Men and Women are Called to the Same Virtues
God calls all of us, male and female, to the same end, the same union with God in Heaven.
In conversations I have had about men and women, I have often heard others claim that there are particular male or female virtues that bring out or emphasize one’s masculinity or femininity.
For example, it is said a man acts in a “manly” way when he is courageous or uses analytical reasoning. On the other hand, a woman acts in a feminine way when she acts with the virtues of compassion, empathy, and intuitive reasoning (understanding). These distinctions miss the fact that all of a man’s virtuous actions are manly, not because of the particular virtues he has, but because he is a man. In the same way a woman acts in a virtuous, womanly way because she is a woman, not because she is living female virtues.
At times, men and women do act in ways contrary to their sex, like when a father or mother is overly harsh to his or her children. This act goes against natural law, which is the same for men and women. When a man or a woman acts in a vicious way it’s contrary to his masculinity or her femininity, because it goes against the way all humans should act.
We are, first of all, rational human persons made in the image of God — and second to that, we are individual human persons who are either male or female. Maleness is experienced and lived differently in each man, because each man is a uniquely different person. Likewise, femaleness is experienced and lived differently in each woman because each woman is a uniquely different person.
Both women and men are all called to all the virtues, because that is how virtue works — and more so, because of who we are.
We Are All Called to Holiness
The first creation account in the book of Genesis shows how men and women are both are called to holiness:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
“Man” refers to all of humankind in the first account of creation in Genesis created in the image of God — only secondarily does the author of Genesis explain that they are both male and female.
Our male and femaleness is essential because of the first command God gives humanity after he blesses them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). They are given these commands together. Notice God does not say to the man, “You and your wife are to be fruitful and fill the earth.” He tells them together — both being made in his own image.
In the second creation account God originally creates one human:
God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7)
He puts the man in the garden “to till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Then deciding it is not good for the man to be alone, God creates all of the animals. None of them are fit companions, so God puts the man into a deep sleep and draws a companion from his very flesh.
Theologically, woman and man were one flesh before they were two. Theologically, they are equal.
God calls all of us, male and female, to the same end, the same union with God in Heaven. As we are made in his image, he desires us to all enter into a life a grace, to all live a life of holiness, to become virtuous.
Becoming Holy through Virtue
Virtue is a way of talking about becoming holy. We are perfectly virtuous when our will and passions are always guided by our reason — a state humans were in before the Fall when everything became disordered. While we can never reach this state in this life, because of our inclination to sin, we can strive to live out the image of God we were created in through the help of grace by growing in virtue.
All of us, both men and women, are given the theological virtues at Baptism — faith, hope and charity. We are all called to use the virtue of prudence, wisdom in making decisions, to gather information about situations and make a good decision on how to act. We are all called to act rightly towards others — to give to God, other humans, such as our parents, spouse, children, other family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, our community, our country and so on what is due to them. We are all called to live temperately in all things, making moderate decisions that fit our needs and vocations well. Further all of us are called to perseverance — to have fortitude and courage in living out the right decisions we make.
The beautiful thing is that living out the virtues is not restricted by one’s sex, but it looks different on each person.
In Part II, I will talk specifically on whether there are masculine or feminine virtues and, if not, what virtue looks like in men and women.