This political struggle also occurs in the Church and in theology. Catholic women of the twenty-first century have moved quite far from the image of the “angel in the home” of previous decades. They denounce those discourses and the creation of meanings that imply power relations and hierarchical structures, not only in society and the Church, but also in interpersonal relationships – particularly marriage.
To promote liberating changes in the ways we view feminine subjectivity is not an easy task when there is a complex and patriarchal normative/symbolic system. In the case of sexuality alone there are deep imbalances and chasms between the norms and mechanisms of subordination, in which women are socialized from childhood, and the deep experience, barely verbalized and systematically ignored, of internal rupture that they experience when they cannot completely internalize these models. This rupture has perhaps been shown best in literature and film, maybe because fiction does not seem like a threat – after all, it is only fiction. As Cecilia Inés Luque observes:
Given that sexuality is a constitutive element of female subjectivity that had been denied and made invisible under the model of the angel in the home … we can read novels as stories of resistance to the constricting limitations of this worldview, as well as tales of women’s awakening to the free, unashamed experience of their sexual appetites.[ii]
The woman who sets out on the path of becoming conscious of gender, of her personal worth, of the need for symmetrical relationships with men and the reciprocity that might nourish these relationships, embarks on a one-way trip in which, according to the Spanish theologian and psychologist Mercedes Navarro, her personal, subjective consciousness – her self-concept – is greatly altered. As a result, her moral conscience (her internal norms of obligation and value) leads her to experience a deep sense of unease and disillusionment as she approaches a difficult crossroads. Feminist theology has dealt with this unease, relying on the experience of those same women to reevaluate patriarchal theological discourses and resignify them from the perspective of women’s life experiences, so that these might be recognized and valued as legitimate.
[i] Anthony Giddens, The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992), p. 181.
[ii] Cecilia Inés Luque, “La sexualidad de los ángeles… del hogar. Mujeres, ethos sexual y religión en las novelas del boom de la literatura de mujeres hispanoamericanas” (The sexuality of the angels … of the hearth. Women, sexual ethos and religion in the boom of Spanish American women’s literature) in Carlos Schikendantz (Ed.) Religión, Género y Sexualidad (Religion, Gender and Sexuality) EDUCC, 2004, 32 (trans. Jeannine M. Pitas).