Gender / Theology



Well, I have capitulated to the trend and gotten myself a tattoo. I know they’re becoming so common as to be passe’, but I enjoyed the process nevertheless.

If you haven’t guessed, it’s a rendering of Mary (the mother). I’m well aware that the image is typically Western, and bears no resemblance to a first century Middle Eastern Jewish woman. But my interest is symbolic. For me, Mary is a potent religious symbol, provided she is not depicted with her eyes downcast in submission (a woman’s traditional religious role), but instead stares proudly at us, eye to eye. As patriarchy and pain in childbirth was the female curse in the Eden, so is it significant that that it is a woman who births the one intended to liberate us from the curse of oppressive power in all its manifestations.

I’m not sure whether men can be feminists, but at the least I am an ally; and feminism (especially feminist theology) has shaped my thinking. Indeed, it’s feminism that asked me to think critically about what it is to be a man, and what it is not. I’ve learned at least that I don’t need to be a stoic warrior, that vulnerability and strength can go hand-in-hand, and that the longing for beauty transcends gender.

I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys” is a citation from Song of Songs 2:1. It is the female lover’s self-description that in Christian tradition has, strangely but also strikingly, been taken up as a symbol of Christ. And the dove, obviously, represents the Spirit. So if we allow Mother Mary to point to the Father, the tattoo hints at the Christian Trinity, without the all too common reified masculinity.

None of this explains, though, why I got myself inked. No doubt the answer is the same as it is for anyone; vanity. I am used to being stared at – that goes hand-in-hand with disability and wheelchairs – but since my accident I have fallen in hate with my body. While I had been tall, fit, and healthy (yes, I know, vanity), I’m now a potbellied hunchback with a disobedient lump of meat for a body. So doing something artistic with that lump of meat reaches toward self acceptance. It’s my way of saying, “hey, look at this, there is something on my body that is actually worth staring at.”

My thanks to Jin O at kaleidoscope tattoo for her artistry and friendship.

About Author

Shane is an ethicist and theologian, Honorary Associate for the Centre of Disability Research and Policy, the University of Sydney, and Assistant Director, Policy, at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation against People with Disability. Shane is proudly disabled, and an occasional blogger on


  • Mark Baker
    May 18, 2016 at 2:44 pm

    thanks shano love that tat!! looks outstanding!!

    Mark Baker | Senior Pastor

    LIFE |

Postal Address: PO Box 52, Ingle Farm, SA, Australia 5098 | Phone: +61 8 82626475 | Mobile: +61 403058770 Disclaimer: This email is intended for the addressee(s) and contains information which may be confidential. If you received this in error, please contact the sender and delete it from your computer. Whilst we take every precaution to remain alerted to the presence of computer viruses, we cannot guarantee that this email and any files transmitted with it are free from them.


  • Fiona Sherwin
    May 18, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    HI Shane, what a fantastic piece of art! I like that you haven’t gone “run of the mill” with this piece. And its multi levels of detail are fantastic – the blood dripping from her hand is particularly realistic, or is it your blood? ;-P I reckon this will be a great conversation starter – as opposed to explaining why you are using a wheelchair. Thanks for sharing this. I’m not a fan of tattoos which are a result of a drunken night out, but I do appreciate ones with meaning and story behind them. Very cool indeed.

  • Lee
    May 18, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    Looks great!
    Love your perspective on Mary and being an Ally of feminists 🙂

  • jotebro
    May 18, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    Awesome! Interesting subject and great tool for evangelism! Your a brave man Shane GBYAY

  • lizknits99Liz
    May 20, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    Love the tattoo Shane. Church needs as many feminists and friends of feminists it can get.

  • Greg the Explorer
    June 10, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    Hi Shane, I’ve been getting tattoos from the time when it was bad boys and rebels who did it. Vanity then as well…I didn’t want people to see the weak scared me, I wanted them to be scared and feel weak when they saw me.

    I believe that men can be, and are, feminists. I love your explanation of the eyes upheld Mother of God…I’m truly inspired by the person you are.



    • Shane Clifton
      June 10, 2016 at 6:53 pm

      Thanks Greg. Be scary rather than scared! Nice.


Leave a Reply to Fiona SherwinCancel reply