Church

The Church is Not Yet Dead: An Interview with Dr. Shannen Dee Williams

“No person has ever been simply Catholic, and any attempt to discuss or frame Catholicism without acknowledging the great diversity of the Catholic faithful or the intersection of people’s identities is woefully inadequate and perhaps even intentionally insincere. Indeed, I immediately become suspicious when I hear someone dare to offer the “Catholic” perspective … being Catholic means to live, breathe, serve, and rejoice in the Holy Spirit like Martha Jane Chisley Tolton. It also means to be the pious, but once lapsed, black Catholic woman to whom Martha Jane’s son, Father Augustus Tolton, administered death rites on Sunday, May 10, 1891. Nine years earlier, this black woman, whose name has been lost in the historical record, had been “hurled out of a white church and even cursed at by the Irish members” for daring to worship with her fellow Catholics in Chicago as equals. Despite suffering such savage violence and hatred from white Catholics, this woman’s faith had endured, and she “thanked God” at her death for a priest who finally saw her as a human being and a child of God. That is what it means to keep the faith and serve God in the face of oppression. That is what it means to be truly Catholic.”

The Catholic Church is called such because it is supposed to be catholic (i.e. universal). I grew up in a stodgy, white church, where the only, right, sacred way to worship God is that of Northern European liturgical culture, language, and music handed down to the present unchanged. I have my own complaints about that myopic perspective, but it pales in comparison with the stories Dr. Williams shares about herself and other black Catholics throughout history.

At the end of the day, why do we stay? The only reason that makes sense is that although the Church is made of imperfect humans that do plenty of awful things, we are all centered around and reaching for God, Who makes us more than the sum of our imperfect parts.

Daily Theology

Over the last month, I have had the privilege of interviewing, via email, Dr. Shannen Dee Williams, an Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.  Williams is currently working on the manuscript for her first book entitled, “Subversive Habits: Black Nuns and the Long Struggle to Desegregate Catholic America,” which unearths the forgotten history of black Catholic sisters in the fight to eradicate racial and gender barriers in the U.S. Church and wider American society. When published, it will be the first historical monograph on black nuns in twentieth-century America.  

JS: First of all, thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of the conversation here at Daily Theology.  If you don’t mind, let’s start with your background.  Could you tell me a bit about your own journey, growing up in the Catholic Church?

Dr. Shannen Dee Williams

SW: Growing up, I could count the number of…

View original post 4,950 more words

It’s a woman’s world, apparently

I read a few related things lately, and some thoughts started rolling around.  Just so you get a sense of the overall sentiment that I’m responding to, the things I read are here, here, here, and here.  I’ll cherry-pick some quotes at the end, but first some general thoughts –

So it seems that for thousands of years, people (male and female) basically trudged about their business because we collectively lacked the spare time to contemplate how we each got a raw deal in the social order.  Then women started to speak up.  Now whether this was because women got the worse end of the deal or because women can communicate better – not a debate I want to have right now.  The fact remains that feminism happened.  “Pardon me, sir, but wouldn’t it be jolly good if I could own property in my own name?  While you’re at it, it would be really awesome if I had access to the same employment opportunities men do so I have an option to get my children and myself out of an abusive marriage without starving to death.  And if you’re feeling REALLY generous, you can start judging me on my capabilities as an individual rather than what’s between my legs.”

So there were some sputters and starts and even today there is STILL some resistance to these basic ideas, but by and large women got what they needed.  And women also got affirmation and encouragement for however they wanted to express their femininity – whether it be with lace and fake nails or short hair and weightlifting. (I’m oversimplifying because I don’t want to write another 300 pages.  And if you’re honest with yourself, you don’t want to read another 300 pages, either. )

And men didn’t get that encouragement – it was presumed that men didn’t need any affirmation.  After all, they were the default.  And the default isn’t ignored, per se – it’s taken for granted.  The default doesn’t get recognition or affirmation for being the default.

Also, they never asked for it.  The age-old stereotype of men being dismissive of their wives’ feelings and neglectful of their wives’ needs … now men are talking about how THEY have dismissed feelings and neglected needs, too.  How does it feel?  Do men take this as a lesson in how to be a better human being?  “Gee, maybe women have a point about needing affirmation and maybe I should not be a jerk because now I know how it feels.  And maybe I should be a grownup and ask for what I need.”  Some men take it that way, but other men react like “Women are eeeevil!  How dare they get their needs met!  What about meeeeee?”

So – are men getting what they need?  Some men don’t think so.  The world has become too “feminized.”  Men need to be MEN!  Masculinity is GREAT!  Men have NEEDS!  And oh by the way feminism is EVIL because it ignores and diminishes the needs of MEN!

