Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Linda & Richard Eyre: Why gender matters

By Linda & Richard Eyre, For the Deseret News

Published: Wed, May 7 8:00 a.m. MDT

 Linda and Richard Eyre emphasize the importance of gender.

Linda and Richard Eyre emphasize the importance of gender.

(Shutterstock)

Three of our daughters did their undergraduate studies at Wellesley College, a truly wonderful all-women liberal arts college near Boston.

We love almost everything about Wellesley, from the rigorous academics and small, intimate classes taught by full professors to the gorgeous campus complete with its own lake.

You might wonder about the social life at an all-women’s college, but students cross-register with M.I.T. and interact with all the other great universities in the Boston area. Wellesley happens to be Hillary Clinton’s alma mater. And Madeleine Albright’s.

It is also a very liberal environment and a historic and perennial leader in the feminist movement.

Which brings us to our point: We love feminism when it is defined and devoted to the true celebration of womanhood and to the worthy goal of complete equality with men. We don’t like feminism nearly as much when it goes in the opposite direction — advocating gender irrelevance, complaining that things that are different cannot be equal and essentially saying that the only relevant and powerful roles are those traditionally held by men.

Our three Wellesley grads receive various alumni newsletters and bulletins. Our youngest daughter was telling us about a recent issue that she felt essentially portrayed gender as a problem and a curse. She felt the article suggested that children should have a chance to choose their gender, and that genitalia and other physical characteristics were not that relevant and should not be the determining factor.

(Our daughter, by the way, loves writing outrageously conservative responses to articles like this — just to stir the pot and try for a little balance.)

We think that this kind of negative and skewed thinking about gender stems from the misdefinition of equality as “sameness.” As we have said before in this column, when we fall into that trap — thinking that unless two things are exactly the same they cannot be equal — the world becomes a confusing place.

At a college, can a professor of chemistry be equal with a professor of English literature in pay, in importance and in recognition? Of course. Can the first violinist in an orchestra be equal to a first clarinetist? Yes.

Are they the same? No.

What if the transmission of a car insisted on being the engine, or vice versa? Would we really benefit by having a lot of cars around with two engines and no transmission?

Who’s to say whether the engine or the transmission is more important? Perhaps making the car go is the objective — maximizing its ability to get somewhere. And maybe it is the car that matters, more than its individual parts.

And maybe, in life, having a responsible, contributing household is the goal — maximizing the chance of children growing strong and productive. And maybe it is the family that matters most, and that can make the most progress and register the most joy — more than the isolated individuals within it.

Back in another era when I (Richard) was attending school in Boston, it was the early days of radical feminism, and the Harvard Business School was a hotbed. There were some women in my class who thought equality had to mean sameness. Day after day, they would bemoan the glass ceiling and the poor treatment women were getting in corporate America — essentially saying that their gender was a curse.

Then one day, a fiery French classmate of mine couldn’t take it any more. He bounded to the front of the classroom and delivered a passionate oration on “Vive la difference.” Of course, he said, there should be equality of pay and of opportunity, but, he urged his female classmates, “be women, be real, strong women, and let us be real men. Appreciate the differences; appreciate the beauty and power of gender. Revel in it. Understand that it is what makes the world go round."

We need to celebrate womanhood and celebrate manhood, and glory in the difference at the same time as we insist on equality.

We personally believe that gender matters, that it has always mattered, that it is a necessary part of the eternities and of God’s family-centered plan. This belief has direct bearing on our views on gender and marriage and on gender and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' priesthood. We also believe that any and all apparent injustices in that plan will eventually be understood and resolved.

And until then, "Vive la difference!”

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at EyresFreeBooks.com or valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."

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1. dr.bridell
mclean, VA,
May 7, 2014

I agree with and appreciate the line:
"We love feminism when it is defined and devoted to the true celebration of womanhood and to the worthy goal of complete equality with men. "
That is what feminism should be about, not the blurring of the roles of men and of women!

2. 1.96 Standard Deviations
OREM, UT,
May 7, 2014

Good article. It is sad we have to state the obvious sometimes. To see how far things have fallen regarding gender, here are a few examples in recent news:

- India's supreme court recently ruled to recognize transgender people as third gender
- Germany recently changed its law to allow a third gender option for parents filling out birth certificates
- Though not directly gender related, a Florida judge recently approved that a baby girl will list three people as parents on her birth certificate -- a married lesbian couple and a gay man

So, what a world we live in! Birth certificates with 3 or more genders and 3 or more parents. What other nonsense is coming in the future?

The scripture in Mormon 6:19 comes to mind, "O ye fair sons and daughters, ye fathers and mothers, ye husbands and wives, ye fair ones, how is it that ye could have fallen!"

3. gmlewis
Houston, TX,
May 7, 2014

I appreciated the author's clarification that there are two representations of feminism, and that the problem with the second representation is that it promotes making gender irrelevant. Gender is as relevant during this mortal stage of our eternal existence as it was in our pre-mortal existance. It will be relevant to our existence after death in the Spirit World and after the Final Judgement, for all eternity.

4. Tiago
Seattle, WA,
May 7, 2014

I appreciate many of the ideas in this article. There is value is celebrating differences rather than trying to make everything the same.
Those who are gay do not believe that gender is irrelevant. People who are gay only fall in love with people of one gender and not the other, so there is a definite distinction of gender. Gender matters to gay people as a much as to straight people, the difference is the nature of their romantic attractions.
Many, but not all, gay people experience some gender non-conformity, meaning their behavior or gender expression does not conform to dominant gender norms of male and female. Just as it is important to celebrate macro differences between genders, I think it is also valuable to appreciate and celebrate the micro differences between individuals within a gender.
I recently watched a video on the ldswalkwithyou youtube channel where an active Mormon who transitioned from female to male in high school and his family tell their story. It helped me have a bit of empathy for that situation. I definitely recommend anyone who doesn't know much about transgender issues to look that up and try to understand a bit more.

5. Irony Guy
Bountiful, Utah,
May 7, 2014

So what do the Eyres propose to do with people like my good friend, a little boy I grew up with, who played the violin, liked to dance and read fairy tales and play with dolls, and who had no interest whatsoever in girls? His male anatomy just didn't connect with his individuality. Of course, he was mercilessly tormented by all the "real men" in our school class (his nickname was "Pansy"). What, pray tell, will it mean for him to get "ironed out" in the next life? Will it mean that he will automatically become a "real man" and love football and girls?