As I write this, I have Pentecost on my mind. The image of crimson calla lilies curling like flames at the feet of a statue of Our Lady in my local parish, her gaze turned downward, remains with me still. Mary, full of grace. Mary, on fire. Images such as this bring me back to the questions that have led me to create this web magazine: What does it mean to be a Catholic woman? What does it mean to simultaneously embody the graceful obedience of the Mother of the Church and the flame-like fervor of her Magnificat?
What does Catholic womanhood entail, and what are its implications for society? How are Catholic women, and women and men of faith more broadly, to navigate a society with such confusing concepts of gender relations?
These are questions that so many have had the chance to answer—so many, really, except Catholic women. For a long time, the media has had fun answering these questions for us. If you listen to them, we are oppressed, we want to be priests, we’re stripped of our “reproductive health rights.” But if you listen to us, we have alternative ideas.
But first you have to find us. Because until now, we’ve been relatively hidden in society. We’ve been walking past you in the office, standing next to you at the museum, raising the next generation, organizing the political rally you drive by on your way to work. And until now, there has been no forum for our voices.
Atlcatholicah seeks first and foremost to create a lively forum for discussions about faith and gender, to provide oxygen for the ideas that have been quietly burning in the hearts and minds of men and women of faith.
Altcatholicah is also a partner site to Altmuslimah.com. The idea for Altcatholicah first burrowed in my brain after I wrote for Altmuslimah about my seemingly impossible quest for a modest wedding dress, and how it led me to a Muslim seamstress. I was struck by the commonalities shared by women of faith—such as deciphering fashion in a world where immodesty is the style.
It is the sincere hope of the editors of both Altcatholicah and Altmuslimah that this web partnership lead to conversations between Catholics and Muslims about navigating gender and society from the perspectives of our faiths. There are many differences. But there is much common ground. It is our hope that personal narratives play a particular role in propelling this dialogue. Together, we can be faith pioneers. I fancy each article as a covered wagon, author at the helm, bumping along dusty unexplored roads, eyes straining toward some common horizon.
Altcatholicah — like Altmuslimah — is not just about women, for women; and it is certainly not about demonizing men. Rather, we welcome men’s voices. As women struggle to define Catholic womanhood, those conversations no doubt implicate Catholic manhood. And explorations of gender and Catholicism in society would be incomplete without the male perspective. The complementary natures of the sexes require that they understand each other to better understand themselves.
Furthermore, Altcatholicah welcomes the perspectives of non-Catholics. Just as the very idea for this web magazine was born from a Catholic writing for a Muslim magazine, it is our hope that other faith perspectives will broaden and strengthen the originality of the conversations that take place on Altcatholicah and Altmuslimah. Join our bumpy caravan.
Though another Pentecost has come and gone, it’s only fitting that I still have fire on my mind. As Catholics, we are called to live perpetually ablaze for Christ and His Church. But any good fire needs oxygen. And words are like oxygen to the mind and soul. So for all who have been seeking to oxygenate their thoughts about faith and gender: Welcome to Altcatholicah.
Ashley E. McGuire is a writer and editor living in Washington, D.C. She is currently writing a book about the cultural disempowerment of girls and women. Her writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post/Newsweek blog, On Faith, First Things, and The Catholic Thing, among others. Ashley is a graduate of Tufts University in Boston.
(Photo by Mary Beth Griffo Rigby)