Slow down – let’s back up a bit.  The whole point of feminism was that women are not all the same;  women have different interests and abilities and should have the freedom to pursue them and should be paid the same as a man doing the same work.  But the idea behind the emangelists(*) is that in the most important ways, men ARE all the same.  That’s a big reason there’s such a huge disconnect between feminists and emangelists – women fought for the right to be seen as individuals instead of a monolithic bloc and now men are fighting for the right to be seen as a monolithic bloc.  Do you see why this doesn’t make a lot of sense to feminists?

Maybe we should do a better job of affirming EVERYONE in a way that recognizes their contribution as individuals and allows them to own their unique masculine or feminine identity.  Susie being the breadwinner for her family is a valid expression of her femininity just as Johnny being the stay-at-home parent is a valid expression of his masculinity.  Samantha is “woman enough” being a professional bodybuilder and Jack is “man enough” being a nurse.

Sure, men can be valiant conquerors with majestic beards and BIG MUSCLES – if that’s how you want to be a man, so be it.  What you don’t get to do, though, is pretend that YOUR masculinity is the ONLY way to be masculine.  You ALSO don’t get to advocate a return to the “good old days” and dismiss the very real problems of a system where women don’t have the same legal rights and recourse as men do.  You don’t get to pretend that your needs and priorities are hard-wired in and universal to males as a whole.  ASK for what you need and find a spouse / companion / group of friends that provide those things.  And turn around and provide what your spouse / companion / group of friends need, too.

(*) I’m speaking of the best, most genuine, intellectually honest representations of both feminism and men’s rights.  But because men’s rights is inextricably linked with extremism in my mind, I’m going to refer to it as “emangelization” after one of the sites I linked to – New Emangelization.  Also because it’s a catchy-sounding name.


Now to the cherry-picking:

From Cardinal Burke:

The Church becomes very feminized. …The activities in the parish and even the liturgy have been influenced by women and have become so feminine in many places that men do not want to get involved.  Men are often reluctant to become active in the Church. The feminized environment and the lack of the Church’s effort to engage men has led many men to simply opt out.

Last I checked, there was still a dude in fancy liturgical vestments oh, I dunno, acting in persona Christi and saying the Mass.  And that’s not nothing!

But to Cardinal Burke’s actual point, there’s a pretty detailed post and discussion of this on a scale broader than the Catholic Church over here on patheos.  When I think of my own parish, there are a lot of women involved as religious ed teachers (of which I am one). But I think that probably has more to do with how gender roles still work in our society as opposed to a “feminization” of the Church.

Of the women who are teaching, the vast majority of them are retired / stay-at-home parents / work part-time, so they have MUCH more flexibility with their time. Relatively few of us women have full-time work and still volunteer. But of the men who volunteer, ALL of them have full-time work and still volunteer; there are probably an equal number of men and women who have full-time work and still volunteer.

So to me, the irony is that the solution to the “problem” of “feminization” is more feminism – free men and women from the constraints of gender roles and you will likely have a different gender distribution.

Also from Cardinal Burke:

The introduction of girl servers also led many boys to abandon altar service. Young boys don’t want to do things with girls. It’s just natural. The girls were also very good at altar service. So many boys drifted away over time.

A couple of things are going on here – first, I think there’s a lot of assumptions here about what is “natural” and universal and what is encouraged.  Even as a kid in elementary school, I got along better with the boys than the girls.  I played soccer and kickball with the boys at recess, and I read He-Man books with the boys during free time.  My involvement in these activities didn’t seem to bother the boys at all, and they certainly didn’t “drift away” over time.  Second, there’s an idea that because the girls do something better than the boys, the boys become discouraged and give up.  Why?  I thought Men™ liked challenge and competition and liked to conquer things?  Why wouldn’t the boys let the girls’ skill inspire them to get better?  So clearly we’re a little fuzzy on what, exactly, the universal nature of Men™ is, if such a thing exists (which I don’t think it does).

Again from Cardinal Burke:

Men are facing great temptations, particularly, as I mentioned due to pornography and confusion about sexuality and desperately need to be taught how to battle these temptations in Christ.

As a former teenage girl, I can tell you that a teenage girl’s sex drive is all-consuming and makes it VERY difficult to do anything productive some days.  But the message I got from church and the other pro-purity materials that got passed around my circle was that women don’t have sex drives.  Not really – women might THINK they want sex, but they REALLY want love.  But because men have SUCH a sex drive, it’s up to the girls to protect the boys from themselves through modesty and through always having to be on guard and always having to be the ones to say “no” to sex.

It’s all well and good to say that men are “facing great temptations,” but even now the “great temptations” that women face are COMPLETELY ignored and dismissed with a “Oh you just don’t UNDERSTAND.  Men have it SO much worse.”  Purity messaging hasn’t really changed at all in the last 20 years.

So I have to protect the boys from themselves but I get to wrangle my sex drive on my own without even an acknowledgment that it exists?  Color me unimpressed.

