Our feminism that speaks
I have a Catholic background, with a personal history like many others. Along this ordinary path, there have certainly been important figures. From the beginning, my mother, a catechist, helped me experience a thoughtful Christianity. In addition, there was a Religious Education teacher in middle school, and a priest who had just returned from Argentina, and shared a point of view from the southern hemisphere.
Later on, and precisely because I have always been accustomed to reflect on the meaning of bonds and to take into account the quality of experiences, I had a period of estrangement from both ecclesial life and the faith. It was then, in my high school years, when I chose not to be a practicing Catholic. The awakening as a believer came, I believe, with emotional maturity. I should say this with caution because re-readings, as we know, come with hindsight and therefore are always supported by something else. Perhaps my narration comes from my familiarity with Simone Weil’s texts, in which we learn that suffering and joy are two particular experiences through which to encounter God, even if it is actually easier to approach the sacred through wounds. Here, in my case, I think it was happiness, which is a challenging word, I know. I use it in the sense of the perception of an excess feeling of love that, in the fortunate relationship with Alberto, could not simply come from a human. I finished my philosophical studies and, with the exuberance of my twenties, I got married, then shortly after, three children came along; their names are Matteo, Anna and Chiara.
Philosophy and Theology
In my personal history, the philosophical and theological paths are intertwined, and there is no before and after regarding these two disciplines.
After graduating in philosophy, I enrolled at the Institute of Religious Studies with a certain fear and skepticism, but at my first lesson in fundamental theology, I immediately fell in love with a subject that thrives on questions and the obstinacy of a hope that needs to be explained. During my first year, I became so fond of it that I decided to go on to Theological Studies with the seminarians. A bachelor’s degree followed, then the license, a doctorate in philosophy, and after that a doctorate in theology.
During my philosophical path at the University of Verona, I encountered the Diotima female community, which had been founded in 1983 “as a challenge based on being women and thinking philosophically”. Initially I was disconcerted by this unexpected way of thinking and speaking. This was a philosophical approach that did not hide in the books of others, and was a form of dispossession. I found myself unprepared and feared I would be absorbed in a game of mirrors in which I did not recognize myself. For this reason, I moved away for a few years and then returned with a strength taken perhaps from elsewhere, from the theological world. In this new position I rediscovered the power of what in Diotima is called the “politics of the symbolic”, which is a creative way of reading reality, and critical of negative factors, but free to intercept what is good when one is not afraid of differences.
The Coordination of Women Theologians
While studying Theology I had the good fortune to meet Cristina Simonelli. As a teacher and already in her lectures I intercepted a new way of approaching theological issues and I immediately sensed a theology that was hospitable to both sexual difference and to all other differences. One of the founding members of the Coordinamento delle teologhe Italiane (Coordination of Italian women theologians), she invited me to one of the annual seminars and placed me amidst the network of relationships amongst theologians, and wisely accompanied me in the search for “my voice” without trying to cover it with hers.
It is this same hospitality that we experience in the CWT. The Coordination was founded on and wants to be ecumenical, and maintained by women immersed in different theological fields and with heterogeneous tools to interpret them. We are a Coordination for precisely this reason, which is a reality that stands as a force of attraction and catalysation of women’s thoughts, words and stances. We are engaged in a theology that is capable of hosting and valuing differences, and criticizing every reading that makes them a reason for imbalance and injustice. This plurality is a richness, not the sign of an absence of rigor.
In our charter, however, we speak of a “theology of gender”. This specification indicates our common sensitivity to interpretations of “masculine” and “feminine” in Christian narratives and contexts. This is a critical look at explicit stereotypes, but also at unconscious patriarchal resistances that silently distort Christian discourse.
This work not only liberates women but also bears fruit for men; therefore, due to this awareness, some of the members of the Coordination or those who support us in other ways are in fact men.
