by Theresa Notare
February 25, 2005
Human nature has two faces – male and female. Together they reflect the fullness of humanity. The wonder of humanity is reflected in the complementarity of the sexes. To acknowledge this natural diversity is to celebrate God's design for His people. The union of a man and a woman in bringing new life into the world is a profound sign of this diversity and complementarity and provides hope for the future.
The differences between men and women are something to proclaim, not disdain. Yet today, many stridently dismiss these differences in favor of an amorphous androgyny. They say that outside of the apparent physical differences, there are no significant traits that are peculiar to either men or to women – "gender differences are learned," we are told. Our world is so seemingly influenced by this view that it's presence is packaged and sold in almost every walk of life.
Common sense is slowly challenging this androgynous worldview. Some people now ask if biology informs our ways of perceiving the world as well as our behavior. They want to know what is uniquely male and uniquely female. Scientists are confirming significant differences between the sexes. Their research cuts across several disciplines including sociology, psychology, endocrinology and even neurology. In the book Taking Sex Differences Seriously (2004), Steven E. Rhoads summarizes some of this research.
Rhoads notes that some gender differences "can be explained in part by hormones and other physiological and chemical distinctions between men and women" (p. 5). A sample: estrogen, the dominant female hormone, is associated with nurturing. In a study of "girls between twelve and twenty months old" they displayed "more empathy and comforting behavior than boys of the same age" (p. 5). Testosterone, the dominant male hormone, is associated with aggression. In a study of nursery school children, young boys showed great interest in "chasing . . wrestling . . . and jumping. If given dolls, they sometimes put them in vehicles and drive them off a dollhouse . . . . " (p. 24).
As we learn more about distinct gender differences, we will come to appreciate more deeply our common humanity. There is a warning: we should not forget that human beings are a symphony of body, mind and soul. An abuse of this science can erect walls of prejudice rather than foster delight in gender individuality. That said, when we can understand and appreciate the influence of, for example, specific hormones on men and women, we can "work with" the body. We can honor how God made us. This will require ongoing education, discipline and, ultimately, emotional maturity. It has implications in every walk of life. Maybe men and women will be able to finally put to rest the old "war of the sexes" and say "vive la difference!"
Theresa Notare, MA is the Assistant Director for the Diocesan Development Program of NFP, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.