Book Review: Promise and Challenge: Catholic Women Reflect on Feminism, Complementarity, And the Church

Promise and Challenge: Catholic Women Reflect on Feminism, Complementarity, and the ChurchPromise and Challenge: Catholic Women Reflect on Feminism, Complementarity, and the Church by Editor Mary Rice Hasson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The most balanced and intellectually stimulating collection of thoughts on the topic of feminism in the Church I have ever read. The women who penned these essays provide deep insights and cogent explanations of the issues surrounding the place of women in the Church and of the Church in the world. Some points that were especially thought provoking to me:

– The concept of integral complementarity, contrasted with fractional complementarity. Fractional complementarity is the notion that men and women are made for each other, and that each is half of a whole that is the image and likeness of God (1/2 + 1/2 = 1). The implication of this is that each is only half of their true potential without the other. Integral complementarity is the idea that both men and women are true and complete images of God, and that when they come together the result is greater than the sum of both alone (1 + 1 = 3).

– The “richer Theology of Woman” presupposes and necessitates a “Theology of Man.”

– The inequality between the genders in society has its basis in the biological fact of inherent sexual asymmetry. That is, women are more intimately and deeply implicated in the process of procreation. This is the vulnerability that the second wave feminists fought against (i.e. with contraception and abortion) rather than the masculine abuse of that vulnerability targeted by the early feminists.

– The presence of any particular woman in any particular avocation should not have to be a conflict with her deeper and more critical vocation to her husband and children. Indeed, the great failure of feminism today is that it has not lived up to the hope that it would bring about a greater empathy, personalism and other orientedness (in a word, a level of feminization) to the world of business. Rather, the effect of drawing women out of the home and into business has largely been the greater and almost pathological masculinization of the home. Women have not made business more caring. Business has made women less caring.

– The Catholic Church has not, by and large, led the charge in making its workplaces more friendly to working mothers. (The authors did not speculate on why this is the case, but having seen something of the inner working of parish finances in our area, I suspect in most cases parishes and dioceses are hampered by a lack of funds, and that the responsibility for that lack can be traced directly to the lack of generosity of the lay people in the pew every Sunday).

I do not necessarily agree unqualifiedly with all of the authors’ ideas, but they were all thought provoking and have broadened my understanding of the debates surrounding the place of women in the Church and in the World.

View all my reviews

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