More Cardinal Burke:

Everyone understands that women have and can be abused by men. Men who abuse women are not true men, but false men who have violated their own manly character by being abusive to women.

You don’t get to dismiss the possibility of domestic violence with a verbal wave of your hand.  For some of us, domestic violence is a reality we lived through, and the ONLY reason we are alive and successful today is because of the “radical feminism” that pushes for things like equal pay for equal work, daycare assistance programs, and women’s resource centers.

Yes – women’s resource centers.  If you have more obligations put on you, you need more help.  Statistically, if a woman is abusive, the man leaves with little to no ill effects; he goes and gets another place to live with the uninterrupted income from the job that he had all along and generally moves on with his life.  When a man is abusive, the woman is left destitute.  Oh – and she has to take care of the kids, too.  So she needs to feed them, and she needs to secure childcare, and she needs a place to live -and all that requires money that doesn’t have.  Child support (when you can collect it) generally doesn’t even begin to close the gap.

When we say things like “structuralized sexism,” we’re not trying to be mean.  All we’re saying is the Way Things Are™ set up by men back when it was ONLY men’s priorities that mattered and there was ONLY ONE WAY to be a man works very well for men (duh).  That’s why there’s no men’s resource centers – the whole world is your men’s resource center.

And one more from Cardinal Burke:

We have to be very clear with men about purity, chastity, modesty and even the way men dress and present themselves. Men’s behaviors and dress matter, for it affects how they relate to the world and it affects the culture. Men need to dress and act like men in a way that is respectful to themselves, to women and to children.

YES!!! Did you see that?!!! Cardinal Burke just said that MEN need to be modest, too!!!  I’m so glad to see someone FINALLY say that men need to be modest and it’s not just women!!!!  I’m sorry, am I using too many exclamation points?!!!!

From the comments on the Breitbart articles (here and here):

Women are horrible!  I’ve had so many awful experiences with women who expected the world from me and didn’t give anything in return!  Today’s women are worthless.  I’m done with women!  And some bitter, angry feminist will probably come along and call me a ‘whining man-baby’ for speaking the truth!

(A mixture of paraphrasing and combining sentences from several different comments, but the general idea from multiple people is captured fairly.)

“Whining man-baby” – you know how you get that label?  By whining like a baby when you’re a grown-ass man.  So you had a bad experience with a woman or two – good for you!  Welcome to life, where sometimes people are assholes.  Now grow up and get a grip on yourself.  If I were to take a page from your book, I would be ranting and raving about how ALL men are horrible just because I was married to ONE man that was horrible.  What if I came on here and whined about how ALL men are sociopathic assholes that would let their wives and children freeze to death?  ALL men create secret bank accounts and yank money away from their stay-at-home spouses so that they have no money for food?  ALL men throw dishes and glasses around the house when the food you make isn’t exactly what they like – and then the nicks in the drywall are YOUR fault?  ALL men unhook the phone before they start shoving you around so you can’t call for help?  What if I came here and started whining because ALL men are just like my experience with ONE man?  Hmmm?

Fortunately, I’m smarter than that.  You know that spiel about judging people as individuals and not what’s between their legs?  Yeah – I actually practice what I preach there – imagine that!

In closing, 

– There are multiple, varied, valid ways to be manly.

– There are multiple, varied, valid ways to be womanly.

– Assuming “feminization” is a problem, the way to fix it is more feminism.

– Ask for what YOU need.  You have no basis for assuming that what YOU need is what ALL men / women need.  If you do that, you would be wrong.

– Men, women are assholes sometimes.  I’m sorry you’ve been through that, but get over it.  If you don’t want to be lumped in with all the asshole men out there, don’t lump all women in with all the asshole women out there.  Goose, meet gander.  I trust you’ll get along.

Agree?  Tell me in the comments.  Disagree?  Keep it to yourself.  Just kidding!  Tell me that, too – nicely, please.

Happy St. John Paul II Feast Day!

So this is the first modern saint that I have any sort of passing familiarity with.  In reading about his life and living through his papacy, it is very clear that his canonization was well-deserved.  And WOW was it exciting to see the canonization fast-track!  I had no idea Church bureaucracy could move so fast.

Anyway, in his honor today I am sharing a somewhat old video of St. JPII quotes autotuned to the song “Dynamite” –

You really do want to watch all the way through to the end.  The beginning is very clunky and not all that pleasant to listen to, in my opinion, but by the middle it had definitely grown on me.  And when I say “watch” I do mean that – there’s some very heartwarming clips in there.  My favorite is the one where St. JPII is speaking somewhere in front of a microphone, a toddler comes crawling up to him, and before one of the other priests can grab the toddler out of the way, St. JPII has already picked him up with a big smile.

Anyway – enjoy!