Context #3: Man and Woman are Complementary, not Competitors
The complementarity of masculinity and femininity is key to understanding how human persons image God. Without knowing and appreciating this, we cannot know ourselves or our mission as men, nor can women embrace their own vocations, confident in the Father’s love.
Men and women are certainly different. Science increasingly deepens our understanding of this difference. Up until recently, we had little idea of the complex workings of hormones, chemical reactions, and the brain differences present in boys and girls, men and women, all in response to the presence of the XX or XY combination of chromosomes present at conception. For example, the significantly greater amount of corpus callosum (the connective nerve fibers between the two sides of the brain) in the average woman is a fascinating discovery, as is the way the male brain is typically more segmented in its functions. Studies show that on average, infant girls will look at the face of a silent adult twice as long as infant boys, more interested in the person by God’s design. All these biological facts discovered by science add to our knowledge of the symphony of complementarity between man and woman, something at which we rightly wonder and in which we rejoice when we encounter the beauty of the sexual difference.
This difference is also a challenge, since misunderstanding can creep in and sin can cause us to lose respect for one another, robbing us of our hope for peaceful and fruitful collaboration between men and women. But this struggle between the sexes is not the fault of God’s creation; it is the result of sin. Pope Francis puts it this way:
Man and woman are the image and likeness of God. This tells us that not only is man taken in himself the image of God, not only is woman taken in herself the image of God, but also man and woman, as a couple, are the image of God. The difference between man and woman is not for opposition, or for subordination, but for communion and procreation, always in the image and likeness of God.
Alongside this struggle, the rapid advance of a “gender ideology” has infected societies around the world. This ideology seeks to set aside the sexual difference created by God, to remove male and female as the normative way of understanding the human person, and in its place, to add various other “categories” of sexuality. This ideology is destructive for individuals and society, and it is a lie. It is harmful to the human person, and therefore, a false concept that we must oppose as Christians. At the same time, however, we are called to show compassion and provide help for those who experience confusion about their sexual identity. This confusion is not unexpected when the poison of secularism reaches such critical levels: “When God is forgotten, the creature itself becomes unintelligible.”
The damaging impact of this “gender ideology” on individuals and society was addressed at length this year by Pope Francis:
I ask myself, if the so-called gender theory is not… an expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it. Yes, we risk taking a step backwards. The removal of difference in fact creates a problem, not a solution. In order to resolve the problems in their relationships, men and women need to speak to one another more, listen to each other more, get to know one another better, love one another more. They must treat each other with respect and cooperate in friendship.
As Pope Francis reminds us all to “love one another more,” I exhort you, my sons and brothers in Jesus Christ, to embrace more deeply the beauty and richness of the sexual difference and to defend it against false ideologies.
Having now established the contexts in which to understand the questions addressed in this Exhortation, I will now respond to the above-stated questions themselves.