Currents of thought running counter to true
The recent Document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
on the collaboration of men and women begins with a brief discussion of
"currents of thought which are often at variance with the authentic
advancement of women".
For the last half century, society has struggled over how to
reconcile the fundamental equality of men and women with their
undeniable biological differences.
During the 1960s women protested against laws and customs which
treated women differently. Governments responded by enacting legislation
guaranteeing women equal rights under the law, equal access to education
and equal economic opportunity. Women quickly took advantage of these
opportunities. The number of women pursing higher education increased,
as did the number of women in the professions, and in elected and
appointed government offices.
In the 1970s, the feminist movement which had encouraged these
changes was co-opted by radicals who saw women as the prototypical
oppressed class and marriage and "compulsory heterosexuality" as the
mechanisms of oppression. This current of thought drew on Frederick
Engels' analysis of the origins of the family. In 1884 Engels had
written: "The first-class antagonism in history coincides with the
development of the antagonism between men and women in monogamous
marriage, and the first-class oppression with that of the female sex by
In her 1970 book The Dialectic of Sex, Shulamith Firestone
modified Engels' analysis of class struggle to call for a sex-class
revolution: "To assure the elimination of sexual classes requires the
revolt of the underclass (women) and seizure of control of
reproduction:... so the end goal of the feminist revolution must be
unlike that of the first feminist movement, not just the elimination of
male privilege but of the sex distinction itself; genital differences
between human beings would no longer matter".2
According to Firestone, "The heart of women's oppression is her
childbearing and child-rearing roles".3 Those who accepted
this analysis regarded abortion on demand, contraception, absolute
sexual freedom, women in the workforce and children in
government-supported day care as the necessary conditions for the
liberation of women.
Nancy Chodorow in The Reproduction of Mothering argued that as
long as women are the primary caregivers, children will grow up seeing
humanity divided into two different and, according to Chodorow, unequal
classes, and this is the cause of the acceptance of "class" oppression.4
Alison Jagger, in a textbook designed for use in women's studies
programs, laid out the desired outcomes of the sex-class revolution:
"The end of the biological family will also eliminate the need for
sexual repression. Male homosexuality, lesbianism, and extramarital
sexual intercourse will no longer be viewed in the liberal way as
alternative options... the very 'institution of sexual intercourse'
where male and female each play a well-defined role will disappear.
Humanity could finally revert to its natural polymorphously perverse
A frontal attack on the family was risky.
According to Christine Riddiough, "Gay/lesbian culture can also be
looked on as a subversive force that can challenge the hegemonic nature
of the idea of the family. It can, however, be done in a way that people
do not feel is in opposition to the family per se.... In order for the
subversive nature of gay culture to be used effectively, we have to be
able to present alternative ways of looking at human relationships".6
Sex or gender?
The problem faced by those promoting a revolution against the family
was how to eliminate sex classes when these are rooted in the
biological differences between men and women. The work of Dr John Money
of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, U.S.A., offered a solution.
Until the 1950s, the word gender was a grammatical term
indicating whether words were masculine, feminine or neuter. Dr Money
began to use the word in a new context, coining the term "gender
identity" to describe a person's inner sense of himself or herself as
male or female.7
According to Money, a person's gender identity was dependent on how
the child was raised and could be different from his or her biological
sex. Money held that it was possible to change a person's sex and that
children born with ambiguous genitalia could be surgically altered and
assigned to a sex other than their genetic sex.
Money's theories were extremely influential, and in 1972 he offered
what appeared to be conclusive evidence that gender identity depended on
In his book Man & Woman, Boy & Girl, Money reported the case
of an identical twin whose penis had been destroyed during a
circumcision procedure.8 The boy's parents brought their baby
to Money who advised them to have him castrated and to raise him as a
The existence of an identical twin allowed Money to compare the twin
raised as a boy with the one raised as a girl. Money reported on the
success of the sex change and how the boy had successfully adapted to a
feminine identity. The case appeared to resolve the issue of "nature
versus nurture" in favour of nurture.
Even before he announced his famous case, Money's theories had found
an audience among feminists.
