It is an article of faith among humanists that religion by its very nature is “sexist”. Some take this so far as to imply that anything short of the ideal of androgyny:
One of the biggest and most prevalent mistakes in Western Culture is the idea that there exist two separate and “opposite” genders, masculinity and femininity. This gender dualism is not only false and without any factual or scientific support, but also very harmful. One strategy to overcome this wrongness is the idea of androgyny, by which masculinity and femininity are not conceived as opposite ends of one spectrum, but as two separate spectrums: you can be or have both at once (or neither), not only the one or the other. Thus, you can combine the various components of masculinity and femininity in any number of ways, according to your individual preferences, needs and nature. Should we then strive for an androgynous, individualist, highly diverse culture?
Some people think that the androgyny concept doesn’t go far enough; because androgyny still reproduces elements of the old false split of femininity and masculinity, it should be abandoned. What we need is not to construct combinations of two false concepts, but to go back to – and forward to – a situation with no split in the first place, a place without a gender dichotomy. The point must be made that keeping the masculine and the feminine apart and separate is what is difficult and unnatural, while keeping them together is simple and natural. We must thus move beyond androgyny, in order to overcome the cultural and social schizophrenia of gender dualism.
The teaching that men and women are or should be viewed as interchangeable is just plain wishful thinking:
- men and women have different brains
- men and women have different chemistry
- men and women have different health issues
- men and women differ in their sexuality
- men and women think differently
- men really do have a hard time reading female emotion
- men and women experience pain differently
- men and women manage stress differently
- men and women react to their children differently
But is religion sexist or not? Science can’t say because there’s no way to define sexism that does not involve inserting a value judgment.
Racism is easy to determine, because it turns out black men and white men are pretty much the same. There are differences, but they’re insignificant. Any policy proposal that supposes significant differences between the two is probably racist.
The same is not true of sex. They’re not the same, and their needs aren’t the same. Where genuine, relevant differences are present, “equality” becomes impossible to measure objectively. There are different measures and there is no solution capable of satisfying all the standards at once (for example, “equality of opportunity” and “equality of outcome” are mutually exclusive; where differences are present, you can have one only at the expense of another.)
Today women have more opportunities and more choices, regardless of whether they work full time or choