The focus of gender in light of current challenges
By Dr. Sandra Lassak*
Talking about feminism and theology may seem like a contradiction, which isn’t surprising given the inequality between men and women: the structural oppression of women, femicide, divorced couples, and discrimination against homosexuals among others.
Despite the fact that for decades women have been doing theology in our churches and theological spaces, most of these spaces remain highly patriarchal, if not downright misogynistic. The identities of women are fixed, formed around constructions of gender and sexuality justified by a religious and theological discourse which promotes the ideal woman as: virgin, submissive and servile. From this dichotomy of macho men and servile women a whole system of inequality and oppression based on gender has been constructed and continues to be maintained in some ways to this day.
Theology seems to be a field of men, despite the fact that women have been doing theology for decades, and it is because within the pyramidal structure of the Church we are outside the positions of power and decision making. Changing or questioning the structures and ideologies of this system is not in the interests of some male pastors, priests and theologians because it would weaken the power they want to maintain. That is why we find so much resistance and rejection to gender theories, because it is an approach that shows the unjust inequalities and offers help to overcome them in order to build communities of equals.
Since it emerged in the 1980s, feminist theology has been a theology articulated from the marginalized experiences of women and at the same time a critique of the patriarchal character of Theology. Based on realities and concrete experiences of women, feminist theology was part of the feminist movement, sharing the struggles for a social and political transformation, for equality, and dignified conditions for all. Therefore, feminist theology is not a theology only of women and for women, but is a theology that problematizes 'gender' and therefore should be important to all.
Clarification of feminism and why it is important to continue talking about feminism
Declaring oneself a feminist puts you in a position of suspicion accompanied by images and prejudices such as being a macho dressed as a woman, a lesbian, a woman who hates men, etc. However, national and international news indicate that misogyny, oppression and violence against women continue to be one of the biggest problems today at the global level.
In times of capitalist expansion, new excluded groups are spreading with greater speed and brutality, and among them are women. Social, political and economic interests have created structures of inequality throughout the centuries. And although thanks to the struggles of so many women - which have occurred throughout history – there have been some changes achieved, there is still a long way to go to have societies and communities of equals.
Women still belong to the most disadvantaged group. They are the most affected by violence, poverty and discrimination as well as by the ecological crisis. They suffer from the effects of climate catastrophes, land grabbing and the destruction of life's foundations. Faced with this situation it is imperative to ask for new forms of solidarity including regional, national and international.
How can we, in these struggles for better living conditions, dignity and equal rights, connect and share among all women, who from different local contexts are organizing to promote processes of change (for example, the 'Ni una menos' or Women's March)? How can we and should we be part of this work as Christians?
In Latin America, religion has sold itself out by having an important role in the construction of gender legitimizing a patriarchal, capitalist and heteronormative social and economic system. Therefore, doing a social analysis we cannot leave out a religious analysis and a critical theological view.
It is also important to see the variety and diversity of experiences of oppression, recognizing the same structures of inequality and power behind them. Because at the core of talking about and analyzing gender relations is talking about power relations.
The conception of gender does not depend on an a-cultural biological determinism, but rather on each culture and worldview, “in that sense, every society, every community, every group and every person has a particular gender conception, based on their own culture.” We learn from childhood to identify with the worldview and conception of gender roles in our culture. Because in the nation we live, as Simone de Beauvoir one of the first great women's rights defenders said, “One isn’t born a woman, one becomes a woman.”
According to theologian Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, theology always has to do with dreams and visions of a more just and united world; an issue that deeply touches humanity. For this reason, it is necessary to articulate a de-patriarchicalization and decolonization from and with the women who, in their daily struggles, face colonial, capitalist and patriarchal oppression.
They are peasant women, indigenous, from popular urban sectors and also women who question - from their individual and collective experience - colonial and patriarchal relations; who fight together to overcome all kinds of oppression. In this way “... feminism is not just another theory, it is a theory, a conception, a worldview, a philosophy, a politics born from the most rebellious women against patriarchy,” says Bolivian Aymara, Julieta Paredes. Practically, feminism is a way of life, “a new way of understanding life and human relations,” as theologian Ivone Gebara puts it.
The reality of our world, challenges us to permanently relocate in different senses, to leave the offices, the classrooms, the parishes, and place ourselves in the 'street'. Displacement impacts us, we will have to move from traditional spaces of religion and oppression and search for new spaces where more integral and equal spiritualties can be lived.
From the pluralities we have to construct new forms of heterogeneous and inclusive communities of coexistence with all people, with nature, and between countries and continents, and break down the mental as well as social, economic and political barriers and hierarchies.
What nourishes us is a spirituality of resistance and rebellion fueled by the sharing of realities and daily struggles, of solidarity and sisterhood. This spirituality is made real through action, a collective and diverse expression that seeks to build new relationships and another world of which we all dream.
This is the only way we will we be able to offer relevant contributions to the questions and problems that people live today. Because the discipleship and following of Jesus requires us to be part of the processes towards equality and justice.
Questions for reflection:
· What would it mean to decolonize and de-patriarchicalize?
· What does it mean to do theology from our context, our social and pastoral commitments?
· For what would I want to make a commitment?
*Dr. Sandra Lassak holds a Doctorate in Theology
 Lagarde, Marcela, “El género, fragment literal: ´La perspectiva de género´, en Género y feminismo. Desarrollo humano y democracia. Ed. horas y HORAS, España, 1996, pp. 13-38.
 Vease Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth, Discipulado de Iguales, Una Ekklesia-lógica Feminista de Liberación. (Mujeres haciendo Teología desde Bolivia – Volumen III), p.214-235.
 Paredes Julieta, en: Gargallo Francesca, Feminismos desde Abya Yala, Ideas y proporciones de las mujeres de 607 comunidades de nuestra América, Ciudad de México 2014, p. 96.
 Gebara, Ivone, Las aguas de mi pozo. Reflexiones sobre experiencias de libertad, Montevideo 2005, 133.