Friday, April 15, 2016
Sex and Gender in the Literature
Last week I participated in an intense and deeply informative conference on "gender theory," co-sponsored by the Catholic Women's Forum at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the Catholic Information Center. We heard from a scientist, historian and economist, as well as philosophers, theologians, and lawyers. Should these papers be published--and that is the hope--I will be sure to post here. But in the meantime, I wanted to post a few excellent resources for anyone trying to make sense of what has become a leading--and confusing--issue today.
Here is a collection of studies drawn from scientists and researchers on sex differences in the brain, posted yesterday on MercatorNet, originally published in the journal, The Family in America. A few money quotes:
. . . The truth is that virtually every professional scientist and researcher into the subject has concluded that the brains of men and women are different. . . . [T]he nature and cause of brain differences are now known beyond speculation, beyond prejudice, and beyond reasonable doubt.
As a result, “There has seldom been a greater divide between what intelligent, enlightened opinion presumes—that men and women have the same brain—and what sciences knows—that they do not.” Therefore, they proclaim in frankness, “It is time to cease the vain contention that men and women are created the same."
And this one is especially interesting:
Given that cultures are different and that male and female differences are demonstrated to varying degrees in different cultures, where would you imagine gender differences between male and female to be most pronounced?
In traditional, developing cultures, where men and women have to depend on each other for daily survival, where today’s food is collected, prepared, cooked, and consumed today?
Or . . .
In modern cultures that are more technologically, economically and politically advanced, where men and women have the resources and cultural freedoms to become and do what they desire?
It appears that when they enjoy greater freedom—financially, politically, and culturally—men become more stereotypically masculine and women more stereotypically feminine. This is, however, most true for women.
The New York Times summarized the findings of personality tests in more than 60 different countries and cultures: “It looks as if personality differences between men and women are smaller in traditional cultures like India’s or Zimbabwe’s than in the Netherlands or the United States.” The New York Times concludes: “The more Venus and Mars have equal rights and similar jobs, the more their personalities seem to diverge."
I'd also recommend UVA professor Steven Rhoades 2005 book, Taking Sex Differences Seriously, and Leonard Sax's Why Gender Matters? Additionally, this paper by Sister Prudence Allen, the learned philosopher and author of the three-volume series The Concept of Woman (Vol 3 available in November 2016), is very helpful as a historical-philosophical approach. She also has an excellent, clarifying chapter in Not Just Good, but Beautiful, the collection of presentations of the Humanum colloquium in Rome last year.
The Holy Father has strongly opposed what he calls "gender ideology" in a number of documents, including Laudato Si and now Amoris Laetitia. Here is #56 in the latter:
Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that “denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time”[Quoting the Relatio Finalis, 2015]. It is a source of concern that some ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised. It needs to be emphasized that “biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated”. On the other hand, “the technological revolution in the field of human procreation has introduced the ability to manipulate the reproductive act, making it independent of the sexual relationship between a man and a woman. In this way, human life and parenthood have become modular and separable realities, subject mainly to the wishes of individuals or couples”. It is one thing to be understanding of human weakness and the complexities of life, and another to accept ideologies that attempt to sunder what are inseparable aspects of reality. Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created.
I've shared some of my take on all this here at MOJ, and also in Mary Hasson's book, Promise and Challenge, from the first gathering of the Catholic Women's Forum. First Things is due to publish another article soon.