Another question has vexed recent discussions of sexuality: What does it mean to be male and female? If sexuality is essentially our way of living as male and female, then this issue pervades all others. Yet the roles assigned to men and women have been changing rapidly, and most American thinkers have been anxious to smash gender stereotypes.

Just a few years ago it was widely asserted that the differences between men and women were unimportant. One noted researcher said,” Sex differences are relative, not absolute. They can be assigned however we wish, as long as we allow for two simple facts: first, that men impregnate, women menstruate, gestate and lactate; and second, that adult individuals cannot alter the nuclear core of their gender schemes.”

As time has passed, those two “simple facts” have seemed to grow less simple, and the sentence has begun to read something like this one: “The differences between humans and monkeys are relative, not absolute. They can be interchanged at will as long as we allow for two simple facts: monkeys live in trees, and humans carry on conversation.” After all, reproduction and child rearing are fundamental preoccupations of most humans, and of all cultures, and the unchangeable “nuclear core of our gender schemes” touches everything we do.

Lisa Sowle Cahill puts the broader issue theologically, “Arguments that the sexes must in principle be identical in all characteristics and capacities seem to presuppose that sexual differentiation is merely accidental in relation to some human essence abstracted from the physical forms in which it invariably must be realized. Refusal to come to terms with the boundaries and possibilities that frame ...

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