Thursday, January 31, 2013

Letter from Soraya Chemaly

About a week ago I chimed into a twitter conversation with @Tempibones on twitter. She was having a discussion with a homophobic "future priest" and I made a comment in jest about "hating when people pray on my behalf." It was a joke, though I would prefer someone ask me before praying for me. Soon after this "priest" that goes by the name of @Sacerdotus seemed extremely agitated that I was a Latina, and [gasp] a feminist. He continued sending me messages about how I was brainwashed by White women. Hilarious! I obviously am just a weak Latina who cannot formulate decisions for myself. He went on my blog and read every single one of my posts and commented on pretty much every one of them. He seems very invested in teaching me the history of his Church, which makes me wonder why he even cares. It's not as if I, a mere woman on twitter will dismantle the institution he holds so dear. Eventually I blocked him because his rants were getting really ridiculous and I really did not care...I started responding with sillyness because what else am I to do with a man hell-bent on making me feel like a daughter he's trying to punish? It was mostly very paternalistic and creepy. He seemed to have an obsession with the fact that I was a Latina, so I blocked him, but he continued to read my tweets and take screenshots of them. Eventually he wrote a dissertation, I mean, blog post about me. It was the ultimate "I'm not done being mad at you!" 

Funnily enough, it was the Church he holds so dear that led me to feminism. It was seeing the machismo and sexual shaming (of women) in my culture, led by the Catholic church that drove me to feminism. I won't post his blog post here, the blog post with the picture of me that he never asked permission to use, because it won't make any difference. I read it and it reminded me exactly the reasons I left the Catholic church, and all religions for that matter. It wasn't feminism that drove me away from a paternalistic, misogynist, sexist, and racist was that institution the drove me to feminism. 

Below is a letter I received from Soraya Chemaly, one of the most inspiring women I have ever met. I often chat with her because I feel that she understands where I came from and how I got here. I'm not sure why I knew that, we have never talked about our relationship with religion, but life has a way of putting the right people in your path, and the wrong ones to remind you of the amazing people in your life.

Thank God I'm a feminist!

Dear Patricia, I too am a “naïve,” “radical” feminist. Although, at 46, no longer young. I’m also a Georgetown University grad, ex Divinity school aspirant, mother, wife, daughter and in all things “colorful.” I “go by the name” that was given to me, Soraya Chemaly.  Feminism has helped me understand, per your writing, “freedom.” Recently, I saw that you were involved in an exchange with a priest named Sacerdotus, who suggested kindly and with paternalistic concern that women like you and I, as a result of our feminism, will hurt ourselves…by crashing into things.  

As a young woman, the building that I most often crashed into, apparently disoriented by “all kinds of sophism and relativism” was most always a Catholic church.  Like you I entered a university and was “brainwashed with ideas” – you know, classes taught by Jesuits about humanity, compassion, social justice, equality, liberty - Enlightmenty things.  It’s strange how they “seem to make sense and give hope,” even to women. So, it irks when the Church that professes to love us does everything within its power to make sure that we cannot achieve our hopes in these capacities.  When women do, it is only commensurate with the degree to which we accede to the demands of unilaterally male-defined gender roles of Church doctrine.  I'm not being flip and do not doubt in the least that this priest, or say, Cardinal Dolan and assorted bishops take their work with the utmost seriousness and compassion. But, their norms, ethics and deliberations are informed by their experience and millennia of misogyny.  No governing body that excludes women, but makes decisions on their behalves unilaterally has moral legitimacy.  As such, their conclusions and the consequences of those conclusions will remain fatally flawed and, literally fatally for women, unjust.

 While I do not measure my life against men’s, I do measure it against the standards that people, led almost entirely by all-male bodies, use to assess humanity and distribute rights.  In this way, I have found many men, women and institutions, wanting for the simple reason that they reject as fundamentally equally human female bodies, desires, experiences, insights and authority.  I, for example, do become  “overly sensitive” when the messages the Church sends about where I am to derive my sense of dignity are intertwined with sexually convoluted ideas about reproduction, purity, motherhood and restricted roles for women.  Ideas that find their origins in rifely sexist concepts of female baseness and moral incompetence.  I become “overly  sensitive” when men I don’t know profess to do things I don’t like or want in the name of protecting me from other men I don’t know who would hurt me or others of my gender, largely as a result of our not being male.  His post on you and your experience in life is the finest example of mansplaining, to use a rapidly being overused word, blather I have come across in a long time.

 But, it goes beyond that.  He explains that the Church “built the Dominican Republic,” but while he does this to highlight why you should be grateful to the Church he fails to note that it did this on the backs of people of color  – that includes, btw, women.  After the Church participated in the colonizing holocaust of an indigenous population.  The Church’s role in slavery is well documented.  “Our” “Western” “Civilization” is the basis for untold oppressions.  You should be ashamed of yourself for holding up this particular example of its success. Until the mid 20th century the Church accepted most kinds of slavery as simply the result of the human condition. That and a consequence of original sin. Sound familiar?  But, small things.  He goes on to say that you should acknowledge that the Church built “Western Civilization.” There is no denying that there is a lot of good in Western ideas and ideals. But, the Church did this while it burnt women at the stake, deprived the vast majority of them of education, consigned them to early death through compulsory pregnancy and childbirth, relegated them to third class status by the billions.  The ideas and ideals of his admiration have long excluded, as the Church continues to, women. 

