Aside from the obvious physical distinctions, what are the essential differences between male and female? I'm disturbed by all of the gender-bending and -blending that's been promoted in society over the past few decades. I believe there are unique differences between the sexes that should be affirmed and celebrated. At the same time, I don't know exactly how to respond when friends on the other side of this issue challenge me to identify and describe them. Can you help me?
The distinction between male and female is very real and very deeply rooted in human nature and human physiology. What's more, research indicates that it's universal from culture to culture and that it finds expression in almost every area of life.
This idea is, of course, fundamental to the biblical view of mankind. In the very first chapter of Genesis we are told that "God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27; emphasis added). The implication is clear: the distinction between the sexes is not only basic to human nature, it's also uniquely reflective of the divine. In some way we cannot fully grasp, it presents us with a visible image or picture of the unseen triune Creator.
To this last thought we should add that, while the Bible does underscore the importance of the male-female dichotomy, and while it does represent this dichotomy as being fundamental to human nature and offers us some basic principles, it does not give us an itemized description of maleness and femaleness, nor does it tell us exactly how this distinction is supposed to be played out in many of the details of everyday life. For that we have to look to God's design in creation and try to draw some conclusions on the basis of our observations there. In the course of this investigation, we must make sure that the differences we posit are genuinely creation-based and not merely culturally determined. They must be humanly universal: internationally, inter-culturally, and historically consistent and valid.
What, then, are some of the key differences between males and females? In his book Secure Daughters, Confident Sons (Chapter One, "What Makes a Good Man?" and Chapter Two, "What Makes a Good Woman?") author Glenn Stanton lists a number of distinctive traits that he believes to be characteristic of men and women respectively. These lists are not intended to be exhaustive – obviously, each individual is unique. As Stanton is careful to point out, there are many different "styles" of masculinity and femininity, and every reader could probably cite a number of additional characteristics that seem basic to his or her identity as a man or a woman. Keeping these qualifiers in mind, we would suggest that the qualities he enumerates, which we've summarized below, represent a good starting point from which to begin building a basic understanding of essential maleness and femaleness.
A male's orientation toward life tends to be outward.
- Explorative. Every boy and every man is on a quest. He discovers his identity "out there" in the world where he senses his larger purpose and destiny lie.
- Determined to "deliver the goods." A man places great stock in knowing that he has what it takes to complete the quest and accomplish the task at hand.
- Needs to know what's next. Unlike a woman, he isn't inclined to "cuddle," to "savor" meaningful experiences, or to "linger" in the moment. Generally speaking, he's anxious to move on to the next thing.
- Opportunistic. To put it another way, the male is a doer; and in the final analysis, his feelings about what he's doing or his reasons for doing it are less important to him than the urge and the opportunity to get it done.
- Takes chances. To seize and make the most of his opportunities, a boy or a man must be willing to take chances. Accordingly, a propensity to run a certain degree of risk is fundamental to the male character.
- Initiator. All of this presumes a certain willingness and ability to "take the bull by the horns" and make things happen. It also suggests that leadership, while not necessarily an exclusively male prerogative, is nevertheless more deeply rooted in the nature of men and boys.
- Active and aggressive. There's an obvious connection between initiation and active aggression. In light of this, it's interesting to note that the male brain is two-and-a-half times larger and more vital in the center devoted to aggression and action than the female brain.
- Competitive and dominant. Men want the best and will expend incredible energy toward getting it.
A woman's perspective tends to be more inwardly directed.
- "Confidently enticing." Unlike the male, who must go out into the world to find his destiny, the woman possesses her future within herself. She has a hidden but deep confidence in this.
- Values intimacy above action. A woman cares more about being than doing, and she finds the reason for her being in relationship.
- Wisely (selectively) receptive. Though she values relationships above all else, a woman does not enter into them indiscriminately. She chooses slowly and receives wisely.
- Seeks security. Because her orientation is inward, toward relationships, nurturing, and "nesting," the female of the species puts a premium on safety and security. To a far greater extent than the male, she values qualities like "dependability" and "trustworthiness" in a potential mate.
- Prefers modesty. A confident woman knows that she possesses something very precious and valuable – the power of her femininity – and she is driven by an innate desire to protect it. Modesty is fundamental to her nature.
- Caring. The female is more naturally inclined to respond to the distressed, the needy, or the hurting with immediate compassion and care.
- Uses words. Men talk to communicate information or ideas. Women talk to communicate feelings and thoughts. As a result, women tend to use more words than men.
- Desires equity and submission. A woman wants to be a man's equal, but an equal of a very special kind. At a deep and fundamental level she has a strong desire to be led, protected, and cared for.
- Wields "soft power" which shapes humanity. Women have the ability to wield great and subtle influence in marriage and domestic relationships.
- Connecting. The female is wired to connect with others on many different levels.
If you'd like to discuss these ideas at greater length with a member of our staff, call Focus on the Family's Counseling department for a free consultation.
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Secure Daughters, Confident Sons: How Parents Guide Their Children into Authentic Masculinity & Femininity