“I want to have my tubes tied,” she read, angrily. “Because then, men would look at me as a true equal and not as a lesser being that can just bear children.”
My friend and I were discussing writing, and she was sharing with me what she had written about the struggles of being a woman. She felt that tying her tubes would elevate her in the eyes of a male partner to an equal who was on his level. If she was incapable of bearing children, she reasoned, men who chose to stay with her would have to value her for her mind and talents as an individual and not as a potential mother. They would be forced to view her as an equal, as driven to succeed in life, as full of dreams and as fully capable as a man. There would be no distinction or separation between them if her ability to get pregnant was removed. A world without gender would be a world of equality.
I was moved that she shared such intimate and angry thoughts with me. She was bitter and scarred for being discriminated against as a woman. However, the solutions she proposed and her reasoning behind them make me extremely sad. Don’t get me wrong: as a woman, I am adamant in my belief that women can achieve just as much as men and am enraged when society reduces us to sexual parts.
But with as much fervor as I proclaim, believe and support gender equality, I adamantly believe that a world without gender will not bring it about. In fact, I believe removing gender from society is a gateway into further repression and anger in regards to gender issues. I believe erasing gender enhances discrimination and disrespect, rather than eliminating it.
True gender equality means embracing what makes both genders unique-not obliterating, smothering or hiding those traits. For example, in the case of my friend, having a functioning uterus as a woman should not be seen as a sign of weakness. Equality would not be removing her reproductive organs so that she is incapable of becoming pregnant, like a man. Having her tubes tied for the sake of being viewed as an “equal” to men means that she, as a woman, has to remove or alter herself, because being a woman and functioning as a woman is somehow inferior to being a man. That’s not true gender equality, or true feminism.
Of course, the Catholic Church’s teachings promote true gender equality, and that removing what makes each gender unique is harmful to human dignity. Despite this, and JPII’s beautiful and highly accessible “Theology of the Body,” Catholics are often labeled as being stuck in antiquated gender norms.
Here are some ways that I, or any person, can combat these ideas: First, and most obviously, turn away from sexualized media. Women in media are often seen as pleasure toys, encouraged to be sexually aggressive and non-committal-traits that are dangerous and unhealthy regardless of whether or not you are a woman or a man. Turning away from these unhealthy habits and images helps both genders learn to respect themselves and each other and removes toxic sexuality from the images of women.
Second, challenge society and live by example. I know that the “world without gender” movement was instigated to challenge society, but it removes very essential parts of what makes up a person’s identity. Fight for ways for men to provide equal support. For example, rally for men to get paid paternity leave to support and be an equal caregiver when a child is born.
Third, as men and women, live in a mindful state. As a woman, do you downgrade a man’s ability to be a support in the household, as a capable father, homemaker, etc? As a man, do you look down upon certain roles in the household? Are you disrespectful of women in thoughts and actions? As a woman, I get extremely irritated when I hear men say that women are “overly-emotional.” I also get irritated when women say that men can’t cry. As men and women it’s so vital to show respect and support each other. It sounds like common sense, but I see so many women lashing out at men for being dumb and selfish, and so many men, inundated by sexualized media, equally disrespectful and resentful.
Finally, go to mass. Pray. Pick up a book like Christopher West’s Theology of the Body for Beginners or listen to Janet Smith’s excellent talks on “Sexual Common Sense.” The key to gender equality is educating each other, living by example and promoting the idea that no one should have to remove parts or alter themselves in order to be considered equal.