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Will the Church succeed in appreciating women and letting herself be regenerated by them too?

· ​The other half ·

The minority status to which women have been relegated for a large part of history – and in almost all known cultures – is something we find hard even to think about: how was it possible that such a numerous and important part of humanity should be so stubbornly undervalued?

Thus the process aiming at the full recognition of the role of women which Western culture has engaged in from the 20th century should be considered of primary importance.

Touching a profound chord in our social life, such a change has been slow, uncertain and controversial. It should not be forgotten that it was only in the 20th century that even a right so crucial but elementary, such as the right to vote, spread in these western democracies,

Therefore much work remains to be done.

Gustav Klimt, “The Three Ages of Women” (detail, 1905)

Yet it would be a serious error not to recognize that the transformation of the role of women itself and the relationship between the sexes is one of the most important trends of the time in which we live. This is something whose importance and implications we probably find it hard to grasp.

Critics maintain that such a process gives rise to confusion, even reaching the point of questioning the traditional idea of male and female, opening gaps which seem to precipitate us into a chaos where it is the will of the Ego that is thought to be capable of absolute self-determination.

It is not that these preoccupations cannot, at least in part, be shared. And yet they must not prevent us from recognizing the enormous potential concealed in the “woman question”.

Society in the masculine has in fact many merits, but also many shadows. Psychoanalysis has taught us this: the male approach to the world – although it is capable of extraordinary generosity – tends to be expressed in the form of dominion, possession and control.

Thus today it is easier to understand that it is this very way of relating to the world that is at the root of the contradictions and distortions of our social model: having recourse to war as a means of solving conflicts; the systematic destruction of the environment; the grave inequalities and widespread exploitation.

This is a direction which, moreover, today risks suffering a further highly dangerous twist, where the ideal of control over the world is actuated ever more openly in more or less intelligent devices and systems so that we risk ending up in the blind alley of rule by algorithm.

There are signs that women themselves – just at the moment when they are beginning to free themselves from their age-old subjugation – are tending to conform to this dominant model. They are attracted by the ideal of a neutral territory that conceals the male’s last attempt to preserve his dominion.

If this were so, the hopes that the emergence of the female half of the world is still raising – associated with the possibility of bringing to the world that novelty which the male gaze lacks – would soon vanish.

I am referring to the capacity of the female universe to be the bearer of the code of “generation” which is profoundly different from that of “fabrication” which has dominated the past two centuries.

Over and above the extraordinary results obtained, the unilateral insistence on this code risks destroying the world and life with it.

The code of generation – typically female – is born from the original experience of motherhood, where between the Ego and the other there is a constitutive relationship which, instead of passing through control and dominion, is based on care which aims at the liberation of the other.

It is a code engraved in the female body.

It is not that generation does not run the risk of regression; this emerges every time that caring – drawing on its delusion of omnipotence – ends up by suffocating the other – albeit gently. In this way the person finds a more subtle way to affirm the Ego. This is a regression clearly identified by psychoanalysts who describe as “crocodiles” mothers who, through an excess of care, end by killing the other whom they nevertheless love.

In spite of this today the code of generation is the most powerful resource for overcoming the challenges we face, thereby also overcoming the problems caused over time by focusing on fabrication.

What we truly need is for women’s voices – which, making an effort, we are learning to listen to – to make themselves ever stronger and clearer, in an original way, thereby saving the world from the dominion of the male gaze. This is the hope that is glimpsed behind the slow and magma-like movement set in motion a century ago. Will women succeed in expressing this potential of theirs? And will the Church succeed in discerning their deepest meaning and accompanying their slow but inexorable affirmation?

Mauro Magatti
Sociologist of the Catholic University, columnist of “Corriere della Sera"

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