Pope Francis and Gender Theory

Chelsea - holy family

Last month The Daily Beast published an essay that, among other things, accused Pope Francis of “dissing women”.  The piece was written by university professors Candida Moss and Joel Baden, who quote an interview where the pope discusses the issue of “gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation”.

By gender theory he simply means the modern notion that sexual identity is on a spectrum, versus the more traditional male/female binary classification.  And by order of creation, he is of course referring to the creation account in Genesis, which the essayists decry as having been used for centuries to subjugate women.  But the real kicker for them comes when Pope Francis points to the teaching of gender theory in student textbooks, calling it an “ideological colonization” comparable to that of the Hitler Youth.

I’ve been fascinated by gender equality issues for a long time now.  In college, I took a women’s studies course, taught by a woman with some major hang-ups about men and, subsequently, marriage.  I, however, was blissfully in love at the time, with a shiny new diamond on my finger and a June wedding rapidly approaching; her perspective naturally struck me as short-sighted and narrow.

Towards the end of the quarter, I finally raised my hand and said, “You know, there’s nothing inherently shameful about getting married and being a wife. It does not automatically relegate you to second-class status. It’s possible to be a strong, empowered woman and have a husband and a family.”  I don’t recall her whole response; however, she did back-pedal a little. I suspect, though, she may still have pitied the poor college junior who’d spent the last three months sampling cakes and dog-earing pages in bridal magazines.

Don’t judge.  This was pre-Pinterest, people.

There is an insecurity, I think, that permeates the culture’s cynical response to anything even remotely gender normative. What will it mean for those outside of the norm?  Doesn’t this automatically put women at a further disadvantage? How will this hurt the already marginalized LGBQT community? Shouldn’t we all be equal?

Well, yes.  Yes we should. And I don’t know him personally, but I’d be willing to bet that the pope wouldn’t disagree.

And yet, the problem is that, biologically and physiologically, women and men are … well, different.  We’ve tried for decades now to level the playing field by mitigating those differences, primarily through the birth control pill, but we’re finally starting to ask some hard questions about the cost.  Because frankly, it’s been a pricy little social experiment.  Sex without the babies isn’t as healthy as we thought it was, it turns out.

So I don’t see any problem whatsoever with a binary gender construct, provided you can live with the “both/and” tension — which is something Catholics are pretty good at, if I do say so myself.  You can acknowledge and adhere to God’s order of creation, while still leaving space for people who might not fit neatly into a box.  You can say that a woman’s dignity and personhood include being created specifically female, and simultaneously accept that she is same-sex attracted.  You can agree that women are uniquely suited to bearing children, while holding that some women will choose not to marry.

That is the beauty of being made in God’s image, which all of us are: “male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27)  But when we fill textbooks and university lecterns with hazy, untried ideas about how our actual sex doesn’t matter in the least — and that it really all just amounts to a choose-your-own-adventure spectrum — we are diminishing the human condition, inviting confusion, and yes, colonizing an entire generation of deeply anguished young people. They are asking the age-old philosophical question: Who am I?  

And the secular echo chamber is answering, with a new narrative for folks disillusioned with Christianity.

For the record, I have found Pope Francis to be a huge champion of women.  When he affirms large families who are open to children, he champions women. When he expressly invites women to breastfeed their babies in the Sistine Chapel (hey, I did that once!), he champions women. When he speaks out against abortion, he champions women.  When he writes that “Demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded” (Evangelii Gaudium 109), he champions women.  And on it goes.

Modern gender theory as espoused by Moss and Baden is, I suspect, here to stay. We’ll continue to see truth obfuscated by a false religion of purported tolerance and enlightened thought, while authentic love, self-giving, and the feminine genius are relegated to the halls of antiquity. All the more, then, we Catholics must learn and know our faith. We must seek to spread the beauty and hope of the gospel. Finally, we must embrace our respective vocations with charity and joy, as we become the women and men that God, in His infinite love, created us to be.

