An Examination of Gender Roles and Sexual Orientation

By: Nate
February 26, 2014

426422_10151269288102665_1895855591_nNathaniel Givens and Julie Hartley-Moore have been sparring over gender roles over at Times and Seasons.  Nathaniel defends traditional gender roles as intrinsic, while Julie argues that a lot of it comes down to culture, and that men and women are both capable of playing the same roles equally well.  I’d like to jump into the fray with an argument of my own, and explore it’s implications with regards to sexual orientation.

How Men and Women ARE the Same

My belief, (and I think that science will back me up), is that within every individual, there is the full spectrum of masculine and feminine attributes.  As Julie argues, men are perfectly capable of nurturing, because the nurturing instincts are intrinsic in the man, just waiting for an opportunity to be developed.  Likewise, women are perfectly capable of fighting in war, because war-like aggressive instincts are in all men and women, even if they lie dormant.

Even the differences between masculine and feminine physical traits are not as substantial as we might sometimes think.  Male and female fetuses are anatomically equivalent until the moment that the cremaster muscle releases the testicles of the male nine weeks after conception. Biological gender is fluid enough in infants that newborn females are sometimes surgically “reassigned” in countries like India, where males are valued more, and where they supposedly can live convincingly as males if given hormone treatment.  While this is obviously a horrible thing to do to a child, it does illustrate that at least in physical ways, males and females are not so different.

How Men and Women ARE Different

Although we share the same spectrum of masculine and feminine attributes, we don’t share them in the same percentages.  Feminine attributes dominate in most women, and masculine attributes dominate in most men.  We might say an average man is 80% masculine and 20% feminine.  An average woman would be 80% feminine and 20% masculine.  But these percentages vary dramatically on the individual level.  Much of the arguing at Times and Seasons is based on a misunderstanding of this principle.  Those who advocate for gender equality point out evidence that men and women both share masculine and feminine attributes, while failing to point out that these attributes are distributed in very unequal percentages for the majority of men and women.  Those who advocate for gender roles, often ignore just how wildly masculine and feminine attributes can vary from person to person.

Looking at the lives of many homosexuals, it’s easy to see that they have a very different mix than the average.  Even though Mother Nature may have assigned them masculine testicles, they often have a preponderance of feminine attributes, the most significant of which is their attraction to men.  However, because all of us, gay and straight, have a mix of both masculine and feminine attributes, all of us can be described as being at least partially bisexual.  (I use the word “bisexual,” to mean a mix of various gender attributes, but not necessarily as a sexual orientation.)

The Proclamation of the Family affirms this view.  In its language it says, “men are primarily…”  “women are primarily…”  It does not say that gender roles are black and white.  It is merely supporting the general observation that men in general are mostly masculine, and women are mostly feminine.

Why Gender Roles are Important: to Balance Masculine and Feminine

jaymes_fosterMany of the arguments against gay marriage center around the idea that a child needs both what only a father can give, and what only a mother can give.  But what the argument really boils down to, is that children need a healthy balance of both masculine and feminine attributes in the parents.  Children need someone who will nurture them, and someone who will provide for them.  Someone who multi-tasks, and someone who is one-track-minded.  Someone who is aggressive, and someone who is gentle.  Someone who is artistic and nesting, and someone who is sportive and adventurous.  

I know a very active LDS family where the father stays home with the kids, and the mother works.  The father is conscientious, artistic, multi-tasking, nurturing, and makes a great stay-at-home dad.  The mother is strong, independent, and a successful business woman.   So the father is actually providing the children with the feminine balance, while the wife gives the masculine balance.  It works because the father has a preponderance of feminine attributes, while the mother has a preponderance of masculine attributes.  Is this family following the Proclamation on the Family?  Yes, because the Proclamation makes room for “individual adaption,” and for flexibility in gender roles by using the phrase, “men/women are ‘primarily’…”  “Primarily” doesn’t mean “always.”

But what if a child has a closeted gay father, who is 70/30% feminine to masculine, but who is married to a mother who is also 80/20% feminine to masculine?  Then there will be a serious deficiency of masculinity in the home.  What if the child has two gay parents, who are both 50/50, or one is 80/20 and the other is 20/80?  Then both masculine and feminine could be effectively covered.  So if the argument is framed as “children need a balance of masculine and feminine parenting” then gay marriage could hypothetically work in some cases, according to the argument.

The Spiritual Ideal of Androgyny

Bronzino-Noli(536x800)imagesFeminists in the church have pointed out the problems of worshipping an exclusively masculine deity.  “How can He understand what it’s like to be a woman? How could Jesus have suffered my pains if He never experienced childbirth?”  This is a great question, and I don’t think it has been explored enough.

Lets extend the argument about masculine and feminine attributes to God.  God, as a member of our race, would also share a full spectrum of these attributes.  But God also is a creature of infinite perfection.  Therefore, it stands to reason that God has both feminine and masculine attributes in an infinite fulness.  God could not be 80/20% masculine to feminine.  God could only be 100/100%, because of His infinite nature.  How could His feminine side be deficient and He still be a God who was all-knowing?  How could He be God, and not understand the physical and sexual attractions of both men and women, and thus be bisexual in His potential?

