|"Our Lady" - Alma Lopez|
“I didn’t know that girl-flavored wine coolers were just as likely to get you drunk as the hard stuff” while she was on a camping trip with then boyfriend Levi Johnston.Now, I'm working hard to put aside my temptation to make snide remarks about this "confession" of her "unconscious conception" whilst on "girl-flavored wine coolers" as well as any about Sarah Palin.
Before the incident, she vowed to wait until marriage but with no memories of what happened, she got pregnant regardless of being on birth control pills to treat cramps.
Instead, I want to ask what is to me an obvious question: Doesn't sex involve two people?
Which is not to defend Mrs. Palin's darling daughter but to ask why she has been excoriated and Levi Johnston, who was not, presumably, drinking "girl-flavored wine," not held up for equal accountability and responsibility?
He's the "playboy". She's the promiscuous tramp.
Although you'll never find it written down anywhere, there is, nevertheless, an ancient, unwritten cultural double standard for women.
There seems to be two extremes: A woman is either whore or virgin.
If she is a whore, she is the object of scorn and ridicule and, in some cultures, punishment and death.
If she is a virgin, then she is the "property" of her father who "gives her hand in marriage" to another man. She is expected to remain the "property" of her husband for the rest of her life. The husband, however, because of "natural law," can't possibly be expected to only have one woman.
So, if he has "played around" and had sex before marriage, or if he is unfaithful to his marriage vows, well, see, he just can't help himself. He's just a man. It's genetic. In his DNA. What's to be done?
We have lots of terms for men who "stray," most of which have connotations which are complimentary. The "other woman" with whom he has strayed, however, does not often fare as well. Indeed, she's often blamed as the reason the poor man strayed in the first place - "seductress" and "home wrecker" and "Jezebel" - that she is.
Scripture and the institutional church's attitudes toward women in general and women's bodies in particular only reinforce these cultural attitudes. Indeed, they are often the genesis of these ideas and ideals about women and their bodies.
|The Blessed Ever-Virgin Mary|
We like her pure, thank you very much, her body robed in demure colors of white (for virginity) and blue (I guess because she had a boy), often with touches of red (for His blood, shed for us), her long hair - the symbol of her sexuality - properly covered in a white veil (representing not only her modesty but the 'veil' between heaven and earth).
And, of course, she often has the same pierced heart as her son, symbolic of the suffering she experienced in having her son sacrificed on the cross, and emblematic of the suffering we share as Christians.
As a good Roman Catholic girl, this was the image of womanhood held up for us by the nuns of my youth - they, themselves, all covered up in black with white wimples stretched taughtly around their faces, foreheads and necks.
It was they who gave me the conflicted message of the church about sexuality: "Sex is bad. Save it for someone you love."
I was also carefully taught all those things about which former Roman Catholics now find humor - because, if we don't laugh, we'll go crazy.
Good RC girls did not wear their hair in pony tails because it was viewed as a phallic symbol, which curiously enough, was supposed to excite the male libido.
We weren't allowed to wear patten leather shoes because they reflect up (our skirts).
We were told to bring a phone book with us on dates - just in case the car was full and we had to sit on a boy's lap (I swear to God, it's true!) - so we wouldn't 'inadvertently' excite them.
And, we were told not to hold hands with boys because, as the sage aphorism went, "Whenever there is 'skin to skin' there is an opportunity for sin."
|Like Son, like Mother.|
Those are the major ones. Then there are the things we learned about women through liturgy.
Like the "purification of women" that went along with the reception and blessing of the baby in the church before baptism.
Or, that women had to wear hats and gloves to church because of their impurity.
And, if we had any doubts - any doubts at all - about the inherent impurity and inferiority of women, there was the obvious absence of women as clergy, as well as the strict prohibition of girls or women serving at the altar or even reading from Scripture.
The "body politics" of the institutional church are always bubbling just under the surface of all doctrine, all polity, all practice.
|Lupe & Sirena in Love|
That's her portrait of "Our Lady of Guadalupe" at the top of this post, which shows the Virgin of Guadalupe in a bikini made of roses, held up by a bare-breasted butterfly.
She also did one my personal favorites, "Lupe and Sirena in love" which you see there on your left.
Her work was recently exhibited at University College Cork in Ireland where it - and her talk - were the target of protest which demanded that the event, “Our Lady and Other Queer Santas (Saints)” be cancelled.
Lopez is also there to promote her new book “Our Lady of Controversy: Alma Lopez's 'Irreverent' Apparition” at the university’s conference on Chicano/a culture.
