“Snips and snails and puppy dog tails, that’s what little boys are made of.”
“Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of.”
“Boys will be boys and girls will be girls. They are and always will be different.”
Of course, we all know that’s a bunch of bunk, right? We live in a more enlightened age, where we understand that there is nothing a boy can do that a girl cannot, and there is nothing a girl can do that a boy cannot. We have moved beyond archaic views of gender roles and gender stereotypes. Right? Right?!
Maybe I’m being a little bit crass. After all, people don’t really believe that. I’m clearly simplifying the debate to the level of the ridiculous, and thus making a straw man argument. But wait! According to this poll on Debate.org – and the many ensuing comments – nearly 50% of people who respond to the poll believe that gender equality is possible, and when you look at their comments, many are saying exactly what I said in the last paragraph!
There is so much research on this subject, I don’t think it’s really prudent for me to use your time or my blog space trying to boil it all down for you. You can find research pointing either direction, which doesn’t help us much in answering the question unless you have access to all the data. And the methods used to collect it. And the methods used to derive conclusions. And – most importantly – the ability to make sense of all that and determine which studies are bogus and which are worthwhile.
Despite what some research might say, and the strong opinions that yet exist squarely in the egalitarian camp, there does seem to be a wave of thought in our culture suggesting that – gasp! – boys and girls are indeed different! A few weeks ago I ran across an article on the Huffington Post of all places that followed this line of thinking. If HuffPo is allowing this kind of thing, well, goodness only knows how many people are already thinking it! The article can be found here: Raising a Son Within the Princess Culture.
The author of the article talks about how she was raised to be a feminist, but when she had a son she suddenly had to deal with the fact that our culture is so adamant that girls can do everything boys can do, but doesn’t seem to accept the same notion the other way around. Trying to teach her son that boys can do everything girls can do only led to more confusion in her poor little son, who just kept running into evidence that he is not the same as girls! This has led to her to question the value of the feminist agenda in our current culture, and to seriously rethink the egalitarian viewpoint. By the end, she doesn’t really come to any solid conclusions, but the intriguing thing is that simply raising a son – even though she tried her hardest to let him “be who he is going to be” and even encouraged him wearing “girl clothes” and watching “girl shows” – led her to question all of her assumptions about gender. She started to wonder if maybe there is an inherent difference.
Well, if we want to answer the question, our best course is to approach the source of all truth – God’s Word. What does it say about the issue of gender? Does it note that they are different?
Depending on the extent of your knowledge and experience with Scripture, you may be surprised to hear this: There is no verse in the Bible that says, “Men and women are different.” At least, not in such direct terms. However, as with many things in the Bible, its assumptions are quite clear at even just a basic reading. For instance, in the very first chapter of the first book of the Bible, it says,
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27
From the very beginning of humanity God makes it clear that he has created two different creatures. If they were the same, he would not have needed to stress the fact that they are “male and female” – two different beings.
In Genesis 2 we witness the unique method with which God created the two different beings. With the man, he formed him out of the dust of the ground and breathed life into him. Then he left him to sit in his loneliness for a short time to highlight his need for another. Having done this, God put the man to sleep, took a rib out of his side, and crafted the woman out of it. So we see that even though he created these two similar creatures, yet even the very actions by which he created them are different. I think he wants us to sit up and take notice that men and women are not the same.
Throughout the Old Testament God has separate provisions for men and women in various circumstances as part of the Law by which his Old Testament people were governed. Most of these provisions seem designed primarily to protect women from abuse by men (which I think is telling in its own right, dispelling the notion that the O.T. God is a misogynist).
This vein continues into the New Testament. Paul mentions again and again the fact that in Christ there is no difference between male and female, but he’s talking about in terms of salvation – we are all equally sinful and all equally forgiven by the blood of Jesus, and heirs together of eternal life. Yet, when it comes to governing of the family and the church, Paul turns back to Creation and emphasizes that God’s order of creation – man first, then woman from man – is an indication of who is to take the leadership role. The assumption, once again, is that there is a difference between the two.
Peter also notes the differences:
“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers” – 1 Peter 3:7
There is a lot of debate over what he means by “the weaker partner”, because he provides no definition. But whatever he means, it obviously isn’t, “There’s really no functional difference between the two.”
That all just scratches the surface of how clearly God expresses in his Word that there is a difference between men and women and boys and girls. One thing we should not fail to notice in all of this is that at no point in all of Scripture is the difference cast in a negative light. When God created them male and female, it was good. Very good! That means that the differences that exist are not a problem. They’re not a challenge our society has to overcome. They were intended to be a blessing!
Pile on top of the Scriptural point the fact that we’re shaped differently, there are some very obvious differences between us, and the fact that we have some very different roles in the function of procreation should make it obvious to anyone paying attention that men and women are different. Actually, that’s obvious to little boys and girls from a very young age! It is only when we get older and “wiser” that we start questioning what is so clear. “he wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”
Alright, so what are the implications for families? As parents, we are bombarded with the message that we dare not inflict stereotypes upon our children. We are urged to let our children explore whatever they wish, and to try not to interfere with the process lest we hamper their development. “Let your boys play with dolls! Let your girls drive trucks! Let your boys join dance and your girls play baseball!” Well, that’s all well and good, but let’s not take it too far.
Boys are made differently than girls, and we can’t change that. We can confuse them if we try to convince them otherwise. So, when your boy inexplicably turns everything into a gun and 90% of the noises out of his mouth are some mimicking of an explosion, and when your girl acts the pretty princess no matter how many hunting trips you take her on, don’t start wondering where you went wrong. Chalk it up to who they were made to be, love them for it, and encourage their respective masculinity and femininity. It is a good thing.