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Lecture challenges society’s view of marriage

By TABITHA RICKETTS | Friday, September 27, 2013

 

On Thursday, Saint Mary’s College welcomed feminist theologian Dr. Emily Reimer-Barry who gave a lecture titled “Saying Yes to More Than the Dress?: Elements of a Pro-Woman Theology of Marriage” as part of the Center for Spirituality’s fall lecture series. 

Reimer-Barry began the lecture with a brief clarification of the topic as a different subject than the popular debates about marriage equality.

“These days when we talk about marriage equality most people assume that we are talking about extending the rights of marriage to same-sex couples,” she said.
“I want to probe the unfinished business of the marriage equality movement initiated by three waves of feminist theologians and activists.” 

She said there are three major problems facing a pro-woman view in modern society. 

The first of these is the “girlie-girl culture,” she said. This is the emphasis, from a young age, of “play-sexiness” that is represented in girls’ toys and dolls, she said. “We begin the socialization process at a very early age,” Reimer-Barry said. “The ‘hyper-sexualization of girls’ culture begins with three- to seven-year-olds, the target audience for the Disney princess line.”

The second problem comes from the contemporary prevalence of the hook-up society and the double standards associated with it, Reimer-Barry said.

“Men gain status through hook-ups, while women lose status,” she said. “We see reflected here an old patriarchal view of male entitlement to sex.”

Dr. Reimer-Barry said the third major problem originates in the pervasiveness of pornography in society. The pornography culture affects society both directly and indirectly, and establishes unrealistic ideals of the modern woman, she said. 

“Porn women are submissive, obedient, eager to please, willing to accept pain and suffering to please a partner and eager to deny their own wants and needs,” Dr. Reimer-Barry said. “These same attributes are upheld as virtuous in papal teachings about what it means to be a good wife in marriage.”

Worldwide, she said, women continue to hear mixed messages about their own dignity and position from the Catholic Church, especially with regards to marriage and what it means to be a “good wife.”

“To what else does a bride say ‘yes’ in marriage?” Reimer-Barry said. “Some parts of Catholic theology of marriage require that women say ‘yes’ to an ideal of womanhood that does not, in fact, promote … dignity.”

Women are represented as inferiors in Mass, Reimer-Barry said, particularly in the readings, which exclude many of the stronger female religious figures that are represented in the Bible. 

“This gives the impression over time that women are insignificant and have no contributions to make to the faith community,” she said. 

She said this is further perpetuated by the Church’s exclusion of women from ordination. This presents young women with male figures as role models in religious leadership.

Even worse, Reimer-Barry said, are the readings which speak of a woman’s submission as her highest calling, and representing her worth as being incumbent on her serving others and sacrifice of self. 

“Even a positive message from the homily might not counteract the negative formation that has already happened in the liturgical proclamation of sexist texts as ‘the word of the Lord,'” she said. 

These expectations of subjugation and servitude arise mostly from descriptions of ideal marriage, she said.

“Such descriptions seem to imply that marital love is primarily characterized by renunciation of self and self neglect,” Reimer-Barry said.

The text emphasizes purity, graciousness and care for home as a woman’s greatest attributes. She said this emphasis is also apparent in the Church’s history, where most female saints are virgins who can fully embody the descriptor of purity.

“Women are venerated for their obedience, humility, sacrifice and submission,” Reimer-Berry said. 

This foundation can lead to harmful and unequal standards for relationships, she said. 

“Some women have interpreted [St. Mary’s] submission to God as an example for their own relationships,” she said. “This gender essentialism … diminishes women and limits the contributions women can make in the social sphere.”

Dr. Reimer-Barry said a pro-woman theology of marriage is one that affirms the dignity of women and empowers them to resist violence, describes marriage as an equal partnership and enables women to seek educational and work opportunities outside of the home. In conclusion, Dr. Reimer-Barry said she has hope for future generations of women and challenges students to recreate cultural ideologies surrounding women.

“What I’m asking us to think about is, can we bring more voices to the table in discussion,” Dr. Reimer-Barry said. 

“We sort of passively adopt some of these messages about women without thinking them through, and they act on us in ways that we might not even realize consciously.”

Contact Tabitha Ricketts at tricke01@saintmarys.edu