What are the differences between men and women?
Some argue that men and women were created by God to be different from each other, and to complement each other. Men are naturally stronger and more logical. Women are naturally gentler and more intuitive. Men are providers. Women are nurturers. Men are leaders. Women are followers and supporters. Both women and men are assigned roles based on these traits.
Some people argue that gender differences are entirely cultural constructs, and are not an essential part of being a woman or a man. Society has taught women to be gentler or weaker. Our culture encourages men to be stronger, to be leaders and providers. But all of our ideas of gender are created by society and cultural norms, and the only significant differences are biological.
Men and women are ontologically different from each other in ways beyond simple biological sex differences. Their differences complement each other, but these differences do not have any greater or lesser value, and do not correlate to gender roles.
“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:26,27
Up until this point in Genesis 1, we read of the creation of the earth, the sky, the waters, fish, birds, and all creatures on the earth. But when the narrative culminates in the creation of humanity, we see something different. Humans are created in the image of God, unlike any other creature. Male and female, God created them.
Gender is mentioned with respect to humans, but not mentioned at the creation of anything else. I suspect, then, that it is significant beyond biological sex differences, and beyond the ability to reproduce. We all know that giraffes and beetles reproduce, however there seems to be something more significant about humans being male and female than there is about beetles fertilizing or laying eggs.
If there are ontological differences between women and men, what are the differences?
I don’t believe it is helpful or possible to list the differences for a few reasons.
1. The Bible simply does not tell us. There is no list in scripture of character traits or personality traits for women vs. men. There are some verses that may seem to talk about roles, in marriage or in church leadership, but even these verses don’t seem to be universal prescriptions, as there are people throughout scripture who don’t fit them. There are no simple descriptions of what it means to be masculine or feminine in scripture.
2. Since the Bible doesn’t tell us that men are like abc and women are like xyz, we can look to social scientists who attempt to study men and women and determine general differences in character traits. This tells us how specific groups of men and women may differ today, but the problem here is that it is impossible to filter out what is from God, and what is from culture. We know culture has a huge influence on how we view gender, and the web is awfully tangled. So the picture is confusing at best.
3. There are very few non-biological characteristics that are consistently found in only men or only women. The variations and differences among men and among women are vast. And there are always exceptions to generalizations.
So then, I believe the mysterious ontological differences between men and women are just that – mysterious. Humanity reflects the image of God unlike anything else on earth. Humanity was created male and female to more fully reflect the image of our triune God in a way that giraffes and beetles never will. There is something feminine about God, and it is reflected in the creation of women. Women reflect God’s image. There is something masculine about God, and it is reflected in the creation of men. Men reflect God’s image. Together, all types of men and women in the church and world reflect a more full image of God.
God calls and gifts both men and women to lead, teach, preach, and make disciples, as both reflect God. While I do think it is significant that we were created male and female, I don’t believe that listing the differences is helpful. Some want to assign value or roles to women and men based on perceived gender differences, but the Bible doesn’t do this, so neither should we. We are more alike than different, and we are joint heirs in Christ, brothers and sisters before the throne. And we are better together.