What’s a Man, What’s a Woman?

Christians are deeply vested in this double question. Complementarians are essentialists who think there are distinctive, essential differences between a man and woman, while egalitarians (the right term in this discussion) are not essentialists in that they think the differences are nurture and not nature. But this raises the double question: So what is a man essentially and what is a woman essentially? And that leads to this question: What are the distinctions?

What is one distinction between a man and a woman in your view? (Other than body differences.)

For many this double question is answered biblically or theologically. Yet across the spectrum there are attempts to demonstrate essential differences on the basis of the social sciences. Enter Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, a professor of psychology and philosophy at Eastern University, author of “Social Science Studies Cannot Define Gender Differences,” the second article in the most recent Priscilla Papers 27.2 (2013) 12-19. [CBE] The title of her article is the point of the article. The point is significant. If she’s right, there’s very little help for essentialist arguments — something relied on by many — in social sciences.

1. Research does not resolve the nature vs. nurture debate about gender essentialism.

2. Big one: the studies show very few consistent, essential sex differences between male and female. There are average differences but not absolute differences. The overlap is almost complete between gender traits and behaviors. “So it is naive at best, and deceptive at worst, to make essentialist (or even generalist) pronouncements about the psychology of either sex…” (12).

3. Correlation does exist but there is precious little to nothing when it comes to causation. It is nearly impossible to disentangle gender from environmental issues.

4. Meta-analytic literature “shows almost complete overlap in the gendered distribution of traits, such as nurturance, empathy, verbal skills, spatial skills, and aggressiveness” (15). These essentialist traits then overlap between sexes.

5. We cannot establish anatomy is destiny until we can control for opportunity.

6. The “odds are not good for using social science research to define the content of gender complementarity” (16).

7. Parenting studies show some thing too: “children of both sexes need to grow up with stable, nurturant, and appropriately authoritative role models of both sexes to help develop a secure gender identity.

But strong co-parenting also allows growing children to relate to each other primarily as human beings, rather than as reduced, gender-role caricatures.

Paradoxical as it may seem, those who are most concerned to display rigidly stereotypical masculinity and felinity are apt to have the least secure gender identities” (17).

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Westcoastlife

    “Paradoxical as it may seem, those who are most concerned to display rigidly stereotypical masculinity and felinity are apt to have the least secure gender identities” (17).”

    Oh, man, I won’t even go there…Piper, Driscoll, Kassian… oops, I went there.

  • Paul W

    I work in a field and agency that uses definitions set forth by Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In our line of work gender is determined by self-reporting. So if my sister reports being a male then she is male regardless of any anatomical features she may possess.

  • Rick

    “the studies show very few consistent, essential sex differences between male and female.”
    Other than the physical, what are those?

  • scotmcknight

    I think her article means to say there are no features that do not overlap with features of the other gender. That is the point of #4. I would think those features in #4, on average, would be found in women more so than in men.

  • Rick

    Ok, thanks

  • http://www.facebook.com/stevensfamily Mark-Beck Stevens

    For all practical purposes my wife and I see our relationship as equal. We make decisions together and we share the load of parenting etc. however both of us would still believe that God has created us differently as male and female. The way we process information and emotion. As parents we have watched our kids gravitate to their own thing and in both cases they have chosen normal boys stuff for the boy and normal girl things for the girl. We haven’t pushed that its just happened that way.

    As a pastor is we the differences as well but hey I’m no sociologist so I may be missing something. Does this make me a complimentarian?

  • Tom Krajecki

    Why leave out the physical? I think we would find that there is more ambiguity than most people think. Maybe we are too hung up on gender differences and identity. We look at the Bible as if it were written today when issues of gender and sexuality were much different back then.
    Everything doesn’t fit in a box. There may not be one answer for everyone.

  • Eric Weiss

    The full article is rather lengthy. For only $28 you can get a 1-year e-membership in CBE and thus have access to the full article, as well as many others (most recent 4 issues of Priscilla Papers, as well as most recent 4 issues of Mutuality Magazine). Plus, you’ll be supporting CBE. :) http://www.cbeinternational.org/?q=content/individuals-and-households

  • Cole J. Banning

    Gender is not a theological category.

