Hints for reconstructionist 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 is Marxist feminism correct in identifying capitalism as the root cause of women's oppression?

Read the question:

'Root cause' = primary cause underpinning all the others.

This question is faily straightforward. The issue is whether or not oppression is caused by capitalism or by something else. The 'something else' will vary depending on what type of feminists you pick as your foil.

  • Liberal feminists would say that it is caused by misogyny and (perhaps) by a lack of education/outdated views,
  • Freudian feminists would say it is caused by psychology,
  • de Beauvoir would say that it is a complex mix of everything that contributes to the myth of the eternal feminine.
  • Firetone would say biological difference is at the root cause of female oppression.
  • Mary Daly might say it is caused by men and their desire to dominate (hence liberation is only possible with separation).
  • Some might argue that religion is the root cause of female oppression. You could argue that there is no one 'root cause' it varies in different situations.

Identify the debate:

Agree: Marxist feminists

Disagree: De Beauvoir (for example) who argues that economic factors do contribute towards female oppression but they are not the 'root cause'.

Go back to your notes:

The most important thing to do here is make sure that you can explain very clearly why economic factors might be said to CAUSE female oppression. Look at what was written by Engles and Marx about the exploitation of women.

You also need to consider what other feminists would say CAUSES oppression. Biological difference, psychological factors caused by upbrining, religion itself, male nature are all possible candidates (and all could be mentioned in your introduction).

Look for EVIDENCE and REASONS to help you identify which of these causes is most likely.

Plan the essay:

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

  • Paragraph 1: The Marxists argument (men and women do have different roles. The female role is domestic and has no explicit economic value thus is not respected. Engels argument. Marx's example that female workers are exploited more. Furthermore, capitalism encourages selling the thing that has the most value. Leads to oppression of women through pornography/prostitution etc). Ending capitalism will lead to a fairer society in which women are more respected.
  • Paragraph 2: (Analysis of the Marxist argument). It is factually accurate to say that economic factors are relevant to women's oppression. Pay gap/women in sweat shops labour suggest that economic factors are still an issue. It is hard to prove that no explicit economic worth causes oppression but intuitively we might agree that jobs that are paid less are less respected.
  • Paragraph 3: de Beauvoir regarded economic factors as being extremely important but did not think that they were the 'root' cause of oppression. Historically men first got the upper hand due to biological difference. This is then perpetuated through the myth of the eternal feminine. Thus the root cause of oppression is not so much economic as psychological.

Depending how much time you had you could obviously bring in other possible 'root causes' for female oppression.

  • Paragraph 4: (Analysis of de Beauvoir's counter to the Marxist thesis). De Beauvoir is correct to point out that blaming capitalism for female oppression is too one dimensional. Women in a liberal capitalists society (like Britain) do not have to be restricted to the domestic role. They can participate in the capitalist economy. The fact that they still tend to do 'traditional jobs' requires more investigation (i.e. we need to find th 'root cause' for that. Psychology, religion, role models etc all contribute to female oppression.
  • Paragraph 5: Juliet Mitchell suggests that capitalism and patriarchy together are the two systems that oppress women and they work together.
  • Paragraph 6: (Analysis of Mitchell's argument). Historically there is some evidence for this. The people with power create economic systems that benefit them. However, the economic factors are not the root cause but are the product of the patriarchal system. Freeing women does not require ending capitalism but allowing women equal opportunities to compete with men in a capitalist market.
  • Conclusions: Economic factors are very significant but to blame capitalism ast he 'root cause' of female oppression is too simplistic.



    'For women to feminism to achieve its aims, society has to be reconstructed.' Discuss.

    Identify the debate:

    First you need to decide what the 'aims' of feminism are. Feminism aims to free/liberate/empower women. Most feminists (with the exception of Daly) would agree that they aim to bring about equality.

    Disagree: Liberals believed that certain things had to be changed but society did not need whole-scale reconstruction. 

    Agree: The reconstructionists believed that the liberal aims did not go far enough and that that the structures of society continue to trap women.

    Note: if the question said 'radically reconstructed' you would need to bring in the radical feminists too. You could legimately include people like Daly and Firestone in this question as they also envisage 'reconstructing' society.

    Go back to your notes:

    Make sure you know about the different possible ways of reconstructing society (by demolishing the myth of the eternal feminine, by ending capitalism, by changing the nature of family life). You MUST be able to talk about existentialist, marxist and psychological feminism and you should be able to outline the ideas of the likes of de Beauvoir, Juliet Mitchell and Dorothy Dinnerstein.

    Make sure you also can explain how/why liberal feminists thought that they could achieve their aims without reconstructing society.

    Consider what feminist theologians might contribute to this debate.