In her 1969 book Sexual Politics, Kate Millet, referencing
Money's previous work, wrote: "...there is no differentiation between
the sexes at birth. Psychosexual personality is therefore postnatal and
The idea of gender as a social construct was incorporated into
Susan Moller Okin, author of Justice, Gender and the Family
(1989), looked forward to "a future without gender. No assumptions would
be made about male and female roles; childbearing would be so
conceptually separated from child-rearing that it would be cause for
surprise if men and women were not equally responsible for domestic
During the 1980s the term "gender" became ubiquitous in women's
studies programmes. With the introduction of the idea of gender as a
social construct, the focus of the woman's movement shifted from the
elimination of policies which harmed women to concern over anything
which acknowledged that there were differences between men and women, in
particular anything which supported women as primary caregivers in the
home. A future without gender required a society that meticulously
examined every aspect of culture for evidence of gender socialization.
Before 1990, documents published by the United Nations had stressed
the elimination of discrimination against women, but around 1990 gender
became a central focus.
A pamphlet from the U.N. agency INSTRAW entitled Gender Concepts
defined gender as: "A system of roles and relationships between women
and men that are determined not by biology but the social, political and
economic context. One's biological sex is a natural given: gender
The dividing line between sex and gender was, however, left unclear.
Many of those who adopted the term "gender" had no idea of its
ideological roots. Nevertheless, the U.N.'s 1995 Conference on Women in
Beijing called on nations to "mainstream a gender perspective".
According to the final text of its Platform for Action: "In many
countries, the differences between women's and men's achievements and
activities are still not recognized as the consequences of socially
constructed gender roles rather than immutable biological differences".12
The problem with this statement is that some of the differences
between women's and men's activities are clearly related to immutable
biological differences, and the Platform made no accommodation for this.
For example, only women can become pregnant and nurse. As long as a
significant percentage of women make motherhood their primary vocation
by not working outside the home, by leaving the workforce for
significant periods of time to accommodate family needs or by choosing
work with hours or responsibilities which are compatible with family
responsibilities, the achievements and activities of men and women will
be significantly different.13
The gender perspective was unsupportive of women who chose motherhood
as their primary vocation. In a 1975 interview with Betty Friedan,
Simone de Beauvoir summed up this attitude. When asked if women should
have the choice to stay home and raise their children, she responded:
"Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a
choice, too many women will make that one".14
It was not simply that gender was constructed, but according to the
gender perspective the construction of gender was done by men to the
disadvantage of women. The very word "woman" was seen as a label that
created "a fictitious being" and "perpetuates inequality".15
The unity of the human person
While the gender perspective was gaining acceptance, its theoretical
basis was crumbling. In 1997, an article by Dr. Milton Diamond, an
expert on the prenatal effect of testosterone on the organization of the
brain, revealed that Dr. Money had not accurately reported the results
of the twins' case.16
Dr Diamond had never accepted Dr. Money's theory that biological
identity could be overridden by socialization. Over the years he had
made various attempts to track down the twin on whom Money had reported
and determine how the child had adjusted to adolescence.
Eventually, Diamond was able to contact a local therapist who had
worked with the twin and discovered that the experiment had been a total
failure. The twin had never accepted being a girl, never adjusted to a
female role. By age 14 he was suicidal.
One of the many therapists assigned to help him encouraged his
parents to tell him the truth. The moment that he heard that he was a
boy he was determined to live as a male. He underwent extremely
difficult reconstructive surgery and married.
The entire story of the twins' case has been documented in John
Colapinto's book As Nature Made Him.17
Money's theories have been further discredited by subsequent research
on brain development.
Research on prenatal exposure to hormones demonstrates that, even
before birth, the brains of boys and girls are significantly different
and this affects, among other things, the ways in which babies see
movement, colour and form.
The result is a "biological preparedness" in boys for typically
masculine toys and in girls for typically feminine toys.18
Women are, from the womb, being equipped with the sensitivity to the
human person needed for mothering.
This research and other new information on the structure of the human
brain suggest that biological influences and experience work together to
create brain connections and are so inextricably interwoven that it is
impossible to separate them.
Children are born into societies created by men and women whose
perception of what is natural is influenced by the same combination of
biology and experience. Boys will grow up to be fathers; girls, mothers.
Hiding that fact through gender-neutral socialization will not change
the reality of sex difference.
Other research on brain development has demonstrated the importance
of the relationship between mother and child during the first months of
The baby who has heard the mother's voice in the womb comes into the
world looking for the light in his mother's eyes. Secure attachment
between mother and baby is crucial to emotional development.