  • mwkruse

    I frequently see one camp that sees male and female as collections of innate immutable traits that must be honored because that is the way God has made them. Yet when it comes to gays, that is lifestyle choice. Or if it is not a choice, it is an innate immutable quality that should be resisted.

    Then I see another camp that says gender differences are nearly completely (if not completely) matters of nurture. Gender is almost completely malleable. But when it comes to “being” gay, gay is an innate immutable quality, some say ordained by God. Suggesting gays might behave otherwise, or that they even have an option to do so, is asking people to violate their essential nature.

    All that is to say that our use of “science” on these topics has far more to do with agendas we hold than with wanting to really go where science leads.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brent.l.white Brent L. White

    Scot, you ask: “What is one distinction between a man and a woman in your view? (Other than body differences.)”

    “Other than the gunshots, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” Let’s please note that men and women are perfectly complementary (by design) in regards to reproduction. That’s not nothing, is it? Don’t you think these body differences play an important role in influencing (not determining) general distinctions between men and women. It doesn’t matter, in my view, whether men and women are endowed from birth with these differences in an “essentialist” way.

    Men and women, in general, are different. There’s nothing wrong with saying so. I’m not excusing or justifying anything that Driscoll, Piper, Grudem, et al. have said on the subject. But biology does matter. I think at the very least it feeds back into all the interesting sociological factors that help shape men and women into the people that they are.

    Maybe God intends it that way.

  • scotmcknight

    Yes, Brent, and I agree but the debate today is not about whether or not there are essentialist physical differences. The issue is if things like nurturance are essentially female while aggressiveness or even leadership or courage are essentially male.

  • Brad Williams

    What difference does that make in the discussion of complementarian vs. egalitarians? It would not make any difference if women were superior to men in every quantifiable category if God had selected males for some roles and females for others. This debate shouldn’t be about the equality of persons but the roles which God has assigned in his own purposes.

  • Jon Weatherly

    I don’t understand how one can affirm that between the sexes “there are average differences but not absolute differences,” and then label “generalist pronouncements” as naive or deceptive. As long as one does not move from general pronouncements on gender difference to absolute pronouncements on gender roles, is it not useful to make such observations as, “Men are generally physically stronger and faster than women”? Perhaps such statements are not what is meant by “pronouncements.” Perhaps pronouncements are like, “Because men are generally this way and women that, men must . . . and women mustn’t . . .” Still, I find the distinction important.

    Further, I don’t know whether the nature v. nurture debate is really all that important theologically. Whether this or that man or this or that woman is this or that way because of genetics or environment, that person is that way, and the cross-shaped response is to accept and relate to that person as that person is.

    So call me a generally essentialist egalitarian seeking an thoughtful communal response to each individual. I object to the absolute categorization of people for very particular kinds of treatment in the name of Christ, save those universals like sin and redemption.

  • Scott Courey

    What is the significance of this study? For starters, it provides strong evidence that Science is not God. If God’s revelation about who we are is bound to scientific methodology, we’re all up a creek. Social Scientists often have the courage to face realities that Christians deny because scientific discovery creates no crisis for anyone willing to worship science as the ultimate source of all Truth.

    The problem for the Christian is this: what did God mean when he said, “Male and Female he made them”, because he could have simply complied with the wonders of early 21st Century Social Science and said, “Pe– and Vag— he gave them”? It may be patently true that social science can’t give us the answer, but I’m pretty sure that God’s intent for reflecting his glorious image through gender is intended to be a mystery that we explore, struggle with and marvel over as we listen to the deep cries of our hearts.

    It will always be easier for science to reveal the glory of God in the external world (mountains and deep sea life) than in it’s attempt to mine the deepest realities of the human soul.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Humans are complex and like sexuality, we fall on a spectrum. One can make generalizations that will “fit” with a large number of people, probably a majority . . ie men like aggressive sports; quantitative listings and woman like building a home/’nesting’ and like romantic comedies. The problem is not everyone fits into these buckets. Some men love doing housework and reading romantic novels, while some woman are extremely aggressive/competitive in both sports and business and love number-crunching. So while we don’t have to exclaim “gender is a construct” (and really that’s very much a minority viewpoint), we can acknowledge that we are made differently and accept and celebrate those differences.
    This includes putting to rest any 1st/2nd century notions of barring woman from any form of church participation/leadership roles.

  • http://kristinrichardson.net/blog Kristin Richardson

    Interesting post. I have a hard time accepting essential social differences between men and women and have resolved that it’s genetic and biological differences combined with social influence that funnel us into different “directions”. It’s the difference between saying “men left, women right” with a wall down the middle and “men tend towards the left and women tend towards the right.” Both scenarios you can say that men and women as are complementary in filling the entire spectrum, you just can’t say the same for every individual man and every individual woman. What kind of term describes that?

  • mwkruse

    It matters because hierarchical complementarians throughout the ages made the case that the reason God gave a lesser role to women is that women are inferior. They are are weak minded. They seduce men and lead them astray. They are illogical and overly emotional. All those are now demonstrably shown not to be true, and that is the point of this post.

    So if women are not inferior and are gifted all the ways men are gifted, then why are women … to whom God has given so many of these gifts … relegated to birthing babies and rearing children, while men do all those distinctively human endeavors like provide leadership, serve in positions of authority, teach (including men), create wealth, and so on? Both non-heirarchical complementarians (egalitarians) and hierarchical complementarians have quit the historic rationale.

    Two responses have arisen to the practice that was based on the now discredited rationale. Non-heirarchical complementarians reject both the practice of gender “roles” in terms of gifts used in service to Christ, while hierarchical complementarians have kept the practice but sought out new theological rationales, like the highly problematic “equal in being, unequal in roles” justification that emerged in the 70′s. Either way, both groups have departed from the historic teaching of the church.

    Also, there were no gender “roles” assigned to men or women in the Bible. Men and women simply “were.” There behavior sprang from innate qualities. There was no need to assign “roles.” The idea of “roles” is a sociological term that conservative Christian scholars picked up from the structural-functionalist school of sociology in the 70′s and anachronistically applied to the Bible. The writers of the Bible were trying to make sense of the good news of the Kingdom in their context with all their cultural limitations about how things work (just as we do), in this case gender. In a world where we now all agree that the historical understanding of gender differences was flawed, it is perfectly legitimate to also question conclusions that we drew based on those misunderstandings.

  • theblackcommenter

    It may be better put to say that hierarchical complementarians as you call them were trying to explain why God gave a lesser role to women in scripture, i.e. the apostles said this. Why did they do so? Oh maybe its because women are less logical etc.) It is not a small distinction to make.

  • Rick

    “both groups have departed from the historic teaching of the church.”

    Did they depart from the historic “teaching” on the topic, or the historic “reasoning” behind the texts?

    “The writers of the Bible were trying to make sense of the good news of the Kingdom in their context with all their cultural limitations about how things work (just as we do), in this case gender.”
    In looking at the texts, that is easier stated than demonstrated.

  • theblackcommenter

    To begin with the term ‘gender’ is problematic as it automatically disembodies the person and tends towards a search for some deeper (or higher) more authentic essence that is disconnected from the physical. In that sense it has elements of neo-gnosticism.

    That aside, the denial of any essentialist component to sex (or gender) means that there is no true male / female distinctiveness – merely average aggregations of socially and situationally derived characteristics assigned to the male or female sex. If that is the case, then there is no basis upon which homosexual behavior, transsexualism, or transgenderism can be proscribed other than irrational ancient prejudice rooted in fear. The categories by definition, become indistinct and there really is no reason why a man should not dress as a woman since in either case such codes of dress are mere arbitrary socially derived distinctions that are culturally situation.

    But Biblically speaking we are not gendered beings, we are sexed beings. That is our biological sex imposed certain restrictions on us regardless of our inclinations. (a man cannot bear children no matter how nurturing he is; a woman cannot sire children no matter how assertive she is). The scriptures seem at least to impose additional restrictions and obligations on us based on our biological sex while simultaneously recognizing differences between men and women. Complementarity is hard-wired into human sex so much so that reproduction depends on it. So then what does it mean that God made them from the beginning male & female?

