Gender and society C/B grade summary notes


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Mulieris dignitatem argument 1: motherhood is a woman’s telos – their natural role. 

  • Mulieris dignitatem – Pope John Paul II’s letter that he wrote to defend Christianity from the accusation that it was sexist. 
  • God has designed female nature to need motherhood in order to develop compassion and self-giving. 
  • Being a mother is a woman’s telos.
  • So, gender roles are natural and designed by God. Men and women are different but equal – their roles are complementary and equally important.


  • Feminists respond that gender roles are actually socially constructed – different societies have different views on gender roles – so it can’t be natural.
  • The idea that gender roles are natural is just a psychological manipulation created by men to control women.
  • Telling women that being housewives is their ‘natural’ role that the omnipotent creator of the universe has designed for them – is just a persuasive and a powerful tool of manipulation.

Mulieris dignitatem argument 2: We can’t be sexist because we like Mary

  • JP2 points out that there are many female saints like Joan of Arc. 
  • Jesus coming to earth was only possible because of a woman – Mary. 
  • So, women have an important and valued role in Christianity.
  • So, Christianity cannot be sexist.


  • Mary Daly argued that the Church only values Mary because Mary is the sort of woman the Church wants women to be – passive, submissive and obedient – the sexual property of a Male God.
  • So, when the Church say they like Mary and therefore can’t be sexist – this is a bit like a slave owner saying they can’t be racist because they like their obedient slaves.

Ann Oakley

  • The maternal instinct is created by cultural conditioning – it’s not biological.
  • She pointed out that women who neglect their children tended to have been neglected themselves as children.
  • Women who seem to lack a maternal instinct – tend to be those who were neglected as children.
  • This suggests that the so-called ‘maternal instinct’ is actually something taught – and if a girl is neglected and thus not taught this ‘instinct’, then she is more likely to neglect her children later in life.
  • Oakley also interviewed housewives and found that many of them were unhappy in their role.
  • So, being a housewife and mother clearly isn’t biologically determined – it’s not the ‘natural’ role for a female.


  • Stephen Pinker – cognitive psychologist – argues that feminists like Oakley and Beauviour have got a bit too far in claiming that gender is totally socially constructed.
  • He claims that there could be a biological basis for gender to some degree.
  • For example, in the womb male babies have much more prenatal testosterone in them, and in adult life, males have much more testosterone than female.
  • Testosterone could be responsible for men being more competitive, obsessive, aggressive, etc.