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33 thoughts on “Pope Francis and Gender Theory”

  1. wel first of all 8 chidren. what are we going to with the polution load, to say nothing of the already here lack of potable water as other natural resources, eg oil (what the horrid bush Jr disaster was about – his family oil biz while iraq sits on the largest and barely tapped oil supply in the mid east

    not everyone is the same. there are gays, str8s, most of the gays whom will eventually adopt children which the church opposes

    then the 3 most anti gay large churches catholic, baptist and mormon still degrade women by not allowing them to be religious leaders

    As for teh mormons, they are coming around to aceppting gays and trans as gods children eg


    Canada – has civil marriage laws for gay /str8 since 2005 nationally, many provinces years before there

    and the final blow to the catholic church – in May by a vote of 62%, the most catholic nation in the world – IREland voted to change the constitution to allow gays for civil marriage

    , just shortly before scotus made civil marriage for gays the law of the land -Now about 22 nations in the world most in western europe, Canada, USA, mexico, brazil, equador, argentina allow gays to marry


    dont like it – well the church is rightly free to do as they wish, but more and more people, eg both of my sons have civil marriage hetero only, and same re my daughter who keeps her family name

    teh catghtolic church is entitled to stick itself in the mud of human progress and equality missing

    will the last priest please turn out the lites in the vatican, and give the remaining money to various gay charities

  2. “You can say that a woman’s dignity and personhood include being created specifically female, and simultaneously accept that she is same-sex attracted.”

    Love is ordered to the personal and relational Dignity of the human person which is why a man does not Love his wife, in the same manner as he Loves his daughter, or his son, or his father, or his mother, or a friend.

  3. Wonderful article! I love how you showed how Pope Francis (and you yourself) uphold the difference between men and women but the dignity of that. My mother raised three daughters including myself to be strong but unafraid of femininity.

  4. So, how does that work? Your penultimate paragraph contains a string of things which you assert, without any evidence, that constitute “championing” women? What is your definition of “champion?” What makes opposing birth control and abortion — which are absolute essentials for women if we want to be in any kind of public life — “championing” women? How does encouraging large families “champion” women? The countries with the highest rates of female literacy have the lowest total fertility rates for women and vice versa. If you want large families, don’t teach your daughters to read. As always, Catholics argue that somehow they believe in women’s equality without any evidence to support it. What does equality mean to you?

    1. I can’t speak for the author, but I’d like to answer some of your questions.

      “What makes opposing birth control and abortion…’championing women’?” First off, I don’t agree that birth control and abortion are absolute essentials for women who want to be in any kind of public life. The author of this article eschews such things and yet she has published an article in a public forum. She isn’t the only one. As for the championing women, abortions are often gender biased. In cultures were boys are more revered, girls are often murdered for simply being girls. Birth control isn’t good for women either. The pill has been known to cause blood clots, stroke, and heart attacks. It’s also changing the water.

      “How does encouraging large families ‘champion’ women?” That’s not what the author said. She said that the Pope affirms large families. In other words he encourages families and this is a positive for women as well as men and children. Being in stable and loving relationships is a good thing no?

      “If you want large families, don’t teach your daughters to read.” That’s a bit condescending. The Pope has also encouraged responsible parenthood. This could mean small or large families. There’s nothing wrong with having a large family and yet people such as yourself seem to have a problem with it. Why?

      “As always, Catholics argue that somehow they believe in women’s equality without any evidence to support it.” I could say the same of yourself. Eliminating girls in the womb because they are girls, in my opinion, is contrary to what feminism is supposed to stand for, but you don’t agree. Can you prove that you believe that women are equal? Can not a woman decide to be conservative, have a differing opinion, have a large family if she so desires? Or do you believe that women should be liberal, pro-abortion, and have small families in order to be equal?

      “What does equality mean to you?” Equality is a buzz word to me. We are not all equal. My son has autism. He will never be “equal” nor treated “equally” because he will always need an accommodation. I do believe that by virtue of being human we all have dignity and worth especially to our creator. Equal? Not so much. We are all different.

