Here is where you can find Parts One, Two, and Three of The Spear and the Distaff. More to come.
But how is this essentially different from patriarchalism -- from the idea that women are not, or should not be, contributors to the grandeur of the human race, but should simply pipe down, take care of their men, and pump out babies? After all, that is basically what the old notion of hierarchy was.
Well, not exactly; but that would divert us into a historical study of gender relations, which, while fascinating and important in its own right, and relevant, is nonetheless a separate topic. Suffice it to say here that the progressivist view of history -- that all human rights were subject to tyranny and brutality in our dark beginnings, and have continually improved and are continuing to do so -- is a result and a cause of extreme ignorance of history. History shows neither continual improvement nor continual decline; it simply wobbles, as we might have expected from something human.
Yet we still have the issue of misogyny to deal with. I don't expect my treatment to be exhaustive -- I have never been a woman, so half the appropriate perspective on the topic is missing; and even if I had, I am only one person, in one generation of one culture. But here it is for what it is worth.
One thing I have repeatedly emphasized is that gender is about relationship. There is a particular kind of relationship appropriate to marriage, and in that case the genders of the parties do determine which role they have been cast in; but the entering into that relationship in the first place is something freely chosen (or at any rate it should be, and, to be a validly sacramental marriage, must be). The woman has as much right to free decision in this regard as the man. And this dynamic is something that governs their relating, not their every endeavor. Marie Curie's pursuit of chemistry was not unfeminine, or a flaunting of hierarchy, nor was her husband unmasculine or remiss by helping her. Nor was St. Catherine gender-bending or insolent in remonstrating with Gregory XI and convincing him to return the papacy to Rome from Avignon; pointing out the truth is not a specially masculine privilege.*
So what does all the talk about initiation and receiving mean, then, if it doesn't apply to life in general? I tend to think that St. Paul was hinting at it in one of his unpopular passages:
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it ... So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. ... This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. -- Ephesians 5.22-25, 28-30, 32-33
The reasoning the apostle gives here is theological. Yet he knew his flocks well, as we can see in the particularity of each letter he wrote -- he was not laying down only general principles, but addressing specific needs of the churches he wrote to. Considering the placidity with which other authors (like Aristotle) wrote about the supposed superiority of men to women and of wives to husbands, St. Paul's instructions to wives look almost perfunctory in historical context, and the fact that he addresses the obligations of husbands (and spends rather more time on those) suggests an attentiveness to the realities of gender relations which we would rather hope for in a bishop.
But that's icing. Looking at the coinherence of gender as an example of the coinherence of reality in the first part of this series, we might consider whether the theological reasoning set forth by St. Paul might tell us something more about gender than simply who has what formal obligations in a marital context. I think that this says something about the psychology and the needs of women and men. I don't think it is too gross a generalization to say that respect is for men what affection is for women: a sort of social currency, the psychic need through which personal interactions are instinctively and even subconsciously measured. Take insults: as a rule, women tend regard them as, well, insulting; but men frequently use them as a sort of roughhousing gesture of fondness -- an implicit statement that the man being spoken to is tough enough to handle the insult. This is of course not universal, with respect to either gender; but I think it significant that the generalization can even be made. The point is that where one gender tends to speak the language of affection, the other tends to speak the language of respect -- which perhaps explains why each can and does take the other to be selfish and irrational.
Yet St. Paul inverts this. He urges wives to respect husbands, and husbands to be affectionate (indeed, more than affectionate) to wives. In other words, he is instructing each spouse to speak the other's emotional language, as it were. Perhaps that is part of why, in the verse immediately preceding this passage, he gives the general command, "Submit to one another in the fear of the Lord."
While the authority spoken of by the apostle is assigned specifically to marriage, the illumination provided into the common functioning of each gender is more broadly useful. Male and female, masculine and feminine, coinhere outside of the specifically sacramental context of marriage, and it never hurts to understand half the human race better. In other words, while the specifically hierarchical application may be limited, one of the functions of marriage may well be to teach us -- whether directly, in the person of our spouse, or through seeing other people's marriages -- how to relate to the half of the human race that we aren't.
And why, then, should initiation and receptivity be spoken of as characteristically masculine and feminine, if it is not always the man's job to initiate and the woman's job to receive, in every relationship? Well, I think full weight should be given to the word characteristically -- I tend to agree with Jung that there are feminine elements in a man and masculine elements in a woman; again, coinherence. But additionally, I have a hunch that there is an internal need for these things in men and in women. A man who cannot open himself up and make himself vulnerable will not be everything he could be, and a woman who is unable to initiate will not be everything she could be; yet such imperfections are common enough, and seem rather to limit a person's happiness and sense of self than to ruin them. But a man who cannot initiate, cannot take risks and responsibilities, is not likely to respect himself (an essential ingredient of masculine self-worth), and it could be argued that he doesn't have a right to. Conversely, a woman who (metaphorically) will receive nothing and no one -- the woman to whom the door held open is a chauvinistic implication that her arms are too weak, rather than a gesture of courtesy -- it is impossible, for me anyway, to imagine such a woman being happy.
*There have been believers who, on the basis of I Corinthians 14.33-35 and I Timothy 2.11-15, have thought precisely that women ought not to make theological contributions to the Church or to rebuke male members. I fully assent to the authority of these Scriptures, and don't think they mean that at all. Because the Greek words for husband and wife are the same as the words for man (as specifically male) and woman, my interpretation (in part) is that St. Paul is guarding against wives embarrassing their husbands in the congregation, which would be damaging to the individual husbands and to the Church's reputation. Whether that interpretation is adequate or not, the idea that women ought not be theologians is, for a Catholic, given the lie by the female Doctors of the Church if nothing else. One can imagine, say, the simultaneously self-deprecating and devastating reply that St. Teresa might have given to those who would try to defend Catholicism by attacking the authoritative declarations of the Church.
Introit for the Third Sunday in Lent
Mine eyes are ever looking unto the Lord, for he shall pluck my feet out of the net: look thou upon me, and have mercy upon me, for I am desolate and in misery.
Unto thee, O Lord, do I lift up my soul: my God, in thee have I trusted; let me not be confounded.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.