Here is the second half of the essay excerpt my students read for today in the "Feminist Theology" class. (I'm going to have the registrar change the title to "Feminist Theologies" for the next time I teach it.) We discussed the excerpt from the writings of Nelle Morton (see my previous post for context and this for some background on Nelle Morton) in class today and students also wrote a page of reflection on it. We had a great conversation -- and a very moving one at times.
Isolating the Images
When we want to begin with the image out of which we live most of the time, we are not aware of what that image is or how to isolate it. We may find it at the end of a diffused pain, difficult to follow to its source. It comes clearer in telling one’s story or in keeping a journal. This is not like the early consciousness-raising sessions in which women took turns telling their stories. A woman must be granted all the time she needs when it appears that her story is being told for the first time. Depth hearing dares not interrupt but deepens when the telling halts or the pain becomes intense. Hearing walks alongside the teller all the way down to her most excruciating agony. At such a point one suburban women cried out, “I’m a sex object. I have been one all my life. I am one, now! Oh-o!”
Once the image is isolated a woman may savor its fit; ponder its power, the grip it has on her life; trace it to its source. Stay with it until it breaks from the inside and she touches her real self –that part of the self that the image has bound. The stereotyped image keeps us imprisoned. It is a false image to be shattered from within—false because it was assigned. The woman who discovered she was a sex object discovered also that when she dealt with it the image shattered and another more positive image emerged to take its place. The new image enabled her to affirm her sexuality –far more pervasive than she had thought – as a spiritual gift.
Women have tried to get at the image through drawing the self, then dealing with what the drawing indicates about our self-image. Often in such an exercise a woman may draw a much younger self than she really is. When this happens it may mean that there are experiences and living that she inadvertently has evaded, perhaps that she is not willing to take responsibility for. After I had turned gray, I found myself continuing for a year or so to put “black” on questionnaires asking for color of hair.
When working with children in the Deep South Robert Coles used the method of drawing the self. He discovered little black children often drawing themselves with some sort of physical handicap when, as a matter of fact, they were not physically handicapped at all. Societal structures and cultural images had functioned so powerfully that the children had developed handicapped self-images long before they had come to the age of conceptualization. One child drew himself as a small and insignificante figure until he went to visit his grandfather who owned a farm in another state and who cultivated his own field. The boy he drew on his return covered the entire page and was colored very black. His only comment: “When I draw God, He’ll be a great big man.”
An image is not just a picture in the mind’s eye but a dynamic through which one communicates publicly or which communicates oneself. An image is its functioning – whether it operates consciously or deep in the unconscious; whether it operates in an individual or in the body politic.
For next time, they're reading essays by Susan Secker and Jeanette Rodríguez, among others. Shortly we will get to Rosemary Radford Ruether and Katie Geneva Cannon.
Meanwhile, we're in the first few centuries of the church in "History of Christianity" and the very recent post-9/11 era in "History of Religion in America" (which is actually 3/4 history and 1/4 contemporary, and we're starting in the present; two weeks from now we'll start back in the 16th/17th centuries) -- I think I have historical-theological whiplash. But it's been fun, though tiring, and the students participated really actively today even in the heat.
Happy eve of St. Bartholomew's day!