Hints for Feminist ethics sample essay questions

Make sure that you have looked at the question and thought about it for yourself FIRST before you look at the hints.

Whenever you get a question you should do the following:

  • Read the question more than once.
  • Identify the topic (i.e which section of the course it is in).
  • Identify the 'debate' (i.e. the two sides of the argument).
  • Work out the main points that each side would make to support their case.
  • Consider what evidence/reasoning they would use.
  • Work out which side you agree with and why.
  • Look back through your notes and find more material/details to include in an essay.
  • Plan your essay.
  • Write your essay.


    'Traditionally women have not had leadership within the Church and that should not change now.' Discuss.

    'The Church' implies Roman Catholic Church in this instance but you should consider other denominations too.

    Note that the question gives you a very specific argument against women priests. You need to evaluate THIS argument - not evaluate different arguments against women priests.

    Identify the debate:

    Agree: This is one of the arguments put forward by Pope John Paul II in the Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

    Disagree: Denominiations like the Church of England have women priests. There are some people who support this by arguing that women were priests in the early church. Others think that there were not but believe that the Chruch should move on as times change.

    Go back to your notes:

    Make sure you have read the page on Ordination. You should be able to refer to Augustine, Aquinas and Luther as well as more recent contributions like Pope John Paul II Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and statements from the current Pope Francis I.

    You should know that some Roman Catholics support female ordination (e.g Byrne 'Women at the Altar') and some Anglicans (Church of England) are against it. Current debates about bishops in the Church of England would also be relevant.

    Plan the essay:

    Introduction: Set up the debate and state your line of argument.

    • Paragraph 1: This view is set out in the Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Based on idea that Jesus chose only male disciples, early church followed his wishes and had only male priests. Church should remian true to Jesus (as he = God) thus should not change. Aquinas thought that women could not be priests as man was first principle.
    • Paragraph 2: Others have argued that there were women priests. E.g. Phoebe a 'deacon'. Deacon = ordained priest. Pagels used evidence from gnostic gospels to suggest that women were priests (examples). Schussler Fiorenza used creative actualisation to hypothesis about women 'left out' of the Bible.
    • Paragraph 3: (Analyse) this is not completely convincing. Deacon came to mean priest but literally it means 'servant'. There is some other evidence that women had important roles (Prisca, Junia, Mary, daughters of Philip who prophesied) but this contradicts other teachings (e.g. be silent). Schussler Fiorenza might be right that the Bibical authors had an agenda and left women out but creative actualisation sounds like guesswork.
    • Paragraph 4: A differente approach is to argue that regardless what the Chruch did in the past, it should be willing to change now to recognise modern values. Modern liberal society believes in equal opportunities, if a a woman can be a priest then she should have the right to be etc. Discriminiation is illegal in most circumstances.
    • Paragraph 5: Traditionalists would say that the Chruch should not just follow modern society and update its practices. Following tradition helps it to remain relevant.
    • Paragraph 6: (Analyse) If the Church is not willing to update its practices then it is likely to appear outdated and irrelevant. Will lead to people leaving the chuch. E.g Lavinia Byrne.

    Conclusions: Women should have leadership in the Church now even if they have not had in the past.


    Critically evaluate the debates about women priests.

    This question is similar but not identical to the previous one. This one requires you to evaluate 'the debates' plural. 

    Identify the debate:

    The structure of this question means that there is no overall 'debate'. You need to consider each argument and judge whether or not it is valid.

    Go back to your notes:

    You must be familiar with the arguments in the Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. You should also know the relevance of ideas from Augustine and Aquinas. Feminist theologians like Reuther, Schussler Fiorenza and Pagels are pro women priest.

    Plan the essay:

    Introduction: State that RC church does not allow women priests but that the CofE does. State line of argument in the sense of who has the most convincing case overall.

    • Paragraph 1: Give an overview (not an explanation) of all the key arguments against and for to demostrate the breadth of your knowledge.
    • Paragraph 2: Explain the 'Jesus is male' thus woman cannot be represent him. Explain that for Augustine and Aquinas Jesus was 'essentially male' whereas Ruether thought him 'accidentally male'. Make clear what this 'debate' is really about.
    • Paragraph 3: (Analyse) Who wins and why?
    • Paragraph 4: Explain the argument that Jesus only had male disciples point. Explain that this view has been challenged (give evidence).
    • Paragraph 5: (Analyse) Who wins and why.
    • Paragraph 6: Explain the women must be silent in church point. Explain that there is evidence that challenges this.
    • Paragraph 7: (Analyse) Who wins and why?
    • Paragraph 8: Explain that a key argument for women priests is the issue of rights. Constrast this with the idea that men and women have a different God given purpose.
    • Paragraph 9: Who wins and why?

    Conclusions: Are any of these arguments valid?

    'Christianity idealises mothers but in practice these teachings are unhelpful to women.' Discuss.

    Identify the debate:

    Agree: Christian teachings about motherhood are unhelpful as they limit women to one role and present unobtainable ideals.

    Disagree: Christian teachings about women as mothers are helpful as they encourage respect whilst teachings about marriage ensure that mothers get support in raising children.

    Go back to your notes:

    You need to make sure that you know what the Bible says about motherhood. You should re-read the Mulieris Dignitatem on motherhood and look at what Augustine, Aquinas and Luther said. You should also see what secular feminists had to say about motherhood.

    Plan the essay:

    Introduction: Set out the debate and your line of argument.

    • Paragraph 1: Explain why Christianity might be said to idealise motherhood. (Virgin Mary, idea that women will be 'saved through childbirth'. Mulieris Dignitatem on motherhood. Women sharing in creative role of God. Role is important and worthy of respect.
    • Paragraph 2: Explain why the idea of motherhood as a vocation/duty/role might not help actual mothers. Motherhood can be limiting and women can feel trapped if they do not want to be mothers. Virgin Mary represents unobtainable ideal. Christianity does not explicitly encourage men to help women with the role of bringing up children.
    • Paragraph 3: (Analysis) Who wins and why? Are the Biblical models of motherhood helpful to women or not? Is it useful to have an ideal to aspire towards?
    • Paragraph 4: Explain that feminists like Simone de Beauvoir and Harriet Taylor thought that Christianity's oppostion to contraception and abortion means motherhood is not necessarily a choice.
    • Paragraph 5: Traditionalists would say that if sex occurs within marriage then contraception and abortion are unlikely to be wanted. The Christian teaching that sex should occur within marriage is helpful to women as it ensures that they have children within a nuclear family.
    • Paragraph 6: (Analysis) who wins and why? (You could bring in ideas from secular feminism such as the androgyny/celebrate difference debate).

    Conclusion: Are Christian teachings about motherhood helpful to women or not?