  • AHH

    egalitarians … are not essentialists in that they think the differences are nurture and not nature.
    I would dispute the assertion that all egalitarians ascribe everything to “nurture”. It is certainly possible to think that there are differences in nature beyond the reproductive between male and female (at least on average, and maybe for a few things in general), but that God can and does transcend these in calling individuals to ministry so that neither men nor women should be categorically excluded from any ministry.
    I think my own egalitarianism might be described that way.

  • Scott Courey

    Agreed, which eventually leads to radically self-contradicting conclusions. The State Board of Education in Massachusetts now requires teachers to create “trans-gender” environments for students. If a boy comes up to a teacher and says, “I feel more like a girl”, then the teacher is required to let him (her?) use the girls bathroom, regardless of how uncomfortable that makes other girls who have the correct anatomy. Here’s the kicker: Why? Because research now “shows” that
    “The responsibility for determining a student’s gender identity rests with the student,” the guidelines dictate. “One’s gender identity is an innate, largely inflexible characteristic of each individual’s personality that is generally established by age four…As a result, the person best situated to determine a student’s gender identity is that student himself or herself.”
    http://radio.foxnews.com/toddstarnes/top-stories/students-who-refuse-to-affirm-transgender-classmates-face-punishment.html
    Wait. Does research show that there are no essential gender differences beyond anatomy? Or is it quite the radical opposite, that one’s invisible gender qualities are so deeply “innate and inflexible” that one’s anatomy could literally betray this “inner identity” of gender, thus necessitating bathrooms grouped, not by anatomy, but by one’s inner sense of gender.
    This is the madness of trying to make science our god.

  • danaames

    Brad, the difference it makes is that people make value judgments based on deviation from what is “normal,” and treat people accordingly, or at least hold them in thought and heart to be in some way “less than.” This is a violation of Jesus’ command to love others in the same way he loves us.

    Instead of locating and talking about someone on a spectrum of “humanity,” because of captivity to making sure everything thought and done is “biblical,” some Protestants must maintain the non-biological essentialist differences at any cost because of how they interpret scripture, mainly Paul. The result of this is that women are the deviations from the “normal,” are viewed as somehow “other,” and ultimately become somehow less than human, and are treated as such. I am NOT saying that all “complementarians” are guilty of treating women as less than human; quite the contrary. I think most of them actually live much higher than their theology allows.

    There is a different way to interpret scripture, while maintaining a “high view” of its inspiration.

    Theologically, if this sense of difference is carried into Trinitarian relations, as some have done, Jesus becomes something “less than” fully God. That is Arianism, plain and simple. So there are larger repercussions.

    One of the very greatest and holiest eastern Christian theologians, St Maximus the Confessor (early 600s, so not influenced by “feminism”) wrote that the gulf between men and women, being the primary one of humanity, was the first one that Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection HEALED. I would think that Christians would be interested in living out that healing, rather than maintaining the gulf.

    Dana

  • http://patrickfranklin.wordpress.com/ Patrick S. Franklin

    Maybe we should not make bathrooms about gender, but simply about anatomy. Simple. Most women don’t want to use urinals anyway :)

  • Rick

    Dana-
    Are you satisfied with your tradition’s (EO) stance on the issue?

  • danaames

    Yes. Nowhere in EO theology is there any sense, overt or otherwise, that women are anything other than human. I could not be Orthodox if that were the case. Gendered humanity is understood as an icon of the Incarnation, where the emphasis is on union; you can’t have union without difference, and the difference doesn’t get in the way of the union. The primary call for everyone, male and female, is to become like Christ, the “last ‘adam” – the ultimate Human Being.