Those who study early childhood development and the development of
the human brain are concerned that their findings on the importance of
the mother/child bond are being ignored by those who favour women in the
workforce and babies in day care.19
If women are more sensitive to the needs of the human person and
children need mothers who are sensitive to their needs, then presenting
motherhood in a positive light is not perpetuating a negative stereotype
but recognizing reality. There is no injustice as long as women are not
prevented from choosing to work outside the home.
It is precisely because women and men are different, that women have
a unique contribution to make in the greater society. The fact that
women do have a choice causes some women to feel torn, but that is the
price of freedom.
Unsupported claims of gender bias
The supporters of the gender perspective have cited numerous examples
of how gender socialization is responsible for the abuse of women. The
problem is many of these examples fail to stand up to careful
Christina Hoff Sommers, author of Who Stole Feminism?,
discovered that while the media promoted feminist claims that negative
gender socialization caused 150,000 American women a year to die from
anorexia, health statistics show that the number of deaths from anorexia
in 1983 was 101. By 1991 the number declined to 54.
In 1991, the American Association of University Women released a
study entitled "Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America", which
claimed that gender bias in the schools caused teenage girls to suffer a
devastating loss of self-esteem.20 The study received major
media coverage and numerous programmes were instituted to correct the
After much effort, Sommers obtained a copy of the survey results and
discovered that its measure of "self-esteem" was unscientific and that
teenage girls were academically outperforming boys by most measures.21
The problem with unsupported claims of oppression made by feminists
is that they divert limited resources from the real problems facing
women and undermine the credibility of those dedicated to forwarding
women's real interests.
Given the past reliance on flawed research, it is important to
carefully investigate all evidence presented in support of the gender
perspective. This is particularly true in the areas of abortion and
For example, those in favour of redefining marriage to include
same-sex couples have cited numerous studies purporting to prove that
there are no significant differences between children raised by same-sex
couples and those raised by their natural parents in marriage. Those who
analyzed the studies found them to be internally and externally invalid.22
According to Professor Lynn Wardle, "Most of the studies of homosexual
parenting are based on unreliable quantitative research, flawed
methodologically and analytically (some of little more than anecdotal
quality), and provide a very tenuous empirical basis for setting public
On the other hand, numerous studies support the ways in which the
presence of a father and a mother enhance the well-being of children.
The importance of a mother's love has been widely accepted, but many
newer studies demonstrate as well the positive influences of a father's
A review of the literature found that: "...the influence of father
love on offspring's development is as great as and occasionally greater
than the influence of mother love. Some studies conclude that father
love is the sole significant predictor of specific positive outcomes".24
The future depends on the children and therefore society has an
obligation to put the welfare of children first.
Women want what is best for their children, and every child needs a
father and mother. Marriage alone secures the commitment of the parents
to one another and to their children and thus every other arrangement
carries risks for children and for women.
Patrick Fagan of Heritage Foundation has collected massive evidence
on the importance for children of having a father and mother who remain
married: "Children born out of wedlock or whose parents divorce are much
more likely to experience poverty, abuse, and behavioural and emotional
problems, have lower academic achievement and use drugs more often.
Single mothers are much more likely to be victims of domestic
"For children whose parents remain married, however, the benefits are
real. Adolescents from these families have been found to have better
health and are less likely to be depressed, are less likely to repeat a
grade in school and have fewer developmental problems".25
The Catholic Church cannot be neutral when attacks on the family, on
marriage, on motherhood and fatherhood, on sexual morality or on unborn
life are mounted in the name of women. The Church unequivocally condemns
every abuse of women that takes place within the family, but the answer
is not the destruction of the family.
When societies encourage sex outside marriage, abortion, the
contraceptive mentality and divorce, it is women who suffer. When
marriage is respected and chastity the norm, women's dignity is secured.
Solidarity between husband and wife in the family, between man and
woman in society, is crucial for their fruitful collaboration. An
endless sex-class struggle will not liberate women.
A flawed anthropology which denies the differences between the sexes
leaves women in the unenviable position of either trying to imitate male
behaviour or wasting their energy in a futile effort to turn men into
A woman who understands and accepts the differences between the sexes
is free to work with men without compromising her personal originality.
The gender perspective is a blind alley. Valuable resources are being
squandered fighting women's natural desire to be mothers.
The promotion of fatherhood, motherhood, family and marriage in no
way undermines the essential equality, rights and dignity of women.
