"In the fact that human beings exist in two modalities--masculine and feminine--one can, (to my mind one should), find a clear and original confirmation of the thesis that man has need of others in order to perfect himself. Any genuine fulfillment or development of the human person can not be achieved without adequate sexual interaction." -Cormac Burke, Man and Values
In a previous post, we discussed the relationship between man's existence and man's material, bodily self. Here, we'd like to describe the effect of the material self on sexual identity. Cormac Burke describes the root of the human existence in two modalities , male and female. His word choice, modality, (defined in the Oxford American Dictionary as "a particular form of sensory perception"), points to the essence of our human interaction, as dependent on the physical. We are rational beings, yes, but rooted in our material world.
Man's essential physical characteristic demands that we examine our physical same-ness and differences. If we are so physical, then the physical world holds significance for us! We observe that, in general, man exists as male and female, each with a distinct set of sexual characteristics. (We note the primary sex characteristics and the secondary sex characteristics.) It seems these physical differences serve a function, namely (at least) the facilitation of reproduction. From this observation, we can conclude that distinct maleness and femaleness characteristics, within the narrow category of physical reproduction, are necessary for the propagation of the species. Humanity's survival depends on the existence and distinctness of these two modalities. Even extraordinary means of reproduction, such as artificial insemination, generally work off a model of reproduction based off the male-female sexual interaction.
We posit that maleness and femaleness is not just significant to humanity on a macro, species level. Just as Aristotle proposes that the polity is necessary for the development of the individual virtuous man, we propose that sex differences, embodied in distinct maleness and femaleness, are a necessary social ingredient for the development of the individual. We will address the particular nature of these sex differences, and why man needs both modalities in a future post- for now, we concern ourselves with the dangers of divorcing ourselves from our biological realities.
Man is a social animal. He needs other humans. The question remains, however, why does the individual need to be manifest one sex or the other? We can imagine a world (let's call it Trumbull) where we relate to each other with varying degrees of relational androgyny, where as long as our physical sexual characteristics exist distinct, we, as a species, exist. (In this occasion, we take androgyny to mean the absence of particular male or female characteristic in a male or female, respectively.) The distinction is that in Trumbull, man exists but man does not flourish. For while Trumbullites see male and female sex differences as only relevant to biological reproduction, and not relevant to how they ought to act, Trumbullites miss what their sex differences have to offer them. For example, if the virtue of motherliness, which is typically associated with womanhood, becomes the norm in Trumbull for both men and women, Trumbullites will lose the full conception of what it means to "mother." We are not, here, trying to determine man's capacity to function as well as woman in the role of motherhood. What we concern ourselves with is the obscuration of the root of the virtue, and the divorce between virtue's origin and practice.
Burke comments, "The human person cannot develop adequately - that is, become fully human - within a framework of purely masculine or purely feminine values (a society itself may be excessively masculinized or excessively feminized)." Virginia Woolf adds, "It would be a thousand pities if women wrote like men, or lived like men, or looked like men, for if two sexes are quite inadequate, considering the vastness and variety of the world, how should we manage with one only?" The turn away from sex differences opens up a world of possibilities- a world that is distinctly non-human, because it has lost aspects of our humanity (aspects such as motherliness). Femaleness and maleness have roots in biology. Yes, gender roles may have social foundations, but they are not entirely social constructs. They are constructions upon a foundation. If we divorce our biological sexual characteristics from our persons, and label maleness and femaleness as constructions, out-dated and fit for recycling, we have yielded to the lure of dualism and have robbed ourselves of the opportunity to flourish as human beings.