Our Lady of the Rosary Parish Kellyville

What happens when gender theory does not fit with reality: Rediscovering the complementarity of men and women


By Ben Smith, Director Family & Life Office

Thirty years ago I watched one of my uncles win a trip to the Whitsunday Islands on the dating show Perfect Match. The theme song for the show used a number of images such as peaches and cream, sand and the sea and an oyster and a pearl to symbolise the possible perfect match that can be achieved by a guy and girl, which ultimately finds its expression in marriage.

However, proponents of same sex ‘marriage’ such as the federal Member for Sydney, Tanya Plibersek MP, or Senator David Leyonhjelm are singing a different tune. Inspired more by the Beatle’s song, All You Need Is Love, they are arguing that “love is all you need” to make a marriage, irrespective of the respective sex of the members of the couple.

This argument is based on the concept that apart from basic biological differences, men and women are essentially the same. Any neurological or psychological differences are the result of societal factors or nurture instead of nature. But this concept is now being seriously challenged.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently created a precedent when it ordered makers of a well-known sleeping drug, Ambien, to cut the recommended dose for women by 50%. This intervention occurred after strong evidence emerged that the morning after taking the drug, women still had enough of the drug in their system to make them drowsy when driving.

This side-effect had been overlooked for many years as it was assumed by the medical research community that there was no functional difference on the basis of sex for the parts of the body that men and women shared, such as the heart, liver, kidney and brain. Consequently, most clinical studies for the approval of new drugs were done on male rats and male humans as it is cheaper and simpler. This practice is now the subject of a major rethink into the way drugs are assessed for safety and efficacy.

The Ambien drug example fits with recent research findings in scientific fields as diverse as stem cells and neuroscience, which are discovering distinct differences between the physiology of men and women from the cellular level to the complexities of the brain.

The differences between men and women are deeply imbedded in human culture. A significant number of human languages (except English) have masculine and feminine words. Most of the major world religions recognise a distinction between men and women. In the arts, sex differences have been celebrated, e.g. Auguste Rodin’s sculpture, The Cathedral. These differences have sometimes been the source of discrimination but they should be something that is celebrated.

The 20th Century German philosopher, Dietrich von Hildebrand, described these sex differences as the source of a complementarity in which a man and a woman can form a union that is unique compared to any other human relationship. Complementarity, in the context of men and women, acts like some types of epoxy super glue that are composed of two different chemicals and when they are mixed together they form a molecular bond that has incredible sticking power. This effect is also exploited in the field of conjugate chemistry in which two compounds are bound together to form one compound with a higher stability. Hence the terms complementarity and conjugality are closely related. They both point out that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

From a Christian perspective, the complementarity of men and women is a fundamental theme in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. The first chapter of Genesis (Gen 1:27) recounts that “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.” This passage explains that the differences between men and women were created by God. Pope Francis recently reflected on this passage and made the comment that “man and woman, as a couple, are the image of God.” He also added that the differences between men and women are, “not for opposition, or for subordination, but for communion and creation.” The nuptial communion that results from the complementarity of men and women emerged in the Old Testament as an image of the relationship between God and His people. In the New Testament, Jesus often referred to Himself as a Bridegroom. He even performed His first public miracle at a wedding by turning water into wine. St Paul in Ephesians 5 uses a nuptial image to describe the relationship between Christ and His Bride the Church. Hence, the Christian tradition celebrates the complementarity of men and women as a part of God’s creation that reflects something of the nature of God. The marriage union that is enabled by this complementarity is seen as a holy state and marriage itself is used as a significant image to describe the nature of the Old and New Covenant and the relationship that God has with His people.

From a historical perspective, human beings have been harnessing the complementarity of the sexes for a long time. A recent groundbreaking study that was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, has found strong evidence for the existence of a Neolithic “nuclear” family of a husband, wife and two children that lived in isolation near a freshwater lake about 11,000 years ago at Trollesgave, Denmark. This discovery dramatically predates when most anthropologists and sociologists believe the nuclear family began to develop. In this family, the mother and father had different but complementary roles in helping the family function. The father specialised primarily in hunting activities while the mother specialised in gathering activities.

The benefits of complementarity apply to married men and women themselves, as married people experience measurable health benefits in terms of a longer life, better resilience to cancer, less heart disease and better mental health compared to those not married.

When it comes to parenting, the American College of Pediatricians (ACP) recognises the benefit of complementarity in the upbringing of children. In March 2013, its paper entitled Homosexual Parenting: Is it Time for Change? identified that more than 30 years of research confirms that children fare best when reared by their two biological parents in a loving low-conflict marriage. According to the ACP, fathers and mothers parent their children differently. This difference manifests in the way they show their love and affection, administer discipline, play with their children and in many other ways. Consequently, the ACP asserts that children navigate developmental stages more easily, are more comfortable in their gender identity, perform better academically, have fewer emotional disorders, and become better functioning adults when reared within their natural family.

In summary, the complementarity of men and women is an intrinsic part of our human nature that has been harnessed successfully for many centuries in the context of marriage and the family. Complementarity is a critical element of marriage that is not present in same sex couples. In the interests of this nation, no change to the definition of marriage should be accommodated by the Marriage Act. Marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman.

Ben Smith is the Director of the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta’s Family & Life Office. On Twitter: @parrafamlife

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