In addition to the Letters to the Editor that appear in the print magazine (and are later posted online), Commonweal occasionally runs responses from our online readers to stories appearing on the website.

After reading Rita Ferrone’s online story “Francis’s Words About Women,” Thomas Farrell writes:

I especially enjoyed your parenthetical clarification of the pope’s Italian as meaning “masculinity in a skirt”—or in a pantsuit, eh?


No doubt Pope Francis associates machismo/masculinity with boys and men, and femininity with women and girls.


However, if we posit that all human persons have both a masculine and feminine dimension in their psyches, then we would not associate machismo/masculinity exclusively with boys and men, and femininity with girls and women.


But if we were to posit these two tendencies, then we would also posit that the optimal development of both the masculine and the feminine dimensions in the human psyche results in the optimal psychological androgyny. Of course numerous sub-optimal developments are possible.


Moreover, if we were to posit these two tendencies, then we would be in a position to discuss machismo not only in boys and men, but also in girls and women.


For an exploration of the tendency of men toward machismo, see the American Jesuit Walter J. Ong’s book Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness (Cornell University Press, 1981), the published version of his 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University.


In my estimate, Fr. Ong represents one example of optimal psychological androgyny.


In effect, the American aesthete Camille Paglia explores the tendency of women toward machismo in her discussion of what she refers to as Amazonism in her massively researched book Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (Yale University Press, 1990), the revised version of her doctoral dissertation in English at Yale University.


Camille Paglia herself tends to manifest a super-abundance of Amazonian machismo—the very quality that Pope Francis does not like.


For the sake of discussion, because Pope Francis is critical of machismo, let us say that perhaps he himself may have moved a wee bit beyond forthright expressions of machismo—except when he denounces what he considers to be evil (i.e., not good).


But if he has perhaps moved a wee bit beyond forthright expressions of machismo, except in his denunciations of evil (i.e., not good), has he developed the optimal form of psychological androgyny, as defined above?


No, he probably has not yet developed the optimal form of psychological androgyny, as defined above.


Reader Lorna Crossman writes:

I read accounts of what Pope Francis said that day. In the accounts I saw in the Italian newspapers he used the plural gonelle, not the singular gonella. Alarm bells rang, for I know how Italian manipulates noun endings to take words away from the neutral—and I knew that that ending was towards an unpleasant one. For example, gonne is the simple neutral plural for “skirts,” as one might say in, “That shop sells skirts.” Gonnelle, however, sends it towards a more negative and disparaging judgement, often insinuating that something is too big or too ostentatious. I couldn't work out what it was at first: “Big flouncy skirts” didn’t seem to have any purpose in what he was saying and I even wondered if it was an Italian mockery of cassocks or soutanes. So I checked it out. 


Both versions, but particularly the plural gonnelle, are used when one would want to express colloquialisms such as “she wears the trousers in that house” or  “he’s tied to his mother’s apron strings.”


I checked it out in: a large monolingual Italian dictionary [Garzantini: stare sempre attaccato alle gonelle di una donna; non allontanarsi mai da lei; ascoltarla in tutto], my huge toe-breaking Italian-English dictionary,  and my (equally huge and toe-breaking) Spagnolo-Italiano Dictionary [Zanichelli]. I also checked it out again in Spanish with the Dictionario Salamanca dictionary in which, using the plural faldas (lit. skirts)  gives the same meanings: what in English we render as “apron strings” and statements that express of male fear of  dependence and female power. The same was repeated in my Oxford Spanish Dictionary, again the huge and toe-breaking one.  


The language is close in kind to his other stereotyped “communal” images about spinsters etc. 


I feel that the colloquialisms give the sense of what I think was driving him both consciously and unconsciously and are far clearer. These are male statements of their fears of women, of feeling de-masculinized (if there is such a word), too dependent (I won’t go as far as calling it a castration complex!), and the obverse—of women either trying to dominate or unconsciously dominating.  


In response to Thomas Baker’s Q&A with Chris Lowney, “Why We Need an Entrepreneurial Church,” reader Philip Schmidt writes:

Chris Lowney offers some very interesting suggestions for the renewal of the institutional church. But if I am not mistaken, a few points got left by the wayside. 


Today, what I don’t hear is that the Gospel is counter-cultural. The Gospel comes with a vision of the Reign of God that cuts through basic assumptions of our technological culture: convenience, profit, power over as opposed to engagement with, and control with little concern for the outcome. The early Church before Constantine was made up of small communities focused on the meaning of who Jesus was to them. Militarism was challenged. Non-violence was a topic of the day. Can wealth be accumulated at the expense of others? Isn’t prayer an acknowledgement of one’s poverty and surrender to the dynamics of Trinitarian Love? The power of "the powerlessness of Jesus" was taken seriously.


The question of relationship with one’s self, others, and God was central. Are we moving to live more simply, in respect for the environment, so that all may simply live? Did I miss something in the exchange with Lowney? What’s the point of getting people to Mass, if they don’t leave with the idea that they have to challenge the culture rather than adapt to it?

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