Elsa Tamez - Through Her Eyes

Originally published as Las Mujeres Toman la Palabra, this collection of interviews with Latin American women theologians is a response to Elsa Tamez' earlier interviews with the heavy-weights of the liberation theology movement, published in Against Machism.

For each of the interviews in Through Her Eyes, carried out 1987-8, the scene is set: 'we met in the kitchen while the children slept and José watched TV next door; we spoke over sips of coffee and breakfast rolls; we talked late into the night in our room at the conference.' On many occasions, Tamez notes the struggle to find time to meet, the hectic schedule and passionate commitment of each women.

This collection was one of the earliest published record of the Latin American feminist theology movement. Twenty years on, the arguments are more complex, and the sources more diverse. But re-reading this book, I noted critical insights and connections that continue to be central to the debate. Primarily, and in direct contrast to early liberation theology, that ‘the category of class is necessary but insufficient for an analysis of women's situations.'(10)

The women remained cautious of the male theologians' vocal support, asking instead for practical support at conferences, seminaries and in the parishes. They would not be satisfied by talk of complimentary roles or equal partnership in a male system. On women's ordination, for example, many commented that while important, it alone will not be enough to heal the church. Many challenged the male theologians talk of woman as mystery, noting that all life is mystery, most of all, God is mystery. Woman is no more other, strange or unfathomable.

Alongside the wider feminist theology movement, the interviewees challenged the private/ public division of the world. Julia Esquivel called theology that relates only to public life a 'mutilated theology.' Women's roles in church and society should not be limited to motherhood and domestic tasks. Nancy Cardoso Pereira and Tania Mara Vieira Sampaio commented on the failure of liberation theologians to challenge the institution of the family. The sanctity of the family had, 'displaced the discussion towards a prioritizing of economic liberation, that is said to be most urgent, without being detained in the demands of the revolution of daily life.'(102)

Continuing this critique, Maria José Rosado Nuñez highlighted the importance of the fiesta in the midst of daily realities. All our struggles are connected, she commented:
All this about 'priorities' and 'basic necessities,'...the parties of the poor make me think beyond this. A family spends all its money for the son's baptism party, for example. They know that they won't have money for the kids' milk in the morning, but they will not give up their right to joy, to party, to escape, to gratitude. Isn't this also a basic need? (42)

Elsa Tamez Against machismo: Rubem Alves, Leonardo Boff, Gustavo Gutiérrez, José Miguez Bonino, Juan Luis Segundo…and others talk about the struggle of women: interviews.Yorktown Heights, NY: Meyer-Stone Books, 1987.
Elsa Tamez (1989) Las Mujeres Toman La Palabra San José, Costa Rica: Editorial DEI
Through her eyes: women’s theology from Latin America. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1989.

A final note: Off to Salta, so unlikely to post this week.