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European Electronic Journal for Feminist Exegesis

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Mercedes L. García Bachmann


Thank you very much for inviting me to be part of this honorable group. Good company and a supportive community are at least as important as good theory, isn’t it?

I will start by highlighting a few issues that I have heard from my colleagues who have been part of this panel; elements that strike me as common to what many of us had been experiencing. Afterwards I will add a few concerns from my home region, Latin America (or at least its southernmost corner).

1) There certainly have been gains in using gender as an epistemological or hermeneutical tool. When applied to exegesis, it illuminates the way gender is constructed both in the ancient and in our contemporary worlds. Therefore, academic feminist biblical interpretation provides resources for parish bible studies and for other interested (women’s) groups.[1]

2) I would concur with you, however, that gender/feminist studies have not become mainstream although there is ample recognition of its value among us. Connected to this issue is the experience of many feminist and gender-identified theologians, past and present, ranging from being not taken seriously to feeling ostracized. At the risk of interpreting what Madipoane meant by this term, I would think that the feeling does not originate in lack of feminist sisterhood throughout the globe but in a lack of recognition by many colleagues, which results in always being scrutinized and pushed to the margins. In this regard, the lack of graduate-level work that includes gender categories as analytical tool (e.g., dissertations) also can be seen as a consequence of this marginalized status of gender studies. This is evident in two ways: One is that many male scholars have left gender and feminist studies to their female colleagues, so that whenever someone wants to venture into the field, they call on the female colleagues who have distinguished themselves as feminist scholars. And since we are chronically overloaded with academic and grassroots work and often with administrative responsibilities as well, our own projects and active “advertising” of gender/feminist studies are neglected.

Charlene van der Walt considered the question whether it is advisable and/or desirable to become mainstream. I have also thought of this question and think that it depends on what we mean by “mainstream.” If we infuse the word with a negative connotation as if it were the same as “malestream” or patriarchal, obviously I would not want feminist interpretation to be “mainstream” but rather remain on the margins. However, if by “mainstream” we mean that gender would affect every academic field (as well as church communities), then yes! Let feminist interpretation become “mainstream,” so that the world starts to be fairer to groups that have been despised thus far![2]

3) Regarding further concerns and challenges, I want to highlight the contested status of gender. On the one hand, one finds that students challenge the category of gender in itself and argue that the binary concept of male and female is out of date. On the other hand, there is the concern that a broader concept of gender – often used to replace the category “feminist” – would conceal women’s ongoing struggle for equal rights.

4) Finally, I perceive that my colleagues, while recognizing and celebrating contextual interpretation, feel challenged by their awareness of just how different one context is from another. The question remains how one may continue to be faithful both to our local context and broaden our horizons at the same time. Frankly, I do not have an answer to this dilemma. Perhaps, the best one can do is to be conscious of one’s own context, making explicit efforts of explaining it to others, and to listen with open ears and an open heart to what others share about their own struggles. This means that we would be unable to go on alone and would always need the other to interpret texts and reality.

In this vein, I would like to raise a few other issues that are important for my context, Latin America, and were not mentioned thus far. I have identified three points:

a)   Lack of Teaching Positions

The first point concerns the absence of feminist theologians in the academy, by which I mean seminaries and universities. Theological schools in Latin America (and even in the Caribbean) are very rare and within them, there are few women teaching in key theological fields, and even fewer feminists among them. For different reasons, many of which have to do with the patriarchal settings, in which they tried to fit but could not, several well-trained feminist theologians in the last ten to fifteen years have left their academic jobs. Some have migrated to other countries and some have sought to work in NGOs and other political realms. Thus, on the one hand there is joy that their wisdom will be put to good use somewhere else (and one might also mention that their leaving also has made room for younger scholars).[3] On the other hand, losing skilled and resourceful women is serious because it takes a heavy toll on both the institutions that count on them (and especially the students who will not be influenced by their feminist approach), and also on the women themselves, who would not leave their positions had they better working and living conditions. In particular, we see the impact on the larger network of feminist scholars in that we are constantly forced to start over and to establish new connections.

b)   Slow Influence on Academic Spaces

Although biblical studies that include feminist and gender criticism have been published for decades, there still is a large portion of colleagues who do not acknowledge this work. I dare to say that this very conference serves as an example in that few of its main papers addressed their respective subject with any kind of gender awareness. Other factors could also be examined, such as the ratio of male to female presenters (as main speakers and in thematic groups).

c)    Persistent Hegemonic Masculinity

Insofar as we as of yet have been unable to influence the binary approach to the world, which includes challenging traditional masculinities, there is little hope for real change in this patriarchal world.[4] There are many examples worldwide – but in Argentina, female (and child) trade and trafficking[5] as well as femicides are some of the ugliest and most common issues. Trafficking has several faces, so I will here speak of one in particular. One of the best-known cases of trafficking for sexual purposes in Argentina is that of María de los Angeles (Marita) Verón, who had been abducted from her city, Tucumán (in the Northwest of Argentina) when she was 23 years old.[6] Her mother has been searching for her since 2002, even disguising herself as a prostitute in order to find her. By means of her personal actions and later through establishing a foundation, Susana Trimarco managed to rescue several women (including Argentineans brought to Spain), but so far has not found her daughter Marita, alive or dead. In the process of Susana’s struggle, a large net of crime and corruption by the “legal” system has been revealed and brought to court.[7] In response to her efforts, Susana has received several awards.

Unfortunately, femicides are neither restricted to my area of the world nor to one particular group or social class. Although in Argentina, much has been done in the last decade to address this issue politically and socially, we still have been found wanting.[8] Since the issue of gender violence is a complex one, I will not go deeper onto its causes, but my hunch is that the increase in femicides[9] may be a reaction to social and cultural changes not easily accepted by many men. This includes increased education and job opportunities for women, female rights being addressed in terms of human rights, media rejection of gender violence, and an increasing number of public demonstrations against femicides—tagged “Ni una menos” (literally, “not one woman less”, meaning we cannot tolerate another dead or missing woman) —all of which have resulted in a more fluid and somewhat more equal gender status for women. In addition, laws allowing same-sex marriages and legal identity change for transgender people have altered perception of “masculinity”—meaning hegemonic, idealized, essentialist masculinity. While many men are embracing new masculinities, others may feel threatened and resort to violence against those whom they perceive as responsible for their loss of status, namely, their female partners and sometimes their own children.[10]

The pervasive influence of violence is too large in the world to be solved by feminists or by any other group by itself. However, we as feminist theologians have a responsibility to work with others toward a better, fairer world, including churches and academic settings. In order to achieve these goals, we urgently need gender roles that respect the dignity of each individual; more academic and popular voices against gender inequality, and for economic and technological justice; governments with zero tolerance toward injustice, violence, and femicides; and anthropologies, theologies, and ecclesiologies that are attuned to the dignity of all creation.

It is this vision of the world that I try to convey when I write, teach or preach. Within this too large “world” requiring better stewardship, I choose for underprivileged groups, particularly women and indigenous groups. While I need more siblings to walk with me, I am thankful for the many that I already have.

[1] Many of us regularly publish in journals (those from our own universities and others) and books (particularly in English or German, published in the North-Atlantic world); see, e.g., Revista de Interpretación Bíblica Latinoamericana RIBLA, accessible through the page of the Latin American Council of Churches, http://www.claiweb.org/index.php/miembros-2/ revistas-2. The collection La Biblia y las Mujeres. Colección de exégesis, cultura e historia, edited by Irmtraud Fischer, Mercedes Navarro Puerto, Adriana Valeria and Jorunn Økland/ Christiana de Groot, is a welcome resource, although not many of its authors are from Latin America.

[2] Of course, we could push the issue farther and ask whether gender would still be able to affect society were it to become “mainstream” or whether the issue would disappear. The latter, however, seems unlikely given pervasive ways of patriarchy to remain in power for at least the last four thousand years, despite many changes.

