Men and Women - Is there a difference?
In 1970, in her book Sexual Politics, Kate Millet declared “the sexes are inherently in everything alike.” A few months later, Germain Greer, in The Female Eunuch, agreed: “the ‘normal’ sex roles that we learn to play from infancy are no less natural than the antics of the transvestite.”
Though these ideas were considered revolutionary in 1970, the idea that men and women are essentially identical is now commonly and uncritically accepted by ordinary people, even if they do not embrace it themselves. Today many believe that sexuality is a continuous spectrum. According to this view, sexuality is a position on a dial; we all need to get in touch with the opposite sex within ourselves—the animus or the anima. This would have the effect of moving us all to the neuter middle of the spectrum, validating homosexuality and transsexual operations.
The Bible does not offer us a continuous gender spectrum. Instead, it teaches that the categories of male and female are the most basic of all human distinctions (Gen. 1:27). Men are not instructed to get in touch with the woman within themselves; nor do women need to search for their animus. The Bible urges us to be godly men and godly women, both fully in the image of God, both categorically different.
Yet examples of gender cross-types abound. Casual debates about these ideas quickly migrate to examples and counter-examples of whatever trait is supposed to characterize men or women. “My husband is a moody artist and I am a civil engineer,” one woman says. Or, a man will pipe up with “I’m the people person in my family. My wife is a real loner.” Exceptions to observable traits commonly found in one sex but less so in the other – such exceptions are certainly real, and they raise the question whether the commonly observed traits which characterize each sex are anything more than socially conditioned behavior.
As believers in sexual absolutes, we do not need to be worried or embarrassed by these so-called exceptions to the rules. The very fact that people notice exceptions to a rule proves that a general rule exists! However, in our lifetime, those who want to destroy gender categories have been successful in using cross-types as evidence that there are no gender norms at all. Therefore, some grasp of the factors which produce cross-types will be very helpful. Do not underestimate the complexity of gender cross-types. Below are a few categories which will help us do a preliminary, but in no way complete, analysis of this issue.
One of the easiest cross-types to explain is the simple “off-scale” cross-type. Let us take the example of height. We might make the statement, “Men are taller than women.” Why does the fact that Barbara is three inches taller than Bill not disprove this statement? Consider the bell-shaped curves here. If we graph the height of all men in the world and the height of all women, we will see that the tallest men are taller than the tallest women; average men are taller than average women, and the shortest men are taller than the shortest women. Hence the statement—men are taller than women—because as a group they are.
But what if, as is the case in our marriage, one of the men from the short end of the men’s scale marries a woman from the tall end of the women’s scale? Then, of course, you have a wife taller than her husband. But this does not disprove the general statement that men are taller than women. It just proves that this particular couple married “off scale” and is an exception. We could make similar bell-shaped curves for any number of gender-related traits with similar results.
Apparent Crosstypes – Context, Personal and Cultural Heritage
An apparent crosstype can also arise when people of different cultures are paired with one another. Consider, for example, a stereotypical Italian man who is emotionally expressive. Within ordinary Italian culture, his expressiveness would not draw any special attention with respect to his sex. However, suppose this same man marries a stereotypically taciturn Finnish woman, who is very reserved and who masks her emotions. The results will make each of them look like a crosstype to many people, who think (correctly) that men are less expressive than women. The Finnish woman within Italian culture, or the Italian man within Finnish culture, would both appear to be a crosstype when evaluated within the foreign cultural framework. When they are paired in marriage, the differences are exaggerated even more.
If a husband and wife come from different backgrounds within the same culture, they might still be misidentified as an example of crosstype. A farm girl might be more comfortable working with cows, horses, and big machinery than her city-bred husband. This does not make her mannish; nor is her husband a sissy because he knows nothing of animal husbandry. In this example, there is no crosstype at all. However, uncritical observers might mistake the mismatch in their backgrounds as an example of crosstype.
It is no accident that people typically marry others with whom they share cultural, denominational, socio-economic, educational, and professional common ground. Marriage is a partnership. A couple that enters marriage with much common ground will – all other factors considered equal for the moment – be more “efficient” in their partnership than a couple that has little common ground. Some couples create much marital work for themselves by piling up too many mismatches in areas that are not primarily sexual. But, such mismatches are not the same thing as gender crosstypes.
