A proposal concerning difference

by Giorgia Salatiello

Underlying this brief reflection on the woman-man difference and gender, there is a twofold line of thought that I shall now try to explain in a few words.

In the first place, Christian anthropology, which is founded on the words of Scripture and on two millennia of Christian thought that continues to give inspiration, cannot confine itself to simply denouncing the limitations of other concepts, even though that is also necessary. It has the obligation, essentially and intrinsically, to maintain a positive propositional attitude and to be able to accept all the richness of humanity and to articulate all its constitutive dimensions.

Secondly, we need to remember that fifteen years have passed since the Beijing Conference on Women (1995), in which the debate on gender was particularly heated. It seems easier today to leave polemics behind and to speak positively about the contribution that Christian thought can bring to the matter. 

There is no doubt whatsoever that the most radical formulations of gender ideology that propose to separate sexual orientation from membership of one or other of the sexes is incompatible with Christian anthropology. Christian anthropology seeks the meaning of femininity and masculinity in the “beginning” where God’s original creative plan is expressed.

However, gender ideology can provide a challenge for Christian thought. It presents an opportunity for a twofold logic to be followed as we devote further study and rethinking to the concept of person, a central and distinctive concept in Christian anthropology.

Gender theory claims, on the one hand, that the construction of sexual identity depends on a person’s free choice, free from any conditioning that derives from biological data; on the other hand, it claims that it always reflects the multiple and unavoidable influence of the social-cultural context that proposes and often imposes its own models of what is female and male.

Christian anthropology has always given particular attention to the second aspect of the question. It does so by starting out from the existential concreteness of the person. It is urgent today that we renew and work on this study in relation to sexual membership.

It is true that we must speak in the singular with regard to God’s plan for the person, woman and man, in order to express the truth of their condition as creatures. It is also true that, when we refer to life experience, we cannot disregard the historical and social-cultural diversity that obliges us to study women and men in the plural.

 

Gender theory does not contribute any new element that should be integrated into Christian anthropology. However, it does stimulate Christian anthropology to be increasingly rooted in its foundations, and it asks it to be aware of difference and to work with this difference in the diverse contexts in which people live. It is there that each one embodies all the richness of humanity in the singularity of his/her unique existence as a woman or man.

This is particularly true and urgent now. The Synod for Africa has recently concluded, and it showcased the distinctiveness and variety of the charisms of African women. These must not be compared to the models and stereotypes of the northern regions of this planet.

This requirement to combine reflection on original difference with historical and contingent diversity, calls for research to be placed on different levels. Beginning with in-depth study of the word of God concerning his creatures, it must progress to sociological and cultural research by passing through philosophical thought. That will give light to all the implications of the idea of person, who is concretely a woman or a man.

This duty pertains to all believers equally, but it calls especially on women who are challenged by it and wish to assume their femininity with awareness and responsibility. They wish to insert it into their life plan, attentive to the demands of their faith and the context in which they find that they must give witness to that faith.

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