When Lopez's work was first exhibited in 2001, there were death threats, censorship efforts, and violent protests. In Ireland, the right wing has organized a “Please Stop This blasphemy!” campaign, urging people to send the university a message that concludes:
“In my opinion, these are blasphemous events that offend Our Lady’s spotless purity, insult Catholics and undermine God’s natural order. To avoid such grave blasphemy, offense and scandal, I respectfully urge you to cancel these events.”Ah, all the right words which I remember from my youth: Blasphemy. Spotless purity. Insult. Undermine. Natural Order. Offense. Scandal.
This from a church which not only participates in and perpetuates sexism, misogyny and the oppression of women, but has tolerated the physical and sexual abuse of children for years, obfuscating justice with silence, secrecy, lies and quiet "transfers".
John Buckley, Catholic bishop of Cork and Ross, described the exhibition as "unacceptable", adding "respect for Mary, the mother of God, is bred in the bones of Irish people and entwined in their lives".
Interesting. I didn't know that all Irish people are "devout Catholics" - or even Catholic at all.
Truth by blatant assertion. It has ever been this with the RC Church hierarchy.
Women around the world are under siege as a new post-modern wave of sexism and misogyny overwhelms us. There are the astounding increases in the trafficking of women and girls for prostitution and slavery, "honor" murders in the Middle East and "acid assaults" India, rape as a weapon of war in the Global South, female genital mutilation as an acceptable "rite of passage', and the continued attacks to prohibit or erode reproductive rights for women, just to name a few examples.
The art of Alma Lopez is under attack because it dares to communicate a message about women in general and Mary in particular which the church hierarchy wishes to suppress.
It is a message about the right of women to claim ownership of our own bodies. It is a message about the power of a woman's sexuality and sensuality and how that is a vehicle of spirituality.
It is, in my mind, a way to heal the ancient rift between sexuality and spirituality by unveiling that power hidden for centuries behind long white and blue robes.
It displays not a desire to offend or a need to scandal, but the deep devotion of the artist to a Most Holy Woman. She is portrayed as a sensual woman, with a round belly and broad hips and full breasts, who stands with hands on her hips, near-naked and unashamed.
The bare breasted butterfly woman who is supporting her represents all women who find strength and courage from this image of divinity, interpreted for us by one of our own. We support "Our Lady" and her on-going apparitions to us in the work of our lives of faith.
Ms. Lopez writes:
I admit, I was surprised by the violent reaction to Our Lady because I am a community artist born in Mexico and raised in California with the Virgen as a constant in my home and my community. I know that there is nothing wrong with this image which was inspired by the experiences of many Chicanas and their complex relationship to La Virgen de Guadalupe. I am not the first Chicana to reinterpret the image with a feminist perspective, and I'm positive I won't be the last.If you would like to take part in the counter-protest, and let your feminist voice be heard, please visit the post over at the FABULOUS blog, "Jesus In Love."
You will find there names and addresses and links to various religious organizations who are protesting Ms. Lopez's art as well as ways to send messages to the artist and the university, supporting their courageous stand in the face of such ignorance and adversity.
I hope you'll find a way to talk about this work and the issues it raises about sexuality, spirituality and women. I hope you'll have these conversations in church, at work, with your friends and colleagues.
There is a difference between blasphemy and art.
This is art. It is, for me, iconic. As such, it is an icon, a window into The Divine which provides a way to deepen my spiritual relationship with God and others through the Theotokos.
If the church finds offense in that, I would remind them that this exhibit is not appearing in a church. It is only exhibited in a state universities and private museums. You know, like lots of other religious art.
I would also repeat my own variation of the words reportedly said by Jesus in Matthew 7:5:
"You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your sister's eye.""The Men in Black" (or red or purple), need to be reminded that their response to a woman's body is their responsibility. It is not a woman's responsibility to organize her life to the pleasure or priorities of men, or dress in a certain way so as not to "entice" the male members of the species.
And, even if she does - because she likes the breasts or hips or thighs or legs which God gave her - it's still a man's responsibility to monitor and control his own responses.
Even though I obviously disagree with either her politics or her religious beliefs, as it turns out, Bristol Palin is a feminist - even if unconsciously so. And, I'm not talking about being under the influence of "girl-flavored wine coolers."
The title of her book is: "Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far".
That could have been the title of a book written by an young Galilean woman named Mary, who, for me, was one of the first feminists.
"Not Afraid of Life" could aptly title of the collection of work by the artist Alma Lopez.
It could also be the mantra of feminists and Christian women who are feminists.
The really scary thing is the deadly politics of institutional church doctrine and polity which seek to stifle the lives - and bodies, and voices, and artistic expressions - of women.
That, my friends, is the real blasphemy.