The error, though, is in asking the wrong question. The right question is "How can we ensure that girls and women can realize their deepest desires?" In the Christian spiritual tradition, that question can also be rendered as this: "how can we insure that girls and women can become the people that God has created them to be?"

Many forms of modern feminism assume male sexuality as a given, and want women to catch up to it. I want to reverse the movement: instead of wanting women to catch up to male patterns of sexual expression—expressions which are themselves often artificially inflated because of consumer driven desire—we ought to be wanting to release both men and women from false desires for sex and power. The freedom of women is not to be found in sexual autonomy. In fact, the freedom of men isn't in sexual autonomy either, because such an idea removes sex from the context of interpersonal love and family-making. When sex is about power rather than self-transcendence in love, people get hurt.

Instead, freedom consists in the cultivation of a life lived in practicing love. Love is what moves us to realize our deepest desires, to be who God has created us to be, to reach for great and noble goals, to serve purposes greater than ourselves, to stretch our notions of ourselves beyond what we are capable of imagining in our limited, small worlds.

I know this firsthand. Around me every day for the past couple of weeks I've been surrounded by a group of people, mostly girls and women, whose lives have been transformed by generous love. I have spoken with nannies in obscure Chinese orphanages who have labored tirelessly to save orphaned girls. I have heard countless stories of parents, mostly Moms but also many Dads, whose lives have been turned inside out because of love for their Chinese daughters. I have spoken with girls of various ages, some now knocking on the door of college, who began lives on the other side of the world and who have forged identities amidst questions of heritage, race, language, and family ties.

My kind of feminism is not the kind that is predicated on girls and women imitating the worst patterns of some men. Rather, it is the kind that looks like passionate advocacy on behalf of girls and women whom God has created as daughters, sisters, friends, mothers, grandmothers; as students, professionals, workers, artists--but always as people whose desires point them toward their deepest joy. My kind of feminism recognizes that for some, their desires point them toward a profession; others, toward a family; others, elsewhere. In a word: my kind of feminism is rooted in the discernment of vocation, asking how our families, communities, government policies enable girls and women to grow in love.

Read more from Tim Muldoon's series on Sex and Christianity.

  1. Part 1: Sex and Christianity
  2. Part 2: The Sexual Divide
  3. Part 3: Two Sexual Myths
  4. Part 5: Why Are Catholics Obsessed With Sex?