Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review


Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review


Article excerpt

The 10th Assembly of the WCC in Busan, Korea, in 2013, is on the horizon. The theme "God of Life, Lead Us to Justice and Peace" has already been determined and feverish preparations are under way for the assembly to incorporate various reflections on the theme. Ahead of the assembly, the Women in Church and Society Project seeks through this issue of The Ecumenical Review to pause these preparations momentarily to advocate for "gendered voices" as a critical contribution to the eventual reflections in Busan. But why "gendered voices"? What is unique about these perspectives and why are they important at this point in time?

Before we can answer these questions, it is important to reflect on why we use the varied terms of gendered/feminist/ women's voices in the title of this issue.

What's in a Name?

Much has been written on the reluctance of many women and men, especially those from the so-called two-thirds world, to identify with the term feminist. (1) This reluctance has less to do with a refusal to identify with the central tenet of feminism, which is to critique and challenge patriarchy, and more to do with the lack of attention to race and class variables within feminist discourse. Hence the various conceptual frameworks that have been put forward--mujerista theologies, womanist theologies, African women's theologies and so forth. There is not enough space in this issue to allow us to delve into the meaning and development of each of these important theologies, but we wish to underline here that they all are deeply embedded in a gendered understanding of the world--an interpretation of the world that recognizes the unequal power relationships which exist between women and men in the context of different racial, class or caste experiences, in order to capture the important differences in the way women and men perceive and experience the struggle for life, justice and peace, we combine the various perspectives presented in this issue under the phrase "gendered voices." And so we return to the question, What unique contribution can "gendered voices" make to the theme of the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches?

Narrative Ways of Knowing

Every year in March, Geneva invites the whole world to its popular "Auto Salon." One of this event's interesting features are the sexy-looking young women who stand next to these cars either semi-naked or in tight, revealing outfits. Upon inquiry, one discovers that these girls are not recruited on the basis of their auto-sale expertise but for their sexy looks, as if they were decorative bouquets for the cars. While these women and others visiting the show might think otherwise, if one uses a gender analysis it becomes clear that the women are as much a commodity as the cars they stand next to. Understanding the roles of such commoditized female bodies in this way, one can argue that the auto dealers have two linked assumptions about sales of their cars. The first has to do with their view of the demand and market for their commodities; that is, who are their target customers? It is heterosexual men, not women. The second assumption has to do with the branding of their commodities; that is, the idea that effective selling of cars demands an intrinsic connection to selling sex. Therefore, it can also be argued that the men who are targeted as the most likely customers are assumed to possess uncontrollable sexual desires that these almost naked women can easily arouse, leading to uncontrolled, impulse and irrational buying. Pushing our analysis further, let's imagine what would be the response--naivete or just clueless shock--if, for example, a gender activist went to this show and, upon discovering how these women are being used as bouquets to decorate these vehicles, used gender analysis to confront a section supervisor, querying in all subtleness, "Excuse me, sir, I'm really interested in one of your cars. Since I'm a heterosexual woman, however, these naked girls do not really arouse me to buying it as much as a naked man would have done! …

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