Gender theory: a threat to the family and proclamation of the Christian faith
16 May 2019
+ Willem Jacobus Cardinal Eijk
The following talk was given on 16 May 2019 at the Rome Life Forum on the theme “City of man vs City of God – Global One World Order vs Christendom”, organised by Voice of the Family.
Gender theory is a modern development which sets the city of man against the City of God, and the world order against the Christian faith.
What does gender theory involve? The term “sex” relates to the two categories, “male” and “female” because humans and the majority of living beings are categorised according to the anatomical and physiological differences in their reproductive organs and secondary sexual characteristics. In the 1950s the term “gender” was introduced. This relates more to the social roles of the male and female.1 The fundamental notion of gender theory is that this social role has no, or merely a remote, connection to the biological sex.
In the past, gender would have carried certain social expectations for men and women, and, in many parts of the world, still does. However, in western society, with its hyper-individualism and associated ethic, the individual is urged not to accept a role imposed by society, but to make an autonomous choice regarding gender. Furthermore, the fact that, on this matter, the individual is guided by public opinion, the mass and social media, and the world of advertising, escapes that person. In practical terms, the individual merely has the impression of having autonomy.
The role chosen by the individual is called “gender identity”. The individual could choose this gender identity without social pressure and irrespective of biological sex. Hence the individual would be able, depending on their chosen sexual orientation, to choose to be a heterosexual man, heterosexual woman, homosexual, lesbian, transsexual, transgender or neuter.2 A transgender person is someone whose gender identity does not match his or her biological sex: the individual feels himself to be a woman, although biologically a man, or vice versa. A case where an individual is dissatisfied with his sex is known as gender dysphoria. A transsexual person identifies himself as transgender when he intends to undergo a sex change or has undergone a change from one sex to the other with the help of medications and surgical operations.
There are many organisations which, even beyond the western world, aim to introduce the right for every individual to choose his or her gender identity; this is known as gender equity. In 2012 the World Health Organisation published a programme to promote and facilitate a policy requiring respect for gender equity in the context of human rights at an institutional level.3 Indeed, through the provision of financial subsidies, or a threat to withhold them, international organisations impose a requirement on national authorities, and other organisations, to guarantee individuals the freedom to choose their gender. They also impose the obligation to facilitate this choice by offering the transgender person means for medical or surgical interventions where necessary, so as to adapt biological sexual characteristics to the chosen gender. In many western countries, basic health insurance or national health systems partially or even fully reimburse the costs of these medications and surgery.
Education programmes seek to instil in children, at the primary school level, a need to consider and choose their gender as soon as possible while they are young. In circumstances where children who believe they are transgender but are still uncertain, the onset of puberty can be halted by administering a hormonal drug known as triptorelin.4 This gives the child in question the time considered necessary to reflect on this choice. Apart from the side effects of triptorelin, thought should be given to the fact that many young people experience periods in which they doubt their identity, including their gender. This is part of normal pubertal development. The blocking of puberty under these circumstances risks aggravating a problem which would have disappeared naturally, or in fact creating a problem which would never have existed, had the triptorelin not been administered. It must be observed that, after the transition to another sex, many transgender persons are dissatisfied, experience psychological problems and therefore wish to revert to their original sex.5
Radicalisation of gender as the root of the gender theory
Gender theory has its roots in the radicalisation of feminism in the 1960s and 70s,6 which in fact began in the writings of Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986). She wrote in the Second Sex, published in 1949, the famous section:
“…one is not born as a woman, but one becomes one. No biological, psychological or economic destiny determines the figure which the female presents in society; it is civilisation as a whole which generates this product, an intermediate between the male and the eunuch, defined as female.”7
De Beauvoir argues that in pre-adolescence, there are not as many differences between a boy and a girl. However, from the beginning of this stage, the boy is admitted to the world of men, while the girl has to remain in the world of women and is therefore obliged to assume the social role of a woman (evidently, de Beauvoir is speaking of her own adolescence, experienced in the years after the First World War). From the moment at which a girl matures physically, society develops a certain hostility towards her: her mother criticises her body, while the interest of males in her body causes her to feel like a physical sexual object.
One cannot fail to recognise in her ideas the influence of the theory of polymorphous perversity created by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939).8 According to this theory, the human person has no sexual orientation at the beginning. He or she is neither heterosexual nor homosexual but becomes one or the other depending on how psychological relationships with his or her parents develop. When, in the home environment, the child directs sexual desires to the parent of the opposite sex, the child will become heterosexual. If these desires are directed to the parent of the same sex, the child will become homosexual.
