Is gender purely a social construct?

While studying literary theory, my writing class is looking at feminist theory. In the introduction, it states, “Judith Butler’s theory of performativity claims gender is not a biological fact but is instead a cultural construct, one internalized and then “performed” by the subject from a very early age through a process of acculturation by which the child learns what is compulsory, expected, and forbidden.”

Genesis 2:18 says, And the LORD God said, “ It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”

Are the cognitive differences between men and women purely social constructs or did God wire men’s and women’s minds differently for a divine purpose?

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Most definitely not. Gender is a identifying quality of our person, it designates our ability to carry out certain GOD given responsibilities that directly align with His purpose and will for our creation. We are at no time allowed to designate ourselves as opposite of GODS creative choice for ourselves as His created constructs we are no where allowed that right, it’s as if the clay would instruct the very hands of the Potter to do as the clay would instruct it to do, but alas…, the clay has not been given the ability to speak as of yet, that maybe later in the process.

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You may misunderstand the question. The question does not center around individual choice. The question centers around God’s intension in the role of masculinity and femininity. The things that society typically identifies as a masculine or feminine traits, the way we walk, talk, attitudes about family, sex, work, church, and home are things which can bring social conflict when violated. Is that by God’s design or did we create these expectations?

Are there things about the social roles and expectations of men and women that God designed at the time of our creation that make us masculine or feminine?

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Hello Timothy,

This is a great question and I thank you for asking it. I want to start with a quote from Genesis 1: 27, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” God clearly distinguishes that He created two genders, male and female, and He did create them with different intentions in mind. In Genesis 2:18 God says, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for Him.” So, we see in Genesis that man was made, and woman was created as a helper and companion for him.

Now, the Bible does clearly lay our roles to the man and woman. I am going to focus in the New Testament as this is what applies to all of us now. Starting with 1 Peter 3: 1-7, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.
Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
The relationship of man to woman is clear in the Bible. Women are to be submissive to their husbands as examples of the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. Adorning themselves with the beauty that is in the relationship to their husbands was how holy women honored and glorified God. Likewise, husbands are to live with their wives, and be understanding and honoring to them. They are heirs and companions with us in the grace of life.

Further description of the differences between man and woman are given in 1 Corinthians 11: 2-16, “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a wife will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a wife to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.”
The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the Head of Christ is God. We as men are the head of woman, we have the responsibility of being the leaders and defenders as given by God. We are to take this responsibility very seriously, but we are not to think that this means we are to be tyrants. Verses 11-12 tell us that “in the Lord, woman is not independent of man, nor man of woman. For as woman was made from man, so now is man born of woman. And all things are from God.” In Christ, we are different in our roles, but we are dependent on each other, just as we are to be dependent upon Christ together for His glory.

Specific roles are also given in Titus’ letter from Paul. Paul states, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”
Men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. We are to be the leaders and teachers of the word of God. We should be sound in our understanding of scripture and, as is said in Timothy 3, above reproach. We should all strive to be men of God, honoring to Him, and having nothing that can be said against us in our walk with Christ.
What is the role of a woman? Be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not slaves to much wine. Why? They are to teach what is good, and to train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, so that the word of God may not be reviled. When men follow their roles in Christ, and women follow their roles, we honor God and also show to the world what the commandments of His word sow into our lives. A true and fulfilling marriage is one that follows these commands given by God. As is a fruitful church body, one that is closely following the rules and commandments of God for the roles of men and women.

It is so hard to see sometimes in this society that has been dominated by the ideas of transgenderism, feminism, and same sex marriage, and sees so much of the roles of men and women being reversed and ignored. When men are removed from their role and women are removed from theirs, it destabilizes all of the society. We can see the downturn of society and the increasing corruption that comes from not following God’s commands every day. Throughout history, these types of corruption have led to the downfall of empire after empire. God’s laws and commands were given because God is sovereign and good, and He understands how we, whom He created, would be able to best live in this world. But our rebellious nature’s lead us to turn away from Him and follow our own hearts, which are “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”(Jeremiah 17:9).

The Bible is full of the clear instructions for the roles of man and woman. In order for us to live, not only in a fulfilling way, but in the way that honors God and brings glory to Him, who belongs all glory. But we can see in the decay of our own societies, what the results are of this abandonment of God and His will for our lives. Society calls the laws of God, “being intolerant” or “bigoted” or “sexist,” but God is not mocked(Galatians 6:7). What we sow, we also will reap.

