Epic trilogy reveals the history of 'gender ideology'
BY C.S. MORRISSEY
In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we learn the hidden history behind the story of the first Star Wars trilogy. The Rebel Alliance acquires the plans to the Death Star, thanks to the heroic mission of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones).
Thanks to Sister Prudence Allen, RSM, we also learn this year about the hidden history behind what she calls “gender ideology.” The final volume of her scholarly trilogy The Concept of Woman has just been published, Volume III: The Search for Communion of Persons, 1500-2015.
Pope Francis has also been using the term “gender ideology,” which Sister Allen uses in her writings to refer to “a deconstructionist approach to the human person as a loose collection of qualities, attributes, or parts.” This approach is driven by “a revisionary metaphysics” that does not make an accurate description of what Sister Allen calls “gender reality.”
The complexity of the question, which involves all of today’s most heated debates about man and woman, is reflected in the lengthy academic treatment of The Concept of Woman’s three volumes. Sister Allen’s work patiently describes the philosophical history in the West of the concept of woman in relation to man.
Because she has carefully explored thousands of years of history, her work has taken over three decades to research and publish. Eden Press published the first volume in Canada in 1985. Since 1997, it has been published by Eerdmans, which keeps it available through print on demand.
Volume I, The Aristotelian Revolution, 750 B.C. - A.D. 1250, studies “the paradoxical influence of Aristotle on the question of woman,” because of that Greek philosopher’s complex influence on philosophical discussions about the notion of “sexual complementarity.”
Whatever Aristotle’s own views may have been, his writings had the historical effect of lending support to the “sex polarity” concept of woman, in which woman is viewed as inferior to man. Woman comes to be thought of as the polar opposite of man, who is taken to be superior.
In contrast with Aristotle’s influence, the other main historical concept of woman can be traced back to Plato, whose writings were taken to justify a “unisex” concept of woman. According to the “unisex” theory, man and woman are equal because they are not significantly different, and there is only a spectrum of difference along one essential gender type of being “human.”
Sister Allen considers both approaches to be distorted, since they can easily be used to justify gender ideologies that do not correspond to the reality of woman and man. She describes the reality as “integral gender complementarity,” by which man and woman are complementary to one another, but “complementary as wholes.”
Published in 2002, Volume II, The Early Humanist Reformation, 1250-1500, traces the complex ideas of “gender complementarity” in the late medieval and early Renaissance periods, contrasting them with the many variations on the “unisex” and “sex polarity” ideas. This volume was so large, it was split into two books (Volume II, Part 1 and Volume II, Part 2), although it has also been published together as one gigantic volume over 1,100 pages long.
This reminds me of St. Thomas Aquinas’ epic trilogy, the Summa Theologiae, which also has a second part split into two parts: the Prima Secundae Partis (I-II: “the first part of the second part”) and the Secunda Secundae Partis (II-II: “the second part of the second part”).
Many fans of the original Star Wars trilogy consider the second part, The Empire Strikes Back, to be the best part of the trilogy. Although it is too early to tell, because it has just been published, readers may end up liking the third part of The Concept of Woman the best.
In Volume III, Sister Allen goes into greater detail about the historical development of the Catholic idea of “gender reality” (namely, “integral gender complementarity”), which she contrasts with the various versions of the “gender unity” or “gender polarity” theories.
Pope Francis appointed Sister Allen as one of five women on the International Theological Commission, which advises him on difficult theological matters. Although she is not a theologian, her expertise in the philosophical history of the concept of woman makes her an excellent member of the team.
Readers intimidated by the size of her magnum opus, The Concept of Woman, can choose instead to read the slim volume to which she contributed along with Pope Francis, Not Just Good, but Beautiful, which opposes any “gender ideology” that would resemble the Death Star in its capacity to harm the innocent.