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Men and women are not equal

By Bernard Toutounji - posted Tuesday, 24 September 2013

I am sorry to be the one to raise this issue but I am going to pucot it straight out there so there is no confusion: men and women are not equal. For two things to be equal they must be the same and it should be self-evident that a man and a woman are not the same. Not only are they different on the physical level but they differ in almost every way they relate to the world around them. Men and women have different communication skills, different uses of emotion and even different perceptions of pain. However just because men and women are different does not mean that one is better than the other, in fact the very existence of humanity depends on these differences. These differences are what we might call complementary.

We have a major problem in our modern society though, we want everything to be equal, at least equal in the way we think it should be equal. Marriage has to be suited to whatever combination certain people desire lest it be discriminatory, faith-based employers are forced into employing those not of, or contrary to, faith, and some workplaces have quotas placed upon them in order to employ equal numbers of men and women.

The issue came to the fore recently when Australia voted in a new Liberal Prime Minster and the inner cabinet contained only one woman. The uproar across media agencies lasted the best part of a week with the new cabinet being compared, in an amusing but meaningless way, to the political cabinet of Afghanistan which has three women. The Liberal party has no particular quota on the number of women who must be selected, basing itself on merit, whereas the outgoing Labor party has a self-imposed policy that aims to preselect women as candidates in a minimum of 40% of seats. Imposing quotas though seems to be a rather disingenuous way to respect women. How is a woman selected under a quota regime supposed to know if she is there for her particular talents or simply to meet a politically correct criteria?


This is where society is getting it wrong, a false notion of equality. It begins at a subliminal level where the message is diffused that one's gender is a social construction, meaning that a woman is a woman because she was dressed in a skirt and given dolls as a child, and a man is a man because he was dressed in trousers and given toy trucks. It is worth remembering that the term 'gender' came about in the early 1960's in an attempt to differentiate between one's biological sex and imposed sociocultural roles. In Sweden, toy company catalogues must now how images of boys playing with dolls and girls with guns, and vice versa, and in 2012 the Swedes introduced the genderless pronoun "hen" instead of "han" (he) and "hon" (she). One of their state-sponsored preschools has tried to obliterate the male/female distinction among children, so the children are not called boys and girls, but friends.

When a society fails to understand the nature of men and women it is true that everything can look most unfair but we set rather arbitrary standards of where fairness lies. Men do dominate senior positions in the largest global companies because they have particular natural abilities to do that well. Women dominate the raising of the next generation of humanity and professions which nurture and educate because they have particular natural abilities to do that well. There will always be men and women who have certain talents that mean they are better in tasks that are not as common for their sex, and that is fine also. If we were sincere about the equality issue we would insist that besides a quota of women in leadership positions, a set number of men become carers to the disabled and work at home raising children. However this is not an issue about genuine equality, it is an issue about power, we all want to be out there doing what is seen to be the most important job at the time, but meanwhile we so often forget where the important things lie.

Men and women are not equal in their giftedness but we are always equal in dignity as human persons. The more we focus on false notions of power equality the less happy and satisfied we will be. Better that we realise and highlight that complementarity that men and women share and use it to make our world a better and more just place.

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About the Author

Bernard Toutounji is a freelance speaker and writer. He has a theological formation from both Australia and the USA, and has particular interest in questions of anthropology, morality and truth. Bernard writes a regular column,, in which he takes a contemporary issue and examines it through an alternative lens. Bernard tutors in theology at a university level and speaks at conferences when requested.

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