Cars in Cradles – What Makes Us Male or Female and Why Does It Matter to God?

birds-1249120_640As brave as I am to tackle some subjects, there is one that I avoid like an appointment for a root canal: the subject of gender and gender roles.

This morning, the Huffington Post published the photo attached to this blog with the explanation that a mom had given her little girl both cars and dolls with which to play and this was the result.

It reminded me that when my children were young, sometimes my son would play with my daughter with her dollhouse but it always resulted in something they called “babies gone wild” where the baby dolls would act like an army of commandos and take over as they searched the dollhouse for spies. This, of course, required mass destruction of the orderly, pink, and white plastic home.

Having been born in 1961 into a traditional family and grown up through the ensuing decades, the question of gender roles could easily be the one that defines the age in which I’ve lived.

My father went to work and my mother cared for our home through my early childhood but as I enter my fifties, the world is a different place from those distant Camelot days. Just this past Wednesday as my adult son completed paperwork to receive urgent care at the health center where I work, he pointed to the form and asked, “Since when do I get four choices for gender?” Sure enough, there are now four choices on the form, two referencing transgendered patients.

Embedded in my memory is, not a full home-movie, but a vivid snapshot. My father was out of work for a brief period due to an injury. I have no memory of that at all except that one day, I arrived home from school and, on the kitchen counter, was a paperback book titled, “The House Husband” that someone had given him as a joke. It was torn in two.

I hadn’t even witnessed the actual destruction of the book but its torn carcass sent a clear message that I think underlined the frustration of many men like my father who were born in the forties and felt the changes of the sixties like a backhand to the face of everything they were raised to expect from life and relationships.

My mother, however, was freed by much of what happened culturally during the same time period, to be the smart, capable, amazing woman God intended her to become. The snapshot of that torn paperback still represents the change in life that happened somewhere between my childhood and my adolescence when gender and gender roles became a battleground.

Now, both of my parents are in their seventies. They are comfortable with where they’ve landed. My father is a progressive fire chief supporting the women firefighters in his department as readily as the men. My mother prefers working full-time to staying home but she loves to cook and sew, as well.

I was often tossed about in the wake of their decades’ long journey to reach this place of peace as I wrestled with my own version of it as an evangelical woman with the gift of teaching. For my children, the questions of the age are less about gender roles and more about actual gender assignments and sexual orientation. New fuel for an old fire.

As I attended a recent training on caring for transgendered clients, my mind filled with a question I couldn’t ask in that setting. If gender is so fluid and so relative, how does one know that he or she feels like “the opposite gender?”

I certainly believe in equality of the sexes but if we are so distinct from one another that some people know they’ve been born the wrong sex and ask to be reassigned, what marks that distinction? What is at the heart of gender? What makes a person male or female?

I detest the colors pink and purple. I’m fascinated by medieval weapons, by battle strategies, and politics. I read sci-fi and fantasy and would have to be forced to peruse Amish fiction or romance. I have zero desire to sew, garden, or drink tea. But I was thrilled to be a stay-at-home mom for the years it took to raise and homeschool my children and gladly took on a traditional role at home. I believe that men and women have different roles at home and in the life of the church and I see no conflict with believing that and also believing men and women are equal. I have no question that I am female.

As a fiction writer, I make decisions for my characters all the time. Somehow I know how my female characters would react differently than my male characters. Where does that come from and what consistencies are there across ethnic and cultural lines?

I believe the question of gender is vital because something about gender itself reflects the image of God. This is why we can’t get away from it. This is why the enemy tries to twist it. This is why it’s still so important to discuss it.

In Genesis 1:27 ESV, it is written: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

We were created with distinctions that, at their essence, reveal the very image of God. What is at the heart of that image and how we do discuss it and excavate it without destroying one another over it?

I may find the courage to write about this in the coming days but I’m interested in your thoughts. What do you believe is at the heart of gender? What are clear distinctions between male and female that go deeper than the obvious visible plumbing? What, inside you, makes you male or female?

For you writers, how do you know how your male characters will react as opposed to your female? Are your fictional characters acting in ways that are more or less traditional than the world around you? Why?

What struggles or questions have you had about gender and gender roles? What about as you’ve raised your children – what questions have arisen and why?

I’m not sure I have the courage to even write about this topic so I’m wondering if you’re asking questions too, and if so, what are they? Where have you been hurt around this subject and what has helped you heal? What is distinctly male and what is female and why is it so important?

Link to photo and article at Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/05/gender-stereotyped-toys-p_n_1652081.html?fb_action_ids=4346599229673&fb_action_types=news.reads&fb_source=other_multiline

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14 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Anonymous says:

    I read this post with great interest, because it is an area that has deeply impacted my life.

    My first husband decided God had made a mistake and he was supposed to be a woman. He told me this when I was three months pregnant with our second son. He said we could stay together, but raise our kids as Mom and Aunt. That went against everything I believe, and we sought counseling. When our second son was 9 months old, the counselor said we were in danger because the frustration levels had grown to the point of action. So we got out.

    My husband then set about changing his name legally to a woman’s name, and proceeded to take hormones, and work toward the goal of surgery to change his gender.