I hope that this has helped to clear up some of the confusion on this issue. God gives each gender very clear and specific roles in life, and He also clearly identifies the only two genders that exist. We are born one of these genders, and no matter how we may try to change it, we cannot undo the work of God. He created us each male or female, and to dishonor that is to dishonor the One who created us. There is no profit in that, and what we sow we shall also reap.

Thank you for this great question Timothy. I hope the answer helps. May God grant you wisdom and discernment as you seek His will and may He lead you to the truth as only He can. God bless you and thank you.

Matthew

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No gender is not purely a social construct. Males and females are designed differently with different being the priority of GOD the creator. If not He might have considered differently for “ for him a suitable helper “, when presented to Adam: this is now bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, she shall be called woman, for out of man she was taken. Equal in the sight of GOD. For gender to be disregarded as it was originally designed goes directly against the design of GOD

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Thanks very much for your responses. I am trying to get at a particular aspect of this that relates to literature and literary theory. My question does not relate to issues of sexuality or transgender. Allow me to get more specific by using a parable I made up.

Mike and Emily are husband and wife. They are a very traditional couple with two children Billy and Anna. They attend church in town regularly and are very involved with a strong relationship with Christ. Mike is a contractor who builds and remodels homes, plays golf regularly as well as basketball and touch football with the guys. Mike is a big fan of pro football and never misses the Super Bowl each year with friends. Mike volunteers at the church to help with building repairs, and supervising youth group trips. At the last youth group retreat he manned the barbecue and cooked a lot of burgers and hot dogs.

Emily homeschools their two children and is very active in the homeschoolers group. For a while when Mike’s business was starting she worked as a teacher’s aid at the local Christian school. Now she is able to dedicate full-time to teaching at home and volunteering at the church teaching Sunday school, making meals for shut-ins. Emily participates in a mom’s yoga group and frequently gets together with friends to crochet blankets as gifts.

Billy and Anna are still young but getting to the age where they are starting to make their own choices. Billy likes playing kickball on the quite street where they live, video games and exploring the woods behind the house. Anna plays dolls with the other girls in the neighborhood, they make mud pies and have a play house in the backyard. Anna likes to read books and cook with her mom.

This parable is intended to use strong stereotypes for a reason. I am focusing on decisions that each individual has made for themselves. The question I am asking is, are these decisions a result of how God made each of these people or are these decisions a result of social expectations placed upon them? Each may be very happy with how their life is but is that happiness a result of simply being who God made them, or is it a result of fitting in with societies expectations?

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@tfloraditch. This is an interesting question. I think the answer to your question may be yes and no. By that I mean that God has built within women certain feminine characteristics that define her as “female” separate from “male”. Her physical form is one designed to attract males. But the inner characteristics also define her nature as being attractive or not. But, men function in the same manner. They can be handsome, yet not of good character. Women have feminine qualities that draw them to certain activities such as shopping or childcare. This is not to say that men can’t have these interests, but they seem to be more indicative of women. Her other activities may be of interest to men as well…sports and business, for example.
If you read the description of a “Wife of Noble Character” in Proverbs 31, you see she has shared activities that both can do equally as well. She is a business woman, a provider for her family, skilled in real estate. She is strong for physical tasks, stays up late hours to do sewing and weaving (occupations often considered women’s tasks, but men can do as well); she is a skilled housewife and planner; she gives to the poor; she is wise; never idle. As a result of all she does, she has dignity, respect, is honored, and called blessed.
So, culture does play a part in what women are allowed to do or not. However, she has also been designed to have qualities that support her husband. Yet, in Genesis 3:16, it is often misunderstood to mean that a woman will desire the affections of her husband. Actually, the meaning of “your desire will be for your husband”, is part of the woman’s curse that she will desire to rule over her husband. It will be a competition for authority. That was not how God originally planned women to be. They were to play an equal part in their shared responsibilities (Gen. 1:28; 3:18) .
In Ephesians 5: 22-33, the husband was charged with caring for the woman as Christ cares for His Church. He has responsibility for her. A wife is to defer to her husband just as the husband defers to Christ. Both forms of “submission” are in reverence to God (Eph. 5: 21) There is to be no hint of abuse of authority.
So, women have been designed with definite feminine characteristics that define them. However, as seen in Prov. 31, women have been created to perform tasks in society equally well as men. But culture has often limited them. But, in no way, should they try to act like men in the performance of those duties nor be aggressive over men (Genesis 3 warning). They should perform in such a way that men respect them and pay them the dignity their character and performance deserve (Prov. 31).
I’ll add here also that the woman was given the ability to bear and nurse children. Men cannot do that, although society and culture today have attempted to change that role. (I’m not sure if this is an area you are asking about.) Men are charged throughout Scripture to be role models for their homes, and we saw in the lives of some of the priests and kings what happened when they neglected that role. Certainly, part of being role models is loving and caring for their children. Throughout the Book of Proverbs you can see the influence a mother has over her children. In the story of Jacob and Esau, Rebakah had a definite impact on that family that continues to this day.
So, there are shared responsibilities, there are defined abilities, and there are characteristics unique to each sex. However, when it comes to the workforce in society, culture seems to play a role that can limit or free women. Yet, each is designed to be uniquely different.
I hope this answers your question.

