Despite our (western evangelical) obsession with “biblical manhood and womanhood”, God doesn’t seem to have had any particular interest in spelling out or even highlighting the differences between the sexes. When you come right down to it, if you’re looking for prescriptive Scriptures on gender differences/roles, you won’t find much of a leg to stand on.
When Eve came on the creation scene, both God and Adam emphasized the SIMILARITIES, not the differences, between male and female (“a corresponding strength”…”bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh”).
I really doubt binary gender differences are the great central feature of marriage, or society, or church. However, the other day I was thinking about two complementary proverbs and it occurred to me that if you wanted to find, say, an emblematic virtue for each sex, this might be your ticket.
Proverbs 20:6, A faithful man, who can find?
Proverbs 31:10, Who can find a woman of valor?
A truly masculine man is … fill in the gap. Tough. Athletic. Assertive. Masterful. Bearded.
A truly feminine woman is … fill in the gap. Sensitive. Nurturing. Delicate. Tender. Aproned.
Sure, men and women can be those things. But isn’t it interesting that what God chose to spotlight as particularly masculine and feminine virtues were, respectively, FAITHFULNESS and VALOR.
Faithful is also translated as trustworthy and reliable. He may be an outdoorsman or a poet, an extrovert or an introvert, shy or assertive, sensitive, energetic, stay-at-home, entrepreneurial – but whatever else, a real man is faithful. Being reliable and trustworthy is his truest expression of masculinity.
Valor is also translated as strength. This – not fragility, not dependency, not servility, not lace or the color pink – is what God chooses as the feature expression of femininity. Pretty remarkable, isn’t it. (Sorry, members of the Misreading Paul Club, but “weaker vessel” doesn’t mean what you think it means.)
Many of our concepts of manhood and womanhood come from history and society, and are therefore fluid. But faithfulness and valor are the enduring gifts men and women give each other.