As for “radical feminism” not contributing anything to the Dominican Republic he himself proves this to be false: it has contributed you and I think you’re terrific! While he lauds your mother’s ability to struggle, and positively notes her not identifying as a feminist, he does absolutely nothing to reflect on how her life might have been less of a struggle if her access to work, money, food, control, or authority had not been necessarily mediated in every single meaningful dimension by men - economics, politics and, yes, faith. Good fathers in his terms.  It might interest him to know, by the way, that while you and I have both come to feminism,  my father is alive, well, married to my mother, loves and is proud of me. Oh, and he’s Catholic.  Some fathers are alive and maybe better fathers than others.  But, no father knows best just by virtue of being a man, which is the foundational premise of his argument and of the Church’s entire hierarchy. 

Women like you and I, both women of color, educated in the “West” of multi-ethnic heritage and, by happenstance, in possession of functioning brains, are not living in “ideological prisons created by white women.” We are living with actual constraints created by arrogant and entitled and condescending men like Sacerdotus.  That is the “shadow” we are living with.   I’m glad he thinks feminism, with his approved limits, is a good thing.  But, his commentary on feminism and its historical evolution demonstrates the degree to which he fails to understand two basic facts: 1) feminism is a planetary struggle to end sexism and the exploitation of women and, unfortunately, for all of the real good that the Church does, it is a sexist institution that exploits and bodily endangers women in vastly unequal measure to men and 2) men and women who are engaged as feminists understand that the divisions we encounter within the feminist movement only make us stronger.  His portrayal of feminism as simple a rich, white woman’s pet project is shallow at best and disingenuous at worst.  As a weary, age old, divide and conquer strategy, it fails. 

As for your “obsession” with his “masculinity and genitalia.”  Sorry to say, but no, I’m not obsessed and, tweets aside, neither I suspect, are you.   The Church, however, is and this is the frame for a lot of the debate about women and the Church.   I do not hate him or other men, I just abhor systems that entitle him to power so arbitrarily.  Systems that allow him to think it is his god-given right and job for you tell women what to do – because, in the end, they have a penises and one less x chromosome.  Every child comes to understand this exceedingly simple truth.  As we grow up it is layered, one sexist blanket after another sexist blanket of, as he says, “all kinds of sophism and relativism.” But, it’s really not more complicated than that.  Women can and do think for themselves and are perfectly capable of participating fully, if they chose, in ministerial leadership.    

Does all of this make me angry?  Yes.  If it didn’t I’d worry that I’d died and didn’t know it.  The question is, why doesn't it make him angry.   

By the way, cute photo! Which I’m assuming, despite all of his web pages disclaimers about getting his permission to use or cite text, he didn't ask if it was ok to use. 
 Thank you Soraya!


  1. Funny the church led me to feminism too. My father is a Pastor and I lived in church for 17 years watching women hold back and let the men walk all over them at home, at work, church, every damn where. My mom made me promise that would not be me. So, I bought a one way ticket to America searching for a new life. Glad you put that priest in his place!

    1. I find it strange that people are still surprised when I said the Church led me to feminism. I felt the double standard from a very young age, and I saw the way men were excused for behavior that would tarnish a woman's "reputation." I never personally felt subjugated, but I did see the women in my family blamed for their husband's behavior and being held as the moral authority to their cheating husbands, among many other things (virginity cult?)

      Thank you for sharing your story, I feel like we're soul sisters! :-)

  2. I'm just reading this now. Nice piece. Great to have Soraya comment. @Sacerdotus ignored me after I embarrassed him by pointing out that with all his education he still doesn't know the difference between a fetus and a baby. I started this mess by replying to his stupid post, "A woman's body is designed to carry a fetus...blah blah" Then he posts, "When a fetus is born..." For God's sake! I called him on it and instead of owning his error he says, "I was trying to use the correct terms"! I'm like, "You're just wrong," dude, just wrong, wrong, wrong. So he ignored my posts. No blocking required. Phew. :)

    1. Good for you! I don't usually block people but he was getting ridiculous and I hate getting constant alerts on my phone. It's annoying. I could care less what he thinks of me. In fact, he made me kind of a superstar. So many people want me to write about it and stuff, LOL. I guess I should be grateful and say thanks!

    2. Yes, many people do message me in order to garner attention for their blogs. :)

  3. There is a reason I do not post my last name to Twitter. I long ago grew tired of being stereotyped for being a Latina. Yawn. As if a label could embody me! Let me know if you're on FB. Only the very best have access. :)

    1. Yes! Look me up by my full name and add me. I should be the only Patricia Valoy (in the world!)