Feminine Cruciformity or Cruciform Femininity?

 

Content Warning: sexual assault, sexual violence, cisheteropatriarchy

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Surrounded by beautiful architecture and all the exterior trappings of a world-class university, Her lifeless body dangles with horrifying transparency. The sordid scene is replete with women sitting at Her feet contemplating this humiliating end and with present-day Romans (in the form of well-dressed freshmen) noting how “rocking” Her “bod” is. One cannot avoid being absorbed into the Passion narrative which She silently recounts. In the tranquility of the garden, She is an image of violence and terror – and perhaps even grace.

Behold the Lamb of God. Behold She who takes away the sin of the world.

The statue of the Crucified Woman, by sculpter Almuth Lutkenhaus-Lackey, stands witness in the garden outside Emmanuel College at the University in Toronto. Originally housed at a well-to-do, social-justice-loving United Church of Canada congregation in Toronto, the ensuing scandal that the statue caused forced Her removal and subsequent relocation to where She stands (hangs?) today. Even now as then, Her very presence in a seeming place of youth and optimism is jarring to the believer and non-believer alike.

Between two of my classes last month, I sat out in the garden and just took the statue in. I am really not one to be overcome with powerful emotion through art – as striking as that art may be – but the Crucified Woman will give anyone at least some pause for thought. So I beheld Her. With Her full breasts, flat stomach, wide hips, and round bottom, She is the social ideal femininity; in fact, She is hauntingly reminiscent of a Barbie doll. Perhaps the modern day Roman was on to something when he commented on Her “rocking bod”, for She is everything men have been taught to pursue and to acquire and everything woman are told to idolize and become.

Here She dangles, having been both actively pursued and violently acquired. Indeed, She is the blueprint of what women are both expected to become at the hands of men and despised for being. She is stripped of any and all clothing. Her nude corpse has been stolen from Her, divorced from Her dignity, and She is now public property: ours for inspection, admiration, reverence, indifference, vandalism, disgust. Ours to behold and to gaze. She has been forcibly opened to us and it is not at all clear that this kenotic action is of Her own will. Deep lacerations cover every quadrant of Her Black body as though dug into Her flesh by long, thick claws tearing as deeply as they can manage. Her exhausted head leans against Her right shoulder and Her lifeless face communicates the punishment She has been dealt – punishment for having fulfilled social-sexual expectations pushed upon Her. Her thighs have been pushed apart for Her body is no longer Hers to guard. In arresting vulgarity, even Her vagina is fully exposed to every passerby whose eyes may come to rest upon Her. Yes, the very appendage in which the world insists her femininity resides – Her “tabernacle”, Her so-called “Holy of Holies” – has been rent asunder. No part of Her is unexposed or untouched.  

And yet, while Her right hand hangs in resignation Her left hand is extended and erect. It is Her sign of defiant life; because inasmuch as She dangles having been violently pursued and acquired, Her continued existence is an act of rebellion.

I remembered my thoughts and mental notes about the Crucified Woman as I saw the deluge of “#MeToo” statuses across social media platforms a couple of weeks ago. Women from every corner of the globe and every rung on the social ladder joined Her in extending their left hands in continued defiant life. These survivors, though captive to the sin of patriarchy and all of its dark forces, rebelliously showed us the claw marks torn into their femininity. With candour and courage, these survivors refused us the bliss of ignorance or the false tale of our own innocence. And it was hard not to see the Crucified Woman in their stories and their testimonies. Perhaps more to it, as a cisheterosexual male, it was impossible not to notice the claw marks I had torn into Her flesh.

I nailed [Her] there
with my sins and my transgressions.
I cried, “Oh my God, now I understand
when I turned and saw the hammer in my hand.”

So where does She lead a theologically-minded male like myself and those similar to me: the people who are both dedicated to this Crucified Woman and who hold hammers in our hands?

The day that I sat looking at the Crucified Woman, a friend came up to me and said, “Well, what are you thinking?” I replied, “I’m thinking about feminine cruciformity” – which I thought sounded like a sufficiently deep theological reply. He responded, “Or how about cruciform femininity?” At the time, I thought it was a witty comeback. But as I am writing this, I realize that he was on to something.

For can we truly speak of a non-cruciform femininity? Has this broken Creation allowed for women to be shaped by anything other than the cross of patriarchy? Even in regions which claim to have made “advances” in the rights of women, can we truly say that we have ceased to crucify women? Is this even close to being accomplished? Perhaps in the social imaginary, but I would submit that this remains an eschatological hope.

And so the Crucified Woman is not just a piece of radical feminist meta-theology or some piece of bizarrely thought-provoking art. She is at once the image of the violently oppressive ravages of patriarchy and the image of the invisible God. Her corpse refuses to let us forget the billions of women made in Her image. She forces us to face those brutally made to look more like Her disfigured and disenfranchised body and spirit by the Powers and Principalities of this sinful world. She demands that we face the Sin which She has gathered in Her very being. She refuses to let us ignore our bloodied hands which still clutch the hammer. It is we, Her pursuers and acquirers, who are being judged in this judgement of this Judge.

Lest we hope that this spectre of our sin will be whisked away from sight, Her metallic corpse is not going anywhere anytime soon. She will continue to remind countless more of the Sin of the world which penetrates and imbues Her scarred, Black flesh. She will continue to attest to femininity which remains bloodily nailed to a cross and strung up high for all to see. And still, Her place in a garden reminds us of the eschatological hope which She implicitly proclaims.

She is the New Eve.

For if femininity is crucified in Her, so shall it be raised and redeemed in Her: the first fruits of a new heaven and a new earth. Somehow through this executed Woman, the sin of patriarchy has already been overcome and the repentance and conversion of life pursuant to it made possible. Insofar as patriarchy’s sin has been judged and destroyed in Her, we perpetrators and patriarchal sinners are now being broken down and sanctified through Her Spirit so to live justly under Her Reign.

Her beautiful and disfigured body has become Sin so that through Her, all – both crucified women and their crucifiers – might become the righteousness of God. Though Her right hand may droop unresponsively under the intense weight of the sin which allows Her to cry out “Me too”, Her left hand – extended as a signal of the Reign of God upon the horizon to which She directs our attention – promises all those crucified beside Her, “Today, you shall be with Me in Paradise. Yes, my sister. You too.”