On Liturgy and women: Part 1

by Anna Blanch on December 6, 2011

Today’s 16 days of action post is from Rachel Mann. I met Rachel around the same time I met Hayley (read “Forsaken,” her post for this series). Rachel is passionate about many things, not least metal music, for which she’s gained more than a little international notoriety after writing a Church Times article on what the church might learn from Heavy Metal Music. As with many of the posts in this 16 Days of Action series, I got what I asked for when I asked for a personal perspective! Well written explorations of complex ideas are a great place to begin conversations, to learn and to understand. This is part I of a 2 part post exploring the language of liturgy.

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‘Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. They are potent forms of enchantment, rich with the power to hurt or heal.’

It is always risky to base a serious blog post on a quote from a children’s story. But these words, uttered by Professor Dumbledore in the final Harry Potter movie, capture something significant about language. Language is our medium and it holds within it the seeds of healing and wounding. Of course, one of the fundamental ways of inflicting violence is through the injudicious and nasty use of language; however this violence can be taken further by depriving people of the very means of expression, self-understanding and story-telling. Indeed one of the fundamental forms of violence against women and others who have traditionally been socially marginalized is a linguistic one. The experience of being silenced
and the attendant need to find a voice to speak remains a real social, theological and political concern.

We who live in the prosperous countries of the North can find the claim that women experience silencing and linguistic deprivation a little arch. It is clear that women in post-industrial societies occupy senior roles and exercise responsibility in areas traditionally considered ‘male’. While one would not wish to deny this, it not only misses the reality for the vast majority of women around the world, but also fails to challenge the extent to which, even in ‘advanced’ societies, the traditional Male Gaze & Perspective remains the default social setting. Women are subject to deep social stereotyping and strong, confident women are undermined as dangerous, unattractive harridans. The work of the likes of Brita Gill-Austern in the area of female pedagogy has revealed the extent to which women, even in top universities, struggle to find their own creative and academic voices [1]. Feminist critiques are not necessarily about placing women (in the cliché) ‘on-top’ but about liberating both men and women from patriarchal conceptions which damage all.

One area where violence has been done against women is in the area of liturgy. In a world where women and girls are encountering daily physical and social deprivations some might argue that ‘liturgical violence’ is rather insignificant. However, liturgy – as one of the places where we proclaim the story of who God is and who we are – is a fundamental location of community and personal understanding. It expresses key ways in which see God and our selves. It is almost too banal to note the extent to which women have and haven’t been granted access into the life of the various denominations and churches. Even as women are considered for so-called senior roles within churches, there remains a deep problem about language – language which holds within it the possibility to liberate both women and men from patriarchal patterns of expression and worship.

The Second Part of this post (up tomorrow) will explore these ideas further.

[1] See Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore & Brita l. Gill-Austern, eds, Feminist and Womanist Pastoral Theology,
pp.149-69.

Rachel Mann is an Anglican priest & writer based in Manchester. Trained in philosophy, she is a published feminist/queer theologian and music journalist. She is currently writing her first full-length poetry collection.

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This post is part of the 16 Days of Action toward eliminating violence against women. The 16 Days of Action is a global campaign founded by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University, I’m hosting posts across the 16 days, from 25 November to 10 December. You can help by sharing these posts on social media, by taking care of the women around you, & by standing against violence against women. You see the full list of posts here.

Connect with Anna on Academia.edu, Linked In, facebook page, & Twitter.

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