Mary, of Magdala, and Dilma, of Brazil, are two women whose choices in life put them in strategic places and in roles of power. Mary was a follower of Jesus who supported him and became his most prominent disciple. Dilma is an economist, the first and only woman (up to now) to be elected President of Brazil. Mary and Dilma became targets of their patriarchal cultures.
Dilma: - Mary, it is such an honor to encounter you! You have been an inspiration throughout the centuries for thousands of women who lived in the past and who still live nowadays under rules and understandings that discriminate against them, oppress them and aim to suppress their capacity to produce, to create, to be autonomous and to be free.
Mary: - Oh my beloved Dilma, this story I know by heart! Where I come from we also had to face dreadful attitudes and degrading practices that tried to deny our participation in public affairs, whether political, religious or social. I was not convinced by those values; neither I nor several of my neighbors. So, we decided to follow that young man, who became a close friend to me. He had such a different understanding about religion, God, economy, social justice and personal relations! We talked a lot and he was eager to learn from our experience. I really enjoyed his company and became an ever present disciple.
Dilma: -Yes, I learned that you were one of his closest disciples. You were so important to his movement that your name was registered twelve times in the canonical gospels.
Mary: - But you see, when Jesus´ movement was taken to Rome and became the religion of the Roman Empire, women´s voice were silenced and women´s leadership became almost invisible. Even my writings didn´t make it to the canonical selection. They even started a defamation process against me saying that I was a prostitute.
Dilma: - Patriarchal rhetoric recycles the same arguments over and over again: it either infantilizes women or accuses them of objectionable sexual conduct.
Mary: - Or they do what they did to you: try to prove you are not competent enough for public life and take you down by force. They use legal proceedings to impose a political decision. That impeachment was shameful. But you made me proud! You had the courage to expose the entrails of a corrupted system that you have not become an accomplice to! The most admirable moment for me was when you stood in front of the Senate and firmly said: “Do not expect from me the obsequious silence of cowards”.
Dilma: - Wait! Did you watch it?
Mary: - I stood by you! Me and millions of women who over the millennia have fought for more equitable social relations, for gender justice, for the preservation of the environment, for loving societies. I was there! We are there! No woman in this world is alone! Never be afraid.
Dilma: - You know Mary, there was a woman called Margarida, a union leader, who became a symbol for women´s rights in Brazil. She told us once a phrase I will never forget: “Fear we have, but we do not use it”. Let me give you a hug, which is the way as we welcome each other and also the way we say good-bye.
For further reflections
- Women in leadership positions, in churches, in organizations and in political spaces, normally are criticized and judged, not only on criteria based on their professional capacities, but, also by assumptions and cultural stereotypes on their personal lives. How can we break this chain of criticism and build spaces of support and affirmation, so that women can exercise leadership in creative ways?
- How can communities and churches be a place where women find support in their leadership models?
Rev. Lusmarina Campos Garcia, ACT Forum, Brazil
The impressions, hopes and ideas expressed in this reflection are the contributions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.