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Vive la différence – Appreciating that Men and Women are Different

June 15, 2012

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!

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  1. Anonymous | June 17, 2012
  1. Cynthia BC says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2oEmPP5dTM

    Ella Fizgerald & Louis Armstrong – po-tay-to v. po-tah-to…

  2. TaylorKH says:

    Differences are good because then complements can truly need and fulfill each other – needfully – and be completed by each other. Woman fulfills/is fulfilled by Man. Creator fulfills/is fulfilled by Creation.

    The beloved fulfills the lover by receiving and responding well to the lover’s love. “In that you are loved, and are receptive to that love, my love is returned affectionately, and I am fulfilled by your loveliness which seeks to be loved all the more, and I love, and you are receptive, and you return my love all the more affectonately, and I am fulfilled by your loveliness which seeks to be loved all the more…”

    • Howard says:

      It’s true that men and women need and fulfill each other, but it is NOT true that the Creator needs His creation.

  3. Alicia G. Mendiola says:

    Amen! Love between Spouses (man & woman), must also include the realization that one needs each other to complete oneself. Thus the realization that they complement each other. Humility to accept the difference in body and soul.

  4. Lily says:

    LOL! I love the second video with the Dad and the son. Growing up without a brother and with a distant father it took me a long time to understand the fundamental differences in the way my husband and I communicate. When we stopped fighting each others differences and learned to see the positive aspects of them, our marriage improved greatly. We also see the humor a lot more now. God also graced me with a son and I so enjoyed seeing him grow up in all his “boyness”. Vive la differénce indeed!

  5. bt says:

    “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.”

    Very interesting…

  6. RichardC says:

    It is really a profound statement that our souls are the source of the differences in our bodies. Men and women have all the same faculties of the soul and they definitely have different bodies.

  7. R in Indiana says:

    Even though you are half a continent away from me, I sometimes think that you are completely in sync. My family just attended a beautiful family wedding, and I wish that I could have printed your comment for the bride and groom. Thank you always for your blog, it is a wonderful ministry.

  8. Jack says:

    Monsginor Pope has referred to the passage in Genesis that “it is not good for the man to be alone” repeatedly in various blog posts. It’s clear that he likes the message in this passage.

    It’s important to remember, however, that the imperfect teaching of the Old Testament must be read in light of the New Testament and the Magisterium of the Church.

    In the traditional Catholic view, the celibate single life has always been considered preferable to the married life. The reason for this preference is simple. As Saint Paul put it best, a person who is married is anxious for the things of this world – how to please his spouse. The single person is anxious for the things of heaven – how to please God. In other words, it’s easier for a single person to live in the spirit instead of the flesh than it is for a married person.

    • Oh for heaven’s sake. One teaching does not preclude the other. Further, a celibate is not “alone” Either she has Christ for her groom or he has the Church for his bride.