THE Church is responsible for the theological justification of the subordination of women...- Sr. Mary John Manansan
Most people thought that feminism is nothing but women's aspiration to be liberated from oppressive situations, which was even figuratively demonstrated in the "bra-burning" incidents in the early years. Partly it was, and still is, but more so, it is also an expression of women empowerment as exemplified by various women leaders in our society who stand for various issues and concerns of half of the worlds population: the women.
But not all women leaders are real women advocates, including the last occupant of Malacañang Palace who is about to step down reluctantly. But there are a lot of real women leaders who are sincerely working for the emancipation of women from the bondage of patriarchy, and surprisingly, they are those whom we thought are cozily cloistered in the comfort of the convents of religious orders. One of these women was my mentor, Sr. Mary John Manansan of the order of St. Benedictine Missionaries who shared with us in St. Scholastica's Women Studies the gems of her thoughts.
In her most revealing book, the Woman, Religion & Spirituality in Asia, Sr. Mary John openly admits that "much of our social conditioning comes from religion", that church teachings had been essentially a part of the roots of women oppression. It is an incisive presentation of how religions in Asia impact on women as illustrated in the scriptures and writings of these religions.
Sr. Mary John's life story may seem smooth in its course, like a gentle flowing stream unhindered along its course, being a product of a well-off family. She did not have those personal obstacles that could have awakened the kind of passion she possessed for women that inevitably motivated her to pursue her work with women the way she does.
From her sheltered life as a "privileged" daughter of well-off parents, to the time she entered the convent right after high school, everything was smooth as silk. Her awakening to the struggles of women therefore came as a result of her continuing studies and exposures to the outside world, where she became conscious of the way women lives in different cultures in the greater aspects of society.
Though cloistered and protected from everything in the outside world, her life within the confines of monastic life had not kept Sr. Mary John permanently shot away from social realities. It was when she finished her Graduate studies abroad and had come back to find the country under Martial Law that she was confronted with the real situation of women in her land of birth.
It then was the real home coming that opened doors of opportunity to further the cause of women, as she found herself not only involved but totally immersed into the fight for women's issues and concern. Then the realization that Churchwomen did not have as much voice and representation in the leadership as those their male counterparts had led to her involvement with the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT).
From the 70s up to the early 1980s, Sr. John journeyed with the Women Commission of EATWOT and pursued the changes that they had wanted to see among the Catholic Clergy in their attitudes and approaches to the woman question presented to them for years.
In tackling Asian Women and Christianity, Sr. Mary John started with a woman story. Then she related this to the woman question, which should be understood in the context of women's issues. The rest of the chapter discussed how the women are treated in the Bible, in church history, in Philippine history, and the women in the church today. The systematic oppression of women in whatever aspect of life such as the one she earlier related in the introduction of the chapter had something to do with the values and norms ingrained into her consciousness since childhood.
Moreover, Sr. John pointed out that it is not all negative in Christianity, as there are liberating aspects too. The interpretations of the Bible by women are liberating and closer to the teaching of Jesus than what most of the men preach. The women in the Bible are seen in a different light by women.
"Dapat ang isipon aning mga nagapangawat ba nga i-treat ang mga eskwelahan nga murag simbahan ba. Mahadlok unta sila magabaan kung mangawat sila diha kay daghan kaayo ilang ma-deprive nga mga bata. Dako kaayo ang effect nga ilang ginabuhat (Robbers should treat schools like churches. They should be afraid of karma when they rob schools because they are depriving a lot of children. The effect of what they do is very huge)."
-- DepEd division supervisor Helen Paguican