“Mommy, how are boys different than girls?” Most children ask this question or some variation of it in the early years of their lives. Even now, long after I learned about the physical differences between the two genders, I am still learning about the many differences between men and women and, frankly, I’m still trying to understand the opposite sex. Even science is adding to our knowledge about the differences between the genders. Recently research came out pointing to different ways in which the brains of most men and women are women are wired.
Yes, Johnny, boys and girls are different and I thank God for that! The physical differences between the genders are more than skin deep. They are differences meant to create a complementarity that is directed toward a profound union of life and love. I think we could all agree that the differences between the genders have been overly stereotyped in the past by cultures and that, in many cases, women have not been given their full role in society and the Church. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis recently addressed this in his Wednesday Audience as he continued his teaching on the family. He said much more work is needed to give women their full voice. But he also warned against going to the other extreme and losing sight of the essential complementarity of the genders: “Not only man as such, not only woman as such, but rather man and woman, as a couple, are the image of God. The difference between them is not a question of contrast or subordination, but instead of communion and generation, always in the image and semblance of God.”
According to Pope Francis, the gender difference between man and woman is directed toward their union and through that union, to the potential for the generation of new life. It is not about superiority of one over the other or about competing claims. Our Holy Father sees the differences as a call to unity that is intended to be a model for the rest of humankind. He wonders if the efforts to minimize these differences, to suggest that the differences of our bodies are not important, is perhaps a capitulation to the challenges involved in making the deep, life-giving union of man and woman a reality.
Here is how Pope Francis says it: “Modern and contemporary culture has opened up new spaces, new freedoms and new depths for the enrichment and understanding of this difference. But it has also introduced many doubts and much skepticism. I wonder, for example, if so-called gender theory is not an expression of frustration and resignation, that aims to cancel out sexual difference as it is no longer able to face it.”
The Pope goes on to assert that running from the challenge is not the solution. I’ll let Our Holy Father have the last word: “Yes, we run the risk of taking step backwards. Indeed, the removal of difference is the problem, not the solution. To solve their problems in relating to each other, men and women must instead speak more, listen more, know each other better, value each other more. They must treat each other with respect and cooperate in friendship. With these human bases, supported by God’s grace, it is possible to plan a lifelong matrimonial and family union. The marriage and family bond is a serious matter for all, not only for believers. I would like to encourage intellectuals not to ignore this theme, as if it were secondary to our efforts to promote a freer and more just society.”