Reviewed By: Susan Onatis

Assistant Editor of St. Anthony Messenger 

Reviewed By: Susan Onatis

Assistant Editor of St. Anthony Messenger 

Woman In A Man’s Church: A Review

by | Apr 30, 2018 | All Posts, iPubPicks, Product Reviews

JUST TWO YEARS AGO the author’s husband wrote an article entitled “Jesus Was a Feminist.” I think it is fair to say after reading Arlene Swidler’s newest book that “Arlene is a Feminist.” Of course, she established herself as such long before Woman in a Man’s Church. But this well-written little paperback succinctly reaffirms her stand that women have been dealt a severe blow not only by society at large, but also by Holy Mother the Church.

It is a brave and ambitious Ms. Swidler who in only 112 pages takes the Church to task concerning centuries of discrimination against women. And I believe she has been successful. Her small but powerful book is simply bulging with examples of how the Church continues its deplorable sex prejudice even in this “enlightened” age of women’s rights movements.

She documents her charges of sex bias with an impressive collection of books, speeches and reports by theologians, psychologists and sociologists─male and female─on the status of women in the Church today.

Probing questions that have until recently been unformulated turn up in every chapter of the book. In the chapter titled “Beyond the Collection Basket,” Ms. Swidler queries: “Why should not qualified women run the diocesan social service offices and allocate funds, when it is clearly women and children who are most in need? Why shouldn’t qualified women run the Family Life offices and act as judges on the ecclesiastical marriage courts? Why shouldn’t women have an equal voice in managing and staffing the seminaries training servants for the entire People of God?”

Each chapter ends with several questions which make this book an excellent guide for discussion groups interested in raising their awareness of where women in the Church stand today and what can be done to improve their status.

Reviewing years of distorted images of women, usually concocted by men (according to the author), Ms. Swidler says, “Women are sort of handy assistants in the usual image: assistants in procreation, according to one view, or in more general ways in today’s world the typist to the executive, the nurse to the doctor, the checker to the supermarket manager. Women appear as not terribly bright, not very ambitious, slightly silly, likely to worry over their hairdos, and eager to please the male of the species. Watch your local television station for details.”

How true! I could write reams about the insulting and degrading image of women that is blasted into every living room in the country by advertisers on the average of seven hours a day. And what a distorted picture it reflects─the lamebrained housewife who worries more about her clean toilet bowl than her relationship with others or the slithering sex object who entices one to buy, buy, buy!

But that is exactly the image that Ms. Swidler is fighting when she makes her well-aimed gibes at the Church for its refusal to treat women as the intellectual equals of men.

To look at the Church structure today, one would think that the only things women can accomplish with any competence are making coffee, holding bake sales and socials, raising money for pastors and schools, cleaning sacristies, cooking spaghetti dinners and mending surplices.

Not that these things are demeaning or bad in themselves. But in the overall picture, when qualified women are denied the opportunity to participate in major policymaking committees (such as in the U.S. Catholic Conference) or manage diocesan offices, the obvious conclusion is that the all-male hierarchy doesn’t believe that a woman could do the job equal to or better than a man. What a sad thing for the Church that women are not recognized for their talents beyond the coffee pot!

I concur with Ms. Swidler that it is the Church who is losing out when it ignores half of its members’ talents, capabilities, ambitions and potential contributions. I hope that this tight thought-packed book will be read and taken to heart, not only by male members of the Church, but also by women who must take the initiative to seek out and demand their rights and responsibilities as full members of the Body of Christ.

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