Hints for answering the Liberal 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:

'The Bible does not support the idea that women should have autonomy.' Discuss.

The question:

You first need to make sure that you understand what the words of the question mean. Autonomy means 'self-rule'. You should spot that autonomy is one of the specified things in the liberal feminism section of the syllabus.

The debate:

Agree: The Bible teaches that women are created as helper to man and should obey men - thus they should not have self-rule.

Disagree: Certain parts of the Bible demonstrate that women can have autonomy and general ethical principles in the Bible support this.

Go back to your notes:

You need to be able to use a wide range of Biblical material to answer this question so you need to look back at Biblical teachings. You need to know them well to be able to explore the different ways that they could be interpreted. Really key texts include the Genesis story, the household codes (Ephesians 5, Colossians 3), 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 14, 1 Timothy 2:11

To be able to discuss autonomy in depth you will need to be able to explain exactly what it is. Read back over your Taylor/Cady Stanton/Wollstonecraft notes.

You might also like to consider what Ruether, Trible, Daly etc would say in response to this question and weave their views into your argument.

Plan the essay:

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

  • Paragraph 1: Explain what it means to have autonomy. Relate this to liberal feminist teachings. Wollstonecraft linked autonomy to education, Taylor linked it to jobs and economic independence. Suffragettes related it to the vote.
  • Paragraph 2: Many feminists like Elisabeth Cady Stanton recognised that the Bible has been used to keep women in their place. Stories from the Bible have been used to argue against women's autonomy. Genesis (Eve = helper/temptress), 1 Timothy 2:11 (she should learn in silence and full submission). Household codes in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 (she should submit/obey). Phyllis Trible's texts of terror highlight women who lack autonomy and are viewed as the possessions of men.
  • Paragraph 3:Many Christians today would argue that although there are some stories that reflect outdated views overall the Bible does support the principle of autonomy. There are autonomous women in the Old Testament (e.g. Deborah). Jesus appeared to stand up for the right for women to make some choices themselves (Mary and Martha) and there are references in the New Testament to women prophesying/being deacons and co-workers which implies authority.
  • Paragraph 3: (Analysis para 2&3) Given that the Bible was written at different times and by different authors it is not surprising that it contains varied teachings some of which could support autonomy. There may not be one overall message. However, the teachings which oppose autonomy are less ambiguouis than those that might possibly support it. E.g 'wives submit to your husbands' is fairly clear. Furthermore, Biblical teachings were used by the likes of Augustine, Aquinas and Luther to argue against autonomy.
  • Paragraph 4: However, liberal feminist theologians might argue that the stories have been interpreted in a way that opposes women's autonomy but this is not what the texts themselves say. For Christians the core Biblical message comes from what Jesus said and did. There is evidence to suggest that Jesus' attitudes to wome were fairly radical. Discussion with Samaritan woman at the well was radical given the day and age. Plus his message of agape and the teachings about individual responsibility in the sermon on the mount implicitly support autonomy.
  • Paragraph 5: (Analysis/rebut para 4) There is compartively little about what Jesus thought about women. We cannot be sure. Some of the things (e.g. healing women) was not particularly radical. He did not - for example - give women the right to divorce their husbands.

Conclusions: It does depend which teachings you look at but the overwhelming message seems to be that women cannot be trusted to have autonomy.

To what extent have liberal feminist theologians responded successfully to issues of rights, autonomy and patriarchy?

Read the question:

Notice it asks you about liberal feminist THEOLOGIANS. Thus you cannot just write about liberal feminists! Consider what might be meant by the term 'responded successfully'.

The debate:

They have responded successfully: They have read the Bible selectively to focus on the texts that support these basic principles.

They have not responded successfully: They have not recognised that the Bible actually harms womens fight for rights, autonomy and patriarchy. They have not accepted that the Bible needs to be rejected or substantially revised.

Go back to your notes:

Make sure you are clear on who the liberal feminist theologians are. Cady Stanton would be the key liberal feminist theologian.

Plan the essay:

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

  • Paragraph 1: Explain what the issues of rights, autonomy and patriarchy are: i.e. liberal feminists think that women should have rights (like the right to education, the vote, equality in marriage and jobs), they should have autonomy and they should not be controlled by patriarchy. This becomes a theological issue because historically Christians have not always supported these aims and some biblical/traditional teachings actively oppose them.
  • Paragraph 2: Elizabeth Cady Stanton's approach was to stress that the Bible is not the word of God but the word of man. It contains both good principles and bad. Give examples of things she rejects and things she keeps. Women's bible was intended to provide women with guidance for interpreting the teachings.
  • Paragraph 3: However, revisionist feminist theologians would say that this is not an inadequate response. Need to go beyond sorting it into 'useful' and 'not useful' teachings and use a hermeneutic of suspicion/creative actualisation (Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza) to try to identify how the stories have been actively used to repress women. Need to reform language about God to challenge patriarchal views.
  • Paragraph 4: (Analyse 2&3) Given that theology has sometimes been used as a tool for oppression it does seem that

Assess the claim that the aims of liberal feminism are too moderate to succeed in liberating women from patriarchy.

The debate:

Agree: Radicals/reconstructionists would say that liberal feminism does not address the real problems.

Disagree: Liberals obviously would think that their methods would work.

Go back to your notes:

Make sure that you know exactly what liberal feminists like Wollstonecraft and Taylor wanted. Make sure that you can explain how education/vote/jobs could help to liberate women from patriarchy.

Plan the essay:

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

  • Paragraph 1: Explain that liberal feminists focused on vote/education/jobs as a means of liberating women from patriarchy. Explain how/why these things would be empowering.
  • Paragraphy 2: However, de Beauvoir argued that giving women opportunities would not necessarily liberate them unless the myth of the eternal feminine was deconstructed. Explain why with examples.
  • Paragraph 3: (Analyse para 1&2) initially it might seem in the UK that the liberal feminist aims have been achieved. Vote/education etc are powerful. However, glass ceiling/gender divide in jobs/pay gap etc might suggest that de Beauvoir is right. Consider in what ways girls today try to live up to the myth of the eternal feminine.
  • Paragraph 4: Mary Daly was influenced by de Beauvoir and believed that women needed to rebel against the domesticated women and be natural women. Separation/rejection of patriarchal values, lesbian relationships etc are the only way for women to be liberated from patriarchy.
  • Paragraph 5: (Analsyse/rebut para 5) This seems problematic and is offputing to many women. Too extreme. No possibility of choice. Assumes all men are misogynistic and potential rapists Etc.
  • Paragraph 6: Freudian feminists suggest that psychology is important. Links back to de Beauvoir. Upbringing creates the myth of the eternal feminine. Dual parenting could be a solution.
  • Paragraph 7: (Analyse para 6) To a certain extent this seems to be the way in which UK society is moving. Breaking down of stereotypes enables more genuine choice. This combined with liberal aims offers women the best chance of being liberated from patriarchy.

Conclusions: The liberal aims did do a lot to liberate women from patriarchy. However, women also need to be freed from social expectations.