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The Feminine Critique

Miriam Kosman

We don’t like stereotypes about men and women, but, on the other hand, there are obvious physical differences between us that can’t be ignored.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

From a Jewish perspective, we can’t divorce the physical from the spiritual because our souls’ only means of expression is through our physical selves. In fact, it’s possible that ignoring or minimizing the effect of biology on our lives is just as untruthful as pigeonholing men and women into limiting categories. While it’s true that we are not just our bodies, it is also true that we are not just a conglomerate of character traits, personality, and social molding. Our biological experiences — those that define us specifically as male or female — impact every facet of our lives, not only those directly related to gender. The physical world is to the spiritual world like a glove is to the hand; it covers the spiritual world with such exactitude that by observing the glove, one glimpses the hand. Biology is destiny, not because it defines our roles, but because it sets the parameters of the medium through which we interact with the world. True, it’s a delicate balance. How can we express our spiritual selves through the medium of the physical identity we’ve been given by G-d, while making sure not to allow differences to reduce us to one-dimensional roles? One way is to remember that when the sources speak about male and female as metaphor, they are not referring to transient personality traits or social roles, since these, as we pointed out in the last column, often shift according to the historical setting, and so cannot be depended on to determine what it means to be male or female. Instead, the metaphor is based on the physical model, which doesn’t change. Using the physical — the only source from which differences between man and women can be reliably extrapolated — allows us to create a model that has less to do with what we do, and more to do with how we do it. Indeed, in real life, men and women are never completely male or completely female, but using the physical differences as a model allows us to describe a particular archetype.

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