The gender theory, looked at from the perspective of Christian anthropology, creation theology and human ecology

The gender theory

The gender theory is rooted in the process of radicalization which feminism has undergone from the 1960s. 7 The classical, mostly liberal feminism, which arose in the in the mid-nineteenth century, strove for equal rights for women concerning legislation, voting rights, property, work, marriage and divorce. The radicalization of feminism of about half a century ago, had as a consequence that it did not only focus on equal rights, but also on the essence of being female. One started to wonder what the female was: a being, determined by her biological sex and particularly her reproductive functions. Or, on the contrary, a being determined by the role which society has imposed on her. This role was considered as humiliating, because it implied that she was dominated by her husband, that she primarily served for procreation and was a prisoner of the family. The primary ideal of radical feminism in its various forms is the liberation of the female from this role. 

Various movements have exercised their influence on the rise of radical feminism. In the first place atheist existentialism by way of Simone de Beauvoir, who is considered the founder of radical feminism. In 1949, in her book Le deuxième sexe she wrote:

“you are not born as a woman but you become one. No biological, psychological or economic destination determines the image which society has of the woman; it is the culture in its whole which brings about this intermediary product between a man and an eunuch, qualified as woman.” 8

By denying a creation by a God, who gives an order to the world, which man has to respect, atheist existentialism is convinced that we are not born as a specific being but that we are the result of our choices. Simone de Beauvoir, however, observes limits in the freedom of choice of the woman, who fights with her body. The female body is ambiguous, because it is the source of positive and negative experiences. The negative ones are mostly consequences of the way in which society reacts on the physical appearance of the woman. Her attitude towards her own body changes during her life under the influence of the way in which society looks at her. What is specifically female, like the development of the sexual organs, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause has no meaning in itself. In a suppressing and patriarchal environment these phenomena start to become a burden and a disadvantage. Preadolescent boys and girls do not differ from one another. When a girl becomes physically mature, society begins to adopt a hostile attitude towards her, which reveals itself in the criticism from her mother on the posture and the body of the daughter (De Beauvoir speaks, of course, of her own adolescence, which happened in the years after the First World War) and in the interest boys show for her body. The girl starts to feel like an object, a physical sexual being in the eyes of the other, which is about to “become flesh,” as De Beauvoir puts it. The penetration in the first sexual intercourse is, not rarely, a traumatic experience for the woman, because it is painful and the man takes a dominant position in it. The experience of pregnancy, though more positive, is still ambiguous, for it is an unjust penetration of her body, whereas, by the way, it may be a positive experience too. In the process of becoming older the woman loses her attractivity in the eyes of society, which is in itself a disadvantage, but it has the advantage that she, being sexually less attractive, ceases to be an object. 9

For De Beauvoir the judgment of the female is still quite directly linked to her body. In the eyes of the adherents to radical feminism this connection is less strong or even absent. In 1970 Firestone remarked that, 

“Until a certain level of evolution had been reached and technology had achieved its present sophistication, to question fundamental biological conditions was insanity.” 10

Before the introduction of contraceptive means according to Firestone women were handed over to 

“the continual mercy of their biology – menstruation, menopause, and female ills,” constant painful childbirth, wetnursing and care of infants, all of which made them dependent on males … for physical survival.” 11

The large-scale availability of contraception has liberated the woman from this situation. Moreover, Firestone believes that this liberation will be enforced in the future by new methods of artificial reproduction. She did not explain how artificial reproduction 12 would liberate the woman of the burden of procreation; perhaps, he perhaps thought of the growth of the embryo in an artificial uterus in a laboratory, by which the body of the woman would not be burdened anymore by pregnancy. 

Under the influence of these ideas and other factors 13

radicalized feminism from the 1960s became convinced that the role of the married woman as an instrument for the procreation and the education of children would until then have been imposed on her by society. And radical feminism was equally convinced that she was freed from this role by contraception and artificial reproduction. The radical feminist Firestone wrote in 1970 that women, once freed from the “tyranny of their reproductive biology,” 14 would be able to choose their own gender role, independently of their biological sex. This liberation would also be realized by the requirement of complete autonomy, including economic independence of the woman as well as that of the child. It also required the total integration of the woman and the child in all aspects of society in a broad sense: this required the destruction of all institutions which separated the sexes from one another or which excluded children from the society of adults, e.g. elementary schools. A final aim which has to be realized in the last revolution is “The freedom of all women and children to do whatever they wish to do sexually.” 15 After the aforementioned revolution a new society would arise in which “humanity could finally revert to its natural polymorphous sexuality – all forms of sexuality would be allowed and indulged.” 16 This liberation also requires an attack on the social unity organized around the procreation and the submission of the woman to her biological destination, the family. 17 Firestone extended this request to the destruction of all institutions which separate the sexes from each other and children from the rest of the world, like elementary schools. 

