Paying Attention to the Voices that Cry, “It’s Not Fair!”

Nancy Gruver, founder of New Moon Girl Media — also, incidentally, my supervisor — has an essay published in Catching A Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century called “That’s Not Fair! Nurturing Girls’ Natural Feminism.” In this piece, Ms. Gruver makes the case that girls — and one could argue kids in general — are equipped with an internal gage for injustice. But in our culture, too often children’s cries of “That’s not fair!” are disruptive to a carefully maintained adult order; how many remember being told (or telling kids) that “that’s just too bad; life isn’t fair”?

That’s certainly true, but it’s not a good reason to stop fighting for a fairer world. Nancy’s essay struck me when I first read it as an intern at New Moon because it made me recall my own awakening to feminism and social justice. It came through the Catholic Church.

I was 10 years old when I started to notice something “off” about the lessons in my CCD textbook. When we learned about the sacraments, I realized that the beautiful sacrament of Holy Orders wasn’t meant to ever include me. My internal social justice alarm started ringing too loudly to ignore: That’s not fair! My hand shot up into the air, and when the CCD teacher called on me, I asked, “Why can’t women become priests?”

The teacher, like most CCD teachers, was a volunteer from the parish who had no formal theological or Catholic training. She was caught off guard and flustered. She said, “I . . . I don’t know. Let me ask Father about that.”

A week later, our parish priest gave a sermon about why Holy Orders was reserved for men: because Jesus was a man, and the priest takes the part of Jesus when he performs the sacrament of the Eucharist. The priest kept making eye contact with me throughout the sermon. I wasn’t buying it. Suddenly the man who performed miracles, who rose from the dead, and who was God, couldn’t perform the very minor transformation of allowing a woman to represent Him on the altar? If we were all supposed to live our lives as Jesus lived His, why was there this one instance in which we weren’t supposed to walk in His footsteps? The “reasons” for barring women from the priesthood seemed to make null and void everything I believed about Jesus. And because I wasn’t willing to stop believing in Jesus, I knew I had to disagree with the Church.

The issue of women’s ordination still cuts me deep in my heart. Every time I hear the same tired “justifications” for this pillar of sexism in the Church, my anger bubbles up; but under that anger is a much deeper ache, the ache of being told again and again by the Church I still love that because of my sex, I can’t ever stand in for Jesus the way a man could.

I often think back to that year when my crusade toward women’s ordination began. I respect my CCD teacher’s willingness to admit that she didn’t know the answer, and to take me seriously enough to bring the question to a “higher authority.” But really, so much healing would have come from my teacher, from my priest, from anyone who had more power than a 10-year-old girl, if they had had the courage to look me in the eye and say, “You’re right. It isn’t fair — now, what are you going to do about it?”