Culture

Vanity Unfair

(Frazer Harrison/Getty)
It is increasingly difficult — and necessary — to emphasize sexual difference.

There have been upwards of 50 gender options on Facebook lately. Someone must have decided the list had gotten out of control, because when I checked this morning, it was down to three: male, female, and write-in custom option. I hadn’t focused on that until I reread an essay by Mollie Hemingway in which she mentions it. She was writing on the Mozilla CEO who was pressured to step down last year because he had supported the California ballot initiative against same-sex marriage, a story that raises some serious concerns about what we’re doing to ourselves.

In a way, Vanity Fair is just catching up, I suppose. I’ve hesitated to write about Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner because it’s such a painful and intimate matter, even as Jenner him/herself chose to appear on that Vanity Fair cover. This comes at a time when in the admirable desire to not hurt anyone, we’ve cast aside so much that we need.

A friend told a story about being among a group of fairly traditional church-going parents who were discussing what they might do if one of their own children expressed a desire to change from male to female or vice versa. “Accept him for who he is,” was the consensus. (Well, or her/she.) When did it become unheard of for a parent to guide a child? In a culture with no guideposts, how can anyone have any freedom?

When we start thinking of freedom as doing whatever we want, we have lost the element of what we ought. What’s good for us and for society?

RELATED: Bruce ‘Caitlyn’ Jenner Needs Our Prayers, Not Our Applause

Fruitfulness is good. It’s the stuff of harvest and purpose. It’s embedded in our very natures as male and female. Nature. It can be flawed. It can bring challenges of all sorts that run deep. But there’s a genius to it. We see the majesty in the waters and birds and sky. We work to preserve it. And yet, what about the nature closest to home?

When we start thinking of freedom as doing whatever we want, we have lost the element of what we ought. What’s good for us and for society?

Pope Francis later this month will be issuing a letter — an encyclical — on ecology. Much has already been written on it in advance of its release. The Church is being applauded or condemned for its supposedly sudden enlightened progressivism. This, as is often the case, misses the full picture, the continuum. In fact, we can point to where Pope Benedict talked about “bearing in mind our common responsibility for creation . . . the protection of land, water, and air as gifts of the Creator,” and warned against mankind’s “self-destruction.” And it’s more than being green, as they say. Benedict went on to say: “When human ecology is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits. Is it not true that an irresponsible use of creation begins precisely where God is marginalized or even denied? If the relationship between human creatures and the Creator is forgotten, matter is reduced to a selfish possession, man becomes the last word, and the purpose of human existence is reduced to a scramble for the maximum number of possessions possible.”

So too with Pope Francis. Far from alone among religious leaders, he points to a whole picture of who we are and why we are, together in the image and likeness of our Creator. As he talks about the importance of stewardship of creation, he points also to stewardship of humanity. The question posed by Bruce/Caitlyn is: What is human? What does it mean to be human? What is good and responsible stewardship of life and liberty, and how do we get to happiness? And, yes, what is that anyway?

RELATED: Liberals Now Find Gender Identity Itself Oppressive

For some weeks now, Pope Francis has been talking about family life — children and marriage. In early April, he said marriage is inscribed in creation. “The earth is filled with harmony and trust when the alliance between man and woman is lived properly,” he said later that month, warning that “we risk taking a step backwards” if we seek to erase the critical nature of the sexual difference — this effort at erasure now iconically portrayed on a magazine cover. Pope Francis described “gender theory” as an “expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.” He went on to say: “In order to resolve the problems in their relationships, men and women need to speak to one another more, listen to each other more, get to know one another better, love one another more. They must treat each other with respect and cooperate in friendship.” That isn’t just good advice for couples — which it is, and which he has been happy to give on occasion. It’s good advice to our culture as well.

RELATED: The Gender Fluidity Industry’s Magical Thinking

In her piece last year, Hemingway pointed to an essay by the late Vaclav Havel, the playwright dissident who would live to be president of Czechoslovakia. Havel warned that a “post-totalitarian system demands conformity, uniformity, and discipline.” Hemingway observed: “We also have a system that is demanding conformity, uniformity, and discipline.” The Supreme Court might be on the verge of legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. That, like the Bruce/Caitlyn story, is not the apocalypse. We’ve been journeying along on the road to confusion and disunion for decades now. And we see the manifestations in men and women not getting married or not staying married, in marriage’s being seen as a luxury, and yes, in our culture’s erasing the importance of the differences between men and women. We seem to “tolerate” everything except this amazing gift of sexual difference. We need to stop and look at what we’re throwing away when we don’t marvel at this gift and give it due respect and consideration.

#related#If Google is to be believed, the British version of Facebook listed more than 70 genders at some point. It doesn’t have to be so complicated. How about rediscovering the beauty and genius in the two given to us, in their unique and complementary ways? The fruits of such gratitude might just be regenerative.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association. 

 

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