Thus, the gender theory has arisen from radical feminism. It is important to note that the gender theory arose in the 1960s, the decade in which the introduction of hormonal contraception started at a large scale, which made the desired liberation of the woman from her reproductive biology possible. This paved the way for the total separation of gender from the biological sex. This once again underlines the prophetic character of the encyclical Humanae vitae of Paulus VI, in which he qualified the use of contraceptives in order to prevent procreation an intrinsic evil, i.e. an essential evil act. 18 Of course, Paul VI did not foresee these developments in 1968, the year in which he published this encyclical. Later, his encyclical turned out to have a much broader significance than just regarding contraception. This is also shown by the attempts of the French freemason and gynaecologist Pierre Simon, to promote contraceptives at a large scale, which he did not only in order to prevent procreation and the overpopulation of the world. His pursuit was that the human being, instead of a Creator, would shape his own nature and life. He saw in gynaecology a way to realize that goal. For him, a first step in this direction was the large-scale distribution of contraceptives in order to radically change the concept of the family. 19

In 1990, Judith Butler concludes that the classical role and heterosexuality as the norm for sexual activities, both imposed by society, is part of a political plan based on wrong metaphysical ideas concerning the substance. Referring to the idea of Friedrich Nietzsche that “there is no ‘being’ behind doing, effecting, becoming,” 20 Butler says: “There is no gender identity between the expressions of gender; that the gender identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions.” 21 Feminism 

“has effectively argued that sexuality is always constructed within the terms of discourse and power, where power is partially understood in terms of heterosexual and phallic cultural conventions.” 22

It is obvious that some aspects of the gender role of women are socially and culturally determined and can change in the course of history: the fact that women earn less than men for the same type of work, that they are not allowed to drive a car or cannot have a bank account or a job when married, is in no way rooted in their biological sex. There are, however, aspects of gender which are inseparably linked with the biological sex, like the role of the father and the mother in marriage, in a family, in procreation, in being a father or a mother.

The discussion on the coherence of the gender identity with the biological sex, as initiated by radical feminism and advanced by the gender theory, leads to ideas and opinions which seriously conflict with the teaching of the Church in various fields.

  1. In the first place, the gender theory has repercussions on the way in which one looks at the family, marriage and sexuality. Many fight for the realization of  “gender equity” on a national and international level. During the United Fourth World Conference on Women in Peking in 1995 representatives of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission required the recognition of the sexual autonomy of women, free from any discrimination or suppression, particularly of women who in choosing their gender identity, deviate from sexual codes and codes for the gender role. 23 In its final report, the Conference adopted the term ‘gender’ under an action item, namely to develop, implement and evaluate effective gender programmes. 24
    It is evident that discrimination of people because of their sex or sexual orientation and the use of violence against them because of their sexual orientation should be rejected. Their biological sex does not justify that women earn less than men for the same work, or that married women were not allowed to open their own bank account, as used to be the case in many countries till the 1950s. Neither does it justify that women had to quit their jobs upon marriage. The problem is that the gender theory tends to view the gender role as something which is mostly or completely independent of the biological sex, by which being man and being woman, the marriage between husband and wife, fatherhood and motherhood lose their essential significance and thus the family is destroyed. 
  2. The gender theory also has a repercussion on the right to life. Within the framework of gender equity one ranks the right to a safely procured abortion among the sexual and reproductive rights of women, which national laws should guarantee. 25 Women, forced among others by so-called religious fundamentalists to be mothers, would be hindered to choose for a procured abortion, in case she gets pregnant against her will. Attributing the right to life to the fetus would conflict with the reproductive rights and the reproductive health of women: for the legal prohibition of procured abortion on the basis of a prenatal right to life would force women, pregnant against their will, to an illegal abortion with all its possible negative consequences for her health and her life.
  3. The gender theory has also serious repercussions on the possibilities to announce the fundamental truths of Christian faith, because it considers the biological difference between husband and wife as indifferent. If this difference were indifferent, indeed, how could one announce God who reveals himself as the Father, or Christ as the Son of God and the Holy Virgin Mary as the spouse of the Holy Spirit? The analogy between the relationship of Christ with his Church and that of the husband with his wife (Ef. 5, 21-33) would lose its significance. This would have consequences for announcing the teaching of the Church concerning ordained ministry, which, partly on the basis of this analogy, is reserved for men. Actually, a complete detachment of gender from the biological sex would render proclaiming Christian faith impossible.

Because the gender theory is for several reasons a serious threat to announcing as well as to understanding the teaching of the Church, we need to pay special attention to it from the perspective of Christian philosophy and theology. I will so that in the next part from the perspective of the Christian view of man, creation theology and human ecology.