Guest Post:The Uniqueness of Man and Woman

by Frank Pellett

(Frank Pellett is an LDS father of 4 (soon to be 5) software developer living in Utah. He enjoys reading, family, and light discussions about many topics, especially those that involve sharing experiences and gleanings about making your way through life.) 

To start, man and woman are not opposites. Man is opposite boy and woman is opposite girl. Most of the attributes of being an adult, of either gender, are in embracing those things we call child-like, which are in opposition of those things we call child-ish.

That being said, what attributes, aside from physical, define a woman and not a man? A man and not a woman? Are there any? Should there be any?

I truly don’t have any answers to this, which is why I’m asking whomever may be stumbling over my post. I know that gender is eternal, that we were male and female even before we had bodies, and will continue to be in the hereafter. I know of men who have great sensitivty and empathy (which is often atttributed as female) and women who are aggressive and poor listeners (often attributed as male). We have such great variation of personalities, gifts, skills, and learning that it makes it hard to define what makes the genders unique.

Why have gender if there is no difference?

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11 Responses

  1. Ashley says:

    I have always thought it was believed that male and female hormones define certain characteristics within each in most people, although not everyone. A lot of the differences between men and women seem to be in how we were raised as well. Society treats boys a certain way and expects them to be a certain way and same with females.

  2. Whoa-man says:

    This is an interesting topic. I agree in a way. Men and women are unique and similar at the same time. However, I disagree that “gender” is eternal. Gender is socially constructed and it’s characteristics are culturally and historically relative. One might argue that sex (as in a biological category) is eternal and that is what the church means when they are saying gender (a social category) is eternal. I’ve been meaning to write a post about this for awhile, but as a biologist, even this statement is false. There are many different biological sexes. Yes, we tend to normalize two “sexes” and partition everyone into these categories, but there are actually multiple intersexes. And that doesn’t tell us very much anyway because there is more variation within a gender than between genders.

    Personally, I think gender becomes emphasized in the world and in our church when we talk about divisions of labor. But it doesn’t have to be that way and we can make small changes by acknowledging when we treat people differently because of sex and gender.

  3. Sally says:

    I once heard a fireside speaker (I know, terrific credentials..) say that he felt that we did not have gender when we were just intelligences – that we got to choose which gender our spirit body was created in. That HF gives us free will in everything and that he wouldn’t force us to be a gender that we didn’t want. I liked that thought.

  4. Beatrice says:

    I have always struggled with how the LDS church talks about sex differences. We talk A LOT about inherent, eternal differences between the sexes. However, there is very very little offical doctrine about what those differences actually are. I think there is a danger that each person, ward, etc. focuses on certain traits as being “eternal” and tries to promote those traits. However, they may not be focusing on differences and traits that are eternal, but rather differences as they perceive them in their cultural context.

  5. amelia says:

    Here’s my question: Why does it matter what the differences are? Especially if we actually believe that our gender identity, whatever it is in all of its complexities, is actually eternal?

    The only reason for why it matters I can come up with is that humans don’t do well with uncertainty. They prefer having exact clarity because it seems easier. But at the end of the day, alleged certainty usually causes more problems than it solves. And, I would argue, the death that is caused by Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is a direct result of craving and depending upon and seeking and enforcing certainty. I’ve been contemplating a post on this topic for sometime in the near future, but I’ll leave it at that for now: black and white certainty results in destruction. So why seek it? Why is it not enough to just recognize that yes there are obviously differences between people we consider “male” and people we consider “female” and many other people who have much more complex sexual and gender identities, but that given our incredibly limited knowledge there’s no way in hell we’re going to be able to identify them all? As such, we’d be much better off just living our lives and doing what’s right for us and letting others do what’s right for them and letting that be good enough.

  6. Ryan says:

    In order to have a productive analysis, I think definitions should be cleared up. For example, Frank, you say that >>To start, man and woman are not opposites. Man is opposite boy and woman is opposite girl.<< But one dictionary definition of "opposite" is "being the other of two related or corresponding things" e.g, friendly with many members of the opposite sex. In that sense, men and women are very much opposites.

    Secondly, as I'm sure we're all aware the Proclamation makes very clear that "Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." If you define "gender" as exclusively a social construct, you're probably going to have problems with what the Proclamation states. But I think that is an inaccurately narrow reading of the Proclamation. However, while I don't think the term is defined in the Proclamation, I think it is clear that the drafters of the Proclamation intended biological sex to be included in the definition of "gender," but that the term "gender" as used in the Proclamation probably includes more than just biological sex.

    Finally, to address your question: "Why have gender if there is no difference?" I think this is a very good question. I personally believe we have gender specifically because there are differences between men and women. I think that each gender has strengths and weaknesses that complement the other and allow both to improve and grow. However, that view contrasts with the view that those who are "separate" or "different" cannot be equal, which in some cases in true. Conversely, when it comes to gender, differences are not only not harmful, but necessary. I think a proper understanding of the issues requires a nuanced approach, which isn't always easy.

  7. SNeilsen says:

    I have absolutely no biology credentials,but my limited understanding is that sex and the sexes are an evolutionary development that occurred on earth.
    And if the Red Queen’s Hypothesis is correct, then there won’t be sex in the Celestial Kingdom, unless parasites are also exalted.
    I hear there’s real interesting competition in the Telestial realm, but I wouldn’t know cuz I put Advantage on the back of my neck every month.

  8. kevinr says:

    Ryan: You said that you thought each gender has strengths and weaknesses. I don’t think so, but I am curious as to what you specific strengths or weaknesses you think each gender has. In my life, I have grown up being considered by many men as having effeminate characteristics, not physically speaking, but in my seeming inherent empathy, my emotions, and my ability to perceive “read” other people. Please, explain your thoughts on specific strengths and weaknesses of each gender?

  9. Ryan says:

    kevinr,

    I think in a way your question kind of answers itself as you note that many men consider you to have “effeminate” (I’d probably use the word “feminine”) qualities, e.g., inherent empathy, stronger (or possibly more strongly expressed) emotions, ability to read other people, etc. I think many men, and I would bet many women, consider these generally, which is the key word, to be strengths (or weaknesses depending on how you view them) women have and men don’t. Similarly there are qualities that people view as strengths, or weaknesses, that men generally have that women don’t. Frankly, we all know the stereotypes and have our own opinions about their accuracy. And of course, generalizations are by definition not true in every case. You may have qualities that are generally considered “feminine” and women may have qualities that are considered “masculine.”

  10. Miri says:

    I don’t think kevinr answered his question at all, since all he said is that he possesses traits people consider to be effeminate. This doesn’t prove that those characteristics are feminine–only that culture assigns them to females.

  11. Miri says:

    I’m with Amelia in thinking that this question shouldn’t matter to us. And I think the only reason it does matter is that gender has, for thousands of years, been used as an excuse to oppress one half of the population. When whites owned slaves in America, they worked very hard to believe that black people were genetically inferior in order to justify their subjugation. That’s called scientific racism; maybe this is scientific sexism. Why do gender differences matter, unless we’re looking for a certain outcome based on the answer?

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