Thursday, March 15, 2012

To Be a Woman

There is an interesting discussion at Segullah on what it means to be a woman. I meant to comment there, but realized that what I have to say is more complicated than a simple comment. These thoughts are fresh, not fully cooked, but I think best when I write, so here it goes.

I have heard the argument made that there is no difference between being a woman and being a man because the qualities that typify womanhood (ie. nurturing, patience, kindness, service) are things that both genders can and should develop. And they are right. Any good quality is not the prerogative of one gender over another.

Also, I have heard it said that because there are exceptions to these stereotypes, they have no value. That there are men who are more nurturing than their wives, women who are more business-oriented go-getting money-makers than their husbands. Therefore, the principles in The Family: A Proclamation to the World are wrong.

Which is also true, there are women who exemplify traditionally male roles better than some men who exemplify traditionally female roles. And yet, I sense a real difference between being a woman and being a man. It is not true that the principles of gendered responsibilities (not roles!) have no value.

There is one obvious and irrefutable difference between men and women. Namely, physiology. Some would have it that this difference means everything, others that it means nothing. But I think it is both. The trick is figuring out exactly what this difference in physiology, in biochemical flows, means.

Life is Going to Hurt
As women, we are almost guaranteed some pain through no fault of our own. Not because someone else hurts you, but because life is just that way. Once we go through puberty, we face physical pain at least once per month. For some women, this is nearly debilitating. For others, it's practically nonexistent. Some of us medicate it away, some of us tough it out, some of us have escaped it altogether. But the potential is still there.

Life is Going to Be Inconvenient
Bleeding for one week out of four is not fun or beautiful, despite what the commercials try to tell you. Again, it is worse for some women than others, and not all women even face this, but the potential is there.

Life is Unfair and Risky
No matter how physically strong a woman gets, there is a male who is stronger. Some women are raised feeling safe, but many of us realize that we are in danger just because we are women. We know that there are people out there who see us solely for the value we provide to them as a consumable object. Some men face that, but it's not as common or as acceptable to society at large, and it is not based on the simple fact of biology. That mentality extends beyond the possibility of rape. We know we can't rely on our own strength to keep us safe.

Life is Miraculous
Being a woman also means that we have an intrinsic capacity to understand that pain, inconvenience, they aren't necessarily bad. Pain and inconvenience can lead to miracles. Every person on this earth owes their existence to a woman's pain, inconvenience, and risk. That is not a power that relies on brute force, it relies on sacrifice.

As a woman, even if we never have a child ourselves, we have a part of the legacy of humankind. Our biological necessity to dive into the valley of the shadow of death makes life possible. That is a heritage that stems from the reality of our biology, but is not dependent on our specific body's ability to produce it, any more than our family's heritage depends on our conforming to it.

All beautiful qualities of patience and charity can and should be learned as a man or a woman, but we women are born with biology that gives us a different approach to them, a perspective that is different than a man's. Equal in value, though not necessarily the same in nature.

And there are definitely exceptions. But a principle doesn't have to be inviolate to be true. As the saying goes, the exceptions prove the rule.

I don't need to be as strong as a man to be valuable. I am valuable because I'm a woman, and I have a female perspective from which to learn all those qualities of patience, kindness, charity, and faith. The difference is not in WHAT is learned, but HOW it is learned, how it is approached. Men and women are yinyang. Complementary perspectives, not opposing ones. Separate, they are stunningly beautiful.

Together, they are divine.



  1. Both sides are right. If we look at male and female frequency distribution curves for traits both genders possess the choices are no overlap, some overlap or they coincide. Most of the disagreement deals with traits that have some overlap. Viewing this as two over lapping bell curves helps clear up the issue. Separate curves means that generally males and females are different but for some couples within the overlap this distinction is meaningless or an opposite relative relationship can be found.

  2. I love this, SilverRain! I've also been playing with these ideas since the discussion over at Segullah started and many of my thoughts parallel yours. I've written about this before at (sorry, I don't know HTML well enough to eliminate that clunky text) but I think I will take the gender issue on directly some time soon. So glad to find your writing here.

  3. I don't participate in Segullah, but this has been on my mind for a while. I really appreciate your thoughts.

  4. Thoughtful. I found the discussion at Segullah problematic due to difficulty in establishing what exactly was being discussed. Have you considered offering this to Segullah as a guest post? I think it would be a worthwhile addition.


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