How the Feminine God Subverts the Patriarchal Gaze and Rebuilds a Home in One Woman’s Body
By Bernadine Lanot
Doing volunteer work with and for victim-survivors of gender-based violence this past year was primarily a quest for healing born out of my own experience of GBV and desire to learn from others who share the same grief. A community of women is vital in the healing process. I learned the hard way just how violence could cause a woman to feel alienated from her own body, and so women must keep each other company.
The disconnection, however, begins early in a woman’s life. A patriarchal society tries to own women’s bodies in countless ways, from micro-offenses such as the assumption that a woman dresses up and puts on makeup for men to more serious transgressions that use women’s bodies as weapons against them. A woman grows up struggling to trust her own body’s signals of distress or discomfort and learns to adjust to the patriarchal gaze. I call it “patriarchal” rather than merely “male,” for it is a systemic way of seeing women that is internalized not only by men.
Consider how women tend to blame themselves when violence happens. In my case, I wondered if my body, just by being itself, betrayed me and gave me over to men who sought to possess me. I know that my body still belongs to me, but I struggle to accept that it remains mine and that I can trust it.
I desire to live in a world where women are as free as the wind. What is it like to simply be without the fear of patriarchal entitlement to our bodies? How can I reclaim not only my power but also my connection to my body? And as a believer, what does it mean to surrender my body to God?
As a woman who survived violence, it feels impossible to connect to a false God who seeks to control and own me through my body and sees me through the same patriarchal gaze, jealous, possessive, and insecure. I lament how feminine images of God are not talked about enough in church for they can show a woman her true self.
The Jewish Scriptures reveal God as Mother Bear, Lady Sophia, Ruah Elohim, and a pregnant woman in labor. What is it like to be held by the Bear, whose rage is not unholy or opposed to the tenderest love? How can I find Sophia deep within me, as the word that demands to be spoken, the sacred wisdom that seeks expression?
How can women everywhere be attuned to Ruah Elohim, the Breath that sustains us, the creative Spirit that has always known and formed us in every moment of our lives? Would we women be allowed to imagine God as a woman in labor, sweating and screaming, pushing with all Her might to bring about the full realization of Her Reign, Her longing for the child in Her womb, Her nipples dripping milk, the gush of water and blood between Her thighs?
This God says: There is nothing vulgar about a woman’s body. The woman is Imago Dei in the fullness of her humanity. My body feels safe with Her, because She tells me that She dwells in me as a wild, powerful, liberating presence. Surrendering my body to this God feels safe, natural, and life-giving, because in doing so I see that my body remains completely and truly mine, and in my total human experience I reflect God.
Coming home to one’s body is part of the long and arduous healing process, where God reveals Herself as a victim-survivor of violence, entering into women’s struggles and sharing their pain. We learn that our bodies are inviolably and irreducibly sacred gifts. All pieces of us, our anger, grief, and disillusionment, are all welcome. And there is always room for playfulness and joy in how a woman reconnects with her body. After all, the glory of God is woman fully alive.
Bernadine Lanot is a theology instructor who teaches a course entitled “Theology of the Catholic Social Vision” in Ateneo de Manila University. She works to promote safe spaces for women and seeks to reconnect with her body through hiking and volunteer work with victim-survivors of gender-based violence.
This essay will be published in Tinig, a monthly opinion and analysis series in which faculty from the
School of Humanities of Ateneo de Manila University are invited to write about current affairs
and societal concerns from the standpoint of their disciplines. Tinig articles may be found on the
Ateneo website or on the Flourish FB page.