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.