by Andrea L. Si, co-editor of the EWA 2 Anthology, Body and Sexuality: Theological and Pastoral Reflections of Women in Asia
Does our being born with a woman’s body define who we are, what we can be, and with whom we can have a relationship? If you ask the priest, he will say “yes.” Feminists say no. And I must confess that although the second EWA was my second EWA, when I went to Indonesia, the big question in my mind was, “Can I have a feminist’s ideas of liberating the body and female sexuality – the whole gamut of issues related to reproductive rights – contraception, abortion, divorce, same sex relationships, etc. – can I have some openness to or empathy for these issues and still be a good Catholic?
Until Indonesia in 2004, whenever I represented women in meetings called by the Church, people looked at me as the paragon of a good Catholic woman because I have 7 children. But I felt like a heretic, the devil in their midst, because I could not accept patriarchal definitions as final. The problem is, when I appeared as a feminist leader in feminist meetings, my commitment to my Catholic faith made me feel like a traitor to the women’s cause.
The clouds first began to clear for me after a male Catholic moral theologian, a priest teaching moral theology, convinced me that there is legitimacy to the dissenting voices and that the voice of conscience may allow options that official Church teaching labels as sinful. This discovery made it easier for me to be a feminist. But where I live, as in many other places that are not centers of liberating theological discussion, the only voices we hear speaking with authority and a claim to legitimacy are the voices that speak to us of the Church’s official teaching. Everything else we heard in scattered whispers from people whose knowledge of theology and morality we could not be too certain of.
The papers presented in the 2nd EWA and the voices of the many women who shared their stories of creative struggle and liberation did one very important thing for me and, I believe, for every other woman who was there. In that EWA, I saw a flooding of the sentiments that had made me feel like a heretic. The big difference was that the women of EWA have graduate and post graduate degrees in theology, many of them are connected with seminaries and the academe or with religious congregations, all of them are sincerely trying to be good Catholics, yet most of them are part of this powerful river of dissent. I felt liberated as we celebrated our sexuality and stood by our right as women to disagree with interpretations and rules forced on us by clerics who have never menstruated, never been pregnant, never given birth, or gone through menopause. In the midst of this ferment, I could feel we were speaking, not as rebels and disobedient Catholics but as committed, mature Catholics. And so, from feeling somehow alienated from the “mainstream,” and here I mean the official teaching of the Church as determined by men, I found to my great delight and relief that the God’s truth about women’s sexuality could perhaps be more faithfully discerned in the reflections of women themselves.
Our looking at the theme from our different cultural and religious contexts was also a way of giving validity to our Asian heritage. Much of Church teaching compels us to conform to western models because our Asian ways are somehow pagan or non-Christian. When Indians or Chinese become Christians, they have to give up their Hindu or Buddhist practices, for instance. But a big part of our psyche as Asians is tied up with a cultural heritage that is inseparable from our Asian religion. In EWA 2 and with the Body and Sexuality papers, the women of EWA said, no we are Asian and we have a right to be who we are and to interpret the world from our perspective as Asians.
It is difficult to recognize the present anthology in the papers we started with. The content of the papers originally submitted was impressive, but space was limited and there was often a need for merciless editing. Now that we have the book before us, I am amazed at what I helped to birth. I feel we have birthed a full grown, wonderful, and surprising child. Catholics who are disturbed by their feminist views should read this book.