Why Gender Matters
"Teach your children: Being a real man means using your strength in the service of others...Being a real woman is who you are inside."
Dr. Leonard Sax, Why Gender Matters, p.240
Dr. Leonard Sax, Why Gender Matters, p.240
Since 1995, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has boldly declared, "All human beings - male and female - are created in the image of God...Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal destiny of His children."
When The Proclamation on the Family first came out, I understood the importance of it, but honestly questioned why this particular paragraph was included. I didn't understand why it needed to be stated so explicitly. For me, at the time and even now, being female was not a question. Understanding the need for both male and female was not a question. It seemed pretty clear. And so, being a teenager, I just went on my merry way and questioned no further.
Fast forward over 20 years and I can now see why this particular paragraph was so necessary, valuable and important. I understand, also, that for some gender distinction is not so clear. I can validate that there are real questions and doubts circulating out there in our society. Most of this uncertainty is being inflamed by media, social media to be exact. As we hear and see more about gender and identity confusion, we begin to assume that such thoughts are normal and even may begin to adopt them ourselves.
Gender is the focus topic for the Proclamation tips in the March Ensign of 2017. Though it may not be so clear out in the world, President Uchtdorf explains, "We know some things but not everything...But there is someone who sees all things clearly. There is a source of truth that is complete and correct. That source is our wise and all-knowing Heavenly Father (emphasis added)." As with any wrestle we may have with gospel principles, this one is no different. We must go to the Lord for answers on such matters.
How do we come to terms with what conversations are being had in the world while teaching our children in our homes? How do we teach compassion and understanding when what is shown as normal is not how God intends it to be?
First of all, I think we need to distinguish equality from being the same. Dr. Leonard Sax is a renowned physician who has worked extensively on this subject. He is a strong advocate for same-gender segregation in schools and has some very valid points as to why he believe this. Ultimately his stance is this: BOYS AND GIRLS ARE DIFFERENT! Period.
For years scientists have been showing us that male and female brains are different. John Gray, author of Men Are From Mars, Women are From Venus, states, "Not only do men and women communicate differently, but they think, feel, perceive, react, respond, love, need and appreciate differently." I think when this book first came out (and since) this idea of men and women thinking differently has become almost comedic. We use these differences to make fun of or make light of certain situations. I think of the commercial where the wife has a nail sticking out of her head. It's hilarious. And we laugh. And that's a good thing!
However, we also need to take into account that these differences are REAL. Dr. Sax adds his expertise to the puzzle when he expresses our need to acknowledge physical differences as well. In studying youth sports programs he has found unaddressed distinctions between boys and girls. He says, "Today we all agree that girls and boys should have equal opportunity to participate in sports. But that doesn't mean that girls and boys should be treated the same...As a physician, I have seen first-hand how this confusion results in more girls injured on the field....If we pay attention to the hardwired differences between girls and boys, we can decrease the risk of injury. If we ignore the differences between girls and boys because it's politically correct to pretend that girls and boys are the same...then we put girls at risk."
Equal does not mean the same. I think this is where the conversation becomes skewed. I think this is the understanding we all could come to. EQUAL opportunities for women, YES! I am all for that. But treating boys and girls the same can be very detrimental. Dr. Sax gives warm-up suggestions that are more appropriate for the muscle structure of girls than boys.
Academically, Sax also advises that we teach boys and girls separately, at least in certain subjects, because the boy brain develops differently than does the girl brain. With such knowledge, teachers and parents can adapt their teaching styles and have much better success in raising girls that love math and boys that love to write (our stereotypical society may be founded on scientific data here).
It is true that gender identity and confusion are a part of our culture now and our children may have many questions to answer for themselves as they become more immersed in this world. This is a valuable discussion to have with them as they seek out answers for themselves. I find solace in knowing that we do have a loving Heavenly Father who knows us, who prepared us years ago for this current wave of curiosity and doubt. I trust in His all-seeing clarity on the matter and I will raise my sons and my daughters equally, but not the same.
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“[Gender] in large measure defines who we are, why we are here upon the earth, and what we are to do and become. For divine purposes, male and female spirits are different, distinctive, and complementary. … The unique combination of spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional capacities of both males and females were needed to implement the plan of happiness” - - Elder David A. Bednar