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Love Your Body, Step 4: Be Gender-specific

April 28, 2010

A Beautiful Distinction

Labels get a bad rap, and yet on some level, we all long to be categorized.

Distinctions give us purpose.

At the time of birth, our bodies are already stamped with the most fundamental and unchangeable label in the natural world: male or female. Much to the chagrin of our boundary-phobic culture, our bodies have not evolved past this archaic notion of gender.

This of course does not negate the infinite diversity we each possess as individuals, but it does supply a crucial roadmap. Our physical, gendered bodies reveal a brilliant illustration of who we are, and how we are to relate to one another, to the world, and to God.

Form and Function

Form follows function, so that the beauty of the human body descends from, and is inseparably wedded to its originally designed function. This is the concept Fr. Thomas J. Loya discusses on his radio show, A Body of Truth.  When the natural function of the body is intentionally dis-integrated from the man or woman, or parts of the body are separated from the whole, something of the original synergy is lost. 

Since the unleashing of feminism, many have advocated for the “clean slate” approach to child rearing, ignoring the fact that the human body (which is part of the child) is anything but malleable. In this regard, the pressure was for girls and women to become more like boys, (and for boys to stop being boys!). 

Society, ignoring the blueprint of the body, pounded into girls’ heads the notion that  “you can do anything”. In a sense, this well-intentioned propoganda diminished what it meant to be a woman, subtlying implying that the glorious distinction of femininity was not already something.

“I see too many women these days rushing around trying to do it all,” writes author Karen Salmansohn, for Oprah.com (yes, I said “Oprah”), “but meanwhile they’re not being it all! They’re not being their fullest, best feminine selves. Instead, they’re being tougher than they’d like to be as well as more exhausted, strident and irritable, thereby feeling unattractive inside and out.”

Loss of Context

Devoid of its original function and meaning, the female body loses context: at best, it becomes an attractive form to make-over, manipulate, and air-brush. At worst, it becomes viewed as either an unfortunate hindrance, a sexual plaything, or an infertile goddess (depending on who the perpetrator is).

Now that I’ve painted a bleak picture, how do we get back to seeing and experiencing the full beauty of being a woman? (Or man–don’t mean to leave you out, gentlemen.)

The answer is as easy and as difficult as learning to re-integrate ourselves with all the meaning of our gender-stamped bodies.

We will be looking with more specificity at how we got to where we are, and how to get back to where we came from in the upcoming series: The Feminine-ist Papers

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Christina permalink
    April 28, 2010 1:18 pm

    While I think your blog is interesting, and certainly true is many respects, i have to say that as a female law student and a woman who is not afraid to call herself feminist (by my own definition), I always get a little nervous when people start emphasizing the differences between men and women. To be sure, even a cursory glance will show us that men and women are in fact different. However, for much of human history those differences have been used to confine both genders into very narrow roles. Women’s “function” was to raise children at home, while men’s “function” was to leave the home in order to provide for the family, and his participation in the childrearing was seen as largely non-essential and “unmanly.” As someone who has not wanted to be a stay-at-home mom since I was five years old, I get nervous about these kinds of statements. There is nothing wrong with raising children, I am where I am because I had a wonderful mother who stayed at home and homeschooled me, but that is not my choice, and I refuse to believe that because I choose to work, that I will be any less of a mother, or that I have forsaken my true “function” as a woman. My function is to do God’s will for my life, and I believe that will extends beyond the home. For sure, raising Godly children is a high calling, but it is not the only calling, and it is not a calling only for women. I find it unfortunate that men who choose not to work and to stay home and raise their children are considered lazy, and I think it makes a profound statement about how our society really views stay-at-home moms. If it is laziness for a man to do it, I see no reason why it is not laziness for a woman to do it. Society would be a lot more well’rounded if both parents took equal shares of the childrearing and housekeeping duties, and we stopped assuming that men are somehow “not as capable” of raising children. Parenthood is the function of both genders, as is productive work, whether inside or outside the home.

    • April 28, 2010 3:25 pm

      Thank you Christina, I’m glad you brought up those arguments.

      Regarding your comment that “for much of human history [gender differences] have been used to confine both genders into very narrow roles,” I will agree, and those roles have been abused.

      Where I differ, however, is that I now see those roles not as something to be “narrowly defined”, but as an open framework that is both liberating and empowering for both genders. As a employed single woman, without kids, I can find just as much purpose in living out the “function” of my femininity as a married woman who is staying at home raising children.

