Office Hours: Generic People, Part 2

Aug 10, 2006 |J. Budziszewski

Professor Theophilus references the very nature of God to help us better understand how men and women are, at their core, quite different from each other.

PART 1: Generic People »

I stared back in dismay. "Oh-h-h, Nathan, you're getting me all wrong."

"How could I be getting you wrong? It's all right there in your analogy. Men are the ones who do stuff. Women are passive. Wasn't that your point?"

"It wasn't the point, and it's not what I think."

"But —"

"Women are as active as men, maybe more. But at different things."

He sniffed. "That's only because of prejudice."

"Is it?"

"That's right. Tell me some activity that a woman can't do."

I grinned. "I know one that a man can't do."

"What?"

"Conceive and bear a child."

"Oh, that." The sniff came again as a snort. "That's just biology."

"Nathan, you're such a Gnostic. Hasn't it occurred to you that our bodies have something to do with the rest of us?"

"There is no 'rest of us.' Bodies are all that there is."

I laughed. "You can't have it both ways. First you say bodies mean nothing, now you say bodies mean everything."

He flushed. "All right, maybe they aren't all there is. But explain that part about the 'rest of us.'"

"The womanly design isn't just physical," I said. "It goes all the way down, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually."

"Keep 'em barefoot and pregnant, is that what you're saying? My Mom has a woman doctor. My Dad has a woman lawyer. Is something wrong with that?"

"Nothing's wrong with that. But, Nathan, why do you insist that women be just like men? Does it bother you that women who have free choice of career tend to choose careers that allow them to give first place to caring for their children?"

"Well —"

"Do you grudge the fact that they tend to choose careers that give greater scope to maternal qualities? I suppose you've noticed that there are more women doctors than women engineers."

"Well —"

"What about the fact that well-balanced women who do choose traditionally masculine careers tend to perform them in ways that give greater scope to maternal qualities?"

"This time I don't even know what you're talking about," he grumbled.

"You mentioned your Dad's lawyer. A male lawyer tends to focus on the quality of the task itself. It's all too easy for him to lose sight of the humanity of the clients. A female lawyer may find the abstract quality of the law somewhat alienating. On the other hand, she's much less likely to forget that she's dealing with human beings."

"But a guy could learn to remember the humanity of the clients, couldn't he?"

"Sure, but that's the point. He's more likely to need to."

"But Prof, these so-called manly and womanly qualities are just statistical averages, aren't they? For instance, you can't deny that some men are good with kids and some women aren't."

"Of course I don't deny it. Many things come into play. What I'm suggesting is that the differences in those statistics aren't a fluke. They arise from deeper differences."

Nathan was frowning. "I feel like we're peeling an onion," he said.

"How so?"

"Well, at first I thought you were only saying that there's a difference in typical male and female qualities. Then I thought you were saying that there's a difference in what men and women typically do. Then I thought you were saying that there's a difference in what they're designed to do. But now you seem to be saying that there's a difference in what they are."

"Right. And we're not finished."

"You mean there's another layer to the onion?"

"Of course. There's the center."

"Wait. Slow down."

"You're the one peeling. Take it as slow as you want." Though I had forgotten, the minutes were ticking away. My office hours had long been over. My next class was coming up soon.

"Okay," he said, "layer one. The qualities of men and women. Women are more — maternal. Men are — I don't know — less."

"If you don't mind more statistical averages," I said, "we can say a lot more than that. Men are more prone to abstraction; women focus more on the concrete. Men don't mind the impersonal; women are more attuned to the nuances of relationships, and to what's going on in other people. A man tends to be a specialist and single-tasker; he develops certain qualities to an unusually high pitch, using them to do things in the world. A woman tends to be a generalist and multi-tasker; she inclines to a more rounded development of her abilities, using them to nurture the life around her."

"But — never mind," he said. "Layer two. What men and women do. Men gravitate to careers, women to motherhood — is that it?"

"I also said that when women do pursue other vocations —"

"Don't distract me," he said. "Layer three. How men and women are designed. We didn't say much about that."

"We could have. Take that capacity for multi-tasking. It's built in. When you consider what it takes to run a home, that makes sense, doesn't it? A women has to be a center of peace for her family even though a hundred things are happening at once. Shall I continue?"

"No, don't," he said. "Layer four. What men and women are. Their being. This one I don't get at all."

"You and lots of others. Obviously I can't speak from experience, Nathan, but it must be a very different thing to be a woman than to be a man. No doubt that's true at every stage of life, but it's especially obvious in the case of motherhood. The woman carries her baby within her body for nine months before his birth, then nourishes him with milk from her breasts. These experiences connect her with the child in an intimate, physical way that we men can't imagine. They condition her emotional responses, toward herself, toward the child, and toward everyone around her."

"All right, skip all that. Go to the center of the onion. After what men and women are comes — what?"

"The deepest part of what they are: What they mean."

"What they mean?"

"That's what I said."

"I don't get it. Explain."

"You might not want me to."

"Why not?"

"So far I've been speaking as your opinionated professor. Here I would have to speak from the perspective of my faith."

"Go ahead." He was intrigued.

Wondering what I had got myself into, I began. "Start with the fact that a human being is the image of God. Of course everything God made reflects Him in a small way — a rock His strength, the sun His glory, and so on. But humans reflect Him in a deep way."

"Why?"

"Because nothing below a human being is a person. A rock isn't personal. Neither is the sun. They're just things."

"This is interesting. Go on."

"But it turns out that God is more than personal. He's a blazing harmony of three Persons, united by love."

"Then your 'image of God' is washed up. Each human being is only one."

"A single human being is only one, but He made man and woman together as His image. The love between them reflects the love among the three Persons of the Godhead. Do you understand what I'm saying? The man and the woman aren't God, but they mean God. Meaning God is their highest privilege, and they share it."

"That's interesting. I've heard of 'the image of God,' but I've never thought of it like that. But hey, I thought you were going to say that each sex means something different."

"I was. They do."

"Well?"

"Think about what happens when a child is conceived. The man provides something from the outside. When the woman receives it, it activates her potentiality, and she conceives new life. Right?"

"I guess you could put it like that."

"You could," I said, "and you could also put it like this. The husband and wife are living symbols — him of the transcendent act of the Creator, her of the loving response of Creation. God painted this symbol of His life-giving intention for us right onto the canvas of manhood and womanhood. Of course, man isn't the Creator, unless you're considering Christ. But woman is a part of Creation. So man is the symbol of the higher thing, but woman is the more perfect symbol. It evens out."

Nathan was frowning again. I knew that I had just said far more than he was ready to take in. One could see the gears turning and trying to mesh.

"Are you saying that —" He hesitated. "I have to tell you, Prof, that's not how manhood and womanhood play out in my family."

"No. In fallen humanity, these meanings have been obscured. But in redeemed humanity, they come to light again. The Apostle Paul speaks about that in one of his letters."Ephesians 5:21-33

Nathan began to get up. "So what do you say is the bottom line, Prof? Men are from Mars, women from Venus?"

I smiled. "Just the opposite. Men and women are divisions of the same species, on the same planet; they're given to each other as companions and as gifts; they share in the same vocations to be fruitful and subdue the earth; and they both participate in the image of God. They balance and complete each other, and the world is more full of color because both of them are in it. But none of that would be possible if they were the same."

"I have to go." With a glance at the forgotten wall clock, he grinned and added "So do you."

"Why me?" I asked.

He replied, "Your next class started five minutes ago."

Copyright 2006 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.

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