The dead end of gender theory

| Jessica Zittlow | June 18, 2015 | 4 Comments

Pope Francis has been talking a lot lately about what he is calling “gender theory.” He has called it an “anthropological regression” that “does not recognize the order of creation.”

But what is gender theory and why does it matter?

In short, it is a rejection of the reality that we are each created male and female — our bodies being an expression of that reality — and a claim that our identity can be made or remade in any way we choose. Gender theory has enormous public policy consequences and will be at the heart of the religious liberty debate for the foreseeable future.

Embracing a fiction

Originally, gender theory was connected to feminism and sought to eradicate traditional gender roles for men and women based on the view that how we perceive gender is merely a social construction.

More recent theories posit that gender is what the person believes him or herself to be. According to this view, people should be able to identify as male, female or one of the many new gender identities regularly emerging, because who they are is determined by their subjective sense of their self, not by the objective reality of being created male or female.

With this view of the human person, the body becomes the enemy of personal freedom when it does not reflect what one feels is his or her inner identity (“my truth”).

There are many different strains of “gender theory,” but all of them seek to liberate the person from the reality of the body and how we are created.

Enemies of freedom

Gender theory is quickly becoming social dogma. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the media stampede to recognize a “he” as a “she.”

The cultural and linguistic revolution also has companion legislation that seeks to eliminate any opposition to gender theory and the freedom to choose one’s identity.

Though discrimination based on sex and gender (including gender identity) is already prohibited under Minnesota law, some activists and legislators are proposing to amend the Minnesota Constitution to mandate gender equality (HF 165/SF 62).

Rather than simply ensuring that men and women are treated equally, as some proponents claim the amendment will do, it will essentially operate as a blank check in a multitude of contexts to eradicate what gender theorists perceive as discrimination.

Some potential legal outcomes of the amendment include state-funded sex-change operations; state-funded assisted reproductive technology, including surrogacy arrangements; curriculum mandates in schools; and a multitude of employment mandates.

Perhaps most troubling, such an amendment could also erode the religious liberty protections Minnesotans enjoy in both state statute and in our state constitution. Those who refuse to go along or comply with a mandate listed above would be punished, monetarily and legally, as enemies of “freedom.”

Our response: male and female he created them

Shortly after this article goes to press, Pope Francis will release an encyclical about the environment.  One expected theme is that all of creation is a gift over which we are stewards, and which has natural and moral limitations we must respect.

Respecting creation includes respecting human nature reflected in our bodies, which may seem to some like an arbitrary limitation.  But as Catholics we know that true liberation comes when we live according to God’s wise and loving plan for us.

That means embracing the reality of being created male and female, and offering authentic love, concern and care for those who are struggling with this reality.

“The complementarity of man and woman, the crown of the divine creation, is being questioned by gender ideology in the name of a freer and more just society,” the pope said June 8 at the Vatican’s Santa Marta hall.

He went on to say: “The difference between man and woman is not meant to stand in opposition, or to subordinate, but is for the sake of communion and generation, always ‘in the image and likeness of God.’”

We need witnesses to the reality of being created male and female because it is a life-giving truth.  Living the truth in word and deed could have personal consequences if social developments such as the constitutional amendment are embraced in the political sphere.

But as disciples, our mission is to live by and share with others God’s loving plan for us all.

Zittlow is associate director for communications for the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

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Category: Faith in the Public Arena

  • Frank Schweigert

    Jessica Zittlow’s article does a great disservice to our understanding of sex and gender in this article. “Respecting human nature reflected in our bodies” is not always so simple as man or woman. Some people, identified as intersex, are born with duplicate or conflicting physical sex characteristics. Attempts to “correct” the body’s ambiguity by surgery can result in painful psychological conflicts, but in any case gender issues can be difficult for such persons. Other people have apparently clear physical sex characteristics but a clear orientation to the other gender–an orientation that appears early in life and persists despite repeated efforts to force conformity. These persons are not “claiming a freedom to choose” their gender but rather acceptance of what it is. Thirdly, there are persons whose gender identity is neither stable nor binary male/female but some mix. None of these situations is easy to live with, which is why we all need to cultivate a sense of openness and care regarding gender rather than an attitude of judgment.
    Frank Schweigert
    St. Paul, MN

    • Paula Ruddy

      Thanks for this comment, Frank. You have modeled a pastoral response to LGBTQ people. I would also like to see a higher value for individual liberty among Catholics. Can we say that LGBTQ people are freely choosing, not their gender identity, as you point out, but they are freely choosing to live with integrity in the unfolding mystery of what gender identity means for them.

