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Equal but Different

John Paul II wrote about woman's inherent dignity and worth but did we listen? Have women embraced John Paul's message of equal but different?
by Cheryl Dickow | Source: Bezalel Books

A woman’s gifts

“It is evident that women are meant to form part of the living and working structure of Christianity in so prominent a manner that perhaps not all their potentialities have yet been made clear.” When John Paul II wrote Mulieris Dignitatem, his 1988 Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women, he freely referred to the discourses of Paul VI, Pius XII, and John XXIII to shore up his own firm belief that women, when imbued with the Gospel, are bearers of gifts, charisms, and power (yes, he uses the word ‘power’) intended to “aid humanity in not falling.”

ImagineGod calls each of us! “…aid humanity in not falling”

That’s a powerful statement of a woman’s effectiveness and ability. So, a full twenty years after feminists took center stage and burned bras, declared their equality, and mandated a way of thinking that threw families into turmoil, John Paul II earnestly tried to set the record straight. In his 1988 document, Mulieris Dignitatem, JPII begins by exhorting what he calls “the greatness of the dignity and vocation of women.”

It can be no surprise that our beloved Pope, himself in a Mary-honoring relationship, would proclaim such great news within the Church and to Catholic women everywhere. One cannot be in right relationship with Christ, and His mother, and not know that Christ’s entire Messianic time on earth was exemplary in how he broke with the traditional ways in which women had been mistreated and marginalized.

Women understand Christ in a special way

The point, as John Paul II lovingly describes, is that women understood Christ’s messages of God in a special and thoroughly unique way, a necessary way. John Paul II brings into our consciousness an awareness of the women Jesus encountered and why it could be said that “Jesus’ attitude to the women whom he meets in the course of his Messianic service reflects the eternal plan of God, who, in creating each one of them, chooses her and loves her in Christ:” Simon’s mother-in-law, the woman who had the flow of blood, the widow of Nain, and the Canaanite woman, to name a few.

Throughout the document on the dignity and vocation of women, John Paul II continually draws us back to the eternal truth of a woman’s worth due to her creation by God and boldly states that woman’s creation was for its own sake, just as was man’s, and it is an error to view God’s punishment as a result of the first sin (“he shall rule over you”) to be anything other than an evil inheritance for BOTH man and woman.

In other words, where our world has interpreted that Scripture verse salaciously, John Paul II eloquently reminds us that God’s original intention was for a more perfect union between man and woman. Equality was originally intended to be a measure of sameness as created beings in the likeness of God.

Equal but different

Indeed, when JPII writes that “In the ‘unity of the two,’ man and woman are called from the beginning not only to exist ‘side by side’ or ‘together,’ but they are also called to exist mutually ‘one for the other,’” there is no mistaking that in subjugating either of God’s highest creations, both creatures suffer and this was never God’s plan for humankind.

Whether in regards to the societal misinterpretation of such verses as Genesis 3:16 or due to women’s general misunderstanding of their own inherent worth, the “feminist” has long ago gained momentum at the expense of what John Paul II refers to as her own “feminine genius” when she has chosen to pursue, at great danger, her own “masculinization.”

Radical feminism, as a means to masculinize the female species, is incompatible with the Church and is most certainly incompatible with what JPII exhorts in Mulieris Dignitatem. This is to say that a Christian woman who lives and understands her call, as a disciple of Christ, cannot also find herself on the “feminist” path where her own gifts are seen as anything less than monumental; gifts to be employed for God and for His kingdom. When a feminist claims that a woman is only fulfilled when she occupies a “man’s” role in life she is simultaneously saying to a Christian woman, “The plan God has for you is less than what you should want for yourself.” Sound serpent-like?

A man’s worth and dignity

Additionally, it should be abundantly clear that a Christian man diminishes his own dignity and vocation when he suppresses a woman’s worth and calling. Man is also a created being made in the image and likeness of God. As such, he cannot be called by his Creator to be anything less than loving, compassionate, wise, and forgiving in how he attempts to live out his life on earth.

A Christian man understands how he is called to love his wife just as Christ loves the Church. As John Paul II states, “The bridegroom is the one who loves. The bride is loved.” What a beautiful illustration of God’s intention when Christ made Himself the bridegroom! A Christian man, then, conforms his own will to the will of God and in doing so, frees his wife to be all that God has called her to be and to fulfill her vocation in the midst of love.

So how are Christian women really called?

Once we get back to the basics, sans feminist messages to masculinize ourselves, and we truly embrace our own inherent worth, we are able to find anointed role models in Scripture regardless of the different times in our lives. Has God called you to a position of great territorial authority like Queen Esther? Has He blessed you with a family in which you affect the world by the way in which you love and nurture your spouse and children? Or has HaShem called you to remain anonymous while you diligently work for Him just as Noah’s wife did? If Adonai has done the bidding, how can you refuse?

I would suggest that God counted on the women in Noah’s life, Moses’ life, Abraham’s life, and Isaac’s life just as he counted on the men. Imagine if these women had mistakenly bought into a message that their worth wasn’t in fulfilling God’s role but in pursuing roles designated by their pagan neighbors or their jealous adversaries. This isn’t to say that each of these women, and others like them, were without faults but that in their faults, and in their stumbling, they provide more of an example on how to live as a Christian woman today than any television personality or best selling self help book. They were the perfect women John Paul II wrote of when he said, “The perfect woman becomes an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people, who perceive the great energies of her spirit. These “perfect women” are owed much by their families, and sometimes by whole nations.” 

Cheryl Dickow publishes Catholic books for homes, parishes and classrooms at and can be reached at

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Published by: Elizabeth Kunze
Date: 2010-07-07 14:26:26
Hello! I enjoyed your article very much. I am wondering if you have come across any research which supports the very compelling issue of the differences between men and women? I would be interested in such findings. Some people are skeptical of understanding these ideas from the perspective of human experience or on natural law. I find they are asking for 'studies' which 'prove' or corroborate with these ideas. Thank you for your work and for your time dealing with my enquiry.

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