the kitchen sink, for example. I'm sure you'd agree that a drunken woman in a revealing dress shouting abuse at someone in a night club is just a man in drag. What difference is there between her and a football hooligan? None whatsoever. But I do think that a truly feminine woman, someone like Darcey Bussell or Audrey Hepburn, is so wonderful. I'm sorry but put Darcey Bussell next to the man in drag shouting abuse and the difference is startling; akin to the difference between Michelangelo's Pieta and Tracey Emin's Bed.

Now, where were we? Ah yes, disparaging butch women. This is not a treatise on how or why the differences between men and women are breaking down any more than a call from me to try and change anything - you would only be wasting your time. Time. Jacob Bronowski once said that the arrow of Time points always in the direction of diminishing difference. Time was when there was a clear difference between the sexes; now, thanks to a society built on secular principles, there's almost none. Lord only knows to what uneasy, unnatural future we are all bound. So where does this cultural and gender revolution leave the young woman with aspirations to join the priesthood? What shall we say of her femininity?
 
I am not convinced of theological arguments against the ordination of women (although I would be interested to read any theological argument in their favour); I think they are reactionary constructs and just a tad misogynistic. Rome, of course, cites its own authority in the battle; “we can no more ordain a woman than we can govern the tides!” – a rather unconvincing argument, I daresay, since Rome’s authority fluctuates depending on the incumbent of the Holy See. No institution, be it as old as the hills, is sacred in the Roman church (except the papacy)! However I would look to the ecclesiastical polity handed down to us from the Fathers as the norm and standard of contemporary church governance and hierarchy. If it is not the case in the fifth century, why should it be so now? The ordination of women may not be a purely theological matter but it is fundamental nonetheless and goes to the heart of our understanding of the Church. The very notion of a ''priestess,'' let alone a ''bishopess,'' would have been abhorrent to the Fathers, and I would say more for scriptural than cultural reasons. The ordination of women comes in the wake of a very recent history of women's rights campaigning and, to me at any rate, just seems to be a rub off from all that. This alone renders the “desire” rather dubious. How far back, then, does the “desire” among women to be the “equal” of men in ecclesiastical matters go? Whence came it? Do young girls really go up to their mothers and say: “mummy, when I grow up I want to be a bishop?” Of course, that’s not entirely how it happens and priestly or episcopal vocations are different from that of, say, a gymnast or a ballerina. The difficulty I find with priestesses nowadays, more than in the days when I was blindly obedient to Roman authority on the question, is that I do not think that a vocation to the priesthood is a feminine pursuit, nor am I convinced of the reality of the vocation among priestesses. This is, of course, not the end of the matter and it is merely the result of my own subjective thought. I am not a theologian; I can merely articulate what I feel in conscience to be a truth begotten of the unwritten natural law and the constant Tradition of the Church. I can say with total confidence that my belief in God is founded on the same principle.
 
Of course, my trouble is my inability to put forward an argument about anything without sounding like a bigot, and often my argument is marred by some sudden stroke. Let me say now that I do not think that women are less capable of piety and ministry than men and contrary to what I may have implied earlier I do not equate a “priestly vocation” in a woman with any kind of homosexual tendencies nor with unlawful, antisocial behaviour. I simply think that religious women who feel called in this way ought to channel their gifts and their pious notions in such a way as to be more in line with the ecclesiastical polity long established. I’m sure they have much to offer. What to do with priestesses already in existence is another matter.
 
This is the first post in quite a while at which I actually had to sit down and think so comments would be welcome!

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