    If you are asking about the ordination/leadership issue, what I found as in inquirer was 1) The episcopacy/ priesthood is understood through iconicity and is not a value judgment of the worth of women over against men; also, not every male is eligible to be a bishop/priest. 2) “On the ground” in parishes and educational institutions, Orthodox women lead parish councils, are choir directors (an extremely responsible leadership position), head charitable and other ministries on their own, without husbands having to be involved if they are married, are admitted to theological programs as theological students and teach theological subjects in Orthodox seminaries (the first strongly discouraged and the second not even allowed in certain Protestant institutions). 3) Orthodoxy does not shy away from honoring the importance of women in the advancement of the church throughout history. Holy women are revered as much as holy men. The bravery of female martyrs is lauded just as much as the bravery of male martyrs. Several women are called “Equal to the Apostles” because whole people groups came to Christ because of their preaching and prayer. Junia is recognized as having been a female.

    Among some ethnic groups, especially in the “old country,” there are societal expressions of patriarchy, but that is not the “official dogma” of EO, and good priests and bishops do what they can to lead people away from it.

    You might be interested in Fr John Behr’s forthcoming book, “Becoming Human.” I am very much looking forward to seeing how he brings together and adds to the insights regarding these issues, and EO anthropology in general, which he has expressed previously in speeches and writings. He is the current Dean of St Vladimir’s Seminary, a brilliant and deep thinker, and has very kindly emailed me with answers to questions I have asked him, without any sense whatsoever of “patting me on the head” in dismissal.

    Dana

  • danaames

    It means that as part of creation, they are a sexed species, just as many other species are. The emphasis here is on humans as created beings.

    But we’re not left with that. Genesis also says that they – both male and female – were created “in the image of God,” which differentiates humanity from other created species.

    The relevant passage in Genesis is ultimately about *what kind of creatures* humans are – capable of a very different relationship with God than all other creatures – rather than simply sex differences, or even the notion that characteristics of both sexes somehow go together to form a picture of “what God is like.” We have to “go higher” with our interpretation than either of those.

    Dana

  • mwkruse

    “Did they depart from the historic “teaching” on the topic, or the historic “reasoning” behind the texts?”

    The church teaches about what the Bible says and about our appropriate response to it. Both groups have departed from the historic understanding, believed to be rooted in Scripture, that women are inferior and must not serve in certain capacities. Women are not inferior. Either the Bible and its authors are in error, they had cultural limits to their understanding (as with slavery), or we have misunderstood what was going. What does that mean for practice? That is the question that must be wrestled with. Hierarchical complementarians have jettisoned the historic reasoning but for some reason feel compelled to retain the practice while building a new foundation under it.

    “In looking at the texts, that is easier stated than demonstrated.”

    That the NT is people trying to make sense of the resurrected Christ is easily demonstrated.

    Luke 1:1-4

    “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” NIV

    Many people had been creating accounts of Jesus. With Luke-Acts, Luke is trying to help Theophilus understand what happened. The epistles are written in response to events happening in particular locales, with mature disciples struggling to make sense of what it means to be the body of Christ in those contexts. We are listening in on the conversation. Authors are speaking from out of, and into, those contexts. They are not writing to us.

    So all of the teaching is contextual. The question becomes what teachings, particularly about cultural norms, have transcendent authority and which are contextual? That is where the rub is.

  • mike bell

    Agreed.

  • theblackcommenter

    And yet the “simpl(e) sex differences” are not simply at all, but fundamental to the command to “be fruitful and multiply.” We cannot, in effect, go higher than the biological reality in which we exist as differentiated sexed creatures — our interpretations must accord with this reality. To suggest that the ultimate (admitting to no other or higher) interpretation of the Genesis passage is about what kind of creature MAN is apart from the explicit emphasis on sexual differentiation in MAN fails. If the interpretation is ultimately about human capacity for relationship with Creator, then there is no need for any description of sexual differentiation whatsoever, much less the detailed description given in the 2nd creation account. Nor would the NT writers in their references to the Genesis accounts draw upon the sexual differentiation indicated in the passages.