Feminism, a revolution of awakened lives
Feminism is a particular revolution because it does not count the dead but the lives that have been awakened. First, they are the lives of women who have been freed from cultures that inhibit them, from forms of education that control them, from traditions that do not remember them or that, worse still, make cameos or ugly caricatures of them.
In this revolution, we learn another way of “making memory”, because we no longer consider the traditional culture unbalanced towards men as obvious or necessary. Therefore, we go in search of the real experience of women, their silenced desire, their marginalized narratives and their actual roles in history. This unearthing does not resemble a puzzle to be completed but the landing on a new continent, where the design changes and it is necessary to redraw the maps so that there is room for all.
The adjective “feminist”, in this sense, is promising for men too, for they can finally free themselves from a misunderstood masculine imagination that forces them to deny their real experience, which is also emotional, fragile and extraordinarily capable of care. It is no coincidence that there are men in the CTI too.
Theology... feminist, of women, feminine
Feminism, feminist. These are terms, which in our contexts, often evoke an imagery of vindication. Because even feminisms suffer from bad narratives. In fact, it is not a question of having something returned - we could discuss this - but of opening up avenues through which to pass the repressed, that is, to rediscover those female experiences that patriarchal devices have silenced, marginalized and deprived of authority.
Obviously, not all women's theologies - therefore feminine - are feminist. Not all women have the desire to reveal themselves in this research field, which thrives on unearthing, on criticism and on rebellious creativity. For the theologians of the Coordination, however, “feminist” is an important adjective, even if it makes them uncomfortable. After all, in this word, there are precise memories and epistemologies that are better explained and saved from misunderstandings, than removed for fear of being misinterpreted.
Theologizing in the masculine way and in the feminine way
Are theologies gendered? In trying to answer this question, it is necessary to avoid both emptying the question by stating that theologies are neutral and filling them with the wrong content, perhaps in the belief that women come from Venus, the planet of love, and men from Mars, the planet of war. In my opinion, theologies are sexed because our bodies always leave traces in our thoughts, in our words, in our actions, but we must always pay attention to their singularity and to the interweaving of differences. All too often, in fact, there is a tendency to place women’s theologies under a single label, as if they were all the same and therefore superimposable on each other. Instead, much more attention is paid to recording the interpretive differences or singular traits in men’s systems of thought.
Having said this, however, it seems to me that I can also glimpse certain insistences in women’s theological research, as if they were following certain particular threads of experience. Obviously, one cannot generalize and it is only my impression. However, I think I can glimpse that many of these theologies tend to be more attentive to what is born than to what dies, they are innervated with questions about corporeality and the physiognomy of relationships. As a consequence, they try to escape the binomials with which patriarchal culture is structured, such as, for example, those of faith/reason, care/justice, affects/concepts, private/public, intimate/political, subject/object, soul/body.
Mi pare dunque che una qualche differenza tra teologie maschili e femminili si possa avvertire, ma certamente essa è non è definibile né determinabile a priori, perché è mobile, contingente e in divenire come i soggetti che la patiscono e che la simbolizzano.
It seems to me, therefore, that some difference between male and female theologies can be perceived, but it is certainly not definable or determinable a priori, because it is mobile, contingent and in progress like the subjects who suffer/endure/live it and symbolize it.
The task of women theologians today
In moments of crisis, we often listen to women, as if from them that alternative inspiration that allows us to interrupt the exhausting processes of history could come. This is also happening today, for example, in the Churches committed to the search for a true synodality. It is an occasion for true confrontation, which is not to be wasted, but the echo of women’s voices should not only resound when there is a need to repair a torn fabric, perhaps only to dissolve into silence when power is restored. This polyphony is needed, without fear of dissonance. Then one discovers, as Maria Zambrano puts it, that the song of what has been defeated does not resign itself so easily. The task of theologians is to translate this song that comes from the margins into effective and fruitful narratives.
The task of women theologians, therefore, is expressed in many different ways and is given in multiple channels of history, although it can be intercepted where listening to the pain of the marginalized world – female, but not only - is in alliance with the possible paschal dynamisms.
