Differing approaches to understanding sex/gender

I came across this blog post – “On Masculinity.”   It’s short and worth a read.  Please read it.  The main point is that we run into all kinds of problems by defining male or female based on the contrasts between the two.  But we don’t always need to contrast them.  They are more the same than different.  We are the image of God together, male and female.  We should start by thinking about how both males and females are human and are much the same.  And only then do we go to the Bible to see how God shapes the way we should live out of our sex/gender.

When we don’t do this, and we focus on finding contrasts between male and female we end up with really stupid and sometimes harmful gender stereotypes.  Men are men because they are not women, and vice versa.  Masculinity becomes a set of rigid cultural traits, and so does femininity.  Men get made fun of for seeming to be like women.  Femininity becomes the ultimate thing to avoid, and the ultimate shame for boys.  And ultimately this rigid gender dichotomy I think leads to problems like crossdressing and transgenderism.  We are forced to act outside our natural personality.  Boys hide or are forced to hide their gentleness, kindness, or sensitivity.  Girls hide or are forced to hide their aggressiveness, energy, and strength.  Then some boys start to feel more like girls, even though they aren’t, and some girls start to feel more like boys, even though they aren’t.  This gender confusion could end up resulting or at least contributing to various problems such as homosexuality, fetishistic crossdressing, or transgenderism.

Our culture is one of openness and tolerance and great change recently, but still we live in a culture that tends to favor seeing HUGE differences between men and women.  Our dress is more the same than it used to be, but there are still large differences.  Stereotypes about personality have gotten better in the last 100 years, but there are still many stereotypes.  There is beauty in the differences between male and female, and that I something I heartily champion.  I think I’m more attracted to my wife when she highlights her bodily differences through her clothing.  But pushing and highlighting general differences of behavior and personality is more damaging.  Our culture and some others enjoy those general differences so much that they push them to the nth degree and for those of us that aren’t on the extreme sides of the differences between male and female, we end up being in the confused middle.

But if we start with our sameness, and recognize that men and women really aren’t that much different, except for their bodies, then we start in a better place.  There are some other general differences to be sure, but mainly men and women are just about the same.   They have different bodies and maybe think slightly differently, and women can have children and men can’t, but we are both human, all made in the image of God.   Traditional stereotypes about masculinity and femininity are largely unhelpful and should be largely forgotten or at least watered down a lot.

If we focus on the differences, and go back to traditional gender stereotypes than we tell our sons, “be strong and courageous!”  and we tell our daughters, “be gentle and compassionate.”  But what does the Bible say?  The Bible speaks to men and women, without division, telling us all to be strong and courageous and gentle and compassionate.  The fruits of the Holy spirit, (who lives in Christians), though traditionally all or almost all feminine traits, are spoken of as something that all men and women should have.  Galatians 5:22-23 – 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

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6 comments on “Differing approaches to understanding sex/gender

  1. Eric says:

    Your post and the linked post are both good. They brought to mind two items.

    I’ve been thinking about gender stereotypes as it relates to marriages. There are traits you want both partners to have (love, honesty, and faithfulness to name just three). Then there’s this group of gendered attributes (gentle, strong, compassion, courageous, risk-taking, nurturing). While it’s expected that the female have the feminine ones and the male have the masculine ones, they don’t have to be separated that way. There is nothing wrong if both partners share some traits as well. I don’t see male and female competing but complementing. How they complement varies by couple.

    The other topic is the apparent female nature of the church. Some of that is due to the way the fruits of the spirit are perceived as feminine. In my church (and I think it’s typical), most of the activities are stereotypical feminine activities — study groups, children’s sunday school, meals ministry, worship team. (study groups favor the female get together and talk method of socializing vs. the male let’s do something together.) We are getting out into the community and doing projects and men are engaging more. The one activity I think of as masculine is evangelizing. And that is the activity I see church’s struggle the most with.

    Note: I’m completely aware that men serve and excel at all the activities I called feminine and women have been amazing missionaries. Both genders need to continue in all those activities, but some appear to me to be more feminine and others more masculine. I make this comment for a few reasons. Do people agree with activities having genders? Do they see a lack of men involved in the local church? If so, what can attract them?

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  2. thorin25 says:

    I agree Eric, the complements can vary from couple to couple. But here is the rub for me. For those that see strong rigid differences between men and women, it is very easy to see why men and women should be together in marriage, because only together do they fit together like a puzzle, and complement each other. If, in my view, men and women are mostly the same, and most of the gender stereotypes don’t really fit anymore, then how do men and women complement each other in a marriage? I believe homosexuality is wrong like the Bible says. But according to my thinking about sex/gender, why couldn’t two men complement each other just as well, as a man and woman? They would seem to just as well, (obviously not biologically though). My marriage works well perhaps because I am like all the women we read about in marriage books, and my wife is like all the men. But what if one of us was more like the traditional stereotype. Would we still complement each other? I’m just rambling, but it’s interesting to think about.