    2. “Equality” is a shorthand for the idea that society will do everything possible to make sure that no one is denied the ability achieve in their desired field due to innate characteristics and that society will not impose burdens based on status, such as being female. Certainly I believe conservative women can choose their opinions; I do, however, think their opinions are wrong and that I have the right to point out their errors of fact or logic. We should provide your son whatever accommodations he needs, whether educational or physical. Tax the Koch brothers and their ilk to pay for it. (And no, I don’t hate rich people. My husband and my parents are top 5% in income. We can afford to pay a lot more than we are asked to.)

      As for gender-based abortions, if the people who practice this hate women so much that they will abort all their daughters, then so be it. I would not want any girls to suffer in that world. Abortion is better than infanticide or dowry murders.

      As for large families, great if you want one, but the pope said EVERYONE should strive for one. The Catholic hierarchy presents large families as the ideal and not the exception. You should note that in every single wealthy country the birth rate is low. Once women can get an education, we do so, and we quit having more than three kids. Given the extraordinary harm that large-scale cities and agriculture has on the environment, I think that two kids is the ideal. No one should be coerced into having more — or fewer — children than she wants and can care for.

    3. Jennifer Hartline

      Actually, Karen, abortion is no different than infanticide. They are one and the same. An infant is being killed; location makes no difference to the dead infant.
      Abortion has not liberated women. It has liberated sexually irresponsible men. It has placed all the weight solely on women, leaving men either free or voiceless, depending on whether they do or don’t want the child they helped create. It does not spare women the “burden” of motherhood — it simply makes them the mothers of dead babies. There’s no getting around that. Nothing about abortion has been good for women.

    4. So, please answer my other points. How do large families help women compete in the marketplace? How do they enable women to obtain education, property, and economic independence?

    5. “‘Equality’ is a shorthand for the idea that society will do everything
      possible to make sure that no one is denied the ability achieve in their
      desired field due to innate characteristics and that society will not
      impose burdens based on status, such as being female.”

      – Please don’t tell me that you actually believe that. I’m sorry but I haven’t the capacity to be a firefighter who can lift 300 pound people. There are certain things that certain people will never be able to do. Men having babies for instance. I have a huge problem with this philosophy because it’s led to a number of members of my generation sitting on their parent’s couch. We grew up hearing “get educated and you can do anything” but that’s not true. There are only so many job slots and not everyone has the capacity to do everything on earth. At some point we have to accept that bagging groceries is okay too.

      You may not agree with conservative women, but does that mean that per your world view we can’t live their lives how we see fit? Often what I hear is “you are wrong” and “you need to change your life style.” It’s one thing to disagree (I certainly disagree with you) but I wouldn’t tell you to go and have 10 children. Would you tell a woman to stop having children?

      “We should provide your son whatever accommodations he needs, whether educational or physical.” Why? I’m not against certain accommodations but there needs to be a line drawn between being accommodating and being a crutch. At some point he has to go out and be a member of society. He has to learn societal norms. He can’t just blow someone’s head off in a fit of rage and get away with it because autistic persons have behavioral control issues. I also don’t agree that anyone needs to “provide” anything for him like it should be free or something. That’s ridiculous. He has to take care of himself eventually. My point was he will never be equal to a neurotypical person. They are different.

      But what about the women pressured into gender-based abortion despite the instinct against it? Or how about those who do agree with it and the gender birth gaps (more boys than girls) that has created an atmosphere of kidnapping and trafficking into China? Thinking that “it’s just for those who hate women so much so it won’t affect anyone else” is ridiculous. It’s already affecting women and young girls from other nations.

      I think you’re taking the Pope out of context. He’s encouraging responsible parenthood and that also includes being selfless instead of selfish. Depending on your situation is how couples determine the number of children they should have. In one interview he mentioned a woman who had 7 children and 7 c-sections is pregnant again. He said it was “tempting God” probably because given her situation she was taking a huge health risk. Then he later said childless couples are also being selfish because they desire their personal comforts over the joy of having children. So yes, ideally having a large family is great, but they know the reality is for some families it’s a bad idea.