    Indeed Genesis 2 as an (for orthodox Christians authoritative) theological reflection on human origins goes out of its way to explicitly highlight the sexual differentiation by emphasizing the (for lack of a better term) incompleteness of the man about from his sex differentiated counterpart, woman, who is given to him since no other suitable helper can be found for him. In that particular passage, sexual reproduction doesn’t seem to be in view as it is not mentioned until chapter 4, but rather something of an essentialist nature apart from reproduction. It is the lack of such differentiation in man that prompts the Divine “it is not good” particularly since God did not bring him another man who should have (if sexual essentialism is an incorrect idea) been even more suitable than the woman since their would not have even been the distinction of biologic sex.

  • Rick

    Dana-
    That is helpful. Thanks

  • Rick

    “The question becomes what teachings, particularly about cultural norms, have transcendent authority and which are contextual? That is where the rub is.”
    Amen.

  • Tom F.

    To answer the original question: I think women are different than men in that their experience is as women . No one lives in social science, people live in culture, and gender in culture is an amalgam of biological and psychological givens along with culturally constructed expectations. I think Van Leeuwan is right: social science is simply not going to be able to tease apart these elements.

    For example, stereotype threat.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotype_threat

    Women who are primed with gender cues (i.e., things that remind them of being a woman) are likely to preform in ways that confirm the stereotypes about them. In math, a woman who is reminded that she is a woman is also simultaneously reminded of negative stereotypes about women’s math ability. Perhaps because of having to do the mental work of “fighting” the stereotype, it interferes with their ability.

    So, the cultural belief about women’s capacities (at least partially) creates its own reality. (Men sometimes face stereotype threat as well: for example, interacting with young children).

    On the other hand, social science can do a lot of good in showing that women’s abilities may differ on average, but it can show how unimportant that average difference can become. Perhaps there is a small difference in some area based on gender, but when differences due to education and SES are 10 to 20 times bigger, it really begins to dismantle a straight essentialist view of gender.

    I would get into what I think theologically here, but the post is already too long. :)

  • danaames

    “Ultimate” does not admit “higher” but certainly can admit “other” interpretation. Of course our interpretations have to accord with the reality of sex difference. It’s important, and it’s a good thing. But it isn’t the most important thing there is. Some babies are born with variations on physical sex characteristics, with some having both sets of “plumbing” and some lacking “parts.” I hope you’re not saying that those not perfectly formed physically one way or the other, as either distinctly male or distinctly female, are not human.

    I interpret whatever “sense of incompleteness” there is in the Genesis passage to the understanding that male humans + female humans = one whole humanity. Sex differentiation has a meaning; it doesn’t exist because of itself alone, even with God having created it. My Christian tradition interprets everything in the OT through the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. When viewed through this lens, the meaning of sex differentiation is interpreted ultimately as a representation of the Incarnation: the Union of the Uncreated with the Created, that which is unembodied with that which embodies, “heaven” with “earth.” The distinctiveness of each is not obliterated; but union is the point. Males + females = the totality of humanity points to Jesus Christ as the uniter and pinnacle of the totality of Reality.

    In the Resurrection, we will still be embodied, and probably still as males and females. But that difference will be much less important in the unmediated presence of Christ, and our union with him and one another will be something that is far beyond sex differentiation and genital sexual expression. There will be no need for “marrying or giving in marriage.” The shadow will fade away in the face of the Reality.

    I think the big question here is, What are humans *for*? What is our ultimate end? I think the idea that our eschatology determines the rest of our theology holds a lot of water.

    You don’t have to agree with me; that’s okay. Just trying to explain things as I understand them. Hopefully it’s clear.

    Dana

  • theblackcommenter

    Yes it is a bit clearer, though I’m not certain how it follows that seeing sex differentiation through the lens of the incarnation, etc. leads to its meaning as being a representation of the incarnation. In any event the resurrection of Christ clearly indicates the continuity of sexual differentiation as he was resurrected as a man and not as a disembodied spirit. Marriage (and consequently sexual intercourse) doesn’t continue in the resurrection but sexed bodies do.

    Either way we don’t live in the eschaton, we live in the nasty now in sexually differentiated bodies.

  • danaames

    I’m so sorry that your now is nasty. I wish you beauty and joy, for Christ is risen from the dead, and that is beauty indeed… God bless you, blackcommenter.