Under the influence of these ideas and other factors,9 radicalised feminism is convinced that the role of the married woman as an instrument for procreation and education of offspring is merely a social role, imposed on her by society. It is also convinced that she can, even must, be liberated from this through contraception and artificial reproduction. In 1970 the radical feminist Firestone said that once liberated from the “tyranny of their reproductive biology”,10 women would be able to choose their role, irrespective of their biological sex. This liberation also requires an attack on the organised social unit surrounding reproduction and subjecting women to their biological destiny, that is, the family.11 Firestone extended this demand to the destruction of all institutions which segregate the sexes from one another and children from the adult world, such as elementary schools. She adds a demand for the “freedom of all women and all children to do as they wish sexually.”12 The ultimate revolution of feminism would in this way generate a new society, in which “humanity could return to its natural polymorphous sexuality – all forms of sexuality would be permitted and indulged.” 13
Hence gender theory emerged from radical feminism. It must be pointed out that this theory also had its beginnings in the introduction of large-scale hormonal contraception in the 1960s, which made possible the so-called liberation of women from their reproductive biology, thereby paving the way for the total detachment of gender from biological sex. These developments once again emphasise the prophetic nature of Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae, which described the use of contraceptives to prevent procreation as an intrinsic evil, that is an essentially wrongful act. Paul VI clearly did not predict these developments in 1968, the year in which it was published. However, the significance of his encyclical later reached beyond the matter of procreation. For example, the French freemason and gynaecologist Pierre Simon attempted to enable the human person, rather than the Creator, to give their own form to their nature and life. He saw in gynaecology a way to accomplish this. An initial step, for him, was the widest possible promulgation of contraceptive means to bring about a radical change in the concept of the family.14
In 1990 Judith Butler concluded that the imposition of the conventional social roles on women and of heterosexuality as the sexual norm in society was part of a political plan. Referring to the notion of Friedrich Nietzsche that “there is no being behind doing, effecting and becoming”,15 Butler says: “there is no gender identity behind expressions of gender, but identity is constituted by its ‘own’ expressions, said to be the results of the latter.”16 She says that gender imposed on a woman is constructed by power, “partially in terms of heterosexual and phallic convictions”.17
This is intended to mean that in gender, taken as the social role, there are aspects which are socially determinant: that women generally earn less than men for the same work, that until very recently it was not legal for women to drive a car in Saudi Arabia, or that even in the Netherlands, until the 1950s, a married woman could not have her own bank account or was required to give it up when she got married. Nevertheless, there are aspects which are inseparably linked to biological sex, for example, the roles of man and woman in marriage, in the family, in procreation and as father and mother.
Gender theory in the light of the Christian vision of man
The fact that public opinion today readily accepts the total detachment of gender from biological sex is a consequence of a “cocktail” – of hyper-individualism with its autonomous ethic, mentioned above, and a particular vision of man, especially dominant today in the English-speaking world. According to this viewpoint, the human person is limited – consciously or unconsciously – to the “mind”, that is the rational consciousness and centre of the autonomous will, in fact, to the highly complex biochemical and neurophysiological functions in the superior nuclei and cortex of the brain. This is, therefore, a materialist vision of the human person.18 The body, on the other hand, is seen as something secondary, not essential for the human person. The body would be, for the “mind” of man, purely a means of self-expression. The “mind”, as the autonomous human person, determines the purpose and meaning of the body, hence it could also identify its gender, without reference to biological sex.19 As a result, only two fundamental rules remain in sexual morality: one must not cause harm to or exercise power over a sexual partner.
However, this vision of almost absolute autonomy is incompatible with the experience that the human person has a certain freedom within certain limits. The human person, while created in the image of God, is not God Himself, and does not have absolute freedom.
Furthermore, the human person is not only a “mind” but a whole, made of a spiritual and a material dimension, soul and body. The human person is neither merely a soul nor merely a body but “corpore e anima unus” (Gaudium et spes, no. 14).20 Both man and woman have the same soul – otherwise, they would have different essences – and hence they have equal dignity. The difference between the two sexes is, therefore, physical in nature. However, the body – including the reproductive and sexual organs – is not something which is secondary or accessory, but is part of the human being as a person. And like the human person, it is an end in itself and not purely a means, the purpose of which can be determined by the human person. John Paul II writes in his encyclical Veritatis splendor:
“A freedom which claims to be absolute ends up treating the human body as a raw datum, devoid of any meaning and moral values until freedom has shaped it in accordance with its design.” (no. 48)21
Nevertheless, the human body is not a raw datum, because it is part of the human person. It has its own purpose and meaning which the human person cannot change. Man and woman are not two different species. However, they have different roles complementing one another in the same human nature. This complementarity is indicative, not of a difference in the degree of perfection or status, but of their reciprocal roles in procreation. Neither the man alone nor the woman alone is capable of procreation. They can only do so together: the wife makes the gift of paternity to her husband and the husband makes the gift of maternity to his wife.
