Masculine/Feminine Identity

And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” -Luke 3: 8b

For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, he also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.” –Romans 8: 29-30

For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in the secret place.” –Psalm 139: 13 & 15

God in His infinite creativity designed every person as an incomprehensibly intricate work of art. Each human structure within which God works His artistry has a gender identity.

Though we are all equal in every way as image-bearers of aspects of God’s nature, the essence of male and female is as different as it was at the original moment of physical separation into two sexes (Genesis 2: 22). This occurred when God removed part of the man and made woman. Since then, we all naturally find attractive those qualities–physical, emotional and spiritual–that are complements to us. (Genesis 2: 21-25).

Genesis 5: 2 says, “Male and female created He them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.” The Hebrew word “adam” is often translated “man.” The two people together were generically called “adam” or “man.” This illustrates that the fullness of God’s nature contains both male and female. Therefore, though we call God “Father“, His being encompasses all a father and mother bring to a child.

Separation of God-image is typified in the structural differences in men’s vs. women’s bodies. A man’s physique is angular and muscular, describing the strength of his provision and protection. It penetrates sexually, showing his ability to push through and initiate. A woman’s body is curved and soft, illustrating her ability to comfort and nurture. It is sexually receptive; here she forms, contains, cherishes, and brings forth life.

Scripture, science, and daily experience are full of gender paradoxes. For example, although there is value in classifying some human characteristics as “masculine” or “feminine”, this exercise is by its nature somewhat arbitrary. (Similar polarities of male and female aspect can also be referred to as “head” and “heart” modalities.)

Spiritually, we identify as “masculine” the traits and talents that support strength, boldness, and honesty. We call “feminine” those that enhance nurturing, intuitive understanding, and gentleness. This bipolarity of traits is alluded to in many philosophical and religious systems, such as the Chinese union of opposites called yin/yang. It is perfectly balanced in the person of Jesus Christ (“He was full of grace and truth”—John 1: 14).

Certainly, each of us holds a distinctive combination of masculine and feminine tendencies, regardless of sex. Nevertheless, that uniqueness is hardwired differently according to gender. In early childhood we gradually become aware of ourselves as individuals apart from anyone else. Basic to this awareness is the sense of self as male or female, and the subjective encounter of every other person as either male or female.

God’s planned internal balance of masculine and feminine in a particular person can be disturbed, resulting in responses such as homosexuality, militant feminism, passive male amorality, harsh female dominance, etc. How does this happen? In typical development, a child receives both “masculine” and “feminine” qualities from both her parents. No matter in which configuration these qualities are transmitted, gradually the child will identify with the same-sexed parent and perceive the other parent as essentially different.

In healthy families a boy will internalize gender specific qualities from his father to a greater degree than those of his mother. As God’s intention for sexual development sets in, the boy will start to find girls physically attractive. He does, however, need “feminine” qualities imparted through his mother to understand both women and his own complex nature. The converse is true for daughters.

Adult behavior can’t be narrowed down from an infinitely complex continuum merely to a statement of opposite extremes. We can, however, operationally loosely define adult masculinity as a sense of benevolent responsibility to provide for, protect, and guide in ways appropriate to different relationships. Adult femininity can be alluded to as a disposition desiring to affirm, nurture,and encourage growth and fulfillment in ways appropriate to different relationships.

These traits are illustrated in parenting, as a child’s needs change through different stages of maturity. In infancy Mom is paramount to the child. The quality of the bond between them forms the basis for all future trusting relationships. She brings meaning, closeness, emotional expressiveness, even food through her body to the child. Intimate maternal connection gives the baby a symbiotic sense of “oneness”, being, and self-acceptance. Mother will adoringly meet his needs for care and love. This enables the child to center inside, finding satisfaction and growth as he becomes an individual. Throughout the young person’s life, a loving mother is the model for safe intimacy, transmitting to her offspring the wisdom of deep relationship.

Growing older, Father is the one who help’s establish his child’s unique identity as a separate person from Mom. Dad models vision, self-discipline, strength of character, and moral leadership in the youngster’s life through example, teaching, and action. The father in a representational way opens the door for his child to trust Father God, though hopefully the emerging adult’s personal connection with God will eventually begin to encompass all that both an ideal mother and father could bestow.