Gender and Sex, Male and Female, and Ladies Being Gentlemen & Vice Versa


The discussion Ladies Being Gentlemen? in the General Discussion group and the many varied comments caught my attention. In an effort to abide by the AOM Guidelines my response to that discussion and many similar on this site is posted below:


My answer is based on a particular world-view, as is, one would suppose, every other mans answer. Many of those individuals who commented are members of either Christian Men or other Religious groups on this site, therefore one would suppose they are Christians or adherents to the various religious ideas of those groups to which they belong.

To quote a highly respected Christian Lady... I believe as a Christian, I cannot separate my everyday life from my Christianity – it is who I am. I am first of all a Christian, which means that everything in this world is viewed with a reference to another world. Faith is a two-world word, and the working out of that faith in obedience brings me into conflict with ideologies which operate only on the secular level. Ideas such as "equality," "social justice," and "human rights," regarded in our times as inarguable imperatives, may in the end prove to be pseudo-Christian and provincially Western in their definition. We prostrate ourselves before these idols, muttering the required mumbo-jumbo of the sociologists without ever suspecting that we have perhaps surrendered to secularism.

One of the problems, as I see it, is this current notion of inclusiveness. It confuses young people by altering or blending and blurring the lines between very distinct differences. I remember at Harvard University professors demanding the use of "non-sexist" language such as (i'm not making this up) the "freshperson" class. It is mere ignorance of the meaning of generic which produces this outrageous mutilation of our glorious language, or is it a far more insidious and calculating determination to alter our vision of the nature god created when He designed man and woman? I use the traditional word 'men' because I am not a Manichean (a Persian system of belief which held that the soul is good and the body evil). The ancient edifice of language judges us, not we it. I am not prepared to leach away the almost sacramental solidity of words by expunging the rich and protohistoric 'men' and 'women' in favor of the eviscerate 'persons.' Remember, the word 'man' somehow bespeaks all of us mortals and sinners; and the word 'woman' bespeaks us as we receive the approaches of the Divine. You and I must accept the mystery of our gender, and wear it with dignity and grace.

The Nicene Creed begins, "I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible." That's where we start. There is an intelligent Creator, a created order, a design. This design includes a hierarchy of beings such as cherubim, seraphim, archangels, angels, men ("a little lower than the angels"), animals, insects, things like paramecia and microbes. Every creature is assigned its proper position in this scale and glorifies God by being what it is. There is no reason to believe that a fox glorifies God less by being a fox than Michael does by being an archangel. I understand that women, by creation, have been given a place within the human level which is ancillary to that of men. The Genesis account calls woman a "help, meet"--that is fit, suitable, for man. I do not hold all men to be so strong, so intelligent, so competent, and so virtuous or holy that they deserve a superior position. I simply see that the place is theirs not by merit but by appointment.

The response of the creature to the Creator is obedience, which is a very much more glorious thing in a thinking creature than in a nonthinking one! Each of us, man or woman, ought to recognize his position in the universe. We are masculine or feminine by creation. We bear the image of God in one modality or the other, and are affected in our very identity and in the deepest mystery of our being. True masculinity and true femininity, I believe, are qualities that spring from a consciousness of the place and the power granted us by creation. It is a place which cannot be elevated or lowered, or exchanged with any other creature. The power that belongs to a woman is power given, not fought for, as it is with men.

The Bible speaks of many different kinds of women. There are slaves, harlots, concubines, wives, mothers, prophetesses, preachers, deaconesses, seamstresses, queens, princesses, shepherdesses, and business women. The woman of Proverbs 31 is represented as a woman of great competence, industry, and managerial proficiency. Deborah was a judge and Esther a member of a heathen king's harem. And of course, at the apex of human history, when the fullness of time was come, a Jewish peasant girl in Nowheresville called Nazareth was selected to do a job no one but a woman could do -- Mary became the bearer of the Savior of the World. Joseph and Gabriel had their part in the great drama but so far as we know neither protested for equal opportunity. It was Mary's word, "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord," that epitomizes what the attitude should be, not only of all Christian woman of the world but of all Christians of the world -- a voluntary and joyful acceptance of the responsibilities and privileges laid upon us. For the greatest secret of Christianity, the one hidden for centuries but finally revealed, is that every Christian is allowed to be a God-bearer--"Christ in you."

Equality is not a Christian principle, except insofar as we are objects of grace. There, there is "neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female," but these distinctions are not meant to be forgotten altogether. St. Paul took great pains to insure that in the Christian community sexual differentiation should remain clear.

