“Thus the nature both of the man and of the woman has been preordained by the will of heaven to live a common life. For they are distinguished in that the powers which they possess are not applicable to purposes in all cases identical, but in some respects their functions are opposed to one another though they all tend to the same end.”
The ancients tended to have confidence in nature. They looked to discover what they had been given, as their experience indicated that the fundamental design of things is quite sound.
The distinction between male and female was probably the most obvious feature of the natural design, even if entailing more than its share of challenges in practice.
Like the need for daily sustenance, gender differentiation was simply given. The demanding aspects of feeding themselves, it turns out, gave occasion for the exercise of truly human life, knitting together a household community. Similarly, the gender differentiation of man and woman was something to be worked with and to be worked on, together.
Never easy, this differentiation challenges a person, a relationship, and a community at their very core, and it gives color and shape to most every aspect of human life. To lose sight of one’s masculinity or femininity—something to which we all are prone—is to lose sight of color and shape of what it means to be me.
In these latter days of human civilization, we are all tempted in countless ways to leave behind what we experience as the limitations of our bodily existence. So many of the technologies that are literally pressed upon us masquerade as a desirable solution, for what turns out was not in fact a problem or even a weakness. We cannot be surprised when our youth do not think in terms of receiving the gift, and the challenge, of the various aspects of their bodily existence.
The wise always begin with what is given, with what cannot, or should not be changed. Such an approach never ultimately disappoints. Each of us can look again to what nature has given, perhaps beginning with what being a man or a woman really entails. We might be surprised by what we find in this difference, and the difference it makes.
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The work cited, ‘Oeconomica,’ is attributed to him, but might have been authored by his students.
Image: Judith Leyster (1609-1660), Dutch, ‘The Proposition’
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