Nathaniel 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
Many 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
Feminists 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
By “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.
- 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?