Politically we have to regard men and women as equals but it is what C.S. Lewis calls a "legal fiction." Jacques Barzun in his House of Intellect says, "Superior and inferior can be determined only with respect to a single quality for a single purpose. Men are incommensurable and therefore must be deemed equal. Equality is but one of man's qualities, and among the most dispensable."

Equality between men and women is a pretty imprecise, not to say quite meaningless, term. God created man, and God created woman, and has endowed each sex with its peculiar functions and gifts and within each sex He has allowed diversities of operations, that is, diversities of personality, temperament, ability, intelligence, and shape. Accepting our places means making it our business first to understand the cosmic assignment and then, here and now, to find out what we're good at and, if it is not inimical to God's order, to do it.

Christianity has always given a higher honor to women than have the other great religions of the world. Jesus Himself honored them, and Paul, that much maligned and misunderstood apostle, laid the highest demands on husbands when he told them that they must love their wives as Christ loved the church.

Christians believe in a Creator who made everything according to a design. Within His design He set a hierarchy of created beings, each with its given rank. Women are complimentary, not competitive, to men. Each man or woman is allowed to glorify God and glorify Him by being man or woman respectively. The more womanly a woman is the more perfectly God is glorified and that is equally applicable to men.

We are fond of quoting "the truth shall make you free," but the all-important condition is generally omitted. Jesus' actual words were, "If you continue in my Word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free." The foundation is the Word. It is a day-by-day adherence to that written Word--what Jesus called continuance--or what we would call discipline that is the price of freedom. It is not bought cheaply. It is not simply picked up here and there--not the kind of truth and liberation offered to us in the gospels. It requires self-discipline and self-denial, and finally--then and only then--it frees. Freedom, according to Christianity, lies always on the far side of discipline. Liberty depends wholly on obedience. And obedience is the fruit of love. "If you love me," Jesus said, "keep my commandments." So we can't talk about liberation unless we talk about love.

What is this "truth" that makes us free? Christianity provides a way of apprehending Reality. We understand ourselves in relation to God, to the world He made, to His judgment of what we are (we are "dust, in breathed with the breath of God"). Our creed outlines this way of looking at things, of apprehending Reality. We have said that we believe in a Creator, Maker of all things visible and invisible. God designed things. Now you have to know what a thing is for in order to make proper use of it, whether it's a potato peeler or an oboe.

The only road to fulfillment, that is, to freedom, for human beings, male or female, is an apprehension of what we are made for. (I'm writing, of course, as a Christian, which means that I was made, and I was made for something.) The one who makes the oboe knows very well what it's designed for, and it's not up to the oboe to wish for the freedom to be a potato peeler. That would not in any sense constitute freedom. There is a verse in 1 Corinthians 11 which tells us very plainly that "man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man."

Freedom is often defined as "doing what you want." Now, one of the first difficulties with this is that very few people really have any idea what they do want. The next difficulty is that most people imply that doing what they want would entail no restrictions or disciplines. An example or symbol of freedom is the car. It's one of many American sine qua nons. If you have a car you can do anything, go anywhere any time. But the independence a car offers is totally dependent. It depends on driving ability, on the car's mechanical performance, on traffic laws (how free would we be on the "freeway" if everybody were encouraged to do his own thing, any old speed, any old lane, whichever direction he chose?) Independence, then, is always dependent on something.

I have watched a sailboat racing silently along the horizon. A wonderful thing to see. We say of an accomplished athlete or of the Olympian or virtuoso "I'd give anything if I could do that." meaning, of course, anything but what it takes. We watch the sailboat skimming in the sunlight, but we know it moves only by careful adherence to the laws of wind and wave. A ship tacking against wind and current progresses, but its progress is devious and slow. A ship that is running with a strong tide or a following wind takes to herself the power of water and wind and it becomes her own power. She is liberated, not by breaking the rules but by keeping them. This is what she was made for.

The Christian's true freedom involves a kind of pride. Now, pride can be a dirty word, but I like the definition Isak Dinesen gives it: "Pride is faith in the idea God had when He made you. A proud man is conscious of the idea and aspires to realize it. He does not strive toward a happiness or comfort which may be irrelevant to God's idea of him. His success is the idea of God, successfully carried through, and he is in love with his destiny. People who have no pride are not aware of any idea of God in the making of them, and sometimes they make you doubt that there has ever been much of an idea or else it had been lost and who shall find it again?"

This is a very far cry from the sort of pride which says "We women are as good as you men" and sets out to demonstrate this in a bogus masculinity. This sort of pride is an abomination not only to the Lord but -- let's admit it -- to most of the rest of us as well.

