Equal But Different: Complementarity of the Sexes

“Men and women are equal in dignity, complementary in mission.”—Pope Saint John XXIII

Contraception as a Harmful Ideology

One of the unintended side-effects of the widespread acceptance of contraception is the rejection of complementarity.  Contraception furthers inequality, in that it symbolizes the attempt to make the woman function as a man, which is to say, to reject pregnancy.  This abnegation stems from our contraceptive climate. Unfortunately, today’s cultural norms are highly skeptical of such beneficial complementarity.

With the rejection of nature, ideology prevails. The secular world wales men and women are equal in mission, when common sense tells us they are not. If they were, men would bear children. They would multitask and be nurturing. And they would be speaking up in the #metoo movement, instead of the other way around. Men and women’s biology is not identical; scientific studies increasingly confirm differences, just as we have known since time eternal. But having men and women equal but different is really God’s plan.

“We tell our daughters,” writes one particular mother, “that they can be anything they want—that they can do anything a boy can.”  On the other hand, one never hears of a father saying to his son, “You can do anything a girl can do.”  Ironically, the movement to secure a strict equality between the sexes is limiting, not freeing.  Girls will not grow up to be star NFL quarterbacks or renowned basso profondi; nor will boys grow up to be mothers or wet nurses. But this is okay. G.K. Chesterton wrote, ““A woman uses her intelligence to find reasons to support her intuition.” Studies long after he died support this as a finding. Does that mean women have no intelligence? Obviously not, or there would have been no Madame Curie. Female instinct is a treasure which sometimes gives special insight where the man’s more “logical” inclination does not. Our destiny as men or women equal but different is open to broad vistas. But remember that biology is destiny, nature cannot be ignored.

women equal but different

Women contribute their own uniqueness to God’s plan.

Women are built to be mothers, whether they have children or not. This affects them corporally and psychologically. Gloria Steinem’s dangerous phrase, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” is an aggressive rejection of men and, of course, her exceedingly complex nature. It is also a rejection of Christ, who was Man and God. God intended two sexes and their balance is enshrined in the marriage bond between husband and wife. Complementarity does not compromise equality: It gives it a higher dimension; it extends one the possibility of completeness.

Church Values “Feminine Genius” and Not Inequality

“It is universally admitted–even by people with a critical attitude towards the Christian message–that in the eyes of his contemporaries Christ became a promotor of women’s true dignity and of the vocation corresponding to this dignity.”

– John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem

Many buy into the argument that difference between the sexes will inevitably lead to male domination. Instead Catholic teaching actually improved the lot of women throughout history, while rejecting a woman’s fertility denies part of her.  Pope Saint John Paul II spoke of feminine genius and asserted female stature without denying but rather upholding her true self, stating they, “together with men, [have] a common responsibility for the destiny of humanity” (Mulieris Dignitatem). And for Ms. Steinems of the world, he praised all women, mothers to virgins. A person’s value is rooted in his/her image and likeness to God.

Sex Without Responsibility Leads to Inequality

In 1971, three years after Humanae Vitae, Norman Mailer warned of the dangers that contraception would bring about as a result of the rejection of complementarity.  “Heterosexual sex with contraception,” he wrote in The Prisoner of Sex, is “a form of sexual currency closer to the homosexual than the heterosexual, a clearing house for power [emphasis mine], a market for psychic power in which the stronger will use the weaker.”  One who lives the single, chaste life does not risk what women do who seek sexual relationships without the entanglements such behavior involves. A lady who is chaste holds the cards, but a woman who is not and contracepts is harming her own psyche. She asks, “Should I have done this? Should I have waited? What will he think of me? Am I just a sexual object who will dropped after the ‘end goal’ has been reached?” Instinctively, men know this. A true story: a woman once walking down the street was being “cat called.” As soon as she asked the way to nearby church, the men in question totally altered their behavior and were respectful, giving directions.

Neither are men to be seen as playthings – respect for the human person is mirrored by marriage as the sacramental commitment takes all this guesswork away by deferring to the Sacrament and yes, complementarity.

women equal but different

Complementarity leads man and woman to a higher dimension of completion.

In vitro fertilization, too, is being used to separate the sexes. If women can do it all, says the culture, why does she need to wait for a man to have a child? Because nature demands that the ovum and sperm unite. She may not know the man, but biology demands a man, and no person can change this. All they can do is put up further barriers to natural conception, and all of them are harmful.

Contraception is part of a series of separations, beginning with the separation of sex from conception. Complementarity is contraception’s innocent victim, one that we should all mourn.


Edited by Deborah Piroch

Dr. Donald DeMarco is a Senior Fellow of Human Life International and Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario.

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