    Dana

  • Chris Crawford

    Scot,

    Patrick Mead had a great blog on a similar subject just a few weeks ago: http://tentpegs.patrickmead.net/?p=1912 – on sexual identity. It’s a lot more messed up than we give it credit for.

    His blog is worth checking out.

  • theblackcommenter

    hahaha… thank you for your well wishes… We ALL live in the nasty now, not just me. The kingdom is here and is not yet here. That is the reality for us all.

  • Amanda B.

    Socially, I find that this question is incredibly difficult to answer, due to the whole nature vs. nurture thing. There is no way to fully extract a child from “nurture” to see how he/she turns out. Even parents who strive to raise their children in a gender-neutral way live in the middle of a culture that isn’t gender-neutral. We have no way to control the environment, and therefore can’t with certainty identify what is inborn and what is absorbed. (Not to mention, running identity-level social experiments on children is unthinkably cruel.)

    Biblically, it seems to me that this is not something the authors of Scripture were even concerned about. It doesn’t seem like there were debates about what makes a man a “real man”–he was born with identifiable male parts, and therefore *is* a man. There weren’t questions about what makes a woman truly feminine–she was born with identifiable female parts, and therefore *is* a woman. Any question remaining was how they should behave, not who they are.

    In short, I think we’re asking questions that did not even cross the minds of the Biblical authors. We’re asking questions that God did not see fit to supernaturally reveal to them. Therefore, I think it is misguided to expect an inarguably clear Biblical answer.

    Sure, in the Bible, we can see certain roles falling to certain genders. We can see certain expectations and assumptions placed upon men and women as it pertains to not only their gender, but their marital status, their wealth, their ability to bear children, etc. Now the question becomes: Is this prescriptive or descriptive? Is the Bible making a statement about what men and women should be, or simply depicting what men and women are–or perhaps more accurately, what they were in the original audience?

    Some things are clearly prescriptive, as in commands given to a particular gender (e.g. “Husbands, love your wives”; “wives, submit to your own husbands”). Interpreting and applying those commands is then a matter of hermeneutics–still arguable, but concrete. Though I will point out that most, if not all of these, deal with matters of function and behavior, not internal essence.

    Less clear is trying to dissect the personalities of Biblical figures, evaluating their general stations in life, or studying the family structure of ancient Israel or the early church. Are these the way things were, or the way things ought to be? Without a clear divine imperative, we will read those through our own cultural filters, and cannot make a very solid biblical case.

    I am not yet willing to say that there are *no* differences between men and women (barring their physicality)–but I have yet to be able to confidently identify a difference that holds up when really put to the test.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brent.l.white Brent L. White

    My point, Scot, is that maybe the two are inseparably linked: biology influences these non-physical traits such that men and women generally (not absolutely) have these differences. In my reading on the subject, sociologists often say things like, “Yes, but these personality differences are socialized or environmental or cultural, rather than biologically determined.” I say, “Fine, but maybe that’s because these fixed biological differences shape those sociological forces that in turn shape other differences between men and women.” It’s a feedback loop.

    I sense that there’s a bias in academia against the idea that men and women possess any meaningful differences. And they think they’ve settled the question by appealing to “nurture” or culture or environment or whatever. I don’t think it settles anything. Moreover, why are we afraid to say what everyone seems to know from the earliest age anyway: women and men are just different. For Christians, especially, the idea that these differences enable men and women, in general, to complement one another should hardly be controversial.

  • mwkruse

    I think your idea point that nature and nurture is correct but I I want to qualify your last couple of sentences. On any given variable, human populations tend to have something close to a bell cure of performance. When you look at the bell curve for man vs women on any given variable they are usually very similar. But even where there are differences in the aggregate, the bell curves usually have considerable overlap. So with something like math, let’s say that we discover that in the aggregate men are better at math but the top 35% of women are better than the bottom 50% of men (and these are purely fictional numbers to make a point.) Do we say men do jobs with math and women will not be allowed or do we treat each human being and evaluate them on their own merits?

    So, yes, men (in the aggregate) and women (in the aggregate) complement each but I think there needs to be caution about being overly prescriptive of what that looks like in each individual situation.


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