Gender and society A* grade summary notes


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JP2’s Mueliers dignitatum argument 1

  • “On the dignity of women”
  • Written to argue that the church is not sexist.
  • Motherhood is a woman’s telos – needed for their psychological development (of compassion and self-giving). 
  • Men and women are different but equal – suited for different roles due to God’s design. 
  • Genesis: after the fall, women have ‘pain’ in childbirth and adam has to work the land for food – this emphasises the different gender roles that JP2 is arguing are innate.


  • Feminists like Simone De Beauviour (existentialist) argue that telos doesn’t exist – we create our own purpose. 
  • Men like JP II have just unconsciously made this idea about telos up because they want to justify and perpetuate patriarchy. 
  • They want to push on women the idea that they have a certain role – the best way to persuade someone to adopt a certain role is to claim that God designed them to have that role.

Optional counter 

  • However – gender roles are quite universal – found in all different cultures – men tend to work in the world in a more active role, whereas women tend to have more of the home-maker responsibilities. The fact that these gender roles are universal suggests JP2 is right to think they are innate and therefore justified.

Optional further evaluation

  • However, Beauvoir made the further argument that the universal elements of gender roles could actually be the result of universal sociological factors rather than biological. 
  • Men have more physical strength biologically while women are chained to the reproductive cycle and feeding of infants.
  • Men turned that biological power into social power. They were simply able to physically force women into the social role of being submissive and subservient to them.
  • Beauvoir was influenced by Marx, who noted that all systems of domination and power create ‘ideology’ – belief systems which justified itself as natural and good.
  • Men are typically not conscious of this, they simply have a preference for the idea that their role is being active in the world and that women’s role is to support them, because that benefits them. All human beings like ideas which suit their interests, and they typically believe them as true without being aware of holding them merely due to self-interest. As Hume said, reason is a slave of the passions.
  • Oakley also pointed out that there are vast differences in gender roles in different cultures, which suggests there must be 

JP2’s Muelieris dignitatum argument 2: 

  • JP2 says the Church can’t be sexist because there are many women that it likes, respects and even canonises  – like Jesus’ mother Mary (and Joan of Arc).

Mary Daly’s critique

  • Jesus mother mary was a rape victim – God forced her to be pregnant. Daly is saying that putting Mary on a pedestal is pushing the idea that what makes a woman good is their submissive acceptance of being the sexual property of men. 
  • Daly accepts that Mary wasn’t raped in a physical sense – but nonetheless thinks it still pushes the idea that woman are saintly if they accept being the sexual property of men. 
  • Daly is saying the church ‘likes’ Mary – in the same way slave owners ‘like’ their obedient slaves. Imagine if a slave owner said they really liked slaves – because they like a particular (very obedient) slave. Daly is saying JP2 only likes Mary because she submitted and accepted being the sexual property of a male God.

Simone De Bouviour (secular feminist)

  • ‘one is not born, but rather becomes a woman’ – she argues that the gender differences between men and women are completely socially constructed. 
  • She thinks there is no innate mental differences between men and women. 
  • Everyone should be free to do whatever they want with their lives – we should not subject boys and girls to gender expectations. 
  • Beauvoir points out that girls are raised ‘obsessed’ with marriage – whereas boys are raised to be obsessed with their future career. 
  • To add evidence: look at the toys given to girls and boys – girls are given barbies and baby prams etc – basically training them for their future role as the sexual property of men – who are given ‘action men’ – literally trained to be active in the world.


  • Radical Feminists are too negative towards motherhood. Some radical feminists seem to think that any woman who chooses to be a mother is suffering from ‘internalised misogyny’, meaning that woman has not made a free choice but has been brainwashed by patriarchal society. Mary O’Brien is a naturalistic feminist who argued that motherhood can be a positive thing if women are in control of their choice to become a mother. O’Brien thought de Beauvoir devalued motherhood.
  • Radical feminists claim they want women to have a choice – but they aren’t happy when women choose motherhood! So they are self-contradictory.


  • DeBouvier was happy for women to choose motherhood and being a house-wife – so long as it was a genuine choice, not influenced by gender expectations.

Ann Oakley

  • Anne Oakley, a sociologist, interviewed women about motherhood. She concluded that the so-called ‘maternal instinct’ comes from culture rather than biology. This was based on her observations that women don’t instinctively know how to breastfeed and that the mothers who neglect their children were themselves often neglected as children.
  • If there was a maternal instinct – we should expect to find it in all women – but some women are neglectful of their children – they seem to lack a maternal instinct. Oakley found that those women tended to have been neglected themselves. This suggests that they were not taught about being a mother – which means the maternal instinct is something that is taught to women. If a girl is neglected by her mother – she isn’t taught the maternal instinct, and then is more likely than average to be neglectful as a mother herself later in life.
  • This suggests Paul II is wrong to think that God created women with a maternal instinct.
  • Oakley also discovered many women found it frustrating to be a stay-at-home mother. This corroborates de Beauvoir’s claim that women are forced to sacrifice their life goals to bring up their children which seems unfair – why is it not equally the responsibility of the man?


  • Alternative explanation of Oakley’s data: However, it could be that childhood neglect creates traumas which interfere with the maternal instinct. That would explain why neglectful mothers tended to have been neglected themselves by their maternal instinct having been interfered with.
  • Also: S. Pinker as a counter to Oakley. Pinker suggests that testosterone could make men more competitive and aggressive than women (who have less testosterone – including in the womb). 
  • This could show that there gender has at least some root in biology. Oakley and Beauviour seem wrong to think gender is completely 100% socially constructed.