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Are Women Better Than Men? PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, November 23 2004 19:00
Are women better than men?  Do they have spiritual qualities that make them more fully human than men?

Crime statistics would seem to indicate so. You don’t find women convicted of violent felonies in nearly the numbers that men exhibit. And precious few women have ever begun wars or led others in the slaughter of their fellow human beings.

In a recent lecture, a Catholic theologian, Edward Vasek, suggested reasons for favoring women over men. He sees them as being more spiritual and loving than most of mankind. To back up this opinion he cited two unlikely authorities.

One is John Paul II, Bishop of Rome and Pope. The other is Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the head of the Vatican office responsible for Catholic orthodoxy.

The main reason why the pope especially values women is that he sees them as more directly pointed toward “being for the other.” They have a more spontaneous tendency to love and serve other people, a tendency that goes beyond what most men show. “Perhaps more than men,” the pope writes, “women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts.”

John Paul thus envisions women as those who “help to make human relations more honest and authentic.” Because of their special talent for human relations and spiritual values, the pope adds, “society owes much to the genius of women.”

Coming from a man, this kind of praise must, unfortunately, be looked at critically. Often it may contain a hypocrisy or sentimentality that may render it suspect. When it issues from a man who has ruled that ordination to the priesthood is out of bounds for women, it will always lack credibility to some extent, however sound the thinking behind his words.

Though this credibility problem tends to overshadow his teaching, the pope’s statements about women’s spiritual stature find ample support in the real world. Female human beings are generally more contemplative than males. They have a heartfelt orientation toward silence, receptivity, prayer, and interiority that distinguishes their gender.

Cardinal Ratzinger, for his part, sees in Mary, the mother of Jesus, a model of femininity. She possesses qualities that are valuable for both church and society. These qualities include “listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise, and waiting.” Continuing, he writes: “While these traits should be characteristic of every baptized person, women in fact live them with particular intensity and naturalness.”

The theologian referred to above, Edward Vasek, attributes the spiritual preeminence of women to their being receptive to God. Without discounting the value of men, he sees women as helping to civilize them, to make men more open to non-pragmatic values.

To him, it is important to recognize the difference between the sexes. “Their brains are different; so is their cardio-vascular system,” he says.  At the same time, however, he insists on the basic unity of male and female persons, under God who created us both the same and different.

Father Vasek endorses Cardinal Ratzinger’s hope that women will continue to reject being power hungry and aggressive, as so many men are. The special sensitivity that women have is a gift that is worth cultivating.

American society stands in desperate need of the qualities associated with contemplation. The tendency to be caught up in feverish activity detracts from our capacity to appreciate the fullness of human life. If we do not find time to wonder at the mystery of it all, we are missing something precious.

American life is so noisy and pressured that it makes moments of repose often impossible. But spirituality remains largely off limits to anyone who cannot ever be silent and listen to his or her inner self.

Perhaps the aging of the American population will make a difference. Of the change that happens with many men after retirement, the psychologist David Gutmann writes: “A significant sex-role turnover takes place, in that men begin to live out  .  .  .  the ‘femininity’ that was previously repressed in the service of productivity.”

“Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” This is the sexist complaint of Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. When it comes to spirituality, however, perhaps we can ask the opposite: Why can’t a man be more like a woman?

Richard Griffin