    Eighteen years passed. He never had the “main” surgery, but did have breast implants somewhere along the way. (He never saw the boys during those 18 years.) Then his mother died, and he began a relationship with the boys again (no longer required to pay child support, so it was “safe”.) He saw how the boys had grown to be manly men, rugged, strong, masculine. He had the breast implants removed, and is now off hormones and attempting to become a man like his own sons.

    Yes, it’s confusing to all of us. Heartbreaking. We all spent years in counseling. And to be honest, all because he was so convinced that God was wrong, and that he knew better. Sad, huh?

    I look forward to reading more of your posts. Thank you for tackling this topic.

  2. Thank you for having the courage to tell your story here. What you’ve shared helps set the tone that the topic of gender is not a theoretical, philosphical one for any of us but is deeply personal, affecting us on an intimate level and all of those we love. I approach this topic with fear and respect but feel I can’t avoid it for two reasons: a) our maleness/femaleness reflects the very image of God and b) my children face a future where gender reassignment and gender selection en utero will become everyday discussions. Thank you, again, for your story.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Growing up a girl with four brothers, my mantra throughout my youth, up until I was 10, was, “Why do the BOYS always get to do everything?” I was beside myself with frustration because, although I was a girl and wanted to be a girl, I kept being prevented from doing things because girls “didn’t” do those things. For me, the topic of gender issues left me frustrated and bitter, because the roles seemed too rigidly defined.

    Just before I turned 11, I moved in with my mom and her girlfriend. The tables turned. Surrounded by lesbians, I was told I could do ANYTHING, regardless of the fact that I was a girl. Or, as it was said to me at one point, I could do it better simply because I was a girl.

    Both sides of this spectrum that dominated my childhood were damaging. Jesus alone helped me to find a middle ground. After the heavy lesbian-doctrine that I had during my teen years, I had to come face to face with God and ask Him why Jesus was a man and not a woman. He answered in a way that was very personal for me, but very grounding for my faith. Jesus IS the perfect Man for our example, and both men and women can equally apply His example, even if they do so in different ways. First Peter 2:20-3:6 is where I received this revelation. Jesus is as much a model for how women should live as how man should live. (Granted, we can only live that way through faith in Him.)

    As a writer, I write from both male and female perspectives all the time. All the time. I find that I pray a bit more when writing from a male perspective, since I need more assistance. And I need input from the men around me to make sure I’m getting it right. I have the guys say ‘beautiful’ a bit too often.

    I think it’ll take our society applying the grace of God to figure this whole gender thing out. I know that’s not likely, but that’s what it will take.

    • Thank you for this. Your experience growing up in different households is powerful as is finding the answer to your gender questions in Jesus Christ. I echo that in that He is where I find my answers, too, and comfort when I have no answers.

  4. Erynn says:

    Lori, I love that you’re tackling this. I’d love to link to these posts on my blog. Gender roles is kind of a passion of mine. In fact, it’s the unifying thread in everything I write, no matter the genre–biblical gender roles, contemporary fiction.
    I just think it’s too important to ignore. I thought I understood it for most of my life, but then I took a class on the subject in seminary that changed my whole world view. I’ve only had that sort of world shaking realization twice in my life. And now I want everyone else to see the beauty of understanding God’s design for us in our roles and relationships. I think if we’re able to see it the way it’s supposed to be, it becomes irresistible. After all,it’s how He created us.
    I could go on a LOT. Can’t wait to see what God reveals to you in this search. Some of my favorite resources are http://www.cbmw.org/ and http://www.girltalkhome.com/blog/

    • Thanks, Erynn. I love finding this out about you. Gender roles is a huge theme in my fiction, too. We have yet to see if I’ve got the courage to keep writing about this, though. As God gives grace, we’ll see.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for tackling this–it is a courageous topic, especially because the tide is being turned, at least in part, by the media and politics. It is becoming, if not “fashionable,” at least more acceptable to abandon traditional gender roles or else alter them irrevocably via surgery, etc. I do believe that God created us both male and female and that anything in between is manufactured. But I would love if you could discuss how to address this with a non-believing world. Granted, I believe these things because I am a Christian. I can say we have no biz tampering with the sexes, “Because God said so.” But how can we reach those who are genuinely struggling with these issues, with compassion and reason and belief? How do I tell my “gay” cousin and “gay” nephew who genuinely love their partners that this is wrong because God’s Word says so, case closed? I can and I have, as charitably as I can, but it has gotten me nowhere with them. And what do we do when children are being indoctrinated at a very young age to believe that these misconceptions are, in fact, fact? And where this gets complicated even for Christians is not so much the fact, I think, that God made us male and female, but how those roles play out in the church–i.e., if women have teaching gifts, may they teach as pastors, etc.?

    You are taking this all to a deep level–not just talking about the obvious distinctions of physical anatomy, but emotional make-up. That, too, is tricky, because both sexes are human and share common emotions. Also, I get so tired of hearing that men long for adventure, but women long for security–stuff like that. We’re complex beings and it’s not particularly helpful to pigeon-hole us. Oh, yeah, another one: Men need respect and women need love. Since when do we not need both? Anyway…..just some grist for the mill. Thank you again for your thought-provoking writing.

