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Why the Difference of Sexes, Part 2

Interview With German Theologian Jutta Burggraf

PAMPLONA, Spain, SEPT. 28, 2004 (Zenit) - Being a woman or being a man is not exhausted by being a mother or father, says German theologian Jutta Burggraf.

A professor of dogmatic theology and ecumenical theology at the University of Navarre, Burggraf offers, in Part 2 of this interview with us, some guidelines to interpret the "Letter to Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Man and Woman in the Church and in the World," published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Part 1 of this interview appeared Monday.

Q: Can you explain why to be woman and to be man is not exhausted by being mother or father?

Burggraf: Man and woman are distinguished, obviously, in the possibility of being father or mother. Procreation is ennobled in them by the love in which it develops and, precisely, because of its connection with love, it has been put by God at the center of the human person as a joint task of the two sexes.

However, if we say that the possibility of begetting cannot be the only reason for the difference between the sexes, we must not focus exclusively on the ordinary paternity, although the latter, undoubtedly, demonstrates a special initiative and immense confidence in God.

But to be woman, to be man, is not exhausted by being, respectively, mother or father. Considering the specific qualities of woman, the recent letter speaks opportunely of the "genius of woman." It constitutes a specific basic attitude which corresponds to the physical structure of woman and is fomented by her.

In fact, it does not seem preposterous that the intense relationship that woman has with life can generate in her some particular dispositions. Just as during pregnancy a woman experiences a unique closeness toward a new human being, so also her nature favors the interpersonal meeting with those around her.

The "genius of woman" can be translated in a delicate sensibility given the needs and requirements of others, in the ability to be aware of and to understand possible inner conflicts. She can be identified, cautiously, with a special capacity to show love in a concrete way, to receive the other.

But, obviously, not all women are gentle and unselfish. Not all of them show their talent toward solidarity.

It is not rare that, in specific cases, a man has more sensibility to receive, to take care of, than the majority of women. And he might be more serene than his wife.

In this connection, it is real progress that the recent letter not only reminds us that feminine values are human values, but it distinguishes finely between "woman" and the values that are more proper to her, and "man" and the values more proper to him.

That is, every person must and can develop also the talents of the opposite sex although, generally, it can be a little bit more difficult for him or her.

Q: So there is also masculine genius?

Burggraf: Where there is a "feminine genius" there must be a "masculine genius." What is the specific talent of man? He has by nature a greater distance in respect to concrete life. He is always "outside" the process of gestation and birth, and can only have a part in them through his wife.

Precisely that greater distance can facilitate for him a more serene action to protect life, and ensure its future. It can lead him to be a real father, not only in the physical dimension, but also in the spiritual sense.

It can lead him to be an imperturbable friend, sure and trustworthy. But it can lead him also, in another direction, to a certain disinterest in concrete and daily things, which, unfortunately, has been favored in the past by a unilateral education.

Q: Why is there this opposition between sex and gender?

Burggraf: The letter emphasizes extremist ideologies of gender which deny sexual identity, because the influence of these theories has increased markedly over the past decade.

While the term "sex" refers to nature and implies two possibilities, the term "gender" arises from the field of linguistics where three variations are recognized: masculine, feminine and neuter.

In this case the differences between man and woman do not correspond -- with the exception of the obvious morphological differences -- to a nature "given" by the Creator, but are mere cultural constructions, "made" according to the role and stereotypes that are assigned to the sexes in each society.

According to these premises it is emphasized, and rightfully so, that in the past the differences were excessively accentuated, which led to situations of discrimination toward women.

In fact, for many centuries, it corresponded to woman's destiny to be "modeled" as an inferior being, excluded from public decisions and higher studies.

However, at the level we now move in, we must not obstinately shut our eyes to the fact that the Holy Father has asked forgiveness several times -- in a public and official manner -- for the injustices suffered by women in the course of the centuries, also by Christians, and that a change of direction has been effected in the treatment of women, both at the political, as well as the juridical, social and private levels.

In the human person, sex and gender -- the biological foundation and cultural expression -- are certainly not identical, but neither are they completely independent.

The letter proposes to establish a correct relation between both. It is obvious that there has existed in history, and still exists in the world, many injustices toward women. This long list of discriminations has no biological foundation, but cultural roots; they are, simply, consequences of sin, and they must be eradicated.

Pope John Paul II exhorted men some years ago to participate "in the great process of woman's liberation."

Q: What consequences does the promotion of woman have?

Burggraf: A genuine promotion does not consist in the liberation of woman from her own way of being, but in helping her to be herself. This is the reason it also includes a revaluation of maternity, marriage and the family.

If at present the social pressure of the past is being combated, which excluded women from many professions, why then is there so much fear to go against the present pressure, much more subtle, which deceives women, pretending to convince them that they will find fulfillment only outside the family?

Q: What repercussion does this view have in the Church?

Burggraf: It is not right to focus in the only thing that woman cannot be by an ineffable divine will, but to look with joy at the many possibilities that are opening up for her, both in theology, as well as in the educational and juridical realms and in organization at all levels.

The Church is the largest institution in the world that is "pro" woman.

No U.N. institution has so many collaborators in all the continents -- from the smallest villages in Africa to the most remote Islands of the Pacific -- that exert themselves as does the Church to give women formation and to help them live in dignity.

As Christians, man and woman can exercise their freedom with maturity. They can live together with equality of rights, in shared responsibility for the future of our world.


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