      I’m not sure why the low birth rate in wealthy countries is considered to be a good thing. What it leads to is a vacuum of sorts where we can no longer financially support the elderly and certain services such as health care are harder to come by. Here in Canada; the vast number of health care workers are coming from other countries with larger populations. What happens when their birth rate falls?

      Two children because of the environment? The whole population control thing is so over rated. Why the other day I read an article about 3D printing food with spores that germinated in 4 days and doesn’t need any kind of preservation. Point is every time someone mentions the environment history shows that something innovative comes about. Nope the greatest resource on earth is people and we continue to do better.

    6. When did I ever say we should provide crutches for your son? He exists; we have an obligation to make it possible for him to live as independent a life as possible. If that means providing counseling on ways to control his behavior, then we need to do that. Accommodations don’t always have to be restrictions on everyone else.

      If you’re relying on 3D printing for food, well, there’s not much I can say to you. I will ask where you plan on putting every other creature on Earth or is the planet entirely and solely for humans? No place for wildlife?

    7. The problem is the use of “we.” You have no obligation to my son. Society has no obligations to him either. You specified that people should have to pay taxes for his personal benefit, and I object to that mostly because I foresee the inherent problems that I mentioned. The State already likes to dictate enough about how parents should raise their children and I prefer the less the better. He’s my family’s responsibility, not the State’s or you. Whatever accommodations and needs he has, we can seek out and pay for. Thanks, but no thanks. You can keep your money.

      It makes no sense to be an advocate for equality and then turn around and give special status to someone. My son doesn’t have special status. He’s different. I’m different. You’re different. We are all going to be treated differently as a result.

      I’m not relying on 3D printing for food. I used it as an example of how innovative humans are when it comes to food production. I could cite another example: hydroponics. Would that help?

      As for the where I plan on putting everyone: how about Texas. According to the UN our population is about 7 billion. Texas is 268,820 sq mi (7,494,271,488,000 sq ft). If you do a little math, each person could have enough space for a townhouse (roughly 33 feet by 33 feet). Since most people don’t live by themselves, we could comfortably give families a house with a yard. It would turn Texas into suburban sprawl, but that’s where everyone could live.

      The reason for the large population isn’t because of the number of babies being born. That number is actually very small and in some places like Italy unable to sustain society if it wasn’t for the immigrant population. No the reason is the old people. People are living longer. But I see more people advocating for abortion (at least in the US) than I do see people advocating mandatory murder of the elderly (I don’t advocate euthanasia either). If you go to Germany or Russia, realizing that their societies are floundering because of abortion, they are encouraging women to have children. In Germany you get paid for it (basically).

      We aren’t overpopulated. We’re just at a peak. Eventually people will die from age and population numbers will nose dive because not enough people are being born. I’d say “you’ll see” but I don’t think you or I will be around when that happens.

    8. Please explain, using concrete and verifiable examples, what you mean by “abortion has liberated irresponsible men?”
      I can’t speak for the author, but mother sues planned parenthood for failing to report sexual abuse of 13 year old by stepfather and giving her an abortion (http://www.bizpacreview.com/2014/07/15/planned-parenthood-sued-for-sending-13-year-old-home-with-stepfather-rapist-after-abortion-132042). That’s just one case among many. There are several self-reported cases of women saying they turned to abortion (or were coerced into it) by abusive men. Naturally in the first case the mother found out 2 months later because the daughter became brave enough. How many cases of women are there that happened because the woman/girl wasn’t? That’s a harder one to track.

      “If a woman terminates a pregnancy how is she still subject to the burden of motherhood? How do you define motherhood so that the word still applies to women who aren’t raising children?” Some post abortive women define themselves as mothers (as well as many post-miscarriage/still birth mothers). http://silentnomoreawareness.org/ I think that will help clear up the burden part.

      “How do large families help women compete in the marketplace?” How do they not exactly? It’s a strange question. I’ve known many women who have excellent jobs and large families. It’s not an or thing. You can do both, but many woman choose not to. What’s wrong with that?