In the scriptures, the attributes of God show a range of what we would describe as both masculine and feminine attributes, ranging from the very feminine “tender mercies,” to the very masculine “angry God.”  There is a general masculinity in the Old Testament, and a general femininity in the New Testament, which artists throughout the centuries have depicted, by making Christ effeminate, and Jehovah masculine.

There is an interesting scripture in the Gospel of Thomas which says:

They said to him, “When shall we then enter the kingdom?”  Jesus said to them, “When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside… so that the male be not male nor the female female…then will you enter the kingdom.”

I think there is truth to this scripture.  In heaven, will men be 100% masculine, and women 100% feminine?  Rather, I believe heaven would represent a balance.

Eternal marriage achieves this balance, uniting a masculine soul to another feminine soul.  But unity in marriage also represents a change in the identity of each individual to include the fulness of that balance.  “The outside like the inside” as Jesus said.  The marriage of the man and the woman is not just an outward thing, but an inward thing, the marriage of the masculine and the feminine within each individual soul.  Marriage is like making steel out of iron and carbon.  Shall the iron be fastened to the carbon with a metal band, two rocks that kiss each other?  Or shall the iron and carbon be heated and melded together in a complete unit, becoming something whole, new, integral?

Getting in Touch with Our Bisexual Potential

u25f5megsl1By “bisexual” I don’t necessarily mean sexual proclivities.  If we are an average man with 80/20% masculine to feminine attributes, exploring our “bisexual” nature would be trying to understand the feminine 20% of ourselves, and developing it as a way to achieve greater balance in life.  Bisexual nature lies dormant and unrecognized in most people.  Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and nothing is done to try to get them onto the same planet.  Our society today makes it nearly impossible to foster this bisexuality in a healthy way.  We are taught to be absolutely non-affectionate to those of our same sex.  But in other countries this is not always the case.  I remember on my mission in Italy, girls are frequently seen holding hands, and men display physical affection towards each other in a way that would be seen as “gay” here.  Pictures from the turn of the century show that even in this country, men would hold hands and cuddle with each other shamelessly.  I am inspired by Biblical depictions of David with his friend Jonathan, whose love “surpassed the love of women.”

Deep brotherly kindness and affection may have a sexual element for some people, but it would only be a small part of a broad spectrum that ranges from emotional to sexual desire.  We don’t have to become distracted by the singularity of our sexual attraction, allowing it to completely define our identity.  Sexual attraction is one of many elements that make up the unique proportion of masculine and feminine traits that we hold.

How does advocating (non-sexual) bisexuality square with the Proclamation on the Family?  When it says, “gender is an eternal characteristic” I think it speaks of the penis and the vagina, and the black and white designation that represents.  However, masculinity and femininity are much more flexible terms to describe gender, and can give us a more accurate portrait of our each individual’s complicated identity.  Again, the Proclamation gives room for some fluidity in masculine and feminine attributes by using the word “primarily,” and by encouraging men to nurture in the home as well, which would be embracing his feminine side.

Getting in Touch with our Dominant Sexuality

At the same time, I don’t want to suggest that bisexuality is an ideal for everyone.  Many people do not express their dominant sexual orientation in a healthy way either.  I’m thinking of the many hen-pecked married men who never go out hunting with the guys, who don’t belong to any fraternities, and who don’t have a motorcycle or a man cave.   I subscribe to an excellent blog called “The Art of Manliness” which celebrates masculinity, and I think many of today’s emasculated men in the church could use a bit of that too.  Embracing our dominant identity is important, for both gay and straight.  But one shouldn’t be pushed to “choose” one or the other, when there could be a mixture of both, which could lead to a more fulfilling life if embraced and understood.

JX_SallmanQuestions:

  • Do you agree that all men and women share a full spectrum of masculine and feminine attributes, even if they lie dormant?
  • Can exploring non-sexual bisexuality be healthy?
  • Do you think androgyny can be seen as a spiritual ideal?
  • Does eternal marriage represent the marriage of the masculine to the feminine, as carbon to iron, creating steel?  Or will they always be separate and distinct characteristics of each individual within the couple?

28 Responses to An Examination of Gender Roles and Sexual Orientation

  1. Brenlee on February 26, 2014 at 9:28 AM

    Wow, much to ponder, but before answering your answers in depth, I wanted to jump in and say that overall I applaud the common sense perspective expressed here. I’m sure some will try to tease out some flaws in your reasoning, but overall, this is the way I’ve always seen it.

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  2. Brenlee on February 26, 2014 at 9:29 AM

    Um, I meant “answering your questions,” darn it.

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  3. howarddirkson on February 26, 2014 at 10:51 AM

    Male and female fetuses are biologically equal until the moment that the cremaster muscle releases the testicles of the male nine weeks after conception.

    Clearly you are missing the divine eternal significance of this defining event. Those testicles become the authority through which divine communication is brokered to all females demonstrating clear unambiguous male superiority throughout eternity.