Complementarity is not limited to marriage and procreation but pertains also to biopsychic differences in their relationship as spouses and with third parties and society as a whole. The man has a tendency to focus on rationality, he has a somewhat abstract interior world, he generally expresses his feelings less readily and is prone to adventures and experiments. The woman, however, focuses in particular on concrete things, has greater intuition, expresses feelings more readily and is, in general, more solicitous. Through their complementarity, which excludes neither one nor the other from various social sectors, they complete one another in the family, and in social and professional life. Men and women who are not married also offer their talents in their personal and social lives according to this complementarity outside the spheres of marriage and procreation.
John Paul II enriched these tenets from a theological perspective in his Theology of the body.22 The first chapter of the book of Genesis23 shows that dividing human beings in two different biological sexes is directly connected to them being created in the image of God: “God made man in his own image, made him in the image of God; man and woman both, he created them.” (Gen. 1:27)
This is immediately followed by God’s command to man and woman to procreate and be the stewards of all creation: “Increase and multiply and fill the earth; make it yours and take command of the fishes in the sea, and all that flies through the air, and all living things that move on the earth.” (Gen. 1:28)
John Paul II combines this in his catechesis on the theology of the body with the exegesis in the second chapter of Genesis, in which marriage is described as the closest union of two human persons:24
“That is why a man is destined to leave father and mother, and cling to his wife instead, so that the two become one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24)
There is one God in three Persons. God is in Himself a community of three Persons, who differ in their mutual relations, love one another and give themselves totally to one another. Something of the “unity of the Trinity” is mirrored by the most intimate community of human persons, namely in matrimony. In matrimony, man and woman, both human persons, yet complementary to one another, love each other and give themselves totally to one another at a spiritual, emotional and physical level.25, 26
John Paul II also observed that human generation bears within itself an analogy with the divine “generating” – Father begetting the Son and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son. The total mutual gift of the couple to one another in matrimony becomes fertile in the procreation (and education) of new human persons. Generation in God, while entirely divine and spiritual, is the absolute model for the begetting of humans, which is “proper to the ‘unity of the two’.”27 Both the human person of two biological sexes and human generation have been created in the image of God. The essential aspects of masculine and feminine, of husband and wife, of father and mother are therefore all created in the image of God and form a part of the order of creation.
Simone de Beauvoir and radical feminists consider that women are treated with contempt, as objects of carnal pleasures and as mothers, being destined in somewhat functional terms, for reproduction and education, in a role imposed by the society. John Paul II, on the other hand, notes that the source of contempt of women is the original sin, which has obfuscated the reality of both man and woman being created in the image of God, but with consequences more grave for the woman. Therefore God tells woman, after the fall into sin: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Gen. 3:16)28
As a remedy for the discrimination of women, observed in different forms throughout history, John Paul II recognises that both man and woman are human persons who have equal dignity, both created in the image of God. Their mutual complementarity results from their biological differences, including essential differences of their gender, but both rooted in their human nature.
Consequences of gender theory for the proclamation of the Christian faith
Gender theory has grave consequences for the proclamation of the Christian faith.
Firstly, the almost total detachment of gender from biological sex radically contradicts the Church’s teaching that sexual relationships can only take place between a man and a woman, within matrimony, and must always be open to procreation. On the contrary, gender theory advocates free choice of gender, irrespective of biological sex, and also accepts sexual activity in whichever way one wishes: outside of marriage, without openness to procreation. It promotes so-called marriage between persons of the same biological sex and considers it morally acceptable for such persons to adopt children. It accepts extramarital sexual relationships, surrogate motherhood and artificial reproduction. In addition, the reassignment of biological sex in the transsexual involves sterilisation.
Secondly, gender theory, which has its origin in radicalised feminism, promotes the lawfulness of abortion. It employs the euphemistic term “sexual and reproductive rights” to suggest that women facing unwanted pregnancy do not need to assume the role of a mother – viewed as a role imposed on women in the past in western society and still today in many countries in the world.29
Thirdly, gender theory hinders the proclamation of the Christian faith per se and undermines the roles of father, mother, husband and wife. It undermines marriage and parenthood. Holy Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church, as well as Catholic theology, use the relationships between the three Persons in God and divine generation as a model for human generation in order to proclaim the Christian faith. Alteration in the meanings of father, mother, marriage, paternity and maternity, make it difficult to proclaim the faith in one God and in His three Persons – God the Father; Christ the Son of God the Father, made man; and the Holy Spirit, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In Revelation, God is identified as the Father and the spouse of His people, Israel. Undermining the significance of a husband and wife undermines this image. Damage is also inflicted on the relationship between Christ and the Church, which is an analogy to the relationship between husband and wife. (Eph. 5:21-33) The priest represents the person of Christ, and therefore has the Church as his spouse. Leaving aside all other arguments, the requirement that a priest must be a man is founded on this analogy. The detachment of gender from biological sex would make it immaterial whether the priest is male or female.
