After the keynote speaker at the conference, everyone in my immediate vicinity wanted a drink, including the bishop.
Location was an issue. It needed to be discreet for his sake. It needed to be cheap for our sake. It needed to be comfortable for the sake of the pregnant woman with swollen ankles along for the conversation.
After disclosing that I had a cooler in my car filled with beer and six bottles of discount wine, the bishop rather sparingly offered the public rooms of his suite. So we entered, admiring the spaciousness of his accommodations, each of us acquiring a seat, while several men decided they would rather be drinking tequila and went to fetch some.
There followed a somnolent interlude whereby the bishop was alone with those of us remaining, all female, hangers on, friends of friends of the bishop.
One woman told how her Latino family helped her grieve and bury a recently deceased family member, expressing gratitude for the rituals of burial and mourning preserved in her heritage.
The bishop agreed. There were many well-preserved rituals in his family as well. One was that every gathering of significance would eventually divide into two groups. The men would go to one place and the women to another so that each group could discuss topics appropriate to their sex.
“This is how wisdom is passed on,” he said while scrolling disinterestedly on his iPhone.
It is possible he foresaw the potential for misunderstanding in entertaining a mixed gender gathering in his suite, but it felt like an admonishment—that we should disperse when the men returned, so they could embrace their masculine wisdom.
How, then, I wondered, do the church’s teachers ever develop an accurate understanding of the “feminine genius,” or even the faintest grasp of feminine wisdom if they rarely concede to spend time informally, as Jesus did, in the company of women?
I started thinking about the concept of machismo, how the church, or at least many of her teachers, embrace it and approve the masculine tendency, while simultaneously fretting about the “feminization” of her liturgies, and all of culture, really.
I suppose there were wisdoms we women could have imparted to one another if we’d gone our own way, but for my part, I’ve never wanted to be isolated by sex. I want to be where the interesting minds are, male or female.
My favorite writers are both masculine and feminine. The Church is both masculine and feminine—bride and groom—but also one, holy, catholic.
The Church asks men to be feminine, to be the bride of Christ. And it asks women to be virile, to spin life from suffering, and bring forth fruit in virginity. These are all miraculous births in the eyes of the world, and they are spiritually powerful metaphors that somehow never reach their full potency in the lived experience of most Christians.I wanted the privilege of widows and consecrated virgins, and those tempered by long marriage (which I am) to embody virile womanhood, to be whole in God, as opposed to an amputated, flaccid concept of femininity that never acknowledges her sexuality as good and holy and in accord with the fullness of her being.
Where can I inhabit my own body and spirit, stamen and pistil, priest and bride? Where is the both/and of being a woman—fullness in God, inseminated, fertile—not a half-creation?
I am done with waiting for my fulfillment to be accomplished by other people. And why is the feminine genius something promoted only to women? Could not men embrace it as well?
Instead, men get machismo, masculinity untainted by the feminine, sexual power leveraged over the weaker sex, even if used somewhat benignly to protect the inviolate spaces where men impart their special wisdom to one another.
There is no feminine corollary to machismo in the church, except whoredom. Feminine sexual power is never benign.
This group of women, God bless every one of them, was immovable. And when the men returned we talked about books, how character is revealed in novels.
In War and Peace, the Old Prince sat in his chamber working on his lathe, and each family member would come visit him. His chemistry with each individual gave different meaning to each scene, even though he was almost always performing the same action.
I made a comment about women crossing their legs, and how usually it means they just want to be comfortable, but sometimes it means something else, depending on who is present. “She crossed her legs in a sinful fashion,”—haha!
I said something about the particularly feminine strength of women as encompassing her sexual design—yes, I was trying to articulate a feminine corollary to machismo. Is that wrong?
One of the women said, “Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t presume that men are looking at me that much.”
She said it in a way that criticized my vanity, or I felt it as such, and then I said something about how being married helps, and I swallowed what was left of the conversation with a dose of regret for having offhandedly belittled her unmarried status.
There are a variety of reasons why one woman might be aware of the gaze of men, and another would not—many of which have nothing to do with marriage or vanity—that I will explore further tomorrow.
To be continued tomorrow.