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It is my understanding that you are asking the age old question of the Study of Sociology of whether a person is primarily influenced by inherited traits or by the environment the person is raised in. The answer to this on a technical level is that both have a profound impact on the person. Unfortunately the Study of Sociology today does not look at impact of God on a person’s character. Sociology unfortunately looks at the impact of God as the impact of Religion and lumps this into environment. I believe that there are 3 major influences on a person’s development spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and physically not just two. I believe God, Inherited Traits, and Environment all have significant impacts on the development of an individual.
Biological Gender is by far the greatest impact on a person’s character and this is determined not chance but by the direct intervention of God in the human creation process. Gender on its own has profound impact on a person’s psyche. The male gender is more muscular physically and more compartmentalized in thinking than the female gender. The female gender is physically oriented on child bearing and intellectually more interconnected in thinking. While these differences are not totally universal they do exist to the point that it is considered outside the norm where these traits do not exist in their respective gender.
Consequently I believe the physical gender is the primary driver as to how a person thinks and responds to that person’s environment. It is well established that men and women have very different priorities when seeking a mate. Men generally put female physical characteristics high on the list of mate-choosing priorities. Women generally put male intellectual/emotional maturity high on the list of mate-choosing priorities. Both Men and Women also seek compatibility as part of their search for a marriage partner, but Men have a tendency in the beginning of the relationship to consider themselves as a separate entity where Women understand from the beginning that they are joining with a person. There is an old saying that Wives teach Husbands Intimacy, Husbands teach Wives how they are seen in God’s Eyes.
All this said I believe Ms. Butler is wrong in her assessment that gender characteristics are not from biology but from cultural construct. Yes, women (and men) learn from their culture what is the norm of how each gender should act. However the fact that women bear children and men do not is the overriding fact on how culture determines the behavior of women and men. Any women would be happy to tell you that in their last 2 months of pregnancy that they physically cannot outperform their husbands in physical activity, nor do they wish to. They have the expectation that their husband will step up and ensure that they are provided for. I put here a quick story of my own marriage as an example. My wife’s first pregnancy put her later months in summer and we lived in Philadelphia which is both hot and humid in the summer. We had no air-conditioning and so I bought a window unit and installed it in our bedroom. My wife often told me that she was grateful for this act by me as it was done without her asking. This story I think aptly demonstrates the differences in gender in that my wife was focused on getting physically through her pregnancy, and I was focused on providing an environment that would bring the best chance for her focus to be successful.

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I appreciate your answer but this is really an answer to a different question. You have told me what scripture says that God requires of us. That is very close to what I am asking but not quite. let me tell you more about Mike and Emily.

Mike is the strong silent type. He prefers to work alone rather than in teams. When he goes to men’s meeting at church he gets along well with the guys he knows but is slow to introduce himself to new people. When the meeting turns to personal issues and opening up about what is going on in his life he is the last to respond. Mike likes questions with clear answers rather than open ended questions with multiple correct answers. Mike knows the scriptures well and will not hesitate to jump in when anyone, even the pastor, gets something wrong.

Emily thrives in groups. She loves to meet new people and make them feel welcome. She will know everything about a new person, their children including names, ages, and even birthdays. She likes to join in groups with whatever they are doing and is great at building consensus within a group. However, Emily is not good at spotting problems and speaking to people who are not following after God. She is often guilty of letting things go when something should be said.