    Plan the essay:


    • Paragraph 1: Briefly explain what it means to 'reconstruct' society and outline the three different reconstructionist appraoches.
    • Paragraph 2: Liberal feminists did not believe that the structures of society needed changing - they just thought that things like the vote, jobs and education had to be extended (in their already existing form) to apply to women.
    • Paragraph 3: (Analyse the liberal argument). Vote can bring about political change. Education can enable women to compete equally with men for the jobs that give them economic independence. Arguably we live now in Britain in the type of world that the liberal feminists envisaged. Thus this demonstrates that equality can be achieved without reconstruction.
    • Paragraph 4: Reconstructionists might argue that society is still not truly equal. Pay gap/difference in jobs/existence of pornography etc still show that women are still more limited than men. Maternity leave disadvanates women in the work place. Reasons for difference in career choices/earnings could include myth of eternal feminine, capitalist society, way of bringing up children. [Note: you might split this into several paragraphs].
    • Paragraph 5: (Analyse argument of paragraph 4) To a certain extent this might be true. There is concern that gender stereotyping children affects the type of careers they pick. Girls in all girl schools are more likely to do sciences than girls in mixed schools. However, despite this the problems of restructuring society outweigh the benefits. There are practical problems [explain them] with ideas like dual parenting, communist societies do not appear to provide incentive for people to work hard [explain why] etc. Ideas are more likely to change gradually with time as women compete with men in the same areas. E.g. more men are now likely to 'dual parent' their children - but this has come about through choice/jobs for women and not by somehow 'forcing' the issue.

    Conclusions: The structures of society may contribute to female oppression by shaping expectation. However, the aims of feminism are more likely to be achieved by ensuring that as far as possible men and women have equal opportunities in society as it currently stands.



    Assess the view that the traditional Christian teachings about women require serious revision.

    Read the question:

    This question is really another version of 'Christianity has a negative attitude towards women' discuss. The term 'serious revision' should alert you to the fact that you should look at revisionist/reform theologies.

    You might like to address the idea of 'serious revision' rather than just 'revision'.

    Identify the debate:

    Agree: Revisionist theologians like Rosemary Radford Reuther, Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza and Elaine Pagels (a radical revisionist) would agree because they think that historically Christianity has taken a negative attitude towards women.

    Disagree: More traditional Christians would not agree. They would argue that the historical view of women is not repressive when properly understood.

    Go back to your notes: 

    The traditional Christian view of women is found in 1) the Bible 2) Augustine 3) Aquinas and 4) Luther. There are obviously other people whose ideas you might use, but these are the people that you are EXPECTED to know about.

    Various feminist theologians might be regarded as 'reform' or 'revisionist'. Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza (hermenenutic of suspicion etc) Rosemary Radford Ruether and Janet Soskice both write about re-imagining the language of the Trinity. Phyllis Trible suggests ways to re-read Genesis. Elaine Pagels (and others) re-evaluate the role of Mary Magdalene.

    Against these you should be aware of the contents of the Mulieris Dignitatem which defends a more traditional approach.

    Potentially you could also include Daly and Hampson who agree that it does not need 'revising' it needs abandoning.

    Plan the essay:

    Note: There are a lot of different ways that you could do this essay well.

    A thematic approach which analysed and evaluated different Christian teachings by turns could work well (e.g. marriage then motherhood etc). Or you could analyse Augustine, then Aquinas then Luther.

    This essay plan is just ONE WAY you could do it.

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

    • Paragraph 1: Briefly outline the 'traditional' Christian teachings about women and your sources. I.e. state that the traditional view comes from Bible, Augustine, Aquinas and Luther (among others). That the key issues are women's role in marriage and motherhood as well as her role within the Church community.
    • Paragraph 2: Set out the view of feminists who think that the teachings need revising. De Beauvoir and Cady Stanton blamed the Bible for contributing to the oppression of women. Key issues are the importance of obedience in marriage, silence in church, motherhood. You should refer to Augustine, Aquinas, Luther etc and use some of their terms (like man as 'first principle') Explain why these need revising.
    • Paragraph 3: Present as a counter the view that these teachings do not need revising they need proper understanding. I.e. subordination is based on love. Obedience in marriage is combined with husband loving his wife. Idea of 'equal but different' has biological basis (Mulieris Dignitatem). Use analogy to explain how two things can be for a different purpose but both be valuable.
    • Paragraph 4: (Analyse 2&3). Theoretically it is possible for two things to be equal but different however in Christian teaching women are often different and less good, Blame for the fall, less rational, subordinate to man etc. Furthermore, Christian teachings offer a lack of choice. E.g. primary role = motherhood.
    • Paragraph 5: (Explanation) Schussler Fiorenza, Ruether and Pagels offer different ways of revising Christian teachings. Schussler Fiorenza uses hermeneutic of suspicion and creative actualisation. Ruether re-reads texts (as does Trible) Pagels uses non-canonical sources.
    • Paragraph 6: Traditionalists would argue that these methods of revising Christian teaching are invalid (explain why). Radical post-Christian feminists would argue that the Biblical teachings should just be rejected.
    • Paragraph 7: (Analyse 5 and 6). There are problems with the methods of revision. However, all readings of the Bible are subjective and new readings can be useful provided people recognise that they are speculative.

    Conclusions: Christian teachings do need serious revision and there are plausible ways that this can be done.