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  4. Douglas on February 26, 2014 at 11:12 AM

    If the OP amounts to claptrap to support LGBT “families” as a viable alternative to the “traditional” family, it’s gonna fall on deaf ears to this Mormon guy and likewise not only fellow active LDS but anyone, religious or not, that subscribes to the notion that “Gawd” created “Adam and Eve”, not “Adam and Steve” or “Edna and Eve”.

    However, would agree wholeheartedly about the observation that the Proclamation on the Family ‘assigns’ gender roles as “primarily” rather than “exclusively”. Try being a single Dad to a couple of strapping boys and their tomboy sister. You have to combine nurturing and butt-kicking skills. Now, there are just SOME things that dear ol’ Dad can’t do…try explaining the finer points of feminine hygeien to your pubescent daughter. If mother can’t do it, have to find an appropriate substitute. I didn’t have to watch “Family Affair”, I all but lived it.

    Now, my Dad, retired military, did four stints in ‘Nam, long ago taught me that it’s NOT unmanly to swing a mop, change a diaper, cook dinner, or other things that at one time were considered “women’s work”. Au contrairie, the values he instilled is that a “real man” does his darndednest to spare his woman the unpleasant tasks and counts himself fortunate to do so. Even though he’s decidely not religious, and while otherwise having no use for “Commie Crapola”, agrees with Marx about religion being the “Opiate of the Masses”, he’s taught the connection of love and service.

    So I suppose that mother and father, husband and wife, if striving to do what their Father and Mother in Heaven expect of them, do what is needed at the time out of love and a desire to serve, and to hell with the role stereotypes.

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  5. hawkgrrrl on February 26, 2014 at 11:31 AM

    Nate, a well reasoned post, although I think your terms are a bit mixed up (yet it’s easy to get lost in defining things which could derail your post. I had two main thoughts as I read.

    First, Jung talked about a male’s anima and a female’s animus: their non-dominant gender identity. As he pointed out, dreams often explore our relationship to our anima/animus and help us to develop as a whole person (one that embraces both sides). So, I think Jung would mostly agree with you, which is always a good starting point.

    My second thought as you talked about God is that I can agree with that, ideologically, but I also struggle to grasp the idea of God as not still evolving (yet much more advanced than we are). Therefore, maybe he’s not yet 100/100. Just a thought.

    But regardless of what God’s mix is, it’s quite clear that our leaders are not 100/100. And since they are mostly around other men throughout the day, and no women as equals in the work that they do, there is an interpretation problem. Even if God is 100/100, but the apostles are more like 90/10, we’ve got a big gap between God’s understanding of women and theirs. Many faithful feminists in the church are experiencing this disconnect (those that stay, I should clarify). We have to bypass sexist rhetoric and have a direct relationship with God in order to make sense of it, and what we hear doesn’t always match, as relates to women. I’m hopeful that at least a few of our church leaders are beginning to realize that they may not be the leading authorities on women and all the range of female experience, no matter how much they love and listen to their own wives and daughters.

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  6. Brad on February 26, 2014 at 11:40 AM

    “Male and female fetuses are biologically equal until the moment that the cremaster muscle releases the testicles of the male nine weeks after conception.”

    WRONG (Family Feud buzzer sound). XX=/=XY

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  7. Mormon Heretic on February 26, 2014 at 12:36 PM

    I don’t want to derail the discussion, but sometimes people with XY chromosomes have XX genitalia; often they are called intersex people and apparently there are a bunch in Germany; http://www.wheatandtares.org/8001/gender-and-intersexuals/

    I also did a post about a woman with 2 vaginas, another woman without a vagina (and was determined to be XY (called Swyer Syndrome.) See http://www.wheatandtares.org/10108/is-gender-really-eternal/

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  8. babaroni on February 26, 2014 at 12:38 PM

    Nate, I see where you are going with this, and I agree up to a point. Where we part ways is in the idea that there must be a balance of male/female, yin/yang, anima/animus, if you will, in order to have a healthy marriage or raise healthy children. I appreciate that you allow for the idea that gay people may have different internal balances of masculine-to-feminine, and, as such, may actually fit the Church’s “ideals” of “gender roles” more precisely than some opposite-sex couples where the man is more feminine but also has a more feminine wife, or vice versa.

    But the logical outgrowth of your model is that in order to have healthy marriages or raise healthy children (or perhaps even to *qualify* for marriage), gay couples must conform to the old-fashioned (and now mostly considered quite laughable) “butch/femme” role-play-style of relationships.

    Back in the 1960′s, 1950′s and before, it was quite common for gay couples, particularly lesbians, to adopt highly-structured “roles” in relationships, in which some lesbians were “butches” or “dykes,” while others were “femmes” or “lipstick lesbians.” The two types would pair off and form very traditionally-structured relationships in which “butches” would dress in masculine clothing, generally would work outside the home, and would take a dominant role in sexual interactions. “Femmes” would dress in a traditionally feminine style, behave more femininely, and take a “submissive” role in sexual relations. It would have been considered nearly as shameful and unthinkable for a “butch” to pair off with another “butch” as it was for men to pair with men in the context of the heterosexual community.

