Getting comfortable with differences

Complementarianism. It’s not a very elegant word compared to its rival, egalitarian, with its revolutionary pedigree. Complementarian, made up in the 80s, was supposed to be a vehicle to carry the positive picture & dignity of men and women as equal but different. It’s struggled.

Even the root word complementary has a dull sheen compared to the lustre of equality. Those who have argued that the two main identifying sexes humanity, male and female, are complementary but not identical, similar but not the same have in recent decades found themselves significantly out of step with mainstream Western culture. It can easily seem that this trend of culture is inevitably marching in only one direction. I’ve certainly thought that but now I’m not so sure.

This has nothing to do with the rise of the alt-right or the Trumpers which will likely do more harm than good but of more subtle changes in the cultural ferment. I have a feeling that National Geographic’s recent special issue The Gender Revolution may in fact be seen as a peak-gender moment. That’s not to say that the liberal-progressive agenda on human sexuality is anywhere near exhausted, it isn’t and you shouldn’t expect that, but instead the old-fashioned idea that men and women are different, will strengthen – the ground beneath communities founded on that idea will be more secure. The crashing tide will seem less forceful.

Why do I think this?

The main reason is because of the need to continue to fight against discrimination. This may seem odd because surely seeing men & women as different is discrimination?

Helena Cronin, co-Director of LSE’s Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science says,

Bear in mind that equality is not sameness. Equality is about fair treatment, not about people or outcomes being identical; so fairness does not and should not require sameness. However, when sameness gets confused with equality—and equality is of course to do with fairness—then sameness ends up undeservedly sharing their moral high ground. And male/female discrepancies become a moral crusade. Why so few women CEOs or engineers? It becomes socially suspect to explain this as the result not of discrimination but of differential choice.

I think it is very important that we treat everyone fairly but that doesn’t mean treating everyone the same. This may seem special pleading but let me give you an example.

I think it reasonable and laudable to encourage and expect that some women will be astronauts. That space exploration need not be a male only endeavour. But here’s the thing space affects male and female bodies differently. NASA’s Chief Scientist for NASA’s Human Research Program at Johnson Space Center, Dr. Mark Shelhamer says,

“There are, in many cases, sex-based differences in the response to the stressors of space flight.” He believes that is important to recognize—not ignore—such differences, and to provide countermeasures that are appropriate for each sub-population or even to each individual.

To treat women fairly means not treating them the same as men, because, well, they’re not which isn’t rocket science (pun intended).

The same applies to closing the infamous gender pay-gap (read this to understand it better). The biggest single reason why men over the duration of their working life earn more than women is, you guessed it, children. Now nations like the Scandinavian ones invest significant amounts of GDP in minimizing this impact, but in essence those are laws and policies shaped and formed on the fundamental truth that the two sexes are not identical.

As the notion of the inherent beauty of our differences is celebrated and not diminished, the echo will reverberate in other fundamental areas of life, like parenting.

It’s not  a shock to anyone that a site like The Federalist would run an article against gender-neutral parenting but Christina Hoff Summers’ point remains:

Ignoring genuine differences between boys and girls can be just as misguided as creating differences where none exist.

But this opinion is not just appearing in the conservative spaces. In the Los Angeles Times Debra Soh makes the same point:

Acknowledging inherent sex differences isn’t harmful or sexist; differences don’t necessitate one sex being better than the other.

As girls grow up in societies which offers them more opportunities than ever before and has made significant strides in reducing the discrimination and barriers to a greater degree we will increasingly see the results of female choice. The evidence is intriguing.

As Helena Cronin writes,

“Gender” predicts that, as discrimination diminishes, males and females will increasingly converge. But a study of 55 nations found that it was in the most liberal, democratic, equality-driven countries that divergence was greatest. . Difference, this suggests, is evidence not of oppression but of choice; not socialization, not patriarchy, not false consciousness, not even pink t-shirts or personal pronouns … but female choice.

An evolutionary understanding shows that you can’t have sex without sex differences. It is only within that powerful scientific framework—in which ideological questions become empirical answers—that gender can be properly understood. And, as the fluidity of “sexualities” enters public awareness, sex is again crucial for informed, enlightened discussion.

Or as the Genesis 1:27 says,

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.


Photo by -Salvaje-

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: