February 11, 2015
Dear Cardinal Ravasi,
Thank you for your email reply dated February 5, 2015 regarding our request to remove the Man Ray image of a bound, headless, limbless woman from the outline document for the “Women’s Cultures” plenary session. In your reply you claim that the image speaks “clearly for one of the central points of our document: many women, alas, are still struggling for freedom (bound with rope), their voices and intellect often unheard (headless), their actions unappreciated (limbless).” At first glance, this could be a powerful image to portray these realities, but our further research suggests otherwise.
The problem is that this understanding of the image is quite the opposite of what the original artist intended and we feel that to ignore the context of the artwork is both irresponsible and offensive to women. The intent of the artist was to depict sadomasochism. Man Ray’s own diaries, among other disturbing entries, describe him “brutally” sexually assaulting his former wife and on another occasion he states: “I pulled out my belt and began lashing her. She fell on her face moaning; I continued striking her back a number of times, then stopped and told her to explain the marks to Luis [her lover].” http://historyofbdsm.com/2014/03/man-ray-lee-miller-and-william-seabrook-bondage/ .
We have to ask once again, does the Pontifical Council for Culture really want to dignify the work of a clearly very violent and misogynist man on a document discussing “Women’s Cultures”? There are many other artworks by women that allow women to speak for themselves that could be used instead.
The bitter irony of using this image has also not been lost on many of us. By excluding women from equal participation in ordained ministry and governance in the Catholic Church, it is the Vatican itself that continues to ‘bind’ women, to ‘silence’ us and to circumscribe what our actions in the world should be (as evidenced also in aspects of the outline document itself). It is time for an all-male Church leadership to take responsibility for its part in oppressing women over centuries in our Church and take concrete steps to recognize women not merely as ‘observers’ or ‘consultors’ but rather as equal disciples of Christ at all levels of participation in our Church.
To date, over 600 women and men around the world find the Man Ray image offensive and they are making ‘their voices and intellect heard’ on the issue. We invite you to read some of their comments on the petition: https://www.change.org/p/cardinal-ravasi-and-council-members-remove-the-disturbing-image-of-a-headless-bound-woman-on-the-outline-document-for-the-pontifical-council-for-culture-s-plenary-assembly-on-women-s-cultures-february-4-7-2015-and-advocate-for-wo
We earnestly invite you to hear the ‘people of God’ and once again we ask you to remove this offensive image from the document.
C. Holtmann, M. Chown, S. Kindred, D. Wiggins, M. Goss and A. Rowley
National Work Group
Catholic Network for Women’s Equality (CNWE), Canada