Masculinity and Femininity and Complementarity! Oh My!

Dear Pope Francis,

Welcome to another theme week. This week, in keeping in line with our month-long theme, it’s our Week of Women. Meredith and I will be posting every day, so make sure to check back!men and women

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my struggles with the traditional femininity. The word had a childish connotation for me (and it still does to some extent), whereas I wanted an understanding of femininity that incorporated strength and independence. Another struggle that grew out of grappling with femininity was the fact that, generally, we describe something as ‘feminine’ to differentiate it from something that is ‘masculine’, which creates this opposition between the two words. Something that is feminine is very rarely described as masculine as well. This also creates the challenge of which attributes are given to masculinity and femininity.

To add another piece to this puzzle, no one person is completely masculine or completely feminine. scaleAs my friend pointed out, there is very often an unspoken scale of femininity and masculinity. Meredith and I have both talked about instances of this scale: Meredith when she talked about tools and skirts, and I talked about it when in terms of being independent and the gentleman culture. In both cases, there is something that is something traditionally feminine, for Meredith it’s wearing skirts and for me its letting guys open doors for me, that is juxtaposed against a more masculine thing, fixing things with tools and being independent.

My theology student solution to these questions is ‘complementarity’, which suggests that when God created men and women they would complement each other. complementarityBoth the masculine and the feminine need the other to complete it. The differences between men and women call them to go beyond themselves because they are not complete in and of themselves. They can be surprised by the other, because the other is something different from them. In complementarity, the emphasis is on inherent nature of men and women, but we still use the words ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ to describe them.

For me this doesn’t really address my question: what do we do with the words ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’? How do we represent a spectrum of people in these words? At this point, I don’t know if I will ever get a satisfactory answer to my questions. Maybe this is one of those times when I need to leave the question alone, chalking it up to ‘that’s just the way it is’. Inherently, men and women will complement each other, but how their natures will be represented in their lives will be different. It is these representations that we can describe as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’, and these words will always be imperfect when trying to capture to diversity of expressions.

This answer may not satisfy me entirely (and it may not satisfy you either), it won’t stop me from asking other big questions that probably won’t have satisfying answers.

Still asking big questions,



PS: For the information on complementarity in this post, I used Called to Love: Approaching John Paul II’s Theology of the Body by Carl Anderson and José Granados (New York: Image, 2009).

Categories: Lauren | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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