María de los Ángeles Miranda Bustamante, Chile, journalist •
Cecilia Sturla, a Schoenstatt specialist in feminism and the Church: “I am not a feminist despite being Catholic. I am a feminist because I am Catholic”. This Argentinean academic, member of the Schoenstatt Institute of Families, offers conferences and writes articles on women’s rights in society and, particularly, in the Church, where women, today more than ever, should have “voice and vote”. Today we share part of the interview that she gave to the program “Arreglando al Mundo” (Fixing the World), of the bishopric of Valparaiso, Chile. —
“If I do the dishes, you do the cooking” – is the motto in Cecilia Sturla’s house in Salta, Argentina, where she lives with her husband, Doctor José María Sanguinetti, with whom she belongs to the Schoenstatt Institute of Families, and her six sons and daughters. She is a professor of Philosophy and an academic at the Catholic University of Salta, where she is the director of the Instituto de la Familia y la Vida “Juan Pablo II”. She has written articles and given conferences, both within and outside the Movement, on women, feminisms and the Church. She summarizes her position by paraphrasing the feminist theologian Marie-Therèse van Lunen-Chenu: “I am not a feminist despite being Catholic. I am a feminist because I am Catholic”.
In her postulates, she alludes to the “problematic relationship between the Church and feminism”, which is given “because there is a fear of the word feminism, because it is associated with a radicalized feminism, it is associated with women who strip in front of cathedrals and who vandalize religious images and that is not feminism. We have to talk about feminism”. Because there are as many models of feminisms as there are women and we must not generalize.
It is important to understand the difference between sex, the biological constitution of men and women, and gender, the social construction around the masculine and the feminine. Why is it precisely in gender that women’s rights are historically so violated in comparison to those of men?
Because there are social structures made by men where women did not participate. The economy, politics, and society were built on the male gaze. Women did not debate laws. So the gaze was unilaterally masculinized. Women were left out of that sphere, despite the fact that there were very valuable women, who were fighters in every era, but they were not able to break that structure made by men.
That’s why the difference between sex and gender seems very important to me, because the gender perspective broadens the horizon. When you say an education with a gender perspective, you are not saying that there is no sex. You have to make it clear. You are saying that you have to go into education with those two different points of view, with that perspective, which broadens the horizon for all of humanity.
Regarding the tendencies, there is Simone de Beauvoir, who published “The Second Sex” in 1949, who says that men and women are not different, they are equal and society, gender, made them different. On the other hand, there is the feminism of difference, which says that men and women are different, although equal in nature, but it is society that turns these differences into inequalities. Of these two viewpoints, with which one do you identify the most?
I take from all feminisms. I am of a tremendous syncretism. We stand on the shoulders of giants. I am here speaking thanks to the feminism of the first wave (the end of the 18th century, for the rights of women and citizens, in the framework of the French Revolution) and the second wave (from the second half of the 19th century to the 1950s for the female vote). There are things that I don’t agree with because I wouldn’t say that we are so equal that there are no differences and that sexual difference is no difference. That is what caused the third wave to emerge (from the 1960s onwards, for sexual and reproductive rights). What would be the criticism? If you say that we are equal it means that women do not have the right to claim leave for pregnancy or breastfeeding. And a pregnant woman is not the same as a man who doesn’t get pregnant, in terms of work. So, the claim of the women of the third wave to the women of the second wave is exactly that. We are different, we have to respect the difference, but be careful, because the difference has to be taken from the equality of opportunities and from the equality of distribution, which is Nancy Fraser’s theory.
And, what about the fourth wave of feminism today? What are their demands?
It’s very interesting what feminism says about the fourth wave. Because social networks are introduced, global struggles are introduced (…). Some say that it is not a wave, it is a tsunami that is coming, because social networks caused this explosion and this need to learn about some issues that we Latin American countries do not handle.
They are demands of all kinds: for the right to abortion, for wages, for the quota law. It depends on the country (…). But it is a struggle that transcends culture that transcends borders.
Pope Francis, in his first encyclical Evangelii Gaudium, speaks of the importance of women in the Church and society. Is it possible to integrate ideas of feminism into the Church’s magisterium in order to ensure respect for human rights?
I believe that the Church will sooner or later assume some of the assumptions of feminism. It has to assume them in order to heal itself. Our Church is as holy as it is sinful and, as a sinner, there is the impossibility that it has in some of its structures to include women. In this regard, one must take a very critical look. You know it better than anyone else. The Chilean Church is quite beaten up. The abuse situation is tremendous. And I say Chile because in Argentina it didn’t jump, at least the way it jumped in Chile. But women have a lot to say there. Because the abuse situation, the clericalism, based on a patriarchal figure of an all-powerful priest, of an all-powerful bishop, without the participation of the laity… In an Episcopal Conference, 50% of the world’s population is not represented! One says: “How “cool” (good vibe) what the bishops said”. But they are bishops, where are the women? (…) You have to be encouraged to bring out the fears. You have to argue with the bishop as an equal. If the bishop is as much a child of God, as much a child of the Church as I am! The only difference is that the bishop runs a diocese.