These examples highlight the need to consider context when identifying crosstypes. Tutsi women are taller than pygmy men, but this does not invalidate the gender norm that men are generally taller than women. In a similar way, many alleged crosstypes are only apparent crosstypes in light of a limited context. Careful consideration shows that some factor other than crosstype is at work.
In pressing circumstances, a man or a woman may develop traits which are more at home with the opposite sex. If a man’s wife should die, for example, he might find himself driven to more “mothering” activities toward his children than he might have done otherwise. This does not prove that a man is a good substitute for a mother! But, a man in such circumstances might easily develop some crosstypical traits and talents. If the man becomes much more nurturing yet remains obedient to his basic masculine nature, then he will be a man with a very strong husbandman aspect. If, in his efforts to nurture his children, he becomes feminine, letting key elements of his masculine nature slide, everyone involved will be worse off.
A woman whose husband is incapacitated through an accident, might find herself shouldering all sorts of financial and leadership responsibilities in her family. The resiliency of the human soul allows for these kinds of things, without violating any of God’s fundamental gender boundaries.
Narrow Stereotypes, Not Crosstypes
In societies where gender archetypes have evolved into stereotypes, a person might be seen as a crosstype when he is nothing of the sort. Fallen human societies tend to turn legitimate sexual archetypes into stereotypes which are always more narrow and limiting than God’s actual creation.
For example, if a boy likes to compose music or to cook, he might be considered a sissy in some circles. He would be thought a sissy only because that society’s concept of masculinity is impoverished. According to the Bible, men have the responsibility to lead the worshiping community in song and instrumental music. David was Israel’s foremost composer and poet. His son Solomon composed over a thousand songs and penned some of the most difficult and beautiful poetry in the Old Testament. According to the Bible, Jesus cooked (John 21:4-9)!
Some pockets of American culture are deficient in masculine archetypes which include the arts, possibly because some American culture is still so powerfully influenced by manhood models which originated in the frontier, where there was little need or opportunity for fine art. Much older cultures (as in Europe, for example) contain archetypes of masculinity which include all variety of artistic expression.
Sexual Interdependence, Not Crosstypes
The normal interplay and interdependence of the sexes might suggest a crosstype where there is none. In John 12, Mary of Bethany displays an understanding of the Gospel that surpassed all the apostles. A modern evangelical feminist would urge that Mary should have been made an apostle, or even the head apostle, when we compare Mary’s insight with Peter’s slowness to understand.
Jesus did not do this. Instead He defended Mary in a chivalrous manner from the slander of a wicked man (Judas). To honor her, Jesus did not give her a man’s job, He gave her a woman’s reward—recognition in the public domains of the world for her feminine act of worship in the private domain of a home. To see Mary as a leader in a conventional masculine sense because she was “leading” in a conventional feminine way is to see crosstype where it did not exist. She was moving history as women usually do—with their insight and responsiveness.
Male and female name basic sexual categories established by God through His creative acts. Sexuality is also a matter of obedience to God’s commands. So our sexuality is not only something to be, it is it is something to do. Failure to obey God’s sexual commands warps the gender norms in individuals and societies alike, but it does not erase the original design of God’s creation. Within the created order, humans display an almost unlimited variation in their combination of individual personalities, aptitudes, and talents. This arises because of the flexibility of God’s design. What is good in this diversity should never be repressed or ignored. However, that diversity operates within standards arising from God’s design and God’s Law. Christians believe in form and freedom, and they may live with great freedom within the forms of God’s creation and within the boundaries of God’s law.
Deliberate crosstype occurs when a person or group reject sexual norms and standards and adopts behavior or roles peculiar to the opposite sex. This crosstype is different from the compensating crosstype referred to above. In compensation, a person performs tasks typically done by the opposite sex; however, he will not utterly abandon the special characteristics typical of his own sex. Compensating crosstype behavior is usually viewed as a “second-best” solution to some need that cannot be met in conventional ways. Deliberate crosstype, on the other hand, happens with no compelling need or by a deliberate choice against convention or nature. For this reason, deliberate crosstypes are often foolish and frequently sinful.
