Kevin and Lisa Cotter are like two peas in a pod.
The couple from Lakewood share many things in common—they both work for FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), enjoy hikes and a good book, just to name a few.
Yet their gender differences are what make them a perfect pair.
When house hunting, Lisa made decisions based on her emotions and the impact on their family life. Kevin considered the financial implications.
“I pictured us eating dinner in that kitchen. I’d get my heart wrapped around a house real fast,” said 29-year-old Lisa. “Whereas he would think about if the roof would fall down. My husband was able to keep a level head and think things through logically.”
When caring for their 6-year-old girl and 4-year-old boy, Lisa is more intuitive.
“I’m able to see and notice if their moods are changing. I know why my daughter has been crabby lately,” Lisa explained.
Kevin, 30, is slow to notice these needs.
“It’s not that he doesn’t care, but as a woman you are able to pick up on things faster.”
God made men like Kevin and women like Lisa for each other.
Scripture says that God creates males and females in his image, and wills them for each other. The two genders have both equal dignity and significant differences.
Genesis Chapter 2 reveals, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them shall become one flesh.”
This passage, said Christian Brugger, a moral theologian at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, tells people about male and female complementarity.
“That one flesh is a metaphor and also a biological reality. They become one flesh for purposes of generation,” Brugger said. “It’s both a unity that is not just a spiritual union but a bodily reality. Procreation is conditioned upon the prior reality of the two sharing bodily complementarity.”
Biological complementarity is foundational to understanding gender. The marital act of becoming one flesh is exclusive to spouses who give and receive themselves to one another. Their sexual differences make the act possible.
“He gives himself to her and by doing so he receives her,” wrote moral theologian Michael McGivney of the Catholic University of America. “On the other hand, she is uniquely capable of receiving her husband personally into her body, herself, and in so doing she gives herself to him.”
The marital act expresses a sexuality that is giving and receiving and concerns the innermost being of the person.
Men and woman also complement each other socially.
“Women, as many studies point out, tend toward responding to situations as entire persons, with their minds, bodies and emotions integrated, whereas men tend to respond in a more diffuse and differentiated manner,” McGivney wrote.
The Cotters own relationship attests to women’s tendency to care for personal needs and men’s inclination to pursue long-range goals.
But gender identity and complementarity was contested in history.
Philosophers like Plato argued the sexes are equal yet no significant difference exists. Aristotle argued men are naturally superior to women. Such theories were debated until St. Thomas Aquinas articulated a Christian foundation to understanding gender, in which the genders are equal and have a significant difference.
In her work “Man-Woman Complementarity: The Catholic Inspiration,” Sister Prudence Allen, the philosophy chair of St. John Vianney, gave an overview of gender theories.
Christian theories were trampled by post-Enlightenment philosophers like Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone Beauvoir. Extreme imbalances were later countered with the works of Dietrich Von Hildebrand and St. Edith Stein in the 1900s. John Paul II made inroads into Catholic thought with “Theology of the Body” and other works, pointing to the genders’ biological, individual, personal and spiritual complementarity.
Today, same-sex civil unions are an attempt to ignore gender identity and its complementarity.
“There’s an implicit dualism in same-sex marriage debate,” Brugger said. “Dualism says that my body is not defining of my person. What’s defining of my person is my consciousness. I can do whatever I wish of my body. My body is analogous to the clothing on me.”
But gender is an identity written on every human person by God, and an acceptance and support of its complementarity is crucial to a healthy society.
“Physical, moral and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out.”