Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Identity in Balance Guest Post: Shannon on being Catholic and Feminist

Shannon is a writer, blogger, and feminist activist. You can read her thoughts on contemporary feminism and women's rights at The Feminist Mystique.

I am feminist and Catholic. Or, at least, I was. I’m not sure right now. They’ve become so antithetical to each other that I don’t know if I can keep them in balance anymore – even if that balance was always somewhat precarious.

I grew up enamored with the Church. Stories of saints and the Virgin Mary peppered my childhood. I admired them. Women like Saint Catherine of Siena seemed smart, sure of themselves, powerful, and even rebellious. Indeed, they seemed much smarter and powerful, and more dynamic and interesting than any Disney princess.

As I grew older, I began to realize that my feminist values didn’t fit so neatly with Catholicism. Things that were important to me – reproductive rights, women’s equality, and sex positivity --suddenly put me at odds with the Church.  

Instead of leaving the Church or writing off feminism as heretical, I studied both Women’s Studies and Religion simultaneously. I explored the idea that the Church could be empowering for women; learned more about women within the Church; and examined women’s spirituality and relationship to the Church. Studying these things simultaneously was and is exhausting, as I constantly have to question my beliefs, values, and assumptions. Today, I know there is a tradition of strong women within the Church. But I understand, and celebrate, the fact that these women have always been subversive. Some might be saints now, but their writings, beliefs, spirituality, and leadership were often at odds with the Church and patriarchy more generally.

As the (American) Church continues to equate womanhood with motherhood, restrict access to contraception and abortion, and ban women from the priesthood, I’m tempted to abandon it. It’s hard to belong to a Church that doesn’t fully respect you as a person. I know that the majority of Catholics think I’m not a good Catholic, or that I’ve already excommunicated myself. And I feel at times that by even belonging to Catholicism I’m not a “good feminist.” But the women who have come before me also inspire me. They not only managed to balance multiple identities, they disrupted systems of oppression and made their voices heard. Perhaps if the women who are working to change the Church today continue to balance their multiple identities, we’ll effect change too. And create a new generation of saints.

The Identity in Balance Writing Series is all about looking at how different parts of our lives and identities intersect. If you'd like to submit a post, you can find out more about the series here 

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