The God Women Seek
The philosopher, Luisa Muraro, has written a book that, in my opinion, should be continually re-read, Il Dio delle donne [The God of Women]. Here I cite from one of the most quoted passages:
“One day the door to an endless vacation opened. It happened when, reading Marguerite Porete’s book The Mirror of Simple Souls and other texts of what they call feminine mysticism, I began to hear the words of a conversation, not simply new but unheard of, between two who, for the sake of brevity, we will call a woman and God. A woman was there for sure, God I don’t know, but for sure she wasn’t alone, there was another whose voice didn’t reach me but that I heard all the same because it made an interruption in her words, or rather a cavity that transformed the reading, made it similar to the gesture of someone drinking slowly from a cup”.
The work of the Coordination is located within this field of thought and life, even if it is characterized by a different desire. This is a matter of searching for and deepening evangelical freedom and its hospitable truth by crossing Christian Tradition and traditions, without dodging them. It is, therefore, a work that is continually confronted with the mediations and narratives of ecclesial history that, certainly wounded in its attention to women, remains a theologically unassailable fabric still pregnant with promise.
The Church women want
Feminist theologies speak in the Church and to the Church. Rooted in the promise of evangelical freedom, they measure and address the gap between the closeness practiced by Jesus Christ and the injustice of bonds burdened by power, of which women unfortunately have particular experience. In the name of their baptism, women imagine and attempt to generate a Church who does not hide in a neutral and falsely universal language, who does not describe God in a patriarchal way, who does not sacralize the masculine at the expense of the feminine. They seek a Church who has the courage to listen to and bring to light the hardest stories. For example, those that speak of abuse and violence, who feeds on a living tradition, who shares decisions, who endures and supports the parrhesia of her members, who is not afraid to open up conflicts in an attempt at deeper peace. In addition, a Church who does not use romantic categories to cover clericalism; a Church who dares to try new paths, who is not afraid of losing power, who does not get tangled up in obsessions and bad forms of communication, who is instructed by good practices and who rediscovers the strength, even political, of the Gospel message.
This dream necessarily demands theological work on the power and form of ministeriality. In May, the CWI will held a seminar on the authority of women’s theologies, from which positions, thoughts, transformations, even practical ones, will arise. The event is upstream of specific debates on roles, leadership, ordination, without excluding any of these issues. However, I am convinced that it is good to orientate all this around the motto, more authority and less power.
I believe that this is the way to reform the Church.
by Lucia Vantini
LUCIA VANTINI says she has two souls seamlessly fused into one: the philosophical and the theological. Born in Verona in 1972, married, with three children, she teaches Fundamental Theology and Anthropology at the Higher Institute of Religious Sciences San Pietro Martire; Philosophical Anthropology and Theological Anthropology at the Theological Studio San Zeno; History of Contemporary Philosophy at the State University, and she is a professor at the Pontifical Theological Institute John Paul II in Rome. Since June 2021 she has been the third president, after Marinella Perroni and Cristina Simonelli, of the Coordinamento Teologhe Italiane (CTI), founded in Rome in 2003 to support women engaged in theological research and promote gender studies in Theology. Today, the CWT has more than 160 members, three book series (“Sui Generis” with Effatà, “Teologhe e teologie” [Theologians Women and Theologies] with Nerbini, “Exousia” with San Paolo) and a blog (“Il regno delle donne”, in collaboration with the magazine “Il Regno”), and is an active part of the Coordinamento delle associazioni teologiche italiane [Coordination of Italian Theological Associations] (CATI). The next national CWT seminar will take place in Rome on May 7, 2022 and will have as its theme the authority of women’s theology. Women were admitted to theological faculties in Italy in 1965, but since then they have ensured a growing presence and a multiple and attentive voice. We asked her for a reflection on her being a Catholic and what the feminist push has represented and represents in the Church.