      “How do they (large families) enable women to obtain education, property, and economic independence?” Again strange question. Ask any woman who came from a large family and she’ll be able to give you her personal story. My MIL was one of seven. She was the first to graduate from highschool in her family and later went on to attend college (although left which wasn’t unusual for her time period). She was able to get a loan from her MIL, which she paid back in full to own a house. Her MIL had four children just so you know. My MIL and FIL did pretty well for themselves and are financially independent. They got that way because their extended and large families helped them. Statistics show that intact families do better financially.

      “What kind of life did girls and women have in cultures that now routinely abort female fetuses before abortion became legal?” That’s a wide question. Could you specify a country? Because if we’re talking China, they simply had large families. Particularly those who were in farming and thus were already poorly educated regardless of gender. When China limited the number of children, that’s when things went from bad to worse. Now they were limited in the number of sons who could take care of their aging parents (since China doesn’t have any kind of elder care in place it usually falls to sons). Since that limit education has somewhat improved. Those children who are legal are allowed an education. Those who weren’t approved don’t get an education and are treated like second class citizens. If we’re talking sub cultures like those in the United States, obviously those women have the same opportunities as their more “Western” culture counterparts.

      “Why would you subject any woman to life under those conditions?” You’re implying that the reason behind abortion has to do with financial. In the case of China, it’s because of elder care with the One Child Policy that girls are aborted. It’s not because of extreme poverty. In fact it was normal in largely agricultural societies to have lots of children because you had more hands to produce more food thus more income. As for the US, as I said there aren’t any opportunity differences. There’s just more pride in having male children versus female children.

      As many have pointed family particularly large family is actually beneficial in certain societies like China and Africa. Limiting them has done a lot of harm.

    9. Actually Chinese society was horrifically misogynist before the 1948 revolution. I suggest you Google ‘Chinese foot binding’ for more information. You could also learn about how girl babies in China and India were simply killed at birth and their mothers divorced or murdered if they produced more than one girl. Gender-based abortion is a result of misogyny, not a producer of it.

    10. It’s both. The misogyny was there before hand, but then once the One Child Policy came about more pressure was felt to abort more girls particularly once the technology was advanced. Before as you said they killed at birth for personal or social reasons. If they needed more children, Chinese simply kept them. Large families were not that unusual. Now they murder before, after, and abandon baby girls because of legalese and fines. This gets more complicated by all of the One Child Policy laws which state that all children must be born of two legally married parents. Those parents can’t marry unless they have reached a certain age. Add to that the spacing laws. Before all Chinese were citizens but divided on poverty level and caste system. Now not all Chinese are considered citizens because their birth was illegal. That’s if they are lucky to be born in the first place. Some Chinese are fined; others are forcible aborted. http://www.womensrightswithoutfrontiers.org/index.php?nav=sign_our_petition So how exactly is abortion helping the Chinese?

    11. Jennifer Hartline

      It’s not pregnancy that’s terminated, Karen. It’s the life of the child that’s “terminated.” The baby exists. Killing it doesn’t mean the baby never existed. So while the mother may not be raising the child because the child is dead, she is still the child’s mother. Nothing can undo the creation of a child.
      They are hardly assertions without evidence. The evidence is everywhere we look. Children without fathers are everywhere today. You really can’t see how abortion is a “get out of responsibility free” card for men? How has that been good for women? How has it leveled the playing field you’re so concerned about?
      Are you actually saying aborting female babies because they’re female is okay, or even a good thing?

    12. it was interesting in the same sex marriage debate that the loudest voice in the room was the catholic church with “children deserve a father and a mother
      1. why didnt the church focus on the 35-40% of families with children but only one parent for many reasons

      then despite the BSht, an ausstralian study showed that gay couplles did as good or better then the average str8 couple re raising children. a right wing group said no – it interviewed a bout a thousand gay couples, and found one that were a mess

      yet in the USA the national divorce rate is about 53% and the state with the lowest divorce rate, 36% is MA after about 10 years of gays marrying etc


    13. Jennifer Hartline

      Are you really unaware of how abusive men take advantage of the “right” to abortion? They can take their underage victim to Planned Parenthood, who will never report the abuse, and have the “evidence” of their assault eliminated. How exactly is that good for the young woman? Are you also unaware of the number of women who are beaten and assaulted by their husbands/boyfriends because they refused to have an abortion? Abortion is GREAT for guys who are abusive jerks. It is not great for women. It does not create equality. It gives power to irresponsible and abusive men.

