Veneration of Mary: Not enough to excuse sexism

By The Beacon | February 7, 2012 9:00pm

The Catholic Church is still missing the mark when it comes to including women

Katie Doyle (The Beacon)

By Katie Doyle, Guest Commentary

The ways in which the Church can be more blatantly sexist might have made Mr. Hershey's (hi, Kevin!) article – to use Ann Cowan's words – less "ignorant."

I've gone to Mass my entire life and have stories to tell that will get the juices flowing in "true" feminists (as in not the ones Cowan outlined).

When I was younger, my dad explained to me why women weren't allowed to be priests. I knew there was no way I'd want to be a priest, a nun or even an altar server (my parish later forbade girls from being altar servers anyway), so I didn't care as much as I do now.

My dad told me that priests were meant to imitate Jesus, and that because Jesus was male, women couldn't imitate him like men could. This explanation, I now know, was an echo of the statement released by Pope Paul VI in the 1970s in which the Vatican said that the idea of female priests was a "novelty which should on no account be accepted into the Church." A novelty!

This explanation now distracts me during Mass as I realize that "imitating Jesus" has not been chalked up to being a loving, pious, holy, charitable person. It's all that plus having a penis under your robe. After all, Jesus had one too!

Again, I have no desire to become Episcopalian in order to be a clergywoman, but I feel sorry for the women that feel called to transubstantiate the Eucharist but are unable to because the Church thinks that men are the only ones that can really imitate Jesus. (And don't say nunhood should suffice – that's just the ol' separate-but-equal argument all over again.)

Here's another one. This fall, I made a UP priest mildly uncomfortable at after Mass social when I asked him why we always needed to mention a female saint's virginity on her feast day (it was the feast day of St. Lucy or something, "virgin and martyr").

I was perplexed, since surely many holy men were chaste and we never mention the purity of their loins at Mass. Fr. Anonymous said, "Well I guess it was just easier to prove that women were virgins."

My face contorted: I was weirded out and the only thing I could think of was the illegal virginity examinations performed recently on several female prisoners in Saudi Arabia.

I prodded more and he added, "I guess it's just one of those things that are left over from a long time ago."

Yes, one of those sexist things. One of those things that equates overall female goodness to virginity (for more on this, watch the documentary "Virgin Daughters" on YouTube).

To say, "Look! We venerate Mary; we're not sexist!" doesn't really do it for me anymore. Third-wave feminists would agree that motherhood has been devalued in our culture. Devalued by unsupportive partners, employers that let women go if they choose to have children and doctors who make women believe they aren't strong enough to give birth naturally (i.e. devalued by patriarchy).

Like Cowan, I believe that motherhood is amazing and is an honorable choice, just not the only (or necessarily best) choice.

To read about how the Church really views true feminism, I suggest the "Is Feminism a Heresy?" article by Donna Steichen available online at the Crisis Magazine site.

And, to read about true third-wave feminism, and to generally just change your life, read "Full-Frontal Feminism" by Jessica Valenti.

An additional problem I have with the Church and with Cowan's article is that they only really cater to straight, cisgendered people. There is a lot of talk about respect for the differences between men and women and for "femininity." I don't suppose there's the same respect for un-femininity: For example, traditional folks may not like you if you're female by birth but don't act, dress, behave "like a woman." "Women" wear certain clothes. They fall in love with men who are "real men." They become mommies. And it's okay if they have a job these days, but they better not decide not to have children.

If you're gay? Transgender? Asexual but not wanting to be a cloistered nun? Forget about it. I hope this article serves as a supplement to Mr. Hershey's and a wake-up call to the Catholic ladies out there who think the Church is sufficiently "feminist" and are about to post something on Facebook about what I should do with my uterus.

Katie Doyle is a senior secondary education major. She can be contacted at