Exposing the errors of gender theory is most urgent. What is at stake as a consequence of this theory is not only sexual morality, but the proclamation of the Christian Faith itself.
1 Oxford English Dictionary online version, August 1, 2014), see “Sex”, Noun (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/sex) and “Gender”, Noun 1. (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/gender#gender__12).
2 An alternative to the gender theory is the “queer theory”, according to which one cannot place a person in a particular gender or sexual category, but the limits between the two sexes are fluid.
3 The World Health Organization, “Gender, equity and human rights at the core of the health response (1 May 2012)”, see: http://www.who.int/gender/about/ger/en/.
4 This drug blocks the secretion of gonadotropins by the hypophysis, hormones which stimulate the gonads to produce the sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen.
5 R.T. Anderson mentions some of these cases in his book When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, New York/London: Encounter Books, 2018, Chapter III, pp. 49-76.
6 C. H. Sommers, Who stole feminism. How women have betrayed women, New York/London: Simon & Schuster, 1994, particularly chapter 1 “Women under siege”.
7 S. de Beauvoir, The Second Sex II: The lived experience, Paris: Gallimard, 1949, Part I, Chapter I: “Childhood”, p 13.
8 S. Freud, Drei Abhandlungen zur Sexualtheorie, Leipzig/Wien: Franz Deuticke, 1905.
9 Namely, the materialistic dialectic and structuralism, see: W. J. Eijk, “Christian anthropology and the gender theory,” (see: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/incontri/rc_con_cfaith_20150114_esztergom-eijk_it.html), pp 3-6.
10 S. Firestone, The dialectic of sex. The case for feminist revolution, New York: Bantam Books, 1970, p. 206.
11 Ibid, pp 206-207.
12 Ibid, p 209.
14 P. Simon, On life before everything, Paris: Mazarine, 1979.
15 F. Nietzsche, On the genealogy of Morals, New York: MacMillan, 1897, First Essay “Good and Evil, Good and Bad”, nr 13, p 47.
16 J. Butler, Gender Troubles. Feminism, and the subversion of identity, New York/London: Routledge, 1990, pp. 24-25.
17 Ibid, p 30.
18 This vision of man is called the “identity theory of mind”, see D. Armstrong, A materialist theory of the mind, London/New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul/Humanities Press, 1968 (2a published in 1993); LEWIS S.K., “An argument for the identity theory”, The Journal of Philosophy 63 (1966), pp 17-25.
19 One encounters this dualist vision of man in the writings of many radical feminists, cfr E.V. Spelman, “Woman as body: ancient and contemporary views”, Feminist Studies 8 (1982), n 1, pp 109-131.
20 II Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes (7 dicembre 1965), section 14, AAS 58 (1966), p 1035.
21 John Paul II, Encyclical letter Veritatis splendor (6 August 1993), AAS 85 (1993), pp 1133-1228, quotation on p. 1171.
22 John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, Michael Waldstein (red), Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006.
23 General audience of 12 September 1979, in: Ibid., 2:3-5, pp. 135-137.
24 General audiences on 14 November and 21 November 1979, in: Ibid, 9-19, pp. 161-169.
25 John Paul II, Apostolic letter Mulieris dignitatem (15 August 1988), AAS 80 (1988), pp. 1653-1729, in particular 1664-1667.
26 John Paul II, Post-synodal exhortation Familiaris consortio (22 November 1981), AAS pp 81-191, in particular pp 91-93.
27 John Paul II, Apostolic letter Mulieris dignitatem, op. cit., p. 1670.
28 Ibid sections 9-10, pp. 1670-1677.
29 R. Copelon, Chr. Zampas, E. Brusie, J. Devore, “Human rights begin at birth: international law and the claim of fetal rights”, Reproductive Health Matters 13 (2005), pp. 120-129. Cf. Sen G, P. Östlin, Unequal, Unfair, Ineffective and Inefficient Gender Inequity in Health: Why it exists and how we can change it. Final Report to the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health, 2007, p 17, see: http://www.who.int/social_determinants/resources/csdh_media/wgekn_final_report_07.pdf.