US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The end of men and women competing

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The idea of the "feminine genius" isn't doing so well for men these days.

The "feminine genius" is part of the "new feminism" inspired by Pope John Paul II's theology of the body. It says that women have unique traits that make them valuable in their own way (at home with the kids). The problem with that is that not all women want to (or if they want to, can afford to) stay home, and that "feminine genius" seems to work quite well in the wider world, too.

There have been numerous reports over the past years about "The end of men," as this latest article, in The Atlantic, is titled. Statistics are showing that while America and businesses are still led by men at the top, women are on the rise. They're doing better in higher education than men, the job market is better for women, and companies with more females in upper management do better than other companies.

"The model is not explicitly defined as feminist," Hanna Rosin writes in The Atlantic, "but it echoes literature about male-female differences."Feminists, for the most part, aren't celebrating the downfall of men with the rise of women. We like men, and success shouldn't be a zero-sum game.

The biggest problem seems to be in pigeon-holing men and women into various traits. The unproductiveness of this conversation can be seen in a recent article calling Obama the "first female president," criticizing his slow reaction to the BP spill as evidence of his feminine leadership style. Kathleen Parker seems torn between whether a womanly leadership is "an evolutionary achievement" or too outside the norm to be reassuring.

What does it do to say a president made a huge error because he's too girly? Similarly, what does it do to say boys are failing in some areas because they are boys?

We can argue all day whether leadership styles are determined at birth by gender or by socialization, but if we look at real life, we'll see that such distinction aren't so clear cut. Even in one person, he or she can act more "manly" at some points of the day in relation to some people and more "womanly" with other people. I'm not denying that there are difference between men and women beyond our bodies. I think it's important to listen to perspectives other than your own and learn from them.

As Ann Friedman writes in her response to Rosin’s article, focusing on gender difference allows us to ignore other differences, namely race and class, that are make more of a difference in the level of achievement. I’ve long argued that Catholic feminists have to concern themselves with such inequalities.

We seem to be more focused on pointing out the differences between people than figuring out how we can learn from each other. A common Christian response to "the end of men," for instance, is to tell boys and men to be more masculine and to tell women to be proud of their feminine genius.

We have a better model than that though. The story of Mary and Martha, the priest at my church said this weekend, isn't just for housewives; it also speaks to him as a priest. (Surely this discussion has implications on leadership within the church, but as Bryan pointed out yesterday, the question should be about the position of laity rather than women.)

Jesus taught us how to be good humans, not men and women. It’s time for both men and women to start applying those lessons.