Hints for radical feminism sample 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.



To what extent should feminists aim to achieve an androgynous society?

Read the question:

This is a 'to what extent' question so that will affect how you plan your answer. You should spot that this relates to Shulamith Firestone. 

Identify the debate:

To a great extent: Shulamith Firestone thinks that an androgynous society would be a good thing.

To a certain extent: Early liberal feminists like Taylor and Wollstonecraft wanted women to have the opportunity to be like men.

They should not at all: Daly rejected the idea of androgyny and wanted to celebrate difference and live in a separate society.

Go back to your notes:

Make sure you know what androgyny is and why Shulamith Firestone wants it. Daly at one point advocated it but ultimately rejected it - why? Look at other forms of feminism and consider to what extent they could be said to be aiming for androgyny. Make sure you can explain why other feminists want to celebrate difference.

Plan the essay:

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

  • Paragraph 1Explain Firestone's argument: biology entraps women, pregnancy barbaric, need to liberate women. Androgynous society = one in which biological difference is irrelevant. Concept of gender abolished. Avoids some types of relationship being viewed as 'normal' and others as 'different'. 
  • Paragraph 2: (Present counter). Androgyny not attractive an option for many people. Daly thinks it is a way of men stealing what it means to be female and advocates separation instead. Mary O'Brian wanted to celebrate female difference.
  • Paragraph 3: (Analyse) The problem with celebrating difference is that it leads to essentialism and narrow definitions (e.g. motherhood). Daly avoids this definition but does not really say what a natural woman is. However, the point about choice is valid. Many people would not want to live in an androgynous world. Thus neither works!
  • Paragraph 4: Liberal feminism arguably presents a more moderate form of 'androgyny'. Emphasis that though education/vote etc women can be like men (rational, empowered, self-sufficient etc).
  • Paragraph 5: Some traditionalists might still be concerned that this is 'emasculinisation'. In the Mulieris Dignitatem Pope John Paul II said that women will reach true fulfillment by achieving their God given purpose.
  • Paragraph 6: (Analyse). Liberal paradigm is more attractive than the radical androgynous one. Gives women choice of life style without forcing it on them. May be biological reasons that women do genuinely prefer certain types of existence. In a liberal society individual women can choose to associate with 'male' or 'androgynous' society if they wish.

Conclusions: Androgynous society would solve some problems (no 'normal' means no discrimination) but it has many problems and would not be desirable for the majority of people.

Assess the view that biological and bodily difference should be celebrated.

Read the question:

In many ways this question is just a reverse of the androgynous one. 

Identify the debate:

Agree: Naturalistic feminists (like O'Brian and Daly) and religious traditionalists (like John Paul II) both agree that difference should be celebrated.

Disagree: Radical feminists (like Firestone) and liberals (like Taylor) are less likely to celebrate difference. They aim for sameness (androgyny).

Go back to your notes:

As before

Plan the essay:

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

  • Paragraph 1: The traditional Christian view is that God created people equal but different. In the Mulieris Dignitatem Pope John Paul II said women's biological difference makes them suited to role of motherhood. Fathers leant fatherhood from mother etc. Motherhood is to be valued.
  • Paragraph 2: Liberal feminists rejected this view. Celebrating biological difference = celebrating motherhood. In practice this meant that women were thought only capable of being mothers. Taylor, Wollstonecraft, de Beauvoir, Marxist feminism could all be mentioned here. Firestone goes furthest and is actively hostile towards biological difference.
  • Paragraph 3: However naturalistic feminists argued that liberal feminists had an androcentric (male focussed) view of what it is to be feminine and valued reason over emotion. They advocated celebrating female difference instead. E.g. return to celebration of motherhood.
  • Paragraph 4: (Analyse) Whilst motherhood is something that many peope find fulfilling the idea of celebrating women's ability to procreate = narrow definition of what it is to be female. Also raises problems for women who do not want/cannot be mothers. However, it might be possible to celebrate another aspect of female difference.
  • Paragraph 5: Feminists like Mary Daly advocate this approach. She says that women should celebrate being 'natural' rather than domesticated women. Should not want to just be like men.
  • Paragraph 6: (Analyse) one problem with this is that Daly does not make it clear what this is. There is some evidence to suggest that men and women may have different characteristics (give details) but it is hard to work out what is 'natural' and what is socially constructed. As de Beauvoir pointed out women's choices are affected by the myth of the eternal feminine.

Conclusions: The idea of celebrating difference is useful insofar as it emphasises the idea that people do not have to all be the same. However, the idea of celebrating biological difference is problematic because it leads to narrow definitions of how a woman should be. It would be better to celebrate individuality and allow people choice.

'Pagels' alternative brand of Christianity is not particularly helpful when discussing women's roles today.

Read the question:

You need to consider the significance of the phrase 'women's roles today'. It is not just asking you to evaluate Pagels, it requires you to analyse how useful Pagel's teachings are for modern women.

You also need to consider what is meant by the term roles. What 'roles' do women today have?

Identify the debate:

Disagree: Pagels believes that the study of gnositic Christianity has relevance for modern women. It is particularly relevant for the debate about women in the church.

Agree: Secular feminists might regard gnostic Christianity fairly irrelevant to the question of women today. For example, Marxist feminists would say that her theology does nothing to address the real issue of women's roles in a capitalist society. 

Go back to your notes: 

Make sure you can explain Pagel's teaching about Mary Magdalene, women priests, female language used of God and gnostic attitudes to sex vs Augustine and orginal sin.  

Plan the essay:

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

  • Paragraph 1: Explain the key features of Pagel's gnostic Christianity (Nag Hammadi Scrolls, God the mother, Sophia/wisdom, Mary Magdalene, Female priests ect.
  • Paragraph 2: Pagels would say that this does have relevance for women's roles today. Particularly significant is the debate about women priests. The argument against women priests is that Jesus did not have female disciples, the early church did not have female priests and that God is male so a woman cannot woman cannot represent him. Her work challenges these arguments - thus very relevant.
  • Paragraph 3Traditionalists would say that the problem with Pagels is that her work is based on what are largely said to be later works (i.e. not as authentic). She is selective in her use of texts and ignores texts which do not support her case. Thus her brand of alternative Christianity is not authentic thus it is misleading to use it in debates about women's roles today.
  • Paragraph 4: (Analyse). The criticisms of Pagels are significant. However, even if she is selective in her use of texts and even if they are later it still could be useful to show alternative versions of Christianity. Thus it is relevant to the woman priests debate.
  • Paragraph 5: Secular feminists might say that the real problem with Pagels is that she does not really address the key problems for women. Marxists feminists would say that the problem is women's roles in the work place. What the gnostics did or did not do is irrelevant for women now.
  • Paragraph 6: (Analyse) This is a narrow-minded view. As Cady Stanton and de Beauvoir recognised, religious views are very influential and shape laws and people's choices. Pagel's work provides a useful counter to some of the prevailiing views. For example, the idea of speaking about God as mother is profound and challenges 'if God is male then male is God'.

Conclusions: They are of some use when discussing women's role today however, they are not of central importance to the debates.