Bridging the Divide Between the Sexes on Our Worldviews

Recently I have had discussions with my husband and a close female friend of mine who is also married with children. We’ve been talking through the differences between the way men and women communicate and understand the world and relationships with other people. I’ve worked with a lot of men over the years and many of my closest friends have been men. I don’t have any brothers, since I have two sisters. Through both marriage and my friendships, I’ve noted that there’s always been a barrier in understanding between men and women. It’s a barrier that is very difficult to make clear to either sex. We often make parodies of it, fight about it, or ignore it.

This difference is most easily seen and understood in married life, but it also manifests between co-workers, friends, in ministry, and any other area where men and women interact. Many of the fights men and women have center around the same types of things and the difference in worldview, communication style, and understanding. This often reveals a barrier between a husband and the wife in how a particular topic or issue is approached or comprehended. The same is true in other interactions between men and women. In many cases, both parties acknowledge this gap in understanding and simply find a way to compromise without ever dealing with the gap itself.

The most common complaint women will make is about how they simply want to vent about a problem because women often work through things relationally or socially. We talk it out and in the process sort out the problem. Men on the other hand want to fix the problem since they are problem-solvers. The problem is, most problems women work through don’t have a clear solution and men are left trying to work against their nature through discipline and listen to their spouse, friend, co-worker, daughter, or sister work through the issue. While this is indeed a struggle–and an understandable one–in my mind, it doesn’t get to the issue of how the two sexes actually understand the world.

Men are global thinkers. They focus on the big picture. There are all of these things that need to be done and they are prioritized a certain way in order to fit into the whole. The hierarchy of importance is much larger for men than it often is for women. Our focus is usually smaller scale. We are more focused on the smaller tasks that are given to us. We focus on the relationships around us and if we have been asked to do a particular thing, we put our energy into doing it well. Men place value on the overall picture, while women value the work they may be doing on a smaller scale. It is why we are mothers and are primarily charged with the nurturing of souls and men are not. We are caretakers. We are able to focus on the smaller scale dimensions and not get lost in the big picture or the rest of the world “out there”. This would be detrimental to the souls and people in our care if all we thought about was “out there”.

These two world views fit together and are complementary when they are balanced properly and when a mutual respect and understanding of these differences is understood. More-often-than-not, we either don’t understand the differences or we forget them when conflict arises. I can only speak as a woman, but one of the most destructive things a man can do to a woman is minimize the tasks she has been given or taken on simply because they aren’t as important as X, Y, or Z. We don’t compare our tasks to everything else. If we did, then our tasks wouldn’t ever get done because we’d be too busy comparing what we are doing to everything else of more “importance.”

Why is this damaging? Men attach value on the things they see of most importance in order to achieve the big picture. If a woman minimizes the big picture and says it doesn’t matter, then a man is going to bristle because he knows it’s important. Women objectively get that the big picture matters, even if it isn’t our primary focus and mission. Men unfortunately minimize the “seemingly” smaller tasks of women quite often. I usually give men a pass since–although I get frustrated at times too–unlike much of modern feminism, I don’t view men as a threat, rival, or an enemy. I get we are different, but recently I started to consider why women have coined the term “mansplaining.” I don’t agree with where it’s roots lie, but I see at least part of the reasoning for it.

I suspect it comes out of this difference in understanding of the world and our missions. Men will inadvertently–or even intentionally, depending on the man–talk down to women who focus on the things they have said they will do or have been assigned to do that are a part of the big picture, but not the big picture itself. Men will solely focus and compare it to the “big picture” and minimize and even dismiss the work a woman is doing. Comparing our work to the big picture is almost always interpreted by women as a man dismissing our effort as useless or unimportant. He will tell us how everything else is more important and this is utterly irritating to a woman, because we also know that our part is of value. This is really destructive when a husband views his work as of more importance than what his stay-at-home wife is doing to raise their children. Both tasks have been assigned for the good of the family and are indispensable.