    Along with the feminist awakening in the sixties, however, lesbians (and gay men, in somewhat different ways) came to understand that it wasn’t necessary to “pretend” to be like heterosexual couples – that we could have our own types of relationships, and not attempt to mimic those of our parents. We could be with the person who was attractive to us and with whom we formed a bond, without regard to whether they or we were more “masculine” or “feminine,” or something in between – androgynous.

    My wife and I are both on the rather feminine side of androgyny, though we each have some of the more masculine characteristics, as well. While it is possible that one could analyze our personalities and our relationship and find that we have a balance of masculine and feminine traits between us, I’m incline to believe that in many ways, we both tend towards to the feminine end of the spectrum, with just a few exceptions. And yet, we’ve had a very healthy marriage for the last nearly 23 years. And our kids are doing fine.

    To suggest that relationships in which one partner is more masculine and the other more feminine provide an intrinsic benefit which could even in some way *delegitimize* relationships where both partners tend towards the masculine or towards the feminine feels wrong to me. I think there are probably some very happy heterosexual marriages (in fact, I know of some) where both husband and wife are towards the masculine end of the spectrum or towards the feminine end. And they raise some great kids, too.

    I think each of us as individuals bring something special to our relationships and to our parenting. We all have unique gifts and value to offer to our spouses and children. Suggesting that the major source of our value is dependent upon whether we act in a way that is more traditionally like one sex or the other is, in my mind, reductionist and highly limiting.

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  9. Nate on February 26, 2014 at 1:52 PM

    Brad, thanks for pointing out the problems with my phrasing. I’ve changed “biologically equal” to “anatomically equivalent.”

    MH, thanks for the additional info about intersex people. Some people in the church believe God would never be so cruel as to purposefully make someone gay. Yet, here is evidence that God has gone much farther than that for some people, creating all kinds of strange sexual ambiguities.

    hawkgrrrl, thanks for the refrence to Jung. I really like his philosophy. It reminded me also that there are many dieties in India which are represented as both male and female, and this might explain why Indians would be OK with switching the gender of the child at birth.

    Regarding your idea of God not being 100/100, because He is still progressing, that argument also has some appeal to me. I like the Adam/God theory, because it explains why God happens to have the bearded, masculine, clunky, neandrathal form of an earthly homo-sapian. Because I believe in evolution, I have a hard time viewing the human form as something extra-terrestrial, which transcends our anatomical peculiarities which science says we arrived at through a highly dinstinctive evolutionary path.

    Barbaroni, thanks for your comments. I certainly wouldn’t want to judge you or anyone else’s particular situations as being somehow innadequate. I believe having a balance of masculine and feminine is “ideal,” but what is ideal anyway? There is nothing in life that is completely ideal. Life is about compromise and making things work with the cards we are dealt. I believe gay couples are honestly trying to do that, and I’m sure that its working out splendidly for many people, surely much better than some of the disasterous hetrosexual families we see all around us.

    Douglas, excellent comment all around. I knew that I would be challenged for describing some kinds of traits as particularly “masculine” or “feminine.” As you say, there is nothing unmanly about swinging a mop. It makes me ask, “upon what criteria do I judge something to be masculine or feminine?” I don’t think there is any firm criteria, other than what I instinctively consider, based on my cultural understanding of things. So its obviously a bit arbitrary.

    Brenlee, thanks for the compliment, I’ll look forward to hearing more of your thoughts.

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  10. babaroni on February 26, 2014 at 4:02 PM

    Douglas, my family is not an “alternative” to “traditional” families. My family is a family. Just as good as any other family.

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  11. hawkgrrrl on February 26, 2014 at 4:46 PM

    “why Indians would be OK with switching the gender of the child at birth” Well, I wouldn’t look to hinduism for an explanation of that. The cause is economic. Consider 1) the extreme poverty of those who would intentionally do such a thing along with 2) the fact that female children are of less economic value in Asian culture than are male children. Female children essentially are only valuable as a one-time dowry. Male children contribute economically to the family throughout their adult lives, and brides go to live with the husband’s family. So females are a drain, not an asset. I hasten to add that most Indian people we all work with (professionals) are very similar to westerners in terms of their values, ambitions, and increasingly their lifestyles. Misogyny is the provenance of the poor given the economic problems of the society.

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  12. Hedgehog on February 27, 2014 at 2:38 AM

