Gender and Society


Gender and Gender Roles

Mary Wollstonecraft (book= 'A Vindication of the Rights of Women') - first feminist philosopher, she argued that women fundamentally have the same rights as men. Educating women was the highest priority- as well as refocusing them away from obsession with looks and outward accomplishments. She was an early challenge to patriarchy.

  • 1928 - women were fully able to vote as equals to men in the UK.
  • 1974 - contraceptive pill became fully accessible.
  • 1967 - abortion made legal.
  • 1970 - women were allowed to be paid equally to men.

Feminism is divided into 3 waves:

  • First-wave feminism= 1950s onwards, focused on equal rights for women, such as right to vote.
  • Second-wave feminism= During 1960s, challenged patriarchy and pressed women to have rights over their own selves, not just exist as homemakers; the result was developments in sexual health.
  • Third-wave feminism= 1990s, explores gender roles and identities; women need to change the approach they take to themselves, making sure they don't conform to the stereotype of 'white heterosexual woman from the West'.
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Relationship between Men and Women

Different approaches include:

  • Men are superior to women. A view dating back to the ancients, such as Plato and Aristotle, but also held by Aquinas, who described women as 'defective'.
  • Men and women are of equal value. This is the idea that men and women are different, but are of equal value, females within church leadership.
  • Women are superior to men. As advocated by Mary Daly: patriarchy in the Church has hidden women's superior knowledge.
  • Gender is not as straight forward as traditionally thought. We can express ourselves as one or other gender, or as a mixture; it is artificial and misleading to assign characters to genders and not necessary to identify with the biologcal identity you have.

Ephesians 5:22-33 -

  • Wives should submit to their husbands.
  • The husband is the head of his wife.
  • The husband's leadership is like the leadership of Christ to the Church.
  • Husbands should love their wives like Christ loved the Church.
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Mulieris Dignitatem 18-19

A Catholic 1988 letter of Pope John Paul II on the dignity and vocation of women in response to third wave feminism. The emphasis was on respect for women:

  • Motherhood, a natural follow-on from marriage, which is part of the order of creation, comes from the total giving of a couple to each other, open to procreation, a way of sharing God's act of creation.
  • The psycho-physical structure of a woman is made from motherhood. Parenthood, although it is shared between the man and woman is more specially the woman's. The man should learn parenthood from the mother.
  • The mother has precedence over the man as the first teacher of the child; this is the spiritual aspect of motherhood.
  • It is Mary's acceptance of the message of the angel that begins the New Covenant (the new relationship between God and humans brought about by Jesus).
  • This understanding of motherhood must continue for modern mothers and they must be appropriately supported when their immense maternal love is challenged.
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Biological Sex and Gender

Biological sex is determined by physical attributes. Most people are born male or female, but some people have physical characteristics of both male and female and have an ambiguous biological sex.Gender is a more sophisticated concept combining:

  • Gender Biology= physical characteristics.
  • Gender Identification= the gender in which a person feels most comfortable, which is not necessarily male or female.
  • Gender Expression= the ways in which a person chooses to behave (such and clothing or speech), which might be traditionally associated with a gender.

Socialisation is the lifelong process by which we leave the norms of our society. Socialisation tells us how people of different genders are expected to behave in society, with both spoken and unspoken rules. Traditionally in the UK we are socialised to think in gender-binary terms, but this is being challenged.

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Strands of Feminism

Different strands of Feminism:

  • Liberal Feminism - seeking equality by campaigning for changes in the law.
  • Radical Feminism - advocating total societal change away from patriarchy and capitalism.
  • Marxist Feminism - seeing women's struggle through the lens of Marxism.
  • Black Feminism - seeking to give a voice, rights and opportunities to non-white women.
  • Separatist Feminism - seeking freedom for women in isolation from men.
  • Ecofeminism - emphasising a connection between women and ecological issues.
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Traditional Christian Views

The book of Genesis teaches that:

  • men and women are both made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27)
  • the man created first, and the woman second to be a 'helper' and companion for the man.
  • the woman was the first to succumb to temptation from the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

Christian teaching developed in a particular social context. Some argue that biblical teaching has authority as the word of God and should be accepted as authoritative at all times and cultures, whilst others argue that social rules need to be reconsidered given that society has changed.

Christian views about different types of family:

  • 'Family' as a concept is difficult to define. Sociologists and anthropologists see it as a social unit, usually made up of people who are related, where tasks are shared and members protect each other.
  • Christianity traditionally sees the ideal family as one with two married, heterosexual parents with children.
  • Christianity teaches that marriage is the best context for raising children. Heterosexual or some support same-sex.
  • The Catholic Church regards divorce as adultery but other Christian denominations recognise divorce and allow divorced people to marry in the Church, emphasising the importance of forgiveness in Christian morality.
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Different views on Motherhood

  • In Christianity, motherhood is seen as a role with special dignity and value. In the Catholic Church, the supreme example is the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus.
  • Christianity teaches that children are a gift from God. In Catholic teaching, following the principles of natural law, artificial contraception should not be used and sex between a married couple should always allow for the possibility of the creation of new life.
  • Many non-Christians, both secular and from non-Christian religions, agree that motherhood can be one of life's most profound experiences.
  • Some thinkers have taken a different view:

Simone de Beauvoir - wrote in the 1940s that motherhood forces women to crush their own personalities so that they can care for others.

Ann Oakley (sociologist) - wrote about the negative side of motherhood, saying that it often leaves women powerless and restricted.

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