I live in a catholic country (Italy), in a small town and I go to a catholic and very conservative school.
I am not very religious and, most importantly, I am a feminist. This means I don’t agree with my religion teacher (who is a priest) most of the time, but at least he’s prepared to listen. Religion doesn’t interfere with our academic education, but we do get educated in a Catholic environment: Latin choir, masses, prayers in the morning, that sort of thing. I usually look forward to compulsory religion lessons on Tuesdays, not because I’m particularly passionate about the subject, but for the chance of interesting discussions, where I can express my own feminist views on certain subjects we talk about: abortion, birth control, homosexuality, divorce etc.
So yesterday I was sitting in religion class, learning about John Paul II’s life, when one of my peers suddenly asked: “Why can’t women be popes or priests?” The usual explanation followed – “Jesus’ example”, “The twelve apostles were male” (to which I object anyway seeing as it was 2,000 years ago…) when the teacher added something unexpected: “…also, men are more suited to be priests than women. Even though we would like to think the opposite, men and women are different, not only physically but also in character. Women, for example, are more delicate, sensitive and…” “…weaker.”, one of my peers added. Further on in the conversation came a clearly anti-feminist statement: “The feminist movement in the ‘60s was wrong: a woman is not more free because she can do whatever a man can. We do have different functions in life.”
The conclusions a listener reaches are the following:
1) If you’re saying a woman is weaker in character, the obvious assumption is that you think men are stronger and more suited for leadership (this consequence wasn’t too clear to some people in the discussion, who just kept repeating they weren’t being sexist).
2) Also, women shouldn’t try doing things men do, but just stick to their functions (read: childbirth) – note how women “try” to do things men do, they don’t do them naturally or because they really want to, but just to prove something.
3) The feminist movement was in the ‘60s, and then it ended there.
When he said these things, my first reaction was an urge to leave the room on the spot, thus ruining my reputation for having the highest respect for all my teachers. Somehow, I managed to get to reaction number two: feeling shocked and appalled the conversation was actually taking place in this day and age.
And to counter the third point, my only answer is: read the FBomb. Feminism still exists.
What’s more, my teacher denied he was taking an anti-feminist position. He told us the Church highly values women and that they have an important role in the Bible. He even gave us an example to prove his point: the woman who spent a year’s salary on scented oil, washed Jesus’ feet with it and dried them with her hair. According to him this wasn’t an example of subservience. Hm.
The worst part, though, was when one of my peers said: “Imagine if Jesus had been a woman: nobody would have listened to him. Women can’t be priests: they’re not convincing or commanding enough.” (Funny how most of the teachers in my school are women…).
What really depressed me was that these archaic beliefs were stated by a 15-year-old boy and a young adult. They’re just being passed on from one generation to the next.
Is the Catholic Church contributing to this? Yes. Even if my teacher doesn’t represent the whole Church, it still is. Why? Patriarchy. If beliefs such as these exist after 2,000 years, when Jesus didn’t choose female apostles because nobody would have listened to them, they will keep on existing, as long as patriarchy does. And it will end only when we stop holding on to wrong traditions.