By Jesse Sumpter
Discussions about the nature of men and women often focus on identity and being. You will hear people ask kids: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But in discussing the god-given nature of men and women it would be more helpful to discuss skills. What skills would make a man most fruitful and productive? What skills would make a woman most fruitful and productive?
To ask this kind of question is to reframe the discussion in a way that cuts through the postmodern fog. Questions about skills point us to see that there is a telos for people. There is a way to be fruitful and productive as a man and as a woman. It also points out that there is a right way and a wrong way to prepare for this goal.
While asking these questions is helpful, the questions themselves do not shed light on the answers. We have to acknowledge that certain key assumptions must be in place in order to answer these questions correctly. Here are those assumptions stated explicitly. We readily admit that men and women are different. They both share the image of God and so they are both created with equal dignity. But they are created with distinct natures and for specific tasks and responsibilities. Many of these tasks overlap with each other but there are also some tasks that are exclusive to men and there are also some tasks that are exclusive to women. This does not denigrate either of gender but actually honors each one, recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of each.
This means that teleology is important. The goal that we are working towards will shape what skills we think are necessary. Let’s highlight this point and look at specific skills, ones important for men and ones important for women.
Skills for a Man
A man who knows how to get around a car would be useful to others. A man should know how to cut a tree down, chop wood, do some basic plumbing, build a house, drive a tractor, etc. Those are skills that would make a man valuable to others. This doesn’t mean that every man must have these skills but it would be fruitful and profitable for every man to know something about them. Imagine another man calling you up (usually a son) and asking “Hey, do you know about this part on my car?” If you knew the answer to that question, you would be a valuable asset. Adding valuable skills to your repertoire is great.
In learning these skills, a young man might find out that he is not very gifted in them or interested in them. However, it is wise to cut with the grain of men. Many young men are naturally interested in these things. It would be unwise to ignore that natural interest. To know the interests and frame of the child and to encourage those things is good and wise.
It might be true that one guy out of a hundred is not interested in cars, but it would be foolish to bend the rule to that one exception. That would be detrimental to the vast majority of others.
It is also important to admit that the large group should not necessarily overrule the one guy’s interests. This is where a wise father should step in and help guide his son. Maybe the son is not interested in cars but he is interested in hunting. Parents can make those adjustments with each son as they need to.
It is also important to point out that being pushed beyond one’s boundaries is a great gift. It might seem better to only focus and learn things that you are good at but the reverse is actually helpful. To be pushed beyond your limits in places where you are uncomfortable helps you learn your boundaries and it helps you learn new skills. If a child were never pushed beyond walking to learn how to ride a bike, then that child would never learn a new skill. That child would be stunted in his abilities.
Skills for a Woman
If we ask which skills would make a woman valuable to others, we can see certain things come to mind. A woman will be valuable if she knows the way salt and acid work in a meal or if she knows how to prepare a party for a hundred people. These skills are valuable. A young woman should know how to make clothing and how to teach and instruct others. These things are valuable because they make her valuable to others.
Imagine a younger woman (usually a daughter) calling you up and asking you: “Do you know how to sew this particular kind of cloth?” If you knew the answer to that question, you would be a valuable asset.
In thinking about skills that make one valuable, this also suggests a parallel principle: you should be thinking about what others will be asking you for help with. That is, if friends were going to ask you for help, what would most of your friends ask about? For women, it will be a certain set of skills. For men, it will be a certain set of skills.
For example, I regularly get asked to help my friends and family load up uhauls and trucks on moving day. My wife does not get asked to do those tasks. She does help with the moving process but she does work that she is interested in: cleaning the new apartment, packing boxes, etc.
The first couple of times we moved, I remember my wife arranging to have our new apartment cleaned before we moved into it. At first this kind of struck me as odd. Why clean it when we are just about to move into it? It seemed to make sense to me that we would wait until after we had lived in and lived there for a little while, then we would clean it. But my wife said she wanted to clean it first. It took me a little while but I realized that she knew something that I had not really thought about. A clean house or apartment is a wonderful place to move into. This was a particular skill that she brought to the home that I did not have. It was a tremendous blessing.
As a man, there is great value in knowing how to move a couch or drive a truck. As a woman, there is great value in knowing how to clean an apartment or pack boxes.
Being a good parent, you want to give your children all the skills you can. You want to introduce them to a lot of activities and experiences. This makes them more valuable down the road. But you want to invest wisely in them. You need to know their frame and their interests. You also want to challenge them.
In considering which skills a man needs and what skills a woman needs, we see how it would be disastrous to ignore the natural frame of the child. That is to say, you need to know what a man is and what he is for. It would be foolish to teach your son a skill that he cannot do. A father teaching his son how to flap his arms and fly like a bird is wasting his time and is foolish. A father teaching his daughter to gallop like a horse is wasting his time. In order to give truly good skills, a father must know the natural design of the boy and the girl and know how to aim each in the right direction. The goal is to make your children as valuable as possible so when they grow up they can have lots of great resources at hand so they can love their family and neighbors well.
Jesse Sumpter is Managing Editor for the blog at CrossPolitic. Some of his writing has appeared at Kuyperian Commentary, CrossPolitic, and The Imaginative Conservative. Jesse and his wife, Kate, have a daughter and they live in Moscow, Idaho. Visit JesseSumpter.com to find out more.
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