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

The spiritual implications of female chauvinism have cosmic significance. If feminist spirituality deteriorates into mere femaleness, and its goal 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, this time by females rather than males. It would mean that women would have nothing but what men have now--tension, competition, conquest, discriminatory power, and hierarchy. Nothing would change in the world except that this time the oppressors would be women.

The spiritual meaning of the full and independent development of women is just as consequential-but different. It does change the world. Ironically enough, the development of women does not destroy marriage. It is the basis for partnership marriages and real equality and the release into the public arena of the resources of the other half of the world. But this recognition of the talents and import of women in the public sphere can't happen if women are blocked from acting independently, from being seen as fully 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 exactly the opposite position. I felt that the low status of women in China was exactly the reason why the conference had to be held there. It was not what we would say that would change Chinese women-their government wouldn't even permit an official delegation of Chinese women to attend it. What Chinese women would see that would change things-at least eventually would be women from all over the world walking freely down their streets, being interviewed on their television sets, holding press conferences in their hotels. That awareness alone would seed the reformation in their hearts. They would see 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 a spiritual 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 requires humility of heart in the man. If a woman is a whole person, if she can do things for herself, and a man find himself compelled to recognize this, then she is clearly his equal. 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, sexual stereotypes are built right into the spiritual life. The whole idea that God will work through some facets of creation, but not through others, defies the whole definition of God. Even more than that, it ignores the science of difference. Difference is the very dynamic of creation. It is difference that makes life possible, that gives life variety, that demonstrates the glory of God in all its facets. But instead of seeing differences as a sign of the limitlessness of God's presence and God's power, we have allowed them to be confined and controlled. "Women differ among themselves," Ann Belford Ulanov wrote. "We must make room for the differences." . Clearly, our degree of commitment to the emergence of feminist spirituality marks the quality of our spiritual lives. We can go on
forming people in the molds that make a patriarchal system run or we can 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 with the creator. The suppression of women is a sin, not because it is a sin against women, but because it is a sin against creation itself. To suppress half of God's creation in the name of God is a sin against the Holy Spirit for 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 try again, to be co-creators with the God who made them, too, in "God's own 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 women are able to stand on their own and men are able to receive a woman's word, then both men and women will finally be free of the false definition of self that limits them.

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