Applying material from the item, analyse two reasons for gender differences in the membership of religious organisations.

This is one possible example of a 10 mark ‘with item’ question which could come up in the AQA’s A level sociology paper 2: topics in sociology (section B: beliefs in society option). 

Read the item, and then answer the question below.

Item

Feminists have criticized many traditional religions such as Christianity and Islam for being patriarchal: positions of power within the traditional institutions of both religions are largely controlled by men, an both tend to support traditional roles for men and women.

Feminists have also suggested that the New Age Movement appeals much more to women because it celebrates many aspects of femininity that traditional institutions seek to repress.

Applying material from the item, analyse two reasons for gender differences in the membership of religious organisations (10)

Suggested answer

Simone de Beauvoir suggested that Christianity offered women spiritual compensation for accepting their inferior roles in society  as housewives and mothers.

However, now that more women are in work, and they place less emphasis on the importance of such traditional gender roles, there is less need for such spiritual compensation, hence why the numbers of women attending church may be declining.

Middle class women especially may find the New Age Movement appealing because it allows them to ‘shop’ for their particular therapy, and demands very low levels of commitment.

the NAM is also less focused on social roles, and allows women (and men) a much greater degree of freedom to express their feminine sides – it celebrates nurturing and caring and emotion in a much more ‘fun’ way than traditional churches tend to, which again might appeal to postmodern women more.

It is also more accepting of diversity and thus much less likely to look down on women who are divorced.

Secondly, traditional religious organisations tend to encourage the repression of female sexuality: Catholicism for example is anti-abortion and anti-contraception.

This does not fit in age of female sexual liberation and greater sexual promiscuity. Since the  contraception and the pill (what Giddens calls ‘plastic sexuality’), which may explain why women are turning away from the church.

In contrast, the New Age Movement actually celebrates female sexuality. This may also explain why men don’t feel that attracted the the NAM, maybe they are threatened by empowered women, reflecting a crisis of masculinity.

Finally, the New Age Movement, in its pick and mix approach and celebration of diversity, is more likely to appeal to gender diverse individuals, as it is not against homosexuality like more traditional religions tend to be.

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