    On steel. Steels contain lower quantities of carbon than cast irons, and typically other alloying elements as well. Plain carbon steels contain no more than about 2% carbon, often less. Above this and you’re in to cast irons. Wrought irons can contain under 0.5% carbon. But both tend to contain silicates as well. The proportion of carbon effects the crystal structure, and hence properties of the steel or iron in question. But so do other factors in the manufacturing process, not least rate of cooling. Mild steels are more general purpose and contain up to 0.25% carbon. They are easily machined, but not particularly strong, eg. nails or car body panels. Medium carbon steel (0.25 – 0.5% carbon) is tougher, and tends to be used in hand tools, crankshafts etc. High carbon steels (more than 0.5%) are hard, but neither ductile nor tough, and are used in cutting tools. Addition of alloying elements such as chromium and nickel create stainless steels. Chromium protects against rust, whilst the presence of nickel stabilises a more useful crystal structure at room temperature, that is both ductile and non-magnetic.
    So I guess that’s a long way I saying I don’t think your iron-carbon analogy works in quite the way you suppose. Adding carbon is more like adding salt to a meal. A little bit goes a very long way, and the way you cook it is also important.
    I find I am that person you were anticipating who protests the use of the masculine or feminine label being attached to particular traits or characteristics. I have a visceral dislike of labelling of any kind applied to people, so it’s not just a gender thing though. I am supremely comfortable with the idea of androgyny.
    I can’t think that my husband or I possess any traits that would be seen as occupying the far ends of a masculine-feminine spectrum. We both possess some more moderate masculine and feminine traits. No-one in this household is able to multi-task. That is in fact a primary reason why one of us (me) is a SAHP, and the other (him) out earning money. None of us could cope with the juggle if life were more complicated than that.
    That said, whilst there are things we have in common, we do also have differences. I really don’t think those things are gendered, but it does mean our children can turn to us for different things. From me they get the more philosophical, nuanced discussions of gospel topics. From my husband they get support in completing their Duty to God and Personal Progress stuff. He’s the goal setter, not me. From me they get support playing musical instruments (including practising along with them when requested), an introduction to choral music, other classical music, and books, books and more books. From him they get computer music, Pet Shop Boys, and assistance in selecting popular music to listen to. He’s the one who records the music charts every week. I’m the one who navigates without turning the map around, but he drives and I don’t. That said, he doesn’t enjoy driving. I do not enjoy cooking, so in this house meals tend to be nutritious, but straight forward. I especially get flustered with other people in the kitchen, so my husband is the one who’ll have them participate on the occasions he’s cooking… So, as well as getting to do things we both enjoy, we each of us also have to do things we don’t like. But I don’t think cooking is feminine or driving masculine. My grandfather was a chef, for instance. It’s inherited vision difficulties that mean I, my mother, and my aunt don’t drive, not our gender. My sister and sisters-in-law drive well.
    On complexities of biological gender I’d recommend reading Elisothel’s fembriology series over on fMh.

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  13. Mark Davis on February 27, 2014 at 10:29 AM

    This article is premised on their being an actual dichotomy of masculine and feminine attributes. We categorize attributes based only on our own cultural perception of what it means to be masculine or feminine, and in that way our definitions are entirely circular: aggression is a masculine characteristic because we see it more commonly in males within our culture. And yet there are aggressive females as well, so it is not an entirely male attribute, just more commonly associated with males. The dichotomy is even more problematic when examining more complex actions such as cooking or caring for children; neither is exclusively male or female but still we insist on categorizing the activities. This is based on no more than our own perceptions of our current cultural climate: cooking is only feminine because I (and others) think its feminine, not because it is inherently female. A male is a male to us because he is characterized by a set of criteria (both physical and emotional) that we consider to be ‘male.’ None of the criteria is either a necessary or sufficient conditions for being categorized as a male, nor for any of his attributes to be masculine. I am simply saying that the distinction is completely arbitrary, as Nate quasi-admits in comment 9.

    I see a few arguments against this line of thinking. Perhaps attributes can indeed be defined as masculine or feminine based solely on their prevalence in a particular sex or gender. I find this logic astounding. If men care less for children, who can tell if it is because they lack that feminine characteristic or because they are not culturally expected to care for children. I think simple prevalence is entirely insufficient a criteria because both the way we express our attributes to each other and even how often we are allowed to express them are products of social training: men are allowed to fight each other more frequently than women fight other women because everyone—both men and women—think the latter is unbecoming.

    Perhaps the differences are biological: males are generally more aggressive because they generally have more testosterone than females; same with child-care and all other attributes. I don’t think there is any significant correlation between biology and attributes. I believe that was one of the underlying points of the article: nobody exhibits 100% male attributes nor 100% female. Perhaps the case can be made for aggression (which I would dispute) because it is probably highly correlated with testosterone, but other than this specific attribute, all attributes find there way into all sorts of people regardless of their sex or gender. You would be amazed as the variety of sexual and gender expression across contemporary cultures in the world, to say nothing of history.

    I think the real trouble we run into is when theologically, some attributes must be more feminine and others more masculine. When we start with this unsubstantiated premise, we interpret everything we see and do to reinforce that conclusion; even parenting and the nature of God.

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  14. New Iconoclast on February 27, 2014 at 10:41 AM

    If I take what I understand to be the core of your argument, and carve away the little fluttery bits about the periphery where I might quibble (as others have done) about the use of a particular term or semantic twist, I like where you’re going. I’ve been told I’m in touch with my “feminine side,” and I even had one woman once tell me, disappointedly, that it was too bad I was straight; I’d have been a great gay friend.

    I’m pretty sure that was a compliment and I took it as such.

    But I’ve never been “effeminate” in the sense we think of when we see and hear the brothers you refer to as “today’s emasculated men in the church,” or when we see that particular picture of the Savior, popular among Catholics, which I’ve always disliked for exactly that reason. I’m the one who builds things, fixes things, gets my hands dirty. (I’m also the one who cooks and sews.) It works for us, and we don’t really worry about whose “role” something is. When I sit back lazily after work and let my spouse handle the laundry, it’s because I’m tired and selfish, not because it’s “women’s work,” and when she chews my butt about it, she’s not accusing me of sexism, but of sloth. (Rightfully so.)