In a woman’s mind she is putting everything into and trying to do the task well, but has now been told that it’s not worth while. This typically illicits both anger and hurt in women. Husbands will do this to wives when a woman is struggling in a particular aspect of her vocation. Focus on the overall goal or picture is what they will tell us. That’s fine and good, but women aren’t wired to focus on the big picture all of the time. We are more detail oriented. We are more relationship oriented. We are focused on each individual task assigned to us. If we’ve been given a project, we will put our entire selves into it in order for it to be done well.

My husband struggles to understand why I will sometimes put off a chore around the house in order to spend quality time with our daughter. I will place that relationship before a chore because I see something that our daughter needs at an emotional level. My primary love language is also quality time. I’ve focused on my daughter’s individual needs over the overall goal of taking care of our home (big picture). He is correct that the chores need to get done, but oftentimes women instinctively know to place other human beings before a task that needs to be done. This may not always be the case, but it seems to be much easier for a woman to understand than a task-oriented man.

These same issues arise in the workplace and in ministry. There’s nothing like a meeting to reveal these differences in understanding. Women will focus on the relational, emotional (this can be good, but a lot of times not), or smaller tasks that are needed to achieve the whole. We are bottom up thinkers while men are top down thinkers. Women build up, while men go out and conquer. Scripture is very instructive here in that the women are often building up the men–that bottom up approach–while the men sort out how to go out into the world to bring the world to Christ. Women are called to do the same, but our approaches vary quite a bit. It’s also one of the aspects of masculinity that makes the all male priesthood instituted by Christ logically consistent to me.

This distinction between the sexes is extremely important for building and maintaining communion within the Mystical Body. Women cannot focus too much on the smaller tasks, the emotional response of other people, relational aspects, and the details too much or men are not going to respond or want to be active in a ministry run in that manner. The same is true for men in the way they respond to women. Telling a woman that what she’s offered to do is not important compared to everything else is destructive for morale. Women do not want to work in those conditions because they do not see their effort as being valuable to the men in the group. Even if men don’t mean it in that manner–although oftentimes they do–women will take it as a direct attack on her person. This is an innate aspect of our nature. We can’t help that our focus is where it is and so when we are told it’s not as important as something else–when it is important to us–we shut down. It’s difficult to want to keep helping if that help is seen as minor, when in reality, the small tasks help form the whole and the mission cannot be achieved without both the small picture and the big picture working together: Complementarity.

The solution is for both sexes to come to understand these differences and figure out a way to bridge that divide. Women need to acknowledge that the big picture is essential and to support the men in our lives through that goal. By the same token, men need to understand that in constantly comparing our “minor” tasks to the big picture they are in fact hurting the women in their lives. It is human nature to want to disengage when the value is taken away from our work. This isn’t some silly emotional response that men often simply attribute to the emotional nature of women or that we aren’t thick-skinned enough. This is in fact tied directly to our nature. If you minimize our efforts, then our response will be anger and hurt because you’ve directly attacked an aspect of our womanhood.

We are never going to fully understand one another on this issue, but if we are truly seeking communion in Christ through the Mystical Body whether it be in our marriages, friendships, parish communities, or our secular responsibilities, then we need to at least acknowledge that this difference in understanding exists and patiently try to find solutions that will appease both men and women. When conflicts do arise, we need to forgive quickly so that any damage done to that communion can be repaired as quickly as possible.

Teaching Beauty Over Sexy to Our Daughters

My family and I just spent 5 days at the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was my first visit to the islands. It is an absolutely beautiful area. My husband and I are not big on the most popular beaches near us such as Virginia Beach, Myrtle, or Hilton Head. We don’t like crowds. The nice thing about the OBX is there are miles and miles of beach, which helps to minimize crowds and make for a peaceful vacation. While we were there my daughter and I perused a couple of the beach stores. She wanted a souvenir and needed some new sunglasses since she had left hers at home by accident. While we were in one of the stores, my daughter found a Frozen bathing suit that she really liked, a two piece.