    Rather than assigning activities to different genders, I would want to focus on what activities God calls us to as people. There are very few biblical things that are assigned to only specific genders (such as marriage roles). The rest are commands for all of us. We all need to love, serve, sacrifice, evangelize, suffer with Christ, be strong and courageous, etc. Perhaps the problem is not that our churches are too feminine, but that we are not calling women to do what they are supposed to do as human Christians. They aren’t supposed just sit around and socialize, but they are supposed to be out there evangelizing, being strong and courageous women of God. I think the goal for our churches, is not to worry too much about masculine/feminine activities, but just to challenge every breathing person to live for God fully, full of love and strength, gentleness and power, courage and dependence on God, etc. If the church does what it is supposed to do, I think it will very much attract men and women both.

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  3. Robyn says:

    It sounds like you are tip-toeing around the gender minefield. Why are there distinctive masculine and feminine traits? In general, (not necessarily 100% of the time) because men have been and always will be attracted to women with feminine traits and women have been and will be attracted to men with masculine attributes. Why aren’t men attracted to masculine women? Because men and women are attracted to people with certain attributes that they judge will make them the best possible mate to make a family. They are following the first command God gave us in Gen 1:22 and 9:7. We ARE a lot different on purpose! The “traditional” gender stereotypes are not meant to divide us but rather bring us together. We need to be proud and embrace our masculinity, not water it down.

    There is a lot of confusion about what it means to be a man or to be masculine. When did “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” become feminine or exclusive to women? Do you think that women want men to have these attributes? Of course! But they want men to have these as integral parts of their manhood, their masculinity.

    I’m not quite sure exactly what the blog post you referenced was trying to say especially about “reconceptualize our thinking of masculinity”… As men, our role model should be Jesus and only Jesus. He is the perfect example of masculinity. Our problem is that many people back then hated Jesus and his masculinity. Today, many still hate him and his masculinity which is why our culture is trying to dilute or eliminate as much as possible the gender differences (i.e. “traditional gender stereotypes”) between masculine and feminine.

    Peace

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  4. thorin25 says:

    Hi Robyn, as far as your first paragraph, I definitely agree with you on principle. God made men and women different, and that is a beautiful thing. There is a reason God made 2 sexes rather than just 1. So I believe there are differences, and primarily those differences are visible bodily differences and those should be celebrated. But actually I believe there are more differences beyond just the physical visible body differences. But the hard thing is to try to nail down what those differences are. I believe they exist, at least generally. But whenever I’ve tried to pin them down, I’ve failed or been unsatisfied with possible answers.

    The fruits of the Spirit are not feminine, they should be common to both men and women. My point in the post was to say that according to traditional gender stereotypes they have been thought of as feminine traits far more than masculine ones. That is part of the problem, because of the old stereotypes.

    Our role model is Jesus. But we should see Jesus as human first, and a man second. Yes he was a real man with a penis. But he is a role model as a human for both men and women. In what sense was he particularly acting out of his role as a man, different than if he had been a woman? Surely he must have been. But in which specific ways, that I do not know the answer to.

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  5. Robyn says:

    How many examples would you like?

    The circumcision of Jesus (Luke 2:21) showed the validity and holiness of performing traditional religious practices in general. (However, he changed the reason for religious practices eliminating the need for many of them, one of them being circumcision in particular.)

    Jesus’ interaction respect, and concern for women (John 4:9 and others) is completely opposite to how women were treated in society (and even in some societies today). No man would ever talk with a woman in public. He radically altered the status of women in marriage and society.

    Finally, the Passion narratives show how Jesus suffered and died in order to save us. Men, specifically husbands and fathers, are called to sacrifice themselves and possibly die to protect and save their families. Today many men are unwilling to follow Jesus’ example and sacrifice themselves for their families judging by the high divorce rate and the large number of co-habitating couples. On the other hand, women sacrifice their bodies and possible death in carrying and birthing a child. Obviously, Jesus never gave birth and cannot be a role model here. However, his mother did and is an excellent role model for women in that respect.

    I am sure there are many more…

    Peace,
    Robyn

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  6. thorin25 says:

    Great comment Robyn, those are indeed good ways that Jesus acted out his role as not just the perfect human, but also acting out of being a man. I’m kicking myself for not thinking of those myself earlier. Maybe I was having a brain fart. Anyway, good stuff, thank you

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