    It will be interesting to see where things go in the hereafter. I can certainly imagine a lot more opportunities for all of us to “expand our spectra,” if you will. It just seems to be so hard for people to allow others to be who they are, and to simply leave others alone without pressure to always be laying down rules and trying to draw lines.

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  15. Kristine A on February 27, 2014 at 11:06 AM

    I see gender characteristics as overlapping bell curves (that are very, very closely overlapping), while in the church we talk about them as two entirely separate circles that don’t touch. {sigh} I do question the cultural conditioning of what we determine is “masculine” (to govern!) and what is “feminine” (to nurture!). I sure hope that someone tells my daughter she’s a natural born leader, instead of that she’s bossy.

    Heavenly father sent us all here as individual children of God with a unique set of talents and skills and attributes to use and develop. To limit my talents and skills within a restricted gender scope feels to me like burying them. I don’t think about whether my empathy and nurturing (or courage and bravery) should be used in the home or etc, but that they should be used.

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  16. KT on February 27, 2014 at 1:41 PM

    I really like this post, and specifically how you differentiate between penis/vagina and masculinity/feminity, because those are important distinctions in difference.

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  17. KT on February 27, 2014 at 1:48 PM

    Ok, I just read the other posts about how ‘we’ identify masculine and feminine based on cultural norms, but, I stand by the fact that it is important to differentiate between anatomy: penis/vagina and ideas or roles of masculine/feminine because anatomy isn’t generally speaking a bell curve, but masculinity/feminity, or our roles and personalities are, and should be!

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  18. Nate on February 28, 2014 at 4:27 AM

    Mark Davis, I actually found your counter argument compelling:

    “Perhaps attributes can indeed be defined as masculine or feminine based solely on their prevalence in a particular sense or gender.” That is basically how I see it. But later you try to make a distinction between whether these traits would be cultural, or intrinsic, and decide that most of it is cultural, unless maybe because of extra testosterone. But I don’t think we really need to make that distinction, because culture and biology are closely related.

    For example, a feminist mother tries to raise her young daughter “liberated,” giving her short hair, pants, keeping her away from dolls, etc. But she can’t seem to keep her little girl from begging for barbie dolls and princess dresses, in spite of her best efforts to protect her from these oppressive cultural influences. Why is this? Aren’t barbies and princess dresses merely cultural forms? Yes, but the child gravitates to these cultural expressions based on something intrinsic within her identity, something which was not implanted by culture.

    I think that all of the cultural manifestations of these attributes reflect something deeper and more intrinsic. They are not arbitrary practices, completely unrelated to our nature. So I don’t think we can dismiss them. They are very real, and they say something important about our particular identity, and the proportion of our gender balances. It’s not an exact science, but I think it can give us some ideas.

    KT, and Kristine A, thanks for the comments. I think that gender can absolutely be described in terms of overlapping bell curves. Additionally, I would say that somewhere along that bell curve are very important markers, like whether that person happens to have an XX or XY chromosome, or whether that person happens to be sexually attracted to men or women. Sexual attraction to women is only one of many gender attributes, but it happens to have a much more profound effect on people’s lives, than say the attribute of whether one is a multi-tasker, or one-track minded. Thus you get a homosexual, who differs from the average by virtue of that singular marker of attraction. But because that single marker lies within the feminine side bell curve, chances are that he also has other markers which lie on the feminine side of the bell curve. This is why gay couples live in impeccably clean houses which are meticulously decorated, while normal bachelor pads are pig-styes. Much of their curve lies on the feminine side.

    And if someone has an XY chromosome, one of many gender attributes, but it happens to lie within an otherwise feminine bell curve, then you might get a transgender. The chromosome has profound effects, and it obviously influences a lot of the other attributes, and it may be the way God designates “eternal gender” as the Proclamation suggests. But we know that it doesn’t effect all of the attributes, many of which seem to be independant of the chromosome. That’s why I think gender exists on spectrum or bell curve, and the chromosones are indepentant markers somewhere within that bell curve.

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  19. babaroni on February 28, 2014 at 8:56 AM

    This is why gay couples live in impeccably clean houses which are meticulously decorated, while normal bachelor pads are pig-styes. Much of their curve lies on the feminine side.

    This is just wrong on so many levels… Not saying examples of stereotypes don’t exist, but I’ve known plenty of lesbians who live in impeccably decorated, thoroughly clean homes (I’m not one of them), where by your model, they should live in sty-like (wo)man-caves covered with dirty socks and empty beer cans (most of the dirty socks in my house belong to my children, at least).