My acceptance of God's estimate of me is my offering of love. C.S. Lewis wrote "Wherever the will conferred by the Creator is perfectly offered back in delighted and delighting obedience by the creatures, there, most undoubtedly, is Heaven, and there the Holy Ghost proceeds." "Make us masters of ourselves," prayed Sir Alexander Paterson, "that we may be the servants of others." "He that would be greatest among you," Jesus said, "let him be the servant of all."

A Christian's view of liberation is a paradox, contradicting all popular definitions, releasing us to be not just ourselves but something far more than ourselves, enabling us to enter into a fulness of life unimaginable to those who do nothing more than their own thing.
As Christians we are at all times to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God. Those are basic requirements, and have very far-reaching implications for all of us in public as well as in private life.

In the world people are generally treated not in their wholeness but according to their function -- in business as brains or hands or customers, in politics, not as persons but as voters. And this is legitimate and necessary, though not always desirable. We are free in the secular world to experiment, to shuffle our categories, to innovate and discard as we please or at least as we can. We ignore sex, color, and creed, and people are more and more coming to be thought of as neuter--sexless, colorless, faithless -- in spite of all our talk about treating people as "human beings." As technology takes over and our society increases in automation and complexity, distinctions between people are being blurred and I for one don't cheer at this. I shrink from it. Identification is only possible up to a point and is not always desirable even that far.

I know one woman who was a pilot. She ferried bombers during World War II, and she told me once that she had made up her mind in the beginning that if she was ever to make her way in a man's world she had to be a lady.

What I have been writing is that in the secular world women are nearly interchangeable with men simply because neither men nor women are treated as whole persons. But the important distinction that Christians make is that women are assigned a special place in church and home as opposed to in the secular world. In these two domains we return to Reality. Women are treated as women, men as men, both sexes as whole persons, divinely created and divinely gifted, all of us complimentary members of a single body, a mystical body when we are talking about the Church.

As Christ is the head of this mystical Body, so the husband is the head of the wife. This is what even Paul calls "a great mystery." It is the earthly image of an eternal spiritual reality, enacted on a day-to-day basis in the home, and continually throughout the universal Church. In these two spheres, church and home, in a degree possible nowhere else, the principle of love is in operation. Here we acknowledge gladly our inequalities, we forget about a power struggle or competition or aggression or even so-called "rights," and we accept ourselves and one another for what God has made us, recognizing that, as in a human body, each member contributes to the good of the whole -- the hand performing its peculiar function without despising the work of the foot or envying the ability of the eye. One woman may be a corporation lawyer in the world, a devoted wife at home, and a humble communicant at church without violating the design of the Maker. But if in church and home she ignores the revealed design which gives authority to men she is like those people Isak Dinesen writes of who sometimes make you doubt that God had any idea at all in the making of them, or any purpose whatever in the ancient imagery of God as Father, Christ as Bridegroom and the Church as Bride, and the relation of men and women as symbols of tremendous heavenly secrets which Christians call Reality.

Finally then, women are called, as men, to discipleship which means obedience, which springs from love. "Thy will be done," we pray, "on earth" -- in my corner of it, in the sphere Thou has appointed me -- "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." And in heaven we can be sure that God is perfectly glorified. What kind of company will we be joining? The liturgy of the Syrian Jacobites gives a picture of that company which every man and every woman may enter if he will:

"It is meet and right that we should give thanks unto Thee, oh Holy Trinity. Not indeed that Thy Majesty requires our praise or has need of our thanksgiving, for those who praise Thee are numberless; clustering cherubim, bright seraphim a countless host, rank upon rank of devouring flame, hidden legions which bear up the chariot of the cherubim, the revolution of whose wheels is infinite; troops of seraphim who by the throb of their wings move the threshold; a shining galaxy which, out of the midst of the burning coal is discerned by its own movement. Myriads stand before Thee praising Thy being, and with one clear voice and one loving harmony cry one to the other in eternal praise saying, 'Holy, holy, holy.'"

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Comment by Ken D Books on November 10, 2012 at 10:55am
It seems to me, and I could be wrong, that now-a-days Christians want to be all things to all people. Or they don't want to be looked at as different from anyone else. So the whole inclusiveness and nothing is really a sin as long as it doesn't harm someone, and the nonchalant attitude towards Christianity by Christians is what harms their testimony (or lack thereof) than anything else. I agree with what you've written here, and realize the God-given distinctions or differences are being blurred more and more, even by those in the Church.

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