Do Men and Women Sin in Different Ways?

by Caroline

According to a recent Vatican report, the two sexes sin differently. For men, the top sin was lust. For women, pride.

In a Mormon context, the notion of the two sexes struggling with different sins is interesting. If you go by the number of porn talks that men get, maybe one could make an argument that Mormon leaders see lust as being men’s greatest failing. However, I don’t think Mormon women get an inordinate amount of talks on pride – at least no more than men. In fact, talks directed at women seem to me to often be about how wonderful and important we are and how much our male Church leaders love and appreciate us. Which might imply that they see feelings of lack of self-worth as being our problem more than pride.

This actually goes along with what feminist theologians have been saying since the seventies. Traditional Christian theology usually places pride as humankind’s greatest moral failing, but these feminist theologians have postulated that in fact, that paradigm might fit men better than women. They argue that women’s greatest failing is actually the opposite – a tendency to overly self-sacrifice. Or as feminist theologian Valorie Saiving puts it, “the underdevelopment or negation of Self.”

Personally, I like this idea. Of course it varies from person to person, but I sure see a lot of women who seem to me to struggle with that underdevelopment of Self. Though I do wonder if that is changing as young women are taught more and more how important it is for them to pursue educational and career goals, that their lives do have meaning aside from their reproductive roles….

What do you think? Do men and women tend to sin differently? What do you think of the idea of women’s biggest moral failing being an excessive tendency to self-sacrifice?


Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.

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  1. Alisa says:

    My thought is, What lies behind the sin of pride? Is it having a healthy self-esteem? I don’t think so. I think pride comes from trying to compensate in non-productive ways for the lack of self-worth. Pres. Benson in his famous talk on pride says it mostly comes from the “bottom up.” I’ll admit that there is a pride that comes from those who seem to have it all and it works both ways, but I’m thinking about pride in relation to self-sacrifice.

    I think that self-sacrifice can sometimes be done in a very positive way when it’s a healthy person serving others. But there are also a lot of unhealthy ways to self-sacrifice, some of which lead to feelings of boundary violation, self-righteousness, resentment, pride, or entrapment. I have heard a lot of pain in the voices of women in various self-sacrificing roles and their criticism of others who are not making the same choices they are, and I think this is a kind of pride.

  2. sarah says:

    I, too, think the whole self-sacrifice thing is just another form of pride.

  3. Caroline says:

    Interesting… I had never connected pride with self-sacrifice so closely. In my mind they were more opposite than similar. But I see what you both mean in saying that self-sacrifice is a sort of pride, especially if it’s a self-sacrifice that results in self-satisfaction and judgementalism.

    One feminist critique of self-sacrifice does go into something like that, though, now that I remember. She was saying that self-sacrifice leads women to be manipulative, since they’ve given up all their power and aspirations and thus live their hopes and dreams through others. (think of stage moms, in an extreme example)

    What you say about pride being the root of other sins (like self-sacrifice, in its extreme state) might jive well with the way most Mormons think of these things. I think I remember being taught that pride was the greatest sin of all, since it leads to other sins.

  4. Scott says:

    I have two confessions to make before commenting:

    First, I was looking at a very small screen and not wearing my glasses when I saw the title of this post on, and I only followed the link because I thought it was titled “Do Men and Women Sit In Different Ways?” Needless to say, I was quite disappointed.

    Second, I am very intimidated by my surroundings. I’m not a regular here, and–let’s be honest, now–I don’t really fit in very well.

    Now that that is out of the way…

    Even though I was hoping for a nice post about male and female posture preferences (who wouldn’t?), I was intrigued by the post and found something oddly familiar about it, though it took me some time to figure out exactly what.

    The questions Caroline asks about both pride and self-sacrifice are among the central themes of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, a pair of novels by Ayn Rand.

    (As an economist, I love these books; I also know that I’m in a minority there, so please try to refrain from telling me to stop thinking like a high schooler. It’s all been said before.)

    In particular, Rand illustrates what she perceived as the destructive consequences of “the underdevelopment or negation of Self,” as Caroline quotes Ms. Saiving, in her primary antagonists who publicly engage in and promote self-sacrifice for the collective good, while secretly they wallow in self-loathing and misery.

    Simultaneously, the protagonists in her works are filled with an extraordinary–even inhuman–sense of self-worth and pride (gasp!), which attributes form the entire basis of the “moral code” by which they live.

    To summarize, from the Wikipedia page for Atlas Shrugged:

    “[Ayn] Rand argues that independence and individual achievement enable society to survive and thrive, and should be embraced…She argues that, over time, coerced self-sacrifice causes any society to self-destruct.”

    Who would have guessed that the Exponent II blog would be a safe haven for Randian philosophy? 🙂

    Please let me know if that sitting post ever gets written–it sounded riveting.