What could the Church do to make progress in the recognition of women’s rights?
There is a path that was marked out by Pope Francis which is that of synodality, which is to walk with, to walk together. It seems to me that a synergy can be achieved, that women have a voice and a vote within a diocese, within the pastoral of a Church. For me the path is synodality, discussion, working together, bringing together objectives. There are many things in which we would have done enormous good if we had worked together. That the authoritative voice of the Church is a priest, or the bishop, kicks against, and today, more than ever, it takes away credibility.
Sometimes we hear the term Gender Ideology in Catholic groups. This term does not exist in the feminist theory, but was coined by critical groups to refer to some ideas about feminism. What do you think of the so-called “Gender Ideology”?
There is a confusion that, if it is not clarified, generates a lot of noise and many disagreements (…). For me, gender serves as a category for sociological analysis of stereotypes and all the constructions that were made around women (…) (But) the term ideology is attributed to the thinking of a part of feminism that resulted in the assumption that gender is a cultural category and sex is (also) a cultural category. So there is no such thing as sex and sex is all cultural construction and is irrelevant to your personal development. It is a theory that comes from the neo-structuralism of Foucault, Judith Butler, etc. It’s a deconstruction of sex. That positioning of a type of feminism, within the Catholic Church, is identified as “ideology”, because it has no scientific basis that says that sex is irrelevant.
Abortion is presented as a woman’s right, but it also involves the right to life of the embryo. How can one be a feminist and not be pro-choice?
I am a feminist and I am not pro-choice. Young women ask me that question a lot. For me, abortion is a crypto-machismo (A supposed superiority of men to dominate women). It is the consequence of a hidden masculinized structure. (…) It is a society that does not take into account either women or pregnancies. And that for me is very painful.
Theology tells us that God is neither man nor woman. But he is usually represented as a bearded lord and, even more so, in attitudes that are male stereotypes. Feminist theologians claim that this often materializes in macho doctrines, which dictate holiness in the image and likeness of God-Man. What do you think about the sex of God?
God does not have sex. It’s just that it’s been taken over by men (laughs). I admire feminist theologians. There are things that are of a beauty and depth that I love. God is neither a man nor a woman and it would be good to show the part of the woman that God has, which is in the Holy Scriptures, the thing is that we don’t know how to read them. God loves like a mother (…). I like the plurality of God’s looks, but they usually give you more unilaterally masculinized looks.
You have said in your conferences that Jesus was a feminist. What of His attitudes makes you think so?
Jesus’ look at women is absolutely revolutionary in his day. If we place Jesus in his historical context, in a Jewish society, where the woman was a reproducer, that gaze puts women and men on an equal footing. There are several scenes (…). For example, that of the woman caught in flagrant adultery. She is going to be stoned and killed. Stop. It takes two for adultery, or does only the woman commit it? What happened to the man? Where did they take him? (…) That is why Jesus, when they find him and he is drawing on the earth, says “let him who is without sin cast the first stone”. That is, if the woman is a sinner, the man is a sinner. (…) It is a Law of Moses that Jesus breaks. Jesus kicks the board. (…)
Then what happened? The apostles were in their culture and did not have the inclusive look of Jesus. And then came Constantine, and then the Church was hierarchized and from that point… to what we have today.
And in Maria’s case, what feminist traits do you see in her?
They didn’t make it easy for Maria. She thinks she gets pregnant when she is unmarried. Joseph was going to disown her. She had to face a society.
Mary is thoughtful. At the Annunciation, she asks the angel “how can this be?” I like the image of the wedding at Cana. Jesus has no idea, he is not in to details and the woman is. (…) Mary says: “they have no wine”. And Jesus says: “Woman, what does that have to do with us?…” And Mary says: “Whatever He says to you, do it”. She’s a proactive woman and she doesn’t even respect that Jesus indirectly says no to her. She takes action. This way of showing Mary with spiritualism, with a suffering face, is not Mary. Mary has bulletproof courage. She stood up to the Roman Empire at the foot of the Cross. All the disciples were scared to death and left. The only ones who were there were John and the women. (…) Mary is not a model of women exclusively, but of a human being.
Original: Spanish 2020-12-01, Translation by Maria Aragón, Monterrey, México.