    14. I’m also aware of the men who beat women for becoming pregnant and who use pregnancy to keep women in bondage. If women don’t have money we don’t have rights. I refuse to depend on male generosity and think any woman who does so is an idiot.

    15. “If women don’t have money we don’t have rights.” What do you mean exactly? I’ve known a lot of women in poverty situations and they still have rights. Rights don’t rest on how much money a person has. Rights are given by Our Creator simply because we’re human. My children have no money, but does that mean someone can beat them? No. They still retain the right to be treated with dignity.

      “I refuse to depend on male generosity and think any woman who does so is an idiot.” Then you must think I’m an idiot. I’ve had to depend on men financially speaking in a lot of ways. Sometimes it’s to spot me five bucks because I forgot my wallet. And when I was a young child, my mother stayed at home and my father worked to provide for his family. Currently my husband works and I stay at home. I hate to tell you but independence is over rated. Humans are a societal species. We are meant to be interdependent. Trying to function on our own does nobody favors.

      I have to ask, but are you a feminist or an egalitarianist? Some of your view points are confusing to me so the clarification would be helpful.

    16. Then you should know that the Catholic church teaches Complementarianism which is a different philosophy from traditional feminism or even egalitarianism. If you’re interested in the topic, Pope Saint John Paul II published several works including Mulieris Dignitatem and his Letter to Women. He coined the term Feminine Genius which might also help you.

      This probably explains why you are confused about what the Church teaches about men and women relationships. Catholics aren’t feminists if it is meant to endorse the views found in second wave feminism.

    17. who gives a damn what they teach anymore – the church is dead as a doornail in western europe, the anglican church has women priests and a woman bishop

      the anglican church in the usa is the episcopal church, headed by Katherine schori

      again will the last priest out the door of the vat of rome turn out the lights andcall the wrecking ball companies

      like it or not, at least civil unions, often a first step to marriage for gays is coming to italy

      good night to all from the entire fiamily – ex catholics over the churches total a-hole approach to gays, let alone marriage


    18. while the church is in the dark ages re women, using them as babby factories like the muslims, back in college -1960 we had one woman in the electrical engineering program, str8 As btw

      now my alma mater nas about 45% of their engineering class women. Great so that if hubby is an abuser, drunk etc, they bounce him and carry on

      btw my daughter has a masters degree in engineering, yes married, only one child (she wanted none, husband 2 (phd also from japan

      re he chrch soon people will sing free at last free at last from catholic dogma, mysyogomy etc

    19. Jennifer Hartline

      Perhaps you mean that if women don’t have money (are impoverished) they don’t have as many options, they don’t have “power”, they are not self-sufficient and therefore dependent on someone else (heaven forbid, a man!)? Is that what you mean? Because rights are certainly not contingent upon having money. And the first, the preeminent right of all is the right to LIFE. To live and be born. If you’re not alive, no other rights matter. No human person has the right to deny another human person the right to be born and live. That is no one’s legitimate choice. The child in the womb is a human person, period. Our neighbor.

    20. Jennifer Hartline

      I guess the child in the womb would have to agree with you. She has no money and no power and is at the mercy of those who would take away her right to life because they do have power and money and do not consider her rights at all.

    21. the otehr part of more children is more power for the church, more poverty for many and so they will spend more time praying in church – to win the lottery etc )isnt gambling a vice?)

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  6. Very nicely explained. Our three daughters are living their dreams: scuba diving, para gliding and
    excelling in a field overwhelmingly dominated by men. Their femininity is the crown jewel of who they
    are; the four grand kiddos a testament to God’s unique compliment to gender.

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