Difference is Sexy

22 12 2010

The same... and different.

I wrote the last two blog posts to emphasize the point that what is the same about men and women (as humans, as persons, as bearers of God’s Image) is far more important than what distinguishes us (as men and women… or any other difference).  And to whatever extent we emphasize the differences without being solidly grounded in the similarities… we do damage!

This is something Jesus clearly knew well.  He seemed to think of women not primarily as sisters, but as siblings.

Nevertheless…

It's Pat - SNL's gender-ambiguous character sketch from the 90's.

But the conversation can not end there.  True, men and women are primarily similar: co-equals and co-Image Bearers.  But we are not entirely the same.  Overemphasis on our sameness can be damaging and disturbing!  (Take a look at the image to the right and tell me you’re not creeped out a little.) (I apologize for that comment – now crossed out.  Thanks Ashley for pointing out it’s offensiveness.  That’s the second time in the past month that I’ve had to apologize for a comment; that’s a sign that I need to start being more careful.  More thoughts on this in the comments section.) (I looked hard online for a clip of one of the old “It’s Pat” sketches, but they’re nowhere to be found…)

So unless we want to live in a world of “Pats”, We do not live in a world of pure androgyny.  Though the concepts of masculinity and femininity have been distorted and used to oppress and discriminate in many ways throughout history, attempting to do away with these distinctions altogether does not bring us closer to the truth.   If we want to draw closer to the truth, we must acknowledge the that there are differences in the world – including the differences between masculinity and femininity (which again, is not exactly the same as male and female), and to try to understand what they are (always knowing that our understanding will be somewhat flawed, for we can only see “through a glass, darkly”- 1 Cor. 13:12).

In fact, the differences between male and female, masculine and feminine, are much like any differences that we see in the world.  Winter is different from summer, but how is it different?  Sometimes there are cold days in summer and warm days in winter: does that mean we should do away with talking about seasons altogether?  Chinese culture is different from American culture, though there may be times when an American acts more “Chinese” and a Chinese person acts more “American”; does that mean that it is only damaging and offensive to talk about culture, and that we should do away with the concept altogether?  Loud people may sometimes talk softly; smart people may sometimes be wrong; athletes may sometimes be clumsy; children may sometimes act mature… and on and on.  Unless we want to do away with adjectives altogether – and indeed, do away with speaking altogether! – we must acknowledge that there is a place for talking about differences and distinctions – including the differences between the sexes.

So as I continue to blog about masculinity and femininity, my hope and prayer is that I seek out the truth with a spirit of play, giving my best shot at articulating the truth with a willingness to be wrong.  And I hope also that in the process I don’t do damage to others by “insisting upon a class beyond the immediate purpose it serves” (as Dorothy Sayers said in the quote from my last post).

And without further delay… The next post will return to my series of sperm and egg videos.  (How a propos for Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of Christ!)

Merry Christmas!

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4 responses

25 12 2010
AH

😦 you realize that there is a population of people who are dually or ambiguously sexed… and they aren’t gross… they’re human… right?
Since you asked, I looked to the right, and I wasn’t creeped out in the least. I think it’s important to be careful with what we determine is “creepy” especially when it refers to a group of people that are made in God’s image. I doubt He would appreciate His children being refered to as “creepy”.

BTW… I am sure you know I think this, but it doesn’t make ANY sense to seperate male from masculinity and female from femininity… it makes sense to broaden the understandings of the terms where they don’t fit… but feminine refers to the qualities of a female and masculine to the qualities of a male… when feminine ceases to fit for a female and masculine ceases to fit for a male… then it is the understanding/definition of the word that needs to be adjusted… not the application. If a man and a woman both exhibit a characteristic it is a human characteristic, not a masculinity or femininity. Agency is human, emotion is human, courage and cowardice are human. Any constraint of human characteristics to gendered terminology is an injustice.

This is not just about personal opinions this is a moral-political discussion. There are politics of gender just like there are politics of race. When someone ceases to fit your understanding of Asian they don’t then become labeled as being African Asian… or some other such ridiculousness.