[3] For a review of female Old Testament scholars in Latin America and their contributions, see Mercedes L. García Bachmann, “Thirsty Enough For Feminist Biblical Interpretation? Contextual Readings by Women from Latin America,” in Feminist Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Retrospect, II: Social Locations, ed. Susanne Scholz (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014), 97117; “Leer el Antiguo Testamento en clave feminista. Mapas sobre teólogas feministas biblistas en América Latina,” in Teología feminista a tres voces, ed. Virginia R. Azcuy, Nancy E. Bedford and Mercedes L. García Bachmann (Santiago de Chile: Editorial Universidad Alberto Hurtado, 2016), 3964.

[4] I do not mean that nothing has been achieved in this field, but there is certainly much room for improvement. This is not the place to produce a whole bibliography, because my main point is not with what biblical scholars have done, but with what society at largeat least in my home countryhas not done. Traditional patriarchal strongholds such as churches, politics, and armed forces have been slow at best to deal with much needed changes in terms of hegemonic masculinity.

[5] See http://www.fundacionmariadelosangeles.org/micrositios/delito-de-trata-de-personas/ zaida-gatti.pdf, http://fundacionmariadelosangeles.org/index.htm. There is also a large network of trafficking for labor enslavement, particularly for textile designers and producers, closely related to rich people (including political actors), which is not gender-determined because it usually involves whole families (and children) brought in from the countryside or from neighboring countries under false promises. See http://www.fundacionalameda.org/.

[6] Abduction from the street and seduction under false promises of work are two major sources of recruitment of girls and women for slave prostitution.

[7] Part of the system’s corruption may be seen in the fact that the thirteen persons brought to trial (at which many victims testified with an enormous psychological stress) were first absolved by the state’s (province) judges in 2012. This had been the first trial of an illegal association profiting from prostitution and therefore the court verdict was shocking; political and social reaction to it were strong and loud. The decision was appealed and in December 2013 the thirteen accused were found guilty.

[8] In the last fifteen to twenty years, some laws were approved in Argentina, protecting women from domestic violence and sexual harassment; also special police stations, courts, and places of refuge were created to ensure victims’ protection (including better treatment by police officers), safety for them and their children, psychological and legal advice, and so on. In the last months, however, several of these services have been cancelled because of the government’s budgetary cuts.

[9] Since it is debatable whether femicides have increased or whether they are now reported to the police, I base my affirmation on research made on cases published in the newspapers and tried in court, in Argentina, from 2008 to 2015. In that period the number of known cases grew from 208 in the year 2008 to 286 in 2015. If other people directly affected are counted (those who tried to prevent the murder as well as the victim’s and often the aggressor’s children), the count is higher; see http://www.lacasadelencuentro.org/femicidios.html. Research is available in Spanish at http://www.porellaslibro.com/libro [accessed Oct 4, 2016]. Some of the main difficulties that victims experience when they try to break free of actual or former relations-become-abductions are: socio-economic and legal hindrances that prevent many victims from seeking legal help because it is complicated for them, they do not like police offices, who are often reluctant to take up the criminal complaint, they feel ashamed, etc. Furthermore, there is often lack of compliance by the aggressor of court restrictions (when there is restriction), failure of public force to ensure these restrictions, and lack of financial backing by the victim’s family to pursue legal measures against the murderer.

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Mercedes L. García Bachmann is currently Director of the Instituto para la Pastoral Contextual (Institute for Pastoral Contextual Studies) of the Lutheran Church in Argentina and Uruguay (IELU). From 1999 to 2016 she was Professor of Old Testament at the Instituto Superior Evangélico de Estudios Teológicos (ISEDET) in Buenos Aires, Argentina; she has been a visiting scholar around the world, e.g., in Mexico City, Chicago, and Münster. Her research interests are feminist hermeneutics and gender studies. Her latest books are Women at Work in the Deuteronomistic History (Atlanta: SBL, 2013) and, with Virginia R. Azcuy and Nancy E. Bedford, Teología feminista a tres voces (Santiago de Chile: Ediciones Universidad Alberto Hurtado, 2016). She has published many articles on liberation feminist Latin American perspectives to the Bible.


© Mercedes L. García Bachmann, 2016, lectio@theol.unibe.ch, ISSN 1661-3317