    • Our common ground with those who don’t follow Jesus is that we all struggle to sort through these complicated issues of gender and we don’t have easy answers. I think the key is remember the design of gender is to reflect the image of God. Thank you for adding your questions!

  6. tina hunt says:

    What a courageous and powerful post. I love your questions. And I love that you ask them. You write in such a way as I feel like I would be free to sit across the table from you and ask my own questions. Thank you.

  7. Here’s my theory: when wives want to rule their husbands or when two men want to live together as husband and husband or when one person wants to change gender, they all are looking for the same thing. They are looking for happiness and fulfillment. Some people look for happiness in money, some in power, some in changing gender. But what they all need is Jesus, who alone, can satisfy our deep longing for love and joy and peace and significance.

    I know that sounds simplistic and I know that gender problems are complex, but in the end, all of our dissatisfaction comes from the lack of Christ in our lives.

    As to why it’s so important:

    I believe that bending gender, homosexuality, and feminism all strike at a picture of the Trinity that God has given us. God the Father, and his eternally begotten Son, send forth the Holy Spirit. And I think when God made man male and female in his image, he was giving us a picture of the Trinity. Adam had Eve coming from his side, and then they both had children proceeding from them.

    In the trinity there is a hierarchy even though all members are equally God. The three persons of the one God have different roles, though they are equal. The Son submits to the Father and the Holy Spirit submits to both the Father and the Son.

    In my family we are all equally Apokedaks. My husband wasn’t more Apokkedak than I am, and he and I weren’t more Apokedaks than our children are. But I submitted to my husband, and our children submitted to both of us.

    When we blur gender roles or change our genders, or overthrow God’s hierarchy for our families (and I don’t mean women do dishes and men take out the garbage) I think it’s an attempt to blind people to who God is–as you say: It’s an attack on the image of God. In the end we aren’t fighting flesh and blood. I’m not sure that counseling and understanding will even help people who are confused about their gender. I think prayer and the gospel are the weapons we need in this battle.

  8. Last July 2011, I was wrestling with the question of why God put men “in charge” in terms of the realm of household authority. The bottom line of my conclusion was: there is no innate quality, genetic trait or divine gift that qualifies every husband for leadership of his household. The only reason the husband is in charge is because… God said so.

    The Ultimate Authority of the universe, the Creator and Supreme Being assigned it that way.

    So, two scriptures immediately come to mind on this male/female topic:

    Gal. 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    Mark 12:25: “For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.” (similar to Matt.22:30, Luke 20:35)

    Given these hints in the Scriptures that neither male nor female have an “edge” over each other in God’s eyes, and that relationships like “husband” and “wife” will be a non-issue on the other side of the resurrection, I suspect that the significance of “male” and “female” are a somewhat passing, temporal thing.

    This might be a bit “out there”, but worth considering: What if being “male” or “female” doesn’t hold any more significance to our eternal identity than any other physical genetic trait (being blue-eyed, analytical, curly-haired, quick-tempered, long-legged, clumsy, honey-voiced, etc)?

    What if it’s just our assignment?

    Given that there are no preferences, traits or abilities that are purely “owned” by one gender or the other, I don’t think you can make a case that there really are any “distinctives” that indicate male-ness or female-ness. There are bossy women and timid men. There are men who are sexually attracted to men and women who are sexually attracted to both men and women. There are physically weak men and physically strong women. There are manipulative men and frank women. People go against stereotypes all the time.

    What if it’s just another case of God challenging each of us individually, “How will you respond to Me and to the people around you? Will you obey Me? Will you trust Me? Will you operate your relationships with others the way I instruct you?” To some He says, “I am asking you to fulfill this earthly assignment as a man.” And to others, “I want you to be like Me as a woman.”

    “Will you submit to your husband’s authority, even though I created you to be a woman with logical, analytical thinking and a strong will?” “Will you step up and learn to lead your family, even though I created you as a gentle soul with a strong desire to please others?” “Will you obey My stated design and crucify your attraction to your own gender, willingly following My plan by faith, trusting that I will still fulfill you and satisfy your desires?”

    I’m not saying that God deliberately makes things hard for us, giving us genetic traits that are hard to overcome on purpose. These challenges are clearly a result of the Fall of mankind and not a part of His original intent. Nonetheless, they are challenges. And I think we each have a unique and individual set of challenges that are also opportunities to lean on His grace, look for His wisdom and draw on His empowering Spirit to become more like Him.

    Men becoming more like Christ. Women becoming more like Christ.

    If somehow gender was a big deal and there was really a big difference or distinction between the two, I’m pretty sure God would have sent not only His Son but His Daughter to show us how to be more like Him. Or is that too crazy to consider?

  9. Things certainly have changed over the years regarding gender and so much more. I don’t enjoy chit chat about recipies, don’t like to shop, …. all things typically female. However, I am not, nor have I ever, thought of myself as a man or manly. I’m too large to wear what I would like to, but if I could, I would have ruffles and lace all over the place. I hope you can talk about this, but it will be a difficult task. Angie