    I’m not ready to write of the effects of culture to genetics, or to say that culture, itself, is mainly determined by genetics. I think there are some obvious ways in which genetics influence culture, but many other things depend far more on environment and simple habit. The girl in your example with the feminist mom, for instance, is influenced not just by her mother vs. her genetics, but also by her ubiquitous environment, in which nearly every girl child she plays with or sees is likely wearing some combination of pink and/or purple, where birthday gifts from relatives and friends include dolls in sparkly packaging (whether mom lets her keep them or not), where television and most of the other media which is pretty much inescapable in modern society is inculcating her, from birth onward, with the message that she is *supposed* to like certain things, *supposed* to dress a certain way. She cannot even go shopping at the grocery store without seeing “girl toys” and other products aimed at women and girls which broadcast a message that girls like this and boys like that.

    Gender roles are *strongly* reinforced in our society in minute and pervasive ways which are pretty much unavoidable.

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  20. babaroni on February 28, 2014 at 9:03 AM

    Incidentally, I also think the idea that a transgender person simply someone with a lot of the personality characteristics of the opposite sex is overly simplistic. I’ve known male-to-female transgender women who were the ultimate in what most people would define as femininity, dressed to the nines, hair and make-up perfect, soft-spoken — and then I’ve also known male-to-female transgender women who were archetypal “dykey” lesbians, with all of the “masculine” characteristics we association with that stereotype; just wanted to be female, and were attracted to other lesbians.

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  21. Hedgehog on February 28, 2014 at 10:55 AM

    Well Nate (#18), your use of stereotypes there is grim.
    Not that I haven’t heard others use them… Only last week a speaker in sacrment meeting was talking about her children, and how girls are ‘different’ (to boys). Well I have one of each, and for sure, they are not the same as each other, but this isn’t along gendered lines, it’s just the things that make them them. It is our son who is the more patient, peacemaker personality, who would wait in his cot chatting to himself as a baby etc. Our daughter who is fierce, angry and determined, who was escaping from her cot as soon as she could stand (even though the bar was level with her shoulders), climbing the piano and attempting to scale the bookcases… And while she pinked a pink/purple colour scheme for her room she much prefers trousers over skirts and dresses.

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  22. Nate on February 28, 2014 at 2:52 PM

    Barbaroni and Hedgehog, in my comment, I was trying to give specific examples of my basic thesis, which is that an average female would be composed of 80% feminine attributes, and 20% masculine attributes. My thesis seemed non-offensive when stated in the abstract, but when I start pinning that idea down with specific examples, it becomes problematic.

    In my mind, the statement: “Little girls like dolls, little boys like trucks,” is not perpetuating a negative stereotype. It is simply making a general observation about the reality lived by most children. We can debate the reasons why most girls like dolls and most boys like trucks. Is it environmental, or biological? Barbaroni argues that it is environmental, and that could be true. I’m sure there have been numerous studies done on the topic, and I’d be interested in reading them. I believe that it is biological, but could be convinced otherwise if shown enough evidence. Stereotypes can also be problematic when they are used to paint something as universal, rather than simply prevelant. And they can be overly simplistic, leading people to draw unfair conclusions about a complicated reality.

    But I don’t think its always fair to label something a negative stereotype when it is a self-evident discription of reality as lived by the majority. It might make it difficult to discuss the phenomenon more deeply. As long as there is an understanding that the stereotype is not universal, and that the stereotype is a simplification, I think it’s a good way to begin trying to understand realities.

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  23. babaroni on February 28, 2014 at 3:35 PM

    Nate, not trying to sabotage discussion, but simply to point out how harmful stereotypes can be. The fact is that little girls are heavily socialized NOT to like “boy toys” and vice versa, and can face some pretty unpleasant feedback for doing so. This has been shown to significantly disadvantage girls and women later in life due to areas of the brain involved in spatial representation and recognition not having been stimulated or developed as strongly as they are in boys.

    Differences in spatial skills between girls and boys are well-documented, but what has been discovered more recently is that these differences correlate strongly with the fact that boys are encouraged to play with and learn about mechanical devices (cars, etc.) where girls are encouraged to engage in nurturing forms of play. Girls who are given the opportunity to undergo some training in mechanics and spatial organization are able to build the same spatial skills as boys, and women and older girls can overcome the lack of practice and training in this area as well, and with a bit of practice, can perform equally as well as men and boys in spatial orientation testing.

    Sadly, many never get the opportunity, and are told all of their lives that they are simply “bad” at math, science, physics and similar related areas of study.

    Thus, the suggestion that these sorts of skills, and the inclination towards the toys and play-forms which foster them, are purely (or even mostly) genetic holds significant detrimental implications for women and girls from a feminist viewpoint.

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  24. Kristine A on February 28, 2014 at 3:52 PM

    Most of my young nephews like dolls. (until dolls are taken out of their hands and replaced with trucks/legos/GI joes) It is fun to pretend to be the authority and take care of things smaller than you and to practice being a parent or to use your imagination. Most of my young nephews also like dressing up. Most of them like to dress up and play with their sisters because these are fun things to do, even if they are wearing bracelets and necklaces and plastic shoes. (until their parent tells them not to). My daughter at age two was obsessed with helicopters. In our culture it’s acceptable for girls to play blocks and like machines, but it does not reverse into acceptability for boys to tea party (although it’s fun!) etc. How often do boys roughhouse and get “boys will be boys” and girls get “go to the corner til you can calm down!”

