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Sex Differences: Some Stereotypes but One Is Key to the Family


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Dale O’Leary - published on 11/14/14 - updated on 06/08/17

Women and men naturally see their family roles very differently.

Men and women are different. That should be hard to deny. However, political correctness driven by the ideology of radical feminism has created a situation where acknowledging the obvious is decried as sexism. Some appear to be terrified that any recognition of sex difference will drag women back to a dark age where they were uneducated, powerless, oppressed, barefoot and pregnant. Radical feminism tells us that the observable differences between the sexes are not natural; they are instead the result of socially-constructed gender roles imposed on women by a sexist, patriarchal power structure.

While affirming sex difference, it is important to resist the stereotypes that have restricted women’s access to the workplace and the political sphere – stereotypes which divide traits and talents, virtues and vices between the two sexes, like a zero sum game.

A stereotype is an inadequate and/or inaccurate description of a class. For example, when asked what is the difference between a dog and a cat, most people reply with stereotypes: dogs are bigger, cats have longer tails, dogs are friendly, cats are cold. These are stereotypes, none of which apply to all dogs and all cats. How many of you thought of a non-stereotypical trait, such as the fact that cats have retractable claws and dogs don’t? Although no one to whom I posed this question answered with a "difference" that was not a stereotype, every one of them, including my two-year-old granddaughter – could instantly tell a dog from a cat.

Respect for the dignity and equality of woman requires that we reject inadequate, restricting stereotypes. It also requires an honest recognition of the distinct, authentic vocation of women.

Every human being discovers himself through a sincere gift of self, as Pope St. John Paul reminded us. For most people this gift is given within the family. Man and woman together are called to serve the family – the primary human institution. When the bond of family is broken, for whatever reason, the impact, especially on children may be irreparable. For this reason, it is essential to prevent family breakdown.

Other institutions of society  the government, the economic system, the educational, cultural and religious institutions  – should all help by serving the needs of the family. They can do so directly, by providing goods and services, or indirectly, by providing income to family members. Families are not one of a variety of options for raising the next generation. They are not merely social constructions that can be discarded in favor of other arrangements. While human beings are flexible, there are limitations. Children are designed to be born into a family, consisting of a mother and a father. If a child is deprived of either, he will suffer. If the adults around the child work heroically to make up for the loss, the child may emerge relatively intact, but society should not overestimate the ability of children to cope with deprivation.

To understand the differences between men and women we should begin by looking at the way in which men and women view their responsibilities within the family.

Men and women are equal, but different in some ways and similar in others. While it is common to speak of women as the opposite sex, men and women are not polar opposites. Rather, the difference can be compared to having two eyes a few centimeters apart. This gives human beings the ability to perceive depth. In the same way, because men and women view their responsibility toward the family from slightly different perspectives, they are, as a couple, able to see and respond to the needs of the family in a more complete way. From these different responsibilities in the family spring different ways of relating to work, to the world, and to other people. Society should not be deprived of women’s vision and families need the depth of the father’s perception of his responsibility.

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