These are personality traits. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. That is very much how God made us. Mike and Emily are perfect for each other because they complete each other. They provide what the other lacks. If we go back to the details I mentioned before about each persons personal choices of jobs, leisure activities, games, etc. Are these decisions similar? Did God make them the kind of person who would make these choices?

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@tfloraditch Thanks for clarifying more. I have some thoughts but don’t have time at the moment to respond. I’ll get back to you shortly. Thanks for the challenging question.

Hello, Timothy @tfloraditch. So, what I’ve gleaned from your initial question and subsequent clarifications is that you are asking two questions: whether characteristics, personality traits, behaviors, etc. of the individual sexes (I’m speaking of 2 sexes) are constructs of societal and cultural expectations and influences, or whether they were initially embedded by God from the beginning; are their job choices, etc. influenced, based on societal expectations or what God’s intentions were?
All of these must aspects must be taken into account. Gender must be taken into consideration, supplemented by familial and societal influences. Then God gives us the freedom to make the choices we make in life.
The dictionary definition defines “gender” as having male or female characteristics, and as nouns being either masculine or feminine.
(Stick with me here because gender is important) Look at Genesis 1:27: (updated NIV)So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.***
The Hebrew translation for “Mankind” is given a male gender definition. Then, it says God created “them”. However, there is no translatable accusative case (direct object use)for “them”. So, there is no gender distinction between male and female for this pronoun.
But, if you look at the physical aspect being “male” and “female”, they are each given their definition as nouns with masculine or feminine genders, respectively. What we can deduce from this is that when Moses wrote Genesis, there was a definite distinction between male and female, other than physical. God did see that it was not good that man was alone, so created a counterpart to assist him. (I addressed this in my first answer.) God did not define how she should help him, but her gender certainly played a role in the manner in which she performed her tasks. She could have helped him in the fields or stayed home and prepared meals. Either way, there was a feminine quality about her in performing these tasks.
Esau was a hunter, but Jacob was a chef. Roles played are a combination of personal interests. Some might define Esau as a “man’s man” with masculine lusts. Others might define Jacob as a “momma’s boy” since he was close to his mother. Yet, God chose him to be the one He would name the nation of Israel after. I don’t think God would have chosen a male leader with feminine ways.
In a study written up in 2017, toy preferences for toddlers showed a clear preference based on sex. https://www.psypost.org/2017/12/study-finds-robust-sex-differences-childrens-toy-preferences-across-range-ages-countries-50488.
What this tells me is that God implanted those characteristics from the beginning.
Your example of Mike being a strong, silent type could fit the personality of my daughter to a T. She says very little in group settings, but her mind is evaluating the whole time. She will make judgments and decisions after understanding a situation clearly.
On the other hand, we have a neighbor who is the neighborhood “social worker on a cruise.” He organizes the cul-de-sac picnics, is the life of the party, although caring, prefers to live and let live.
So, I don’t think those personalities and characteristics have anything to do with being “programmed” by society or culture. I don’t think either of those traits are associated with gender. They are personality traits from birth. Or, they could be as a result of growing up in families with similar characteristics. My daughter is very much like her father and paternal grandmother, but she wasn’t taught to be the way she is. My neighbor’s family was very fun-loving in their lifestyle. So, while possibly influenced by their families, they could just as easily have demonstrated the opposite traits. I believe these behaviors are based more on their personality type implanted in their DNA.
Femininity or masculinity comes from God. They were not defined by the culture. While we certainly seek God’s guidance for our lives, He leaves the roles we want to demonstrate in our marriages, church life, or occupation a matter of choice for us, but performed in a manner by the gender he has assigned to us. I do agree that society has played a large role in what jobs and activities it has felt appropriate for the individual sexes in the past, although God may not have specified them.
Unfortunately, what is happening today is that today’s culture wants to take our physical appearance and redefine them to mean whatever a person wants to be. They’ve added transgenders. So, I think that rather than the previous culture and society defining gender characteristics, job choices, etc. from early on, it is the other way around now. Culture is redefining our physical appearances and genders to suit their own sinful desires. It wants to accuse past cultures for defining gender characteristics that God actually instilled in our physical appearance. They want the way we perform, our characteristics, our behavior, the jobs we have not to be defined by our physical appearance, but by our choice of gender. They allow the physical appearance to be altered to try to match the gender behavior. God designed our gender to compliment our physical appearance. In effect, the culture now is attempting to play God’s role as Creator. Our choice of jobs and roles is secondary.
I go back to my original response about what jobs women choose for careers. The same applies to men. Combine all of these aspects and we get a “person” with God-given gender, roles and personalities. Society and culture can skew these, but God clearly knows what a feminine or masculine role is. Our choice of jobs is an extension of that “person”.
Does this address your question more specifically?

