Reprinted from "Called to Question" with permission of Sheed and Ward.

The spiritual implications of female chauvinism have cosmicsignificance. If feminist spirituality deteriorates into mere femaleness, and itsgoal becomes the control or diminishment of men, it would only be patriarchy's last late trick on the human race. It would simply be the urge to power for its own sake, thistime by females rather than males. It would mean that women would havenothing but what men have now--tension, competition, conquest,discriminatory power, and hierarchy. Nothing would change in the worldexcept that this time the oppressors would be women.

The spiritual meaning of the full and independentdevelopment of women is just as consequential-but different. Itdoes change the world. Ironically enough, the development of women doesnot destroy marriage. It is the basis for partnership marriages and real equality and therelease into the public arena of the resources of the other half of the world. Butthis recognition of the talents and import of women in the public sphere can'thappen if women are blocked from acting independently, from being seen asfully functioning adults in their own right. When the United Nations Conference on Women was scheduled in Beijing, people began to argue that, given the status of women in China, a woman's conference should not be held there. And certainly not under the aegis of the United Nations. I took exactlythe opposite position. I felt that the low status of women in China was exactlythe reason why the conference had to be held there. It was not what we wouldsay that would change Chinese women-their government wouldn't even permitan official delegation of Chinese women to attend it. What Chinesewomen would see that would change things-at least eventually would bewomen from all over the world walking freely down their streets, beinginterviewed on their television sets, holding press conferences in their hotels.That awareness alone would seed the reformation in their hearts. They wouldsee women, just like themselves, walking free, alone, and proud. Then they would learn who they were, who they could be, without a word having been said.They would see a new world. They would learn its possibilities.

Learning who we are is part of being worthy of a partnership. There is aspiritual reason for men to see women as discrete and effective public figures, as well.It produces a sense of self-confident pride in the woman, yes, but it also requireshumility of heart in the man. If a woman is a whole person, if she can do things forherself, and a man find himself compelled to recognize this, then she is clearly hisequal. She is definitely worth having as a wife. She is, as scripture says in Proverbs 31:10, "a valiant woman," a woman versed in the ways of the world. A partner.

.In a world of role definitions and a theology of gender, sexualstereotypes are built right into the spiritual life. The whole idea thatGod will work through some facets of creation, but not throughothers, defies the whole definition of God. Even more than that, itignores the science of difference. Difference is the very dynamic ofcreation. It is difference that makes life possible, that gives life variety,that demonstrates the glory of God in all its facets. But instead of seeingdifferences as a sign of the limitlessness of God's presence and God'spower, we have allowed them to be confined and controlled. "Womendiffer among themselves," Ann Belford Ulanov wrote. "We must makeroom for the differences." .Clearly, our degree of commitment to the emergence of feministspirituality marks the quality of our spiritual lives. We can go onforming people in the molds that make a patriarchal system run or wecan let loose the Holy Spirit to sweep dangerously through the world.We can commit ourselves to bringing out the strengths in ourselves by admitting the weaknesses in us in men as well as women, until we are all a creation in full concert withthe creator. The suppression of women is a sin, not because it is a sinagainst women, but because it is a sin against creation itself. To suppresshalf of God's creation in the name of God is a sin against the Holy Spiritfor which we have no name.

Change--conversion--calls us to a new sense of each other and of the self. When women are valued as fully as men, men will gain the right to be weak, to be real, to be truthful with themselves and others. Women will gain the right to learn from failure, to tryagain, to be co-creators with the God who made them, too, in "God'sown image." Neither men nor women will be weakened by it. We will,on the contrary, be doubly strengthened. .

When conversion comes for both men and women-when womenare able to stand on their own and men are able to receive a woman'sword, then both men and women will finally be free of the falsedefinition of self that limits them.