In Perelandra, C.S. Lewis writes,
Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. . . . Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female of organic creature are rather faint and blurred reflections of masculine and feminine.
I would never want to adopt Lewis’ view of the relationships between the genders. Read The Shoddy Lands short story and you will realise why. But I would like to redeem this quote that has stuck with me since I first read it 7 years ago. If we understand “sex” to mean the simple biological anatomy, then this is inappropriately reductionist to account for the distinction between man and woman. And although gender is socially constructed, Lewis is reaching here for a concept called “Gender”, that goes much deeper than biological difference. The relationality between the sexes gives rise to something powerful and Real (in the Lacanian sense), in their mutuality they create and this interaction raises the human race to “plains of reality” far more substantial than XY and XX.
The roles of male and female are always changing, from society to society and place to place. But it is in our relationality to each other, and the fertile possibility of that, that seems to mark out, for me, what distinguishes the two. It is more than anatomy, but anatomical. It is more than copulation, although it is copulative. The Mars and Venus silliness is exposed in its absurdity by it. But the Real gender, that which is ever-present under the changing and shifting sands of social constructs, male can only be known in the female and female in male. Being a man or a woman may be roles we perform in society but beneath that all, there is gender, the relationality that is made possible because the other has space for us.
Your Correspondent, He makes a mess with words for his wife to clean up