Recognition of the differences between men and women and the centrality
of the family in society only sets the parameters for the discussion.
It will still be necessary to distinguish between real differences
and demeaning stereotypes, still be important to protect the right of
women and men to choose atypical careers, and still be important to
protect women from injustice and abuse.
In this discussion, the Church has much to offer.
The Holy Father's repeated call for solidarity offers an alternative
to endless class struggle. Those interested in creating a truly
pro-woman society will find guidance in Love and Responsibility,
written by the Holy Father while he was still a Bishop. John Paul II's
condemnation of all behaviour which treats persons as objects will
resonate with women, who rightly feel the burden of sexual and economic
The fruitful collaboration of men and women must be based on the
truth about the human person. Two sexes, different and equal, are a
revelation of the image and likeness of God and are part of the goodness
of creation. God, who made the human person male and female, who
established marriage and family and set down the laws governing
morality, is incapable of injustice.
Therefore, women have nothing to fear from a culture which
understands and honours the differences between men and women.
1 Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Property
and the State. International Publishers: N.Y., 1972, pp. 65-66.
2 Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex. Bantam
Books: N.Y., 1970, p. 12.
3 Ibid., p. 72.
4 Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering.
University of California Press: Berkeley, 1978.
5 Alison Jagger, "Political Philosophies of Women's
Liberation", Feminism and Philosophy. Littlefield, Adams & Co.:
Totowa, N.J., 1977, p. 13.
6 Christine Riddiough, "Socialism, Feminism and
Gay/Lesbian Liberation", in Women and Revolution, ed. by Lydia
Sargent. South End Press: Boston, 1981, p. 87.
7 John Colapinto, As Nature Made Him. Harper
Collins: N.Y., 2000, p. 69.
8 John Money & Anke Ehrhardt, Man & Woman, Boy & Girl.
John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, Md., 1972.
9 Kate Millett, Sexual Politics. Avon Books: N.Y.,
1971, p. 54.
10 Susan Moller Okin, Justice, Gender and the Family.
Basic Books: N.Y., 1989, p. 170.
11 Gender Concepts in development and planning: A Basic
Approach (INSTRAW, 1995), p. 11.
12 Platform of Action, Beijing Conference on Women,
1995, Paragraph 27 in the final text.
13 According to Vigdis Finnbogadottir, President of
Iceland: "As long as the private sphere remains largely women's concern,
they will be much less available for men for positions of responsibility
in economic and political life" (Speech at Council of Europe,
Strasbourg, February 1995).
14 Simone de Beauvoir, "Sex, Society, and the Female
Dilemma: a dialogue between Betty Friedan and Simone de Beauvoir",
Saturday Review, 14 June 1975, p. 18.
15 Peter Beckman and Francine D'Amico, Women. Gender
and World Politics. Bergin & Garvey: Westport, Conn., 1994, p. 7.
16 Milton Diamond & H.K. Sigmundson, "Sex Reassignment at
Birth: A Long-Term Review and Clinical Implications", Archives of
Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 151, March 1997, pp. 298-304.
17 John Colapinto, As Nature Made Him. Harper
Collins: N.Y., 2000.
18 Gerianne Alexander, "An Evolutionary Perspective of
Sex-Typed Toy Preference: Pink, Blue and the Brain," Archives of
Sexual Behavior, vol. 32, 1, (February 2003) pp. 7-14.
19 Shore, Affect Regulation and the Origin of Self: The
Neurobiology of Emotional Development, p. 540.
20 "A Call to Action: Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging
America" (American Association of University Women: Washington D.C.,
21 Sommers, Who Stole Feminism, pp. 137-156.
22 Philip Belcastro, et al. "A Review of Data Based
Studies Addressing the Affects of Homosexual Parenting on Children's
Sexual and Social Functioning", Journal of Divorce and Remarriage.
1993, vol. 20, nn. 1/2, pp. 105-122; Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai,
No Basis: What the studies don't tell us about same-sex parenting
(Marriage Law Project: Washington, D.C., 2001).
23 Lynn Wardel, "The Potential Impact of Homosexual
Parenting on Children", University of Illinois Law Review, 833
24 Ronald Rohner & Robert Veneziano, "The Importance of
Father Love: History and Contemporary Evidence", Review of General
Psychology. December 2001, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 382-405.
25 http://www.heritage.org/Research/ Features/Marriage/index.cfm#q1