      I also believe that God will “call” certain women out to be great leaders in the world, even women who are raising children(Judge Deborah for example). I have more to say on that, but I will leave it for another time. 🙂

      But that does not negate the fact that (I know this will be controversial) *in general*, men are especially suited to move out and act upon the environment, while women are especially suited for the equally important and powerful tasks involving “aiding humanity in not falling”, as the Second Vatican Counsel puts it.(And no, I’m not Catholic, I just think that is a cool idea.)

      Regarding how people view stay-at-home moms vs. stay-at-home dads, I see this less as a double standard, and more of a reflection of the fact that people view the power of men, and the power of women on different axis. Men and women ought to share equally in child-rearing, but the expression of that generally looks quite different.

      Far from being non-essential or “unmanly”, some could argue that the role of men in raising children is even more critical than that of women. Studies have shown, for example, that *on average*, children who are raised by single-fathers, are better adjusted in a number of ways, compared to children who are raised by single-mothers.

      We live in a fallen and broken world, and the original “ideals” are often unattainable. Similarly, labels have been used to abuse and subjugate people for centuries. It is not my intention to bring this back, or judge those for whom the ideal is not possible, but I think it is equally dangerous to disregard natural gender roles altogether.

  2. April 28, 2010 11:12 pm

    “Society, ignoring the blueprint of the body, pounded into girls’ heads the notion that ”you can do anything”. In a sense, this well-intentioned propoganda diminished what it meant to be a woman, subtlying implying that the glorious distinction of femininity was not already something.”

    And it also gave us brilliant women doctors, lawyers, engineers, senators, soldiers, carpenters, mothers, wives, etc. Women can do just about anything and I would argue that pounding that notion into their head has done far more good than harm! Our society functions at the level it does because we allow women to do all these things. A quick look through history books or around the Arabian Peninsula is all you need to do to find out what happens when you apply can’t or shouldn’t to half the humans in your society.

    • April 29, 2010 1:57 am

      Matilda, you make a good point, and I agree with you that women have made invaluable contributions to society outside the home.

      My comment that you quoted was purposely provocative. Let me see if I can explain myself more clearly:

      I believe we are all born with certain innate desires, gifts, strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. Gender is part of, but not all of the equation. When we are raising children, or determining our own path, I believe it is useful to look at how we were designed, emotionally, physically, mentally, etc. For many people, the push to tell girls “you can do anything” carried the subtext that their innately feminine characteristics were irrelevant or not worth cultivating. In order to be truly empowered, they had to be successful in traditionally male roles. I will concede to you, that many times it has been good to expand girl’s horizons, but not at the expense of downgrading traditional womanhood.

      There is an infinite chasm between militant feminism, and Sharia law. In our nation, it just so happens that we have swung to the side of feminism, but that doesn’t mean I’m advocating a return to barefoot and pregnant (though there’s nothing wrong with that either! 😉 ). It’s not so much about finding a “middle ground” between these two extremes, rather, it’s about rediscovering the good and empowering things about living in harmony with our gendered persons.

  3. April 30, 2010 3:30 am

    In my family traditional womanhood on Thanksgiving meant cleaning the house, cooking the meal and doing the dishes while the men retired to the living room to watch football and get drunk. In my own untraditional female second life, my husband does things like dishes. You can’t really downgrade traditional womanhood in America in further than it traditionally was. What do our innate desires, gifts, strengths, weaknesses, and abilities or gender have to do with who does all the work and who plops their butt down on the couch and watch TV and drink beer. I was not designed, emotionally, physically, mentally to put up with that. You could say that the men were working outside the home, winning the bread etc, but have you ever seen this quaint traditional arrangement around the home of a retired couple? Compare and contrast this with a slightly more modern couple. Have a little talk with a woman about fifty years older than you about traditional womanhood before the age of the microwave. Ask her how many time her husband changed a diaper. When you talk about traditionally male roles, you do realize that encompassed everything from gardener to gynecologist. I really believe there has never been a better place or time to be a woman than right here, right now in America! For every innately feminine characteristic trampled under by the big changes in our society I would argue three or four bright new flowers of feminine freedom have bloomed.

  4. knownever permalink
    June 4, 2010 4:30 pm

    At this moment in history I think it’s more productive to look at masculinity and femininity as more stable than men and women. Our bodies are more malleable than ever now (cosmetic surgery, steroids, reconstructive surgery) while the identities masculine and feminine are extremely rigid (as usual in times of war). However, what I think is most interesting is that these identities (masculine and feminine) do not map neatly onto male and female bodies. I agree that it’s a huge problem that society “[implies] that the glorious distinction of femininity was not already something” because it attests to the denigration of femininity in our culture. However, I’m not sure it’s actually femininity that people champion because the femininity of men is even more denigrated than femininity supposedly was by some feminists.

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