Vive la différence – Appreciating that Men and Women are Different

On Friday evenings when I blog I often like to feature some commercial or poignant video and today is no exception. The videos at the bottom all highlight the fact that men and women are very different.

The first two videos are Verizon commercials that illustrate how men and women handle a farewell ritual. The mother and her daughter departing for college interact very emotionally, while in the second commercial the father and departing son interact very subtly, but with no less affection.

Granted, the differences are exaggerated, but exaggeration only makes sense if there is some kernel of truth in its observation. Men and women are different, and thank God.

Early in the pages of Scripture God decreed that It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable helpmate for him (Gen 2:18). And God made woman. And she is quite different from Adam and yet one with him.

The physical differences are obvious, but, in Christian and biblical anthropology, these physical differences arise from important differences in the soul. It is the soul that is the form of the body. In other words it is the qualities of the male and female soul give rise to physical differences.

This is to some, politically incorrect today, yet it remains true. It is a common modern error to be dismissive of the profound differences between the sexes. No one can deny the physical differences, but they are dismissed as surface only, of no real, deeper significance. But the truth is that our bodies are expressions of the faculties of our soul and male and female differences are far more than skin deep.

It also remains true that these differences often give rise to tensions in the marriage and the overall relationships between men and women. That men and women perceive differently, think differently, and have different emotional experiences, is just a fact and it is always healthy to recognize and accept reality.

Too often, in the modern age there has been a tendency to dismiss these deep differences as just archetypes of bygone “sexist” era. But what ends up happening is that an expectation is created that these differences will just go away when we decide to ignore them, or pretend they don’t exist. And thus resentments and anger follow, because these differences do exist. Too many marriages end in power struggles because neither spouse can accept that it was not good for them to be alone and that God gave them a spouse who, by design, is very different, so that they could be challenged and completed.

It is true, Original Sin has intensified our pain at the experience of these given differences. The Catechism links the tension surrounding these difference to the Fall of Adam and Eve:

[The] union [of husband and wife] has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity, jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation. This disorder can manifest itself more or less acutely, and can be more or less overcome according to the circumstances of cultures, eras, and individuals, but it does seem to have a universal character. According to faith the disorder we notice so painfully does not stem from the nature of man and woman, nor from the nature of their relations, but from sin. As a break with God, the first sin had for its first consequence the rupture of the original communion between man and woman. Their relations were distorted by mutual recriminations;their mutual attraction, the Creator’s own gift, changed into a relationship of domination and lust; and the beautiful vocation of man and woman to be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth was burdened by the pain of childbirth and the toil of work. Nevertheless, the order of creation persists, though seriously disturbed. To heal the wounds of sin, man and woman need the help of the grace that God in his infinite mercy never refuses them. Without his help man and woman cannot achieve the union of their lives for which God created them “in the beginning.” (CCC #s 1606-1608)

In the end, it seems clear that we need to return to an appreciation of the necessity of our differences. Though our differences can be be intensified by sin, it is a fact that God made us different for a reason. These differences help spouses to complete each other. A husband should say, “My wife has some things important to teach me. I am incomplete without her.” Likewise the wife should be able to say that her husband has important things to teach her and that he somehow completes her. In this way we move beyond power struggles and what is right and wrong in every case and learn to experience that some tension is good. No tension, no change. God intends many of these differences to change and complete spouses. God calls the very difference humans he has made “suitable” partners.

And humor never hurts. So here are some videos. The first two I have already mentioned. The Third video contains the classic and wonderful comedy routine about the differences between a man’s brain and a woman’s brain. Humor is often the best of medicines to defuse some of the tensions that arise from our differences. Vive la difference!