Recently one such culture shift was solidified in a big way for me when I read an article by Linton Weeks called the “The End of Gender.” Weeks succinctly tied together many recent news stories about gender neutrality and helped me put my finger on something that has troubled me for some time.
A family in Canada is raising their child, Storm, without allowing anyone except the mid-wife and the immediate family to know if Storm is a boy or a girl. Storm’s parents announced the birth of their child by stating, “We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now–a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime.” The family’s decision was picked up by the press and the firestorm of feedback on this issue was intense. Some child development experts applauded their efforts to raise their child without gender stereotypes, while others felt it was a disastrous situation that could keep Storm from building a personal identity.
Following the recent suicide of student Tyler Clementi, Rutgers University, along with a handful of other universities, are creating gender-neutral housing for students. Starting this fall, students can choose to live with a roommate of whatever gender they want, and indicate a preference for a roommate who is open-minded about different sexual orientations.
This year, the State Department began using gender-neutral language on U.S. Passports, replacing “father” and “mother” with “parent one” and “parent two”.
One of the highest paid male models today is Andrej Pejic, who models both men’s and women’s fashions. He has built his success looking as androgynous as possible and working both the male and female fashion runways. One article about Pejic defined his beauty as “genderless.”
Mona Shores High School will not vote for Homecoming King and Queen this year. Instead they will vote for the top two finalists among eight nominated students without any consideration of gender. The decision was made because in the previous year ballots were thrown out after a female student who identified as a male won the Homecoming King crown.
It was not until Weeks pulled these stories together in his article that I was able to put my finger on something I had sensed for a long time. There is an increased push not to be simply politically correct when it comes to gender, but to dismiss gender completely. Where there used to be a significant argument made for fairness and equity, now the argument has shifted to total neutrality that takes all gender out of the equation.
From the beginning, God made an important distinction within humanity. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” God not only created us with sex–male or female physical attributes, but He also created us with gender–the mental and emotional traits associated with each sex. Our gender is a good gift of God, and something He designed for our benefit. The idea that gender is irrelevant and something to be neutralized dismisses that it is a part of our identity given to us by God.
However, what we have culturally constructed as gender outside of God’s Word is just as prone to sinfulness as anything else. God did not designate pink for girls and blue for boys; that is something our culture did. One of the most difficult things we can do and teach our teens to do is distinguish between how God has defined gender in Scripture and what our culture has added to the definition of gender.
Those distinctions become important because many of these stories show people desiring to get rid of cultural gender stereotypes and in the process eliminating gender altogether. In doing so, they are throwing out both the negative aspects of gender that culture has given us alongside the biblical gender identity God has given us. Dismissing both together does not solve problems; it creates different ones. We have the most difficult task of separating what God has commanded and defined for each gender and what is culturally constructed. As youth leaders, we have to be discerning in which battles we will fight when it comes to the increasing cultural pressure of gender neutralization.
It is an incredibly complex issue to which I do not pretend to have all the answers. I could write blogs and blogs about the changes in our culture’s definition, acceptance and understanding of gender. There are far more theologically minded people who could give us great information about what the Bible says in relationship to gender. What I can say is that we have to be prepared to understand and discuss our scriptural understanding of gender, while at the same time not fighting to defend culturally designed constructs that make no theological difference. If we are prepared and understand the issues at play, we are going to do far better by our students than ignoring it or fighting every battle.
This shift towards gender neutrality will not quickly pass. Instead it is important for us to grow our knowledge of these issues in order to help our youth examine them through the lenses formed by God through His Word. After all, we want them to find their value in the gender God has given them, and in how Christ redeemed them.