A few weeks ago, a group of friends and I got into a discussion about how we would define a man and a woman. While sipping our cups of coffee, we each took turns describing our idea of a man and a woman. It wasn’t an easy question to answer, the five minute silence that followed made that quite clear. Stuck between the decision to make an easy joke or the desire to be politically correct, our thoughts were slow to form. After listening to a few of my friends definitions, I felt pretty confident in what I had come up with. Just as I was about to speak, another friend explained that he thought a woman was someone who was elegant and sophisticated. I generally have a very hard time keeping whatever I’m thinking in my head from being expressed on my face but I’m quite sure this time was worse than ever. Elegant and sophisticated? Images of 1950’s housewives crept into my head. A stay at home mom who bakes cookies in pearl necklaces, that’s what a woman was? I also thought if that is the case, I am clearly not a woman. Sophistication and eloquence are not the first two words someone would use to describe me. As I continued to ponder this definition of womanhood, I began to compare it what other people around the circle had said. It slowly became clear to me just how much our backgrounds and social environments shaped our opinions.
The document calls on us to see the equality of women and men as a “fundamental truth”, not just a condition to achieve for the good of society. I think this requires us to question and be aware of the guiding forces that try to shape our conceptions of gender. But where do these notions of gender come from? The document also explains that men and women have physical differences that inform some aspect of how they experience the world but that in their qualities and capacities they are without distinction. What happens when our physical differences and the experiences formed from them overshadow our capabilities? Do you ever feel this way?
How can we think of the equality of women and men as a fundamental truth when our definition of a woman and a man are so often formed on false images fed to us by our social surroundings? How can we adopt equality into our thinking so that it can be expressed in practice?
It may be worthwhile to explore where we get these conceptions of what constitutes a man and what constitutes a woman over the next two weeks (until the next part of the document is posted).