      • Charles C.

        Dear Paula,

        I believe the article models a proper pastoral response.

        “That means embracing the reality of being created male and female, and offering authentic love, concern and care for those who are struggling with this reality.”

        That sounds good to me. But what am I to make of:

        “they are freely choosing to live with integrity in the unfolding mystery of what gender identity means for them?”

        Does that have something to do with sexual activity? Is it dealing with what kind of clothing they prefer to wear? Does it mean that they are doing the best they can without knowing whether they are male or female? That they can’t know whether they are male or female because it is constantly changing (unfolding), and besides, whether they’re male or female depends on what they think it means?

        As harsh as this may sound, I honestly don’t understand the meaning of those words.

        Next, what does lesbianism and homosexuality (and bisexuality and queerness, for that matter) have to do with this? Or, did you use LGBTQ as a shorthand for everyone with an unusual approach to sexuality?

        The Church doesn’t claim it’s a sin for a man to think he’s a woman. I don’t see the problem at the individual level, and, after all, that’s the only place to find souls.

        But this Pope (and he should be pastoral enough for anyone) has only harsh words and criticism for gender THEORY. You and I should be able to accept that.

    • Charles C.

      Mr. Schweigert,

      Your argument has the force and precision of sniper’s bullets. Unfortunately, you are aiming some of your shots at the wrong target.

      This isn’t a discussion of the medical rarities involving people who have physical abnormalities clouding the identification of their sex. The government estimates that a baby born with both sets of functioning sex organs occurs once in 42,500 to 125,000 births, and very few of those leave the hospital in that condition. Generous estimates of those who have any kind of sexual abnormality, even at the chromosome level, are one in 2,000. Even then, what evidence is there that a particular physical problem is the cause of sexual confusion?

      For me, your argument becomes relevant when you speak of those who are clearly one sex, but “identify” with the other sex, or don’t identify at all but come up with some “compromise.”

      But first, as my quotation marks indicate, what do you mean by “identify?” My best guess is that a person who identifies as female is a person who believes he is a female.

      If that is the case, we have a person who is, according to every test known to man, a male, but who insists he is a female. If it wasn’t for the fact that we’re talking about sexuality (which may be the only sacred topic left in America), the response would be immediate and universal; “This guy needs to see a psychologist.”

      If I were to say that I was a Black, or if I said I was a Martian, in the face of every fact and examination, treatment would be the appropriate next step. But if I say I’m a woman . . .?

      In any other field or subject, if a person stubbornly holds on to the belief that something is true even when it has been shown conclusively that it is false, we can say with accuracy that the person has lost touch with reality.

      The Pope, and the article, simply state the obvious; this problem with reality also includes false beliefs about one’s body and sexuality.

      The Pope, the article, and I, completely accept the idea that people with these false beliefs should be treated lovingly, with care and support. In the same way, I hope to be treated with pastoral care when my beliefs vary from the truth, the reality, of God and His creation and love.

      But to tell a man who thinks he’s a woman, “That’s OK, we’ll agree that you are a woman,” is fraud and a lie. I’m sure you’re too good of a man to wish to propagate fraud, but that is the inevitable result of the gender theory criticized in the article and by the Pope.

      Please remember that there is no judgment of the individual stated anywhere in the article or the Pope’s comments. What is there is a Catholic demolition of a theory which leads to confusion and the rejection of God’s gifts.

      It is not wise for anyone to deny reality and to change it in their minds until they make a new “reality” which they happen to like better. Theories promoting such distortion lead, in the long run, to placing oneself above God’s creation and then above God himself.