29 12 2010
Tim Courtois

Thanks for alerting me to the offensiveness of my comment about the “It’s Pat” sketch. I should have been more careful and more sensitive in my word choice and my pop-culture references. I was saddened when I read your comment, Ashley, because I realized I had made a mistake. I am sorry.

Yes, there are people who are dually or ambiguously sexed. This is a very difficult and painful thing for a person to have to deal with. And, for me, it also seems quite mysterious. I am not any kind of authority to judge whether this should be called a “birth defect”, or just God deciding to be extra-creative with a particular person; not my place to judge.

Nevertheless, I do stand by my comment that, “overemphasis on our sameness can be damaging and disturbing.” Ashley, you and I have quite a few differences on perspective when it comes to masculinity and femininity, and I don’t think they can be sorted out in blog-post-comments. I respect your opinions, and think you do a good job at reminding me that when I discuss these things, I’m doing my best to describe my experience of these concepts, but that my descriptions will always be inadequate.

One example of a disagreement we have is the idea that masculinity and femininity are concepts that are distinct from male and female. This idea strikes me as very true, though my understanding of it is certainly imperfect. As C.S. Lewis says in “Perelandra”:
“Everyone must sometimes have wondered why in nearly all tongues certain inanimate objects are masculine and others feminine. What is masculine about a mountain or feminine about certain trees? [My friend] has cured me of believing that this is a purely morphological phenomenon, depending on the form of the word. Still less is gender an imaginative extension of sex. Our ancestors did not make mountains masculine because they projected male characteristics into them. The real process is the reverse. Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. Female sex is simply one of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless. Masculine is not attenuated male, nor feminine attenuated female. On the contrary, the male and female of organic creatures are rather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine. Their reproductive functions, their differences in strength and size, partly exhibit, but partly also confuse and misrepresent, the real polarity.”

Again, this strikes me as very true, and explains to me why men seem to participate in something bigger than themselves that can be called “masculinity” – though in a “blurry” and inconsistent way that sometimes (appropriately) bleeds over into femininity, and sometimes also (inappropriately) bleeds into something distorted and less than human. And women seem to participate in something bigger than themselves that can be called “femininity” – though in a similarly “blurry” and inconsistent way.

My word to those of you who disagree or are offended by my thoughts on gender is this:

Peace, friend.
If you find truth here, take of it freely. If you find untruth here, forget it quickly. For I tread in these waters as one who treads on holy ground, with feet unshod in holy reverence; feet washed by the Savior; but also with eyes that see only dimly, as in a distorted mirror. If my observations help you to see the reality, I am glad. If they serve only to cloud your vision, then flee, flee!

29 12 2010
AH

Nice 🙂 good ammendment 🙂 you’re discussing things that affect 100% of people here 🙂 so maybe it’s not the end of the world to have an annoying line judge 🙂 BTW there are other cultures which deal with ambiguously sexed persons in the second way that you suggested; treating them as especially close to the divine and giving them special ceremonial duties (blessing marriages, babies, etc.)… being both male and female, they are seen as being more like God… I note that this gives a nod to your sentiment that there is something different between men and women 🙂

29 12 2010
Kathleen

Thanks so much, Tim, for the updated version; some of the earlier wording also made me uncomfortable. I struggle with thinking about these issues a fair amount and I suspect that we also probably have some differences in perspective that can’t be hashed out in blog-post-comments. But I do agree with you that overemphasis on sameness, as well as overemphasis on difference, can both be damaging. And I really appreciate your thoughtful reflections on this difficult questions. I think you are very courageous in your thinking, and there’s no way to truly explore tough questions without making some mistakes.

I also want to second Ashley’s point that we should be cautious about our determinations that something is creepy. Or at least, we should be very cautious about making value judgments based on our impression that something is creepy. This is very dangerous ground to tread. For example, throughout U.S. history (and even somewhat to this day), many people have considered that marriage between black and white people (“miscegenation”) was creepy, and often extrapolated from this “gut feeling” to say that such marriages were evil, an affront to God. (This is just an example, I don’t mean that this is AT ALL the sort of thing that you were saying.) Sometimes our feelings are important guides, but sometimes we can be very misled, even using them to justify racism, prejudice, persecution. God help us navigating these waters.

Thanks again, Tim, and happy new year!

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