Modern feminism is regarded by many as angry, radical, anti-male and anti-family. The response to radical feminism has created what has been called a “backlash,” which extols the so-called traditional woman, who achievements and satisfaction are grossly overrated.
Both views offer little to a well-rounded, nurturing, and intelligent, pro-family woman. While all the evils of the world cannot be attributed to patriarchy, neither can it be denied that injustices have occurred through the abuse of power, The politicization and polarization of women’s interest have distorted the role of women in society, denying many women the opportunity to full develop spiritually and intellectually.
Pope John Paul has identified the key issues which permit injustices to women to continue to exist in modern society. In A Letter to Women he writes that “Women’s dignity has often been unacknowledged and the prerogative misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of socity and even reduced to servitude. This has prevented women from truly being themselves, and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity. . . When it comes to setting women free from every kind of exploitation and domination, the Gospel contains an ever relevant message which goes back to the attitude of Jesus Christ Himself.”
The Holy Father’s most recent reflection on women elaborates on some of the concepts set forth in his 1988 Apostolic Letter, Dignity and Vocation of Women. At that time, he reminded his readers that the basis of all Christian anthropology is the revealed truth found in the first description of creation in genesis: man was created by God in His own image and likeness. This statement contains a number of fundamental anthropological truths: man is the highpoint of the whole order of creation in the visible world. This image and likeness of God, which is essential for the whole human being, is passed on by the man and woman, as spouses and parents, to their descendants Further, the Creator entrusts dominion over the earth to the human race, to all men and women, who derive their dignity and vocation from the common “beginning.”
In the second description of the creation of man, the woman is created “from the rib” of the man and placed at his side as another “I.” She receives the name, “woman” to acknowledge her essential identity and common humanity with regard to man. From the vewry betinning mana and woman appear as a “unity of the two,” the original solitude in which man lacks a life’s companion, is overcome. In the same context as the creation of man and woman, Genesis speaks of God’s instituting marriage as an indispensable condition for the transmission of new life to which marriage and conjugal love are naturally oriented.
The communion of persons in marriage and through procreation hints at the mysterty of the Trinity, and is an essential element of man’s being made in God’s image and likeness. The Genesis account reveals also what John Paul II calls “th mystery of sin” and more fully “the mystery of evil” which is permitted to exist in the world created by God. Paradoxically, since man was created in the image and likeness of God, man has the freedom to choose good or to abuse his free will by choosing evil, against the will of God.
Sin separates us from God, of course, and it is interesting that the dissonance between man and women, rooted in original sin, both reflects and results from our separation from God. Many of the injustices suffered by both men and women can be interpreted as a result of original sin which disturbed and diminished the original relationship between man and woman and which anchored and protected their individual dignity as persons.
The words addressed to the woman in Genesis “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” indicates a break in the original relationship between man and woman which poses a constant threat to the “unity of the two.” The domination indicates a loss of stability of the fundamental equality of the relationship between the man and the woman and, while it diminishes the true dignity of the man, it poses a more serious threat for the woman.
In Christ the mutual opposition between man and woman is overcome. “For you are all one in Jesus Christ” writes Saint Paul. The Redemption restores, at is very root, the good that was diminished by sin and its heritage in human history.
In the present day vernacular, Jesus was an “innovator” in women’s rights. Contrary to the discrimination against women prevalent in his day, all of Jesus’ teaching, and behaviour, always express the respect and honour due to women. From the beginning of Christ’ mission, women show to him and to his mystery a special sensitivity which is characteristic of their femininity which is confirmed at the Cross and at the dawn of the Resurrection. That Mary Magdalene was the first eye witness of the risen Christ, the first to bring the good news to the Apostles, confirms that Christ entrusted divine truths to women as well as men. Gospel equality, the equality of women and men in regard to the “mighty works of God,” constitutes the most obvious basis for the dignity and vocation of women in the Church and in the world.