  5. mb says:

    I think we may be getting many “you are loved and appreciated” messages from General Authority talks not because of lack of self-worth or an excessive tendency to self-sacrifice, but because love and appreciation are two of the main sources of liberation from the reason behind that low self-worth and excessive self-sacrifice: the anxious, erroneous sense that many good, religious women (both LDS and not) have that they are responsible for getting their family members to act and think in certain ways and that such is the definition of “success”. That misplaced, inherently prideful sense of singular, essential responsibility is at the root of much of the overly self-sacrificing behavior, manipulation, resentment, criticism of others and low self-esteem Caroline and Alisa have referred to.

    Desperate attempts to define our success by the behavior of or opinions held by those we love leads us to anxiously try to control that behavior and those opinions. Such definitions of success and our attempts to achieve them lead to bursts of pride when we get people we love to think or act in ways we want them to and discouragement when we don’t.

    The best way I know to truly be at peace and free from the inclination to anxiously try to control the behavior and opinions of those we love (which, as I noted, is an attempt to preserve our sense of being successful and therefore a form of pride) is to tap fully into the complete, accepting, understanding love that God has for you, and for those you love, and to trust his ability to save. So getting that message, “you are loved and appreciated” is the first essential step in that process.

    It is good to remember that there is only one Savior, and it isn’t us.

  6. Caroline says:

    Scott, sorry to disappoint on the posture post. Maybe next time. 🙂 I’ve never read Ayn Rand – interesting that she confronts these issues of self-sacrifice and pride. It sounds like she does a good job of showing the detriments of extreme self-sacrifice. Does she show any negative effects of pride, even with a belief that overall it’s a good thing? In my view, the knife cuts both ways. You’ll have to come here more often, Scott, and give us your libertarian perspective on life. I imagine there will be other places of overlap between feminism and libertarianism.

    mb, thanks, for your thoughtful comment. I’ve got to run – I’ll respond later.

  7. Scott says:


    The pride Rand prescribes has (in her view) essentially no downside in her novels or ideology (FYI–I love the novels, but the ideology as a whole…meh. Like most things…elements of truth, but a lot of garbage.).

    While this seems at first a glaring flaw in her thinking (to me, at least), I’ve found that the way Rand defines pride, and the way, say, President Benson defined it, are very different. In Rand’s view, “pride” is more of a catch-all term for personal integrity, honor, respect, satisfaction for a job well done, commitment, etc…although it does also incorporate some of the self-congratulatory smugness that ETB (implicitly) warned against.

    In short, I think that Rand is partially right–integrity, self-respect, and an unwillingness to sacrifice your principles are great things. When these lead to contempt for your neighbor, well…

    Her novels also have very strong feminist underpinnings, though the definition of feminism may differ from that which is accepted by a bunch of Mormon gals. In particular, all of her novels are centered around an extremely intelligent, powerful woman lead whose views of gender roles, sexuality, and love clash with all but a few members (the other protagonists) of society.

  8. Caroline says:

    mb, it sounds like you’re saying that self-worth issues and extreme self-sacrifice are indeed problems for a lot of Mormon women, but that those are rooted in a feeling of deep responsibility for the family behaving in a certain way, and that feeling can manifest itself in unhealthy, controlling ways. I think that’s a very plausible theory, and I like your emphasis on taking that guilt away from women and trusting in divine love. Works for me.

    Scott, I should find out more about Ayn Rand’s feminism. I imagine I’d be on the same page with her in a lot of ways, but if her feminism is couched in super-capitalistic, become powerful and make lots of money ways (I’m just guessing that could be the case from what you’ve said), then it might not resonate as much with me.

  9. Scott says:

    I wouldn’t necessarily say that Rand’s ideology in general is about a *need* to attain wealth via capitalism so much as it claims that doing so is NOT immoral.

    The feminism in her writing is less explicit–it’s more of a constant, unstated characteristic of her main characters than something that is openly or directly addressed frequently.

    I won’t lie, though…her novels are very, very pro-capitalism. However, they need not be *only* political books–at their core, they are novels–stories with romance, action, suspense, etc…so even if you were to disagree with essentially everything she stands for, it wouldn’t mean you must necessarily hate the plot.

  10. MJK says:

    You’ll have to forgive me if I’m skeptical of the *Vatican* is telling me what my biggest sin is.

    The other way to read this is “A lot of men are very simple creatures, women are more complex.” I’ll at least agree with that.

  11. KevinR says:

    I am male and of the strong opinion that there are no differences in our human tendencies to sin, or practically none, and that the self-image problems of women being addressed by the Church currently are the result of the strong patriarchal society created by the worldview held by older leaders (and still strongly being promoted). I wish I had more to base it on, but it is based on my feelings that I am a good nurturer, every bit as good as women are held up to be by the current Church leadership and on my feelings that all have equal access to the atonement, both bond and free, male and female. We are all human and we are the same. The ERA movement was right, gender differences need to be obliterated from our minds.

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