Empowering One Another as Women
by Rosemary Catalano Mitchell and Gail Anderson Ricciuti 1
“For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:5-7)
Leader: Have participants read this Scripture passage in several Bible translations.
Fearfulness is a significant spiritual and social issue for women in our culture. Crime statistics teach us that we dare never take it for granted that we are altogether safe on the street. From childhood, our mothers taught us certain rules for survival because we were female, and those recorded themselves like a mantra in the depths of our consciousness: Do not walk alone at night…hang on to your purse…be courteous but don’t speak to strangers…lower your eyes when approaching strange men, but always be alert…The contradictions inherent in these cautions often created a tightrope of dissonance in us.
We also learned timidity because of our gender: Better to downplay your intelligence…ladies never make the first move…don’t speak up for yourself and risk giving offense…it is up to us to keep the peace…anger is dangerous. The rules we internalize with the air we breathe serve to cripple our spirits, hobbling us as if we walked on tiny, bound feet. Research by Dr. Carol Gilligan has yielded unexpected data concerning the psychological development of young girls that underscores the detrimental effect of timidity in women’s lives: Girls up to approximately eleven years of age experience a healthy integration of integrity and intimacy, asserting themselves freely and expressing feelings openly without fear of conflict. In adolescence, however, girls begin to lose confidence in their own voices and feelings, to fear that their opinions will anger others, and to silence themselves in favor of “acting nice.” The challenge for women, Gilligan theorizes, is not (as formerly thought) to reach a developmental stage of strength and autonomy, but to reclaim something we have lost.2 We need to recover our identity as authorities on our own experience.
Theologically and spiritually, the message of the Gospel is that the “spirit of fear” or “spirit of timidity” is not God’s intention for whole human beings; rather, the divine gifts already in our grasp are “power, love, and a sound mind [self-control].” With that in mind, we set out in this gathering together today to “re-empower” each other to let go of fear and reclaim our strength!
FACING OUR FEARS
1. Each person chooses a colored index card from a basket containing equal numbers of five different colors and is asked to list on the card ten things she fears most.
2. Cards are collected.
3. Leader shuffles cards back into the basket.
4. Cards are redistributed, one to each person (making sure that no one receives her own card this time).
5. The women are asked to form five groups according to color of the cards. One person in each group is appointed to serve as facilitator, and is given a list of the questions below for group discussion.
6. In these groupings, each woman reads aloud the fears listed on the card in her hand.
7. Group discussion (allow 20-30 minutes):
- What similarities do you recognize in the lists?
- How do these fears relate to being a woman?
- Which fears are most limiting to women’s power?
- Thinking back on the research findings of Dr. Carol Gilligan, can you think of an example from your own pre-teen or early adolescent years when fears began undermining confidence?
8. End the meeting by re-reading 2 Timothy 1:5-7 together. Other Scripture passages that might also be used are: 1 John 4:18; Romans 8:35-39; Hebrews 13:5-6; Psalm 91; Philippians 4:13. Scriptures could be written out in advance from translations using inclusive language. The Contemporary English Version (CEV), for example, translates Phil. 4:13, as: “Christ gives me the strength to face anything.” (The NRSV renders it, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.)
Close with a time of meditation and listening to Kathryn Christian sing, “Shelter Me under Thy Wings” from the audio section of the EEWC website.
1 Adapted from Birthings and Blessings: Liberating Worship Services for the Inclusive Church, by Rosemary Catalano Mitchell and Gail Anderson Ricciuti (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Co., 1991, 1992), pp. 175, 178. Used by permission.
2 Carol Gilligan, Nona P. Lyons, Trudy J. Hamner, eds., Making Contact: The Relational Worlds of Adolescent Girls at EmmaWillard School (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press,