    Paradoxically, the more you accept a gender stereotype as biological, the further you subconsciously perpetuate it culturally. if it’s your belief these traits are biological, you will create a cultural environment for your children for those “truths” that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You are correct, a feminist mother’s daughter still likes tea parties – because these things are inherently FUN, not inherently feminine, because it’s fun to sit around a small table dressed up eating small sized foods. (I believe adults call it a tapas bar).

    If you are going to discuss stereotypes, call them stereotypes — don’t speak as if they are truths. We are now living in a world where we feel less pressure to conform and more ability to be authentic to our truths. I believe this is a reason we are having all these “gender” discussions, because people are finally speaking up and saying . . . “hey, I don’t fit into your box, I’m tired of trying to conform.” I believe as this authenticity is embraced more and more we will leave behind our stereotypes because we’ll realize how off they were.

    Women are finally feeling comfortable enough to be able to say, ugh — I’m don’t have an iota of nurturing bone, I hate baking and cooking, love sports, and despise fashion and trends, could care less about celebrities and the bachelor, am fascinated with science, and feel more comfortable wearing pants to church. My womanhood and femininity are not tied to any of these things. My womanhood is not defined by them. I’m not just a *different* type of girl because of them. God made me this way and that makes all of my traits 100% me.

    One day we will see each other as individuals first, with individual traits God gives us. Instead of a gender first, with traits that match our gender or not. One day. Hopefully that is the day our daughters will choose they would rather be a plain, unattractive woman who makes scientific discoveries that save lives and change the world instead of only looking pretty and being desired. One day.

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  25. Nate on February 28, 2014 at 3:55 PM

    Barbaroni, That’s very interesting about spatial skills, and thanks for sharing. In a way, I think it supports the thesis, which is that culturally feminine or masculine attributes generally have as a root, some kind of biological difference. But you are right that these differences don’t mean that girls aren’t able to build the same spatial skills. Potential is unlimited for all attributes, even though we start out with unequal proportions.

    Very good comment Kristine A. I hadn’t thought about stereotypes in that way.

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  26. babaroni on February 28, 2014 at 8:32 PM

    I’m sorry, Nate, I guess I wasn’t clear. The point was not that spatial skills are innate in males but can be developed in females. That is not the case. They are not genetically specific to males. Both sexes have the same innate capacity. The more common development of that capacity in males is due to the types of play and activity that are encouraged in boys from a young age, and are not encouraged in girls. When those types of activities are encouraged in girls and young women, they develop the same capacities as boys and young men. Nothing genetic about it, at least not that is specific to one sex or the other.

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  27. Douglas on March 1, 2014 at 8:11 PM

    #23 – look out the window for airborne swine, b/c we agree. It’s a matter of having daughters and wanting each of them to realize their potential no less than my sons.

    Remember the old riddle told in “All in the Family” ca. 1971 about a boy and his father in a car accident? The father dies, and the boy is rushed into surgery. The surgeon comes into the OR and says, “I can’t operate on this boy, he’s my son.” Even liberal “Meathead” has a hard time figuring out that the surgeon is the boy’s MOTHER. But in those days, a woman in a profession dominated by men has her job description preceded with “lady-”, as if she’s an intruder or “aww, ain’t she cute” (pat on the head). My daughter is not a “lady engineer”, she’s an engineer, period.

    It concerns me that at times we look upon a woman as an adjunct to her husband and not a viable role player of her own. Can a woman have educational, vocational, and professional aspirations, and still fulfill her role as a “Mother in Zion”? I say they are complimentary, not competitive. A supportive husband and “inspired” leaders should well be able to assist her to “make it so”

    An interesting read from the Sci-Fi area, more specifically alternative history, is S.M. Stirling’s “The Domination” series. In it, the role of “Citizen” women in the “Domination of the Draka” (think of this fictional country as an uber Apartheid-era South Africa) is curious…on the one hand, sexual relations with serf (90% of the population are serfs, effectively slaves) males is prohibited on pain of death. But Citizen males engage in relations regularly with “wenches” and “prettybucks”, and this is not only “ok”, but since a child born of a serf woman is a serf, a source of seed stock. Yet the sexes are considered equal by this TL’s 1941 (though it’s recent, Draka women in this TL’s WWI were considered as auxiliaries and not full combatants), with women in every combat branch (the protagonist’s love interest in “Marching Through Georgia” is his ComTech and both are paratroopers, considered the same as the US 101st AIrborne). Indeed, the Chief Executive of the Domination, called the Archon, is a woman, and one of her less urbane utterances is about gelding President Wendell WIlkie and feeding his organs to him. Yet Draka Citizen women are considered under an obligation to the “Race” to bear four healthy children, and believe it or not, divorce and infidelity amongst Citizens is very rare (committing adultery with a Citizen’s wife would likely result in a duel with her husband, and the woman herself likely challenged to a duel by her paramour’s wife if married or sister if not. So it could be said that Draka women “have it all”, though I’m fairly sure that American women in the real world could not stomach such a society.

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  28. […] order to make a case for the gender hierarchy in the temple.  But please read in conjunction with this post,where I explain how I believe men and women are also equal.  I am not as chauvinistic as it might […]

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