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I liked all the responses.

a few simple thoughts; my understanding of a social construct, by it’s definition, is that it changes as society changes. Does this flow into relative truth vs absolute truth? Did God create and define gender at creation as an unchanging fact (built in) or did society by it’s constructs ‘create’ it bottom up.

are there any other ‘social constructs’ that seem to stem from God’s design? why do we think that murder is wrong, and compassion or self-sacrifice is noble? why do we think there is a notion of right and wrong at all? why do we have this knowledge of a moral standard of character which we all know we fall short of? we know we ‘ought’ to do good, but we do not. Is that just a social construct?

The Bible gives God’s design for gender, marriage and how he designed humans to flourish. I suppose one should ask the question of any author; what worldview lens are they writing from? Have they discarded God completely from their thinking, and thus look at the world purely from a humanist perspective? If secular humanism is the lens; then there is no ‘top down’ design that exists; and then yes of course your only option is social constructs; which change over time.

a brief look at Judith Butler’s Wikipedia page shows her worldview seems to have been influenced by Nietzsche, among others. I found interesting the short summary on her book ‘Giving an Account of Oneself’

In Giving an Account of Oneself , Butler develops an ethics based on the opacity of the subject to itself; in other words, the limits of self-knowledge. She theorizes the subject in relation to the social – a community of others and their norms – which is beyond the control of the subject it forms, as precisely the very condition of that subject’s formation, the resources by which the subject becomes recognizably human, a grammatical “I”, in the first place.

Instead she argues for an ethics based precisely on the limits of self-knowledge as the limits of responsibility itself. Any concept of responsibility which demands the full transparency of the self to itself, an entirely accountable self, necessarily does violence to the opacity which marks the constitution of the self it addresses.

There it is in a nutshell; “any responsibility which demands full transparency … does violence to the ‘self’.”; Is this saying; I cannot be held responsible for my own ethics, because I cannot objectively see myself from outside (because I’m inside myself), and if I did try to hold myself responsible it would damage my opaque self? Seems to have some circular logic going on there. Sounds like self-deification; the self is god.

Abdu Murray, in his book ‘Saving Truth’ writes about Culture of Confusion in today’s post-truth world. It’s well worth a read; he has a chapter on Freedom vs Autonomy, and on Gender as well.

image

https://www.amazon.com.au/Saving-Truth-Finding-Meaning-Post-Truth/dp/031056204X

just a few thoughts…

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Excellent! Yes, it does answer my question. I knew from the outset this was not going to be easy to answer. I knew that it was not going to be as simple as just read this verse. I see this discussion, including everyone’s comments, as a very helpful launching point to developing a Godly understanding of gender, and a helpful way to negotiate literary theory. Thanks for that.

I will mention one side comment that you should reconsider. When discussing Jacob you wrote, “I don’t think God would have chosen a male leader with feminine ways.” We need to think of this in light of the fact that God chooses Adam to tend the garden, He chooses Saul to lead the nation of Isreal, He chooses Jonah to preach to the Ninevites, and He chooses Judas to be a disciple and hold the money. None of these seem like good choices to me. God has mercy on who He will have mercy. God’s choosing should not be understood as a blanket approval of a person’s whole life. He sees the end from the beginning we don’t.

Thanks again!

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Thanks for the resource. I have not read this book but it looks like one that would be helpful.

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@tfloraditch. So glad you found the team’s comments helpful. Definitely an interesting topic to delve into.
Point taken re God using unlikely people. Totally agree. To clarify: I probably didn’t explain myself well. What I was trying to point out was that while some in that day may have viewed Jacob’s interest in “being in the kitchen” as a woman’s role, Jacob still was very masculine in his ways. So, it was a comment on not viewing occupations/interests vs gender stereotyping.