In my early Twenties, I gave into the predominant culture that says women need to show off their bodies. This was further driven by the fact that I was in the military and in peak physical condition. I worked out 6 days a week and while I do the same thing now, vanity is always a struggle that must be fought against. I dressed modestly, but smartly back then. I never had any desire to wear short skirts lest I be stuck pulling them down all day and I also never had any interest in tops that showed a lot of cleavage. I am outdoorsy, so I had a more Eddie Bauer or L.L. Bean look to me than anything else. I still do. That is my Montana upbringing influencing my style choices.

When it came to going to the beach with my friends, I ended up choosing a bikini with short board shorts. It was what everyone else had bought on our shopping trip and I decided to join in. In reality, I felt self-conscious and realized any male attention I was drawing was not the kind I was ultimately looking for. I remember quite clearly trying to hide in the waves as much as possible on the crowded Ocean City, MD beach. Plus, nobody mentions that string bikini tops get knocked off by the waves, so that creates it’s own battle and embarrassment.

Flash forward 15 years and I now see why I felt so uncomfortable. Women are beautiful creations of God. Paintings, sculpture, and all mediums of art have portrayed the wonder of the female form. There is something good, mysterious, and alluring about the female sex. The problem arises when we distort that beauty and turn it into lust. The culture preaches lust and sexy over beauty. The skirts these days stop just below the butt and the tops leave very little to the imagination. Prom dresses look more like swimming suits than gowns. All of this tells our daughters that sex is the only way to get a man. It also doesn’t allow them to be comfortable in their clothes or their own skin. Watch teenage girls these days. They spend a lot of time re-adjusting their clothes because they feel self-conscious with so much skin showing.

Men are visual creatures. There is nothing wrong with admitting this fact. Ask any man and he will admit this truth. Men are drawn to the female sex because God made us as their helpmate and for the propagation of the species. We are meant ‘to go forth and multiply.’ This call has of course been sterilized, no pun, by the contraceptive mentality of Western culture. This is part of the reason women have been reduced to an object and told that being sexy is a requirement. We have not been freed by post-modernism. Instead we have been enslaved and reduced to the sex object we supposedly were fighting to avoid.

A woman should desire to be beautiful, body and soul, to a man; not an object of lust. Sexual desire is a healthy and even holy aspect of marriage. Sexuality is a gift from God and in no way should it be viewed with derision. Any thoughts that sex is dirty or wrong comes from Puritanical views of human sexuality that are diametrically opposed to the Catholic worldview. Sex is holy, period.

We need to teach our daughters that modesty is beautiful. If they want a man to see them as a person, then they cannot dress in a manner that is meant to incite lust. That is hardly just. Women cannot claim that men should learn to control themselves when we are intentionally trying to insight desire in men who are not our husband. We have an obligation to protect our brothers in Christ and to not be a near occasion of sin for them, but it is more than that. We should be respecting ourselves as unique creations from God who are meant to complement men. We are shrouded in mystery because of our ability to be co-creators with God. A woman can be beautiful in a bathing suit that is meant to complement the features of a woman, rather than show as much as legally possible. A knee length dress shows off the natural curves of a woman more than the shortest skirts. I tend to hold to the rule if I can’t genuflect in it then I am not wearing it.

I can’t explain all of this to my 5 year old right now. She doesn’t understand why I told her we don’t buy two piece bathing suits, except a tankini that covers as a one piece. We will have these discussions as she matures into a young woman, and often. I plan to tell my daughter that modesty reveals her dignity and beauty to men. I am not saying frumpy. I am saying modest. She can save sexy for her future husband. There will be plenty of time for that when marriage comes, if that is the vocation God calls her to in adulthood.

It is time to teach our daughters that they are beautiful gifts from God and that is how men should view them. We need to stop being a part of the problem and treat our brothers in Christ with the charity and respect they deserve. We’ve bought into the lies of our culture. Let’s abandon those lies for the beauty of our Catholic faith and the true dignity of men and women.