Joan Chittister, osbby Joan Chittister
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

The headlines are confusing. The questions they raise are even more so. For instance, we “empowered” women, right? After more than 2,000 years, the Western world finally woke up, in our time, to the astounding recognition that women, too, were human. Almost.

By 1922, most English-speaking countries, including the United States, finally allowed women to vote for political leaders. The struggle was a fierce one, and churchmen and politicians alike considered that breakdown in society to be simply the beginning of the decline, “the nose of the camel under the tent” of civilized male society. As Cardinal James Gibbons is said to have reflected, “Imagine what will happen to society when women start hanging around polling places.”

And sure enough, the floodgates of immorality swung open: It wasn’t long before women were allowed to own property, to work outside the home, to drive cars, to keep their own money, to get an education, to enter into legal contracts, to become “professionals” — at first, teachers and nurses, but eventually even doctors and lawyers and now bankers and engineers, astronauts and college presidents. Not all at once, of course, but at least a little at a time.

We don’t know yet if a woman can be president of the United States, but we do know that some churches — no names mentioned — are still sure that God does not want to do business with a woman. And yet, a good number of other churches and countries have done both, and neither their steeples nor their statehouses have collapsed under the strain of it.

The temptation is to think that at least in the United States, women are free, independent, secure, respected, welcomed on a par with their fathers and brothers everywhere…

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