|"The spirit we have, not the work we do, is
what makes us important to the people around us."
A Benedictine Sister of Erie,
Joan Chittister is a best-selling author and well-known international
lecturer on topics of justice, peace, human rights, women's issues, and
contemporary spirituality in the Church and in society. She presently serves
as the co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women, a partner
organization of the United Nations, facilitating a worldwide network of
women peace builders, especially in the Middle East.
A speech communications
theorist, Sister Joan's most recent books include, The Tent of Abraham
(Beacon Press) and The Ten Commandments (Orbis Books). Her 2005 book The Way
We Were won a Catholic Press Award this spring: her seventh award from CPA. She is founder and executive director of Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary
spirituality in Erie.
|Sr. Joan Chittister is
scheduled for presentations at the following:
Call To Action in Milwaukee, November 3-4
Spirit and Peace Festival in Indianapolis, November 5-6
|By Joan Chittister, OSB
Editor's Note: NCR is moving its
e-mail lists to a new authenticated system. To continue to receive e-mail
alerts for this column, you must re-subscribe before Oct. 12. Follow
Sign-up Page. The new system will help you and us control spam.
The day Katie Couric became the first woman anchorperson of a prime time
news broadcast, Princess Kiko of Japan gave birth to a baby boy. If you think
the two items are unrelated, youre right. If you think the two items are
related, youre right, too. The question is, Why.
Heres the problem: If youre a girl, we have a little good
news, a little bad news for you.
The good news is that you, too, can grow up to be Katie Couric. The bad
news is that you cannot yet grow up to be empress of Japan.
The question is not whether or not you want to be either. The question
is why it is even an issue. And this is where life gets a little sticky.
The basic problem seems to be that being a Katie Couric simply means
that you must be a hard-working, talented, competent and effective woman in a
country that has legislated against sex discrimination.
Join the Conversation
Have you ever read something in Sr. Joan Chittister's column that you wanted to
comment on? Do you wonder how other people react to the messages of Chittister's weekly reflections?
Beginning this week, NCR is introducing new interactive and participatory Web technology that will allow a community of people to read and
respond to the Chittister's columns and read others' comments as well. It is contained in a new Web site, we call the NCRcafe.org.
Please accept this invitation to explore it. To add your comments, you must register.
In the next few weeks, the traditional format that you see on this page will be replaced with the new site.
Getting to be ruler of Japan, a once divine position, on the other hand,
means you have to have some established relation to God. And God, we are led to
believe, does not express divinity in girls. Theres just something about
girls that seems to lack what it takes to be divine.
Its not Gods fault, of course. Its not anybodys
fault really. Things just are what they are. Its just that it cant
be done because girls are not as good as boys for some reason that no one can
discover. Or if they have discovered it, they dont want to say it because
when you say it out loud it sounds so silly. I mean, the answer is that girls
are not as good as boys because theyre girls. See what I mean? Silly.
The difficulty comes in when you realize that this problem is not
peculiar to the Japanese. We have a bit of the same problem ourselves -- Katie
Couric or no Katie Couric -- in case you havent noticed.
Jesus became man we are now supposed to say -- despite the
fact that for centuries we said, And the Word became flesh --
as in human. Now, we mean what we mean. The Word became man. Male. No argument
about that one. They tell us that they mean woman, too, when they
say man, of course. Except not always.
And in Japan, too, since the emperor was a god and the gods were male,
well, what else could you have for over 2,500 years but male emperors -- with
the exception of six women who ascended to the throne under special
circumstances, a few of them twice. But only when it suited the men in the
system. As widows or regents or rulers in exile, they were put in the position
simply in order to save it for male relatives and so eventually abdicated in
their favor. They were, if anything, only the exception that proved the rule.
Like pastoral administrators of otherwise empty parishes, for instance.
Katie Couric, on the other hand, is not an empress. She is only an
anchorperson. Not a descendant of the gods. So she can be anything she wants to
be and get away with it. Once all the tests are in and theres not one
piece of data to prove that women are less fully human than men, its a
straight shot to just about anything: scientist, president, corporation
executive, heiress, policewoman, doctor, lawyer, whatever. It boggles the
imagination what might happen, what has happened.
But emperor in the only recently demoted divine line of emperors? Now,
thats another story.
It looked for awhile there, given the lack of male heirs since 1965,
that the Japanese were going to have decide whether they wanted an hereditary
emperor or just any male they could find.
So, conservatives came up with amazing ideas for how to avoid the
constitutional conflict. One idea was simply to hire concubines -- an age-old
remedy for the reckless propagation of girl-children -- until someone finally
got it right. So much for marriage or children or family life, let alone the
dignity of women. What we need here is simply sexual service for the sake of
Or, others said, Japan should create a new aristocracy in order to widen
the pool of possible heirs. That way there might be at least one male
second-cousin-once-removed somewhere who could simply step in, as they once did
in Europe, to preserve the line from getting messed up with female genes.
Fortunately, Japan was saved from having to make the choice. Princess
Kiko, wife of the emperors second son, has just given birth to a boy.
Whew. Close. Now we wont have to worry that Aiko, the four year old
daughter of the Crown Prince, will someday ascend to the throne. There is a boy
standing by. The throne is saved. The country is safe. The imperial family is
intact. The heavens are pleased.
Whether or not Japan will now go on to amend the Imperial House Laws to
open the throne to women in the future is unclear. (My bet: unlikely,) More
than 70 percent of the Japanese say they are ready for a woman emperor and that
there is no reason that a female heir ought not to ascend to the throne but why
take this equality thing too far if its not necessary.
Furthermore, you can be sure there will be fierce conservative
opposition to the very thought of abandoning the male imperial line. There will
be even greater resistance to allowing the idea to be debated in parliament.
It has always been this way, is a powerful argument. Its
tradition. Its the will of God.
We, on the other hand, dont have an imperial line to protect, of
course, so it all seems quite irrelevant to us. Quaint even. After all,
its 2006. Its the 21st century. Who can possibly let a little thing
like a chromosome stand between a woman and her desire to lay down her life for
her friends, to serve the tradition as its legitimate heir?
Well, Katie Couric may succeed or fail on her competency. But dont
think for a minute that the case is closed or that we ourselves are immune to
In the middle of the Rhine River, on the St. Lawrence Seaway, on a boat
on a river in Pittsburgh, women who feel called by God to serve the people of
God are being ordained beyond legitimate diocesan boundaries. Why? Because they
have no other choice. Theres nothing they can do about it. They have no
authority to open the theological discussion of whether or not Jesus became
man -- meaning male -- or Jesus became flesh -- meaning
human -- and the implications of that answer for the life and structures of the
They have no right to change what God has made immutable.
So thats that. Its not their fault.
But its still sexist.
From where I stand, the answer is clear. Its not only what sexism
says about women thats wrong. Its what sexism says about God that
is the problem. Sexism says that femaleness is the only thing in creation
before which God is powerless. It says that the God who parted the Red Sea,
drew water from a rock and raised the dead to life goes impotent before a
woman. It says that the only substance on earth that God cannot or will not
work through is a female. Poor God.
Lucky for us, we dont have an emperor.
To receive an e-mail alerting you to when Joan Chittister's latest column has been posted to NCRonline.org, visit the following Web
page and follow instructions: http://www.nationalcatholicreporter.org/fwis/signup.php
Copyright © 2006 The National Catholic
Reporter Publishing Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111
All rights reserved.
TEL: 1-816-531-0538 FAX: