We often wonder about the “place of women in the Church”. Are they present enough? But in reality this question itself is already problematic. Simone de Beauvoir was surprised to have to write The Second Sex: “A man would not have the idea of writing a book on the singular position that males occupy in humanity. The place of the man often goes without saying, contrary to that of the woman: there is the great asymmetry. To rebalance this situation, it will not be enough to make more room for women or to distribute the burdens better. Rather, new dynamics will have to be instilled so that “the human couple finds its true form”, according to Beauvoir’s expression.
The great merit of this philosopher is to have gotten to the root of the difficulty by showing that what is dysfunctional is first of all the relationship between the sexes. Logic would have it that man differs as much from woman as woman differs from man, but there is a tendency to make woman the “absolute Other”. A bit like with the Smurfs: the masculine is the center, the norm, the neutral, the same; the feminine is the periphery, the variation, the difference, the Other. The woman, like Smurfette, is parachuted into the middle of the story, it is the element of exoticism (1). Occupying a marginal place, it is doomed to adapt to a world conceived without it, confined to stereotyped postures. The man, like the Smurf, then lacks a vis-à-vis that would allow him to understand himself as another.
Isn’t the Church, too, a victim of the Smurfette syndrome? A certain “theology of women” could have contributed to making the latter an “absolute Other”, an Orient full of promise, where she should be the “other quite simply”. It was also believed to enhance women by magnifying some of their supposed qualities, in particular their natural gentleness, without realizing that this risked evicting them from the creative dialectic specific to any relationship of otherness. However, the paradox of the “Absolute Other” is that one can do without: in certain epistles, one will end up imposing silence on them in the assemblies (1 Tim 2,14-15). How to explain this hardening? Perhaps by the need to adapt to the largely misogynistic mores of the time, as some theologians maintain. To make the Gospel credible and not to scandalize the pagans, it was better for women to step aside. Idealization of the feminine, stereotypes that reduce particularities and, ultimately, invisibilization: these barely conscious underground processes challenge women’s ability to be true vis-à-vis men.
However, the Gospels do not impose this reading. Jesus nowhere defines “woman” and never fixes her role in the Church or in the world. He even questions the images in which she could lock herself up (Lk 11,27-28). Rather than a “theology of women”, the Bible emphasizes sexual difference. It is in the crucible of this equitable dialectical relationship, the terms of which are never essentialised, that men and women are called upon to enter into a relationship. Male domination is explicitly presented in Genesis as a curse (Gn 3,16). This asymmetry is an injustice that we must not put up with but a wound to be healed. The male-female relationship is therefore at the heart of divine concern; this is one of the stakes of Salvation.
Restoring the life of this relationship is essentially restoring its reciprocity. This is what secular institutions seek to do for the sake of justice. This is what we should promote out of evangelical concern. It is interesting to note that Christian baptism is one of the rare perfectly mixed initiation rites. Both the girl and the boy receive the same sacrament there and are born into the same new life. On the basis of this common and indelible condition, one can hope that the difference between the sexes matures into a serene conflictuality, a “guerrilla without reproach”, in the words of René Char.
How, in the Church of tomorrow, will the human couple find “its true form”? If it is true that the children of God, equal insofar as they are united to Christ, form but one body, one would certainly attempt a sort of “ecclesiological acupuncture”: rather than risk invasive surgery, insist with wisdom on a few sensitive points until the body itself invents new balances. Among the great meridians through which the life of the Church circulates, there is first of all the word. It is urgent to hear more women’s voices in the assemblies, because if in ancient times the spread of the Gospel was better served by restricting the preaching of women, today their silence is a counter-witness.
Regarding governance, the Ciase report also recalled that a dialectical exercise of power made it possible to limit its abuses. Many associations and communities are already having successful experiences of mixed governance. Perhaps precious time could be saved by listening to the experience and apostolic creativity of women.