Forty years ago, I enrolled at the Divinity School at Yale University to pursue a master’s degree. My two-year tenure there was a marvelous learning experience. A central part of my matriculation was my encounter with scholars in the fields of biblical criticism, theology, and ethics. Two of those professors I came to respect and appreciate were Letty Russell and Margaret Farley. A Presbyterian minister and a Catholic nun, respectively, they schooled me on feminist theology and developing new theological perspectives for the present and future generations.
Incidentally, I grew up with four sisters, each of whom was an excellent student and demonstrated an individual independence of thought. It was very difficult, despite the pervasiveness of male chauvinism, merely to objectify them or to treat them as undeserving of dignity and worth. Hence, it was not a stretch for me to understand a nontraditional interpretation of scripture, God, and social concern. Nevertheless, I was alarmed at times over the thoroughness of my indoctrination into a masculine worldview.
Of course, along the way, I had a number of instructors who were superb in grade school that were women. All of my teachers prior to junior high school were female, and most of my classes until the end of high school were also taught by women—save for my first two years at an all-boys Catholic secondary educational institution. However, the omnipresence of women pedagogues was normative in the academic setting, but did not imbue the sociopolitical and economic system that formally and substantively made the world go round, so to speak.
Russell and Farley helped to awaken me from assimilating to the patriarchal status quo by developing and enriching in me a questioning of the traditions that were already formed in me in terms of race relations. It was not a laborious process by any means, but it was definitely an eye-opening experience to confront my learned biases that inevitably relegated women to second-class citizenship.
This new way of analyzing theories and practices broadened my understanding of social injustices that were structural and systemic. By the time I graduated in 1983, I was acutely aware of the many ways in which our society oppressed women in all facets of the human enterprise. That year of the tenth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade exhibited how little progress had been made in respecting a woman’s right to determine what to do with her own body, her own life. Many men were having a rough time abandoning their traditional roles of putting women on pedestals, on the one hand, and treating them like slaves, on the other hand. The awkwardness of their negotiating new modes of behaving and perceiving was often not only a comedy of errors, but also flagrantly pathetic.
Today, we find ourselves still wrestling with the mistreatment of women in spite of the strides taken by the various waves of feminist and womanist movements. It appears that the mantra of a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body was not sufficiently internalized in our society. Rather than women having the freedom to make their own decisions over whether or not to go through a pregnancy, many people seem comfortable and content with ordering them what to do: a one-size-fits-all set of strictures.
Such ignorance masquerades as religious, biblical, and the natural-order-of-things rationale. The suppression of decision-making by each woman through the regulation of termination of gestation is cruel and unethical—regardless of environmental circumstances. Whether or not we like the decision each woman makes is one thing; however, removing the right to make the choice is unconscionable. That understanding I came to appreciate and favor decades ago through the tutelage of the likes of Letty Russell and Margaret Farley. I commend their works without any reservations.