I was prompted to consider this today by a bit I read at cnn.com, in a discussion that touched on Indy driver Danica Patrick. The correspondent – let’s call him Justin, since that’s what he called himself – says, "Women are not equal to men. And if they want to be the same as men, I suggest they get a sex change."
See, here’s the basic misconception in a nutshell. Women are absolutely equal to men. What they are not is identical. Now, Justin may simply be a male chauvinist, or he could be a victim of this obliteration of distinction with the result that the terms “equal” and “identical” now mean one and the same thing. But the fact of the matter is that God created us, male and female; and He created us equal in terms of dignity before His eyes. This does not, however, mean that men and women are interchangeable. Both have distinct traits and clearly defined roles within God’s cosmology; and while there may be differences between the roles of men and women, it must be stressed that they are complimentary roles, built to interact and form a perfect fit. Take away one, and not only would the other be incomplete, but the world itself would be lacking a necessary component.
In saying this, I’ve been heavily influenced by my current reading material, Bishop Sheen’s The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God. In the chapter entitled “Virgin and Mother,” Sheen defines the differences between men and women as follows, and in doing so attacks a currently popular idea, that women are more naturally drawn to religion than men:
It is not that women are naturally more religious than men. This statement is merely a rationalization made by men who have fallen from their ideals. Man and woman each have a specific mission under God to compliment one another. Each, too, has its symbol in the lower order. Man may be likened to the animal in his acquisitiveness, mobility, and initiative. Woman may be likened to the follower, which is fixed between Heaven and earth; she is like the earth in her bearing of life; she is like Heaven in her aspirations to blossom upward to the Divine. The mark of man is initiative, but the mark of woman is cooperation. Man talks about freedom; woman about sympathy, love, sacrifice. Man cooperates with nature; woman cooperates with God. Man was called to till the earth, to “rule over the earth"; woman to be the bearer of a life that comes from God. The hidden wish of every woman in history, the secret desire of every feminine heart, is fulfilled in that instant when Mary says: “Fiat” – “Be it done unto me according to thy word.” (p. 84)
These missions, different in style but equal in substance, are part of the natural law, crucial to the development of God’s plan; to the extent that we see a blurring or elimination of those differences, in the name of “equality” that really demands “identicality,” we witness growing suspicion, mistrust and antagonism between the sexes. The attempt of Adam to pass blame off on Eve in the Garden of Eden (“She made me do it!”) was the first evidence of a rift in this complimentary relationship between man and woman: the husband, in the position of protector (courage), abandons his responsibility in an effort to protect himself (cowardice) by shifting blame to his wife.
Has our current culture played an active role in blurring the essential natures of both women and men? Some would argue we’ve removed males from their basic environment, eliminating their ability to provide for their families. This has happened in several ways, some of which might be: 1) the transition to a service-based economy has eliminated many manual labor opportunities, such as farming and manufacturing (as Sheen says, “Man was called to till the earth) and introduced the concept of the “wage slave,” which runs contrary to the natural part which work plays in the life of man; 2) the introduction of women into the workplace in large numbers has eliminated (or greatly reduced) the natural role differences between the sexes, creating tension both within the economy and in the household; 3) the feminization of culture continues, with men urged to “get in touch with their feminine sides,” causing gender confusion, resentment, and overreaction (for example, “The Man Show”); and 4) the usurpation by the government of the male’s role as provider to his family, through welfare programs that, although perhaps well-intentioned, have resulted in absolving many men from any legal or moral duty to provide support – economic, emotional or spiritual – to their family. Through all this, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that there is real confusion on the part of men as to what’s expected of them today by society. Who are they, what are they supposed to do, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, what is their true worth and value? Would it be any wonder if men were frustrated and disillusioned with life as a result?
This has been accompanied by a similar blurring of traditional female roles and a concurrent disenchantment and anger, which has manifested itself in surprising ways. For example, here is Sheen’s most novel analysis of the situation, beginning with the growing impact (in 1952) of women entering the workplace:
Tragedy stalks when woman is forced by economic or social circumstances to busy herself in those materialities that hamper or dam up the outpouring of that specific quality of surrender to Divine Purpose that makes her a woman. Denied an outlet for the bursting need of giving, she feels a deeper sense of emptiness than a man, precisely because of the greater depths of her fountain of love.
This leads to his conclusion:
The explosive revolt of woman against her alleged inequalities with man is at bottom a protest against the restraints of a bourgeois civilization without faith, one that has chained her God-given talents. (p. 85)
Now, we’ve all heard of new mothers troubled by having to return to work, about the strain on the bond with the baby, and how in many cases the maternal nature of the woman becomes so strong that she becomes dissatisfied with trying to “have it all” and opts instead for full-time motherhood. In these cases, we think there’s something not quite natural about the mother being separated from the child so soon after birth; hence, the woman’s rebellion seems quite logical.
But this is the first time I’ve actually heard of feminism itself being a by-product of a revolt within woman against the violation of natural law that is inflicted on her by an economy that forces her to enter the workplace. (I think I’m summarizing that correctly; at least I know what I’m trying to say.) While some might question the validity of applying the written word of over fifty years ago to our situation today, I think we should keep in mind that this was written during the genesis of the feminist movement, with women having played such a major role in the wartime economy and with feminist authors like Betty Friedan coming to the fore. Feminists today might disagree with Sheen’s assessment, but we need to apply the theory in context; that is, at the birth of the idea.
So in our elimination of the differences between “equal” and “identical,” we’ve come up with a major fracture of the created natures of man and woman – natures created by God. When we look at those who are the main proponents of “equality” (i.e. identicality), do we not have reason to suspect the existence of a hidden agenda, a rebellion against God? They seek to elevate the “individual” at the expense of God and to elevate the State at the expense of humanity, with the result that what is lost is the very essence of what it means to be a human. Elevating the individual is not really acknowledging the unique qualities of the human being, because in this case the term “individual” itself is simply a euphemism for anarchy, for the relativism that Pope Benedict has attacked, the relativism that states there are no absolutes, that all law and all morality is ultimately up for “individual” interpretation. Our subsequent rebellions are therefore revolts against the sense (even a subconscious sense) that natural law has been violated, that God’s order has been contravened, that the balance has been lost and the pieces no longer fit as they should.
In our pluralistic society, we’ve been ingrained to accept “equal” as being “identical” – after all, the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional, and we’ve come to accept that way of thinking. But what makes good judicial law can result in bad moral law. To wipe out all differences of man and woman is to suggest that there’s really no reason to have two sexes at all. And where would we be if that happened? Try same-sex marriage, for starters.
Men and women have unique roles in God’s creation. Those who argue for a supremacy of man, whether claiming chauvinism or suppression, should keep in mind that women, especially, have been privileged with an intimate partnership with God Himself. It was a woman that brought God into the world in human form. It is woman who was created to love, to nurture, to bring us closer to Heaven through selfless giving. As God is the giver of life, woman alone bears that gift and brings it to fruition. All in all, that’s not a bad deal.
The gifts that man and woman have been given by God are true blessings, gifts of enormous value. That they are not identical gifts in no way diminishes the worth of each, or the equality of each. Henry Higgins asks, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” I think to a great extent we should be glad that they aren’t.