Recently, I heard a Christian leader claim that women and men are unequal in being. His conclusion seems to follow from at least two premises: (1) women are physically weaker than men; (2) women are less rational. Together, these make up the material (body) and immaterial (soul-reason) parts of a person.
Many people have argued, I grant, that men tend towards reason and women towards sensuality. It’s no use denying that these tropes have existed. However, to claim that women and men differ in being is an improper argument.
Virtually the entire tradition has affirmed that the image of God centres on the part of humanity that can image God, namely, the soul or reason. Both men and women share in that image and are thus rational animals. They have the same being.
Gregory of Nyssa, for example, will speak of his sister Macrina as a philosopher, one with the obvious ability to use reason. And even in the tropes where women are sensual and men are rational, these are not denials that women have a rational nature. That’s a basic misunderstanding.
All humans are rational animals whether variously abled or not, whether young or old, whether male or female. They share human nature. This is a basic affirmation that a human must make to accord with truth.
More than that, a Christian must affirm that both male and female are created in the same image of God as Genesis 1 says. For this reason, we locate the sameness of being in that image. The bodily differences while important do not create an imbalance of being.
That would assume that being is a physical trait—and that would make a person a materialist or physicalist in ways that Christians must reject. Male and female differ according to created capacities.
A male has the capacity for fatherhood, a woman for motherhood. Those differences matter, but they do not gainsay the reality of a shared humanity. If we had different beings, then we would not have sexual relationships with another human. But that’s absurd.
Men and women are human beings. They cannot differ in being, or they are not human beings but rather two different kinds of things. What those two things would be would be something different than a human being. Again, that’s absurd.
While affirming the real differences between men and women, we must also affirm the real shared being of men and women because both are created in God’s image, male and female. This image is a way in which God shares the particular mode of being with humanity (logos), male and female.