The surgical alteration of a human body in order to transform it into the opposite sex is a glaring example of a foolish and sinful crosstype. Though this behavior gets a lot of publicity, it is relatively rare. Far more common are crosstype choices which are less expensive and less difficult to make—such as homosexual behavior or transvestitism. Both these practices are explicitly prohibited in God’s law (Lev. 18:22; Deut. 22:5).
One of the most tragic and unjust examples of deliberate crosstyping is imposed on children by adults who seek to erase gender distinctions between boys and girls. Parents who seek to blur sexual categories in their children, and school authorities who impose supposedly gender-neutral social values on students, are producing something never before seen in history—successive generations of psychologically emasculated men and masculinized women. The goal is supposed to be equity and justice for all. The result is ever increasing social disorder, economic inefficiency, and costly suffering by men and women alike.
When a whole culture turns away from God’s created order, societal sin sets up dynamics that impose crosstypical behavior on the population as a whole – men become more effeminate and women more aggressive and non-nurturing. For example, promiscuity, divorce, and materialism produce boys without fathers, who therefore lack the modeling and bonding from a mature masculinity which they require to become men. Feminism, for all its disclaimers, scorns domesticity and pushes girls in the direction of careerism and direct competition with men, seriously hampering their ability to focus on relationships. Does this prove that the norms do not exist? No, it proves that we can break God’s laws and even bend His creation categories, but finally this bending only warps us and the breaking breaks us.
Crosstypes Validate Sexual Norms
Feminists sometimes complain that any general statement about men and women denies human variability. Quite the contrary is true. Dozens of diverse characteristics distinguish men from women. Authentic manhood and womanhood display amazing variety and diversity, and yet that diversity does not erase the truth that in any culture, place or time, men and women are distinguishable from one another.
If we consider a species of plant or animal, we will find tremendous variety within it. Dogs, for example, vary dramatically in all manner of physical and temperamental characteristics. But, for all their differences and variety, they remain dogs and are distinguishable from cats or cows. Roses come in myriad sizes, colors, and shapes of blooms; but, they are distinguishable from peonies and pansies.
Men and women, of course, are distinguishable at the level of genetics. And the genetic differentiation extends to more than genes. Sex affects the morphology, endocrinology, neurology, psychology, and sociology of whole populations of men and women. In all these areas, men and women differ from one another and resemble those of their own sex in patterns which can be observed, described, cataloged, and applied to the analysis of masculinity and femininity of individual persons.
Crosstypes, in fact, cannot even be identified and discussed apart from an over-arching framework of sexual norms. Instead of invalidating sexual categories, noticeable crosstypes are a powerful validation of them. What students of human nature have known for centuries is grounded in God’s original creation of mankind as male and female. “Have you not read, that He who created them in the beginning made them male and female?” (Matt. 19:4).
God’s original creation of mankind set up objective and abiding differences between men and women as far as their gender is concerned. Some of these differences are hard-wired, so to speak. Other differences, even though built-in, are subject to modification, alternation, or perversion by the specific choices which men and women make. Taking all these factors together, the Bible’s model for sexuality is not threatened by the existence of crosstypes. Indeed, it is only by recourse to the Bible’s model for sexuality that we can give an adequate explanation for the crosstypes everyone can see.
While there are vast examples of real and apparent cross-types, these examples do not negate the fact that God created the categories of male and female, and that these categories are observed all over the world.
We must obey sexual moral absolutes in order to keep God’s intended gender structure in our lives as individuals, as families, and as societies.
Only through wise management can we rule the vast diversity of our sexuality and personhood, maintaining the strength of God’s created pattern, while not squelching the freedom and beautiful diversity of individual life.
There is a foundational masculine nature, a foundational feminine nature, and a foundational structure for marriage and family which is the model for church and society. We don’t need to be cowed by mere fashion or society’s myopias. We need to believe and live the forms and freedoms God has created and commanded for gender.
Kate Millet, Sexual Politics, (Ballantine, 1970), p.31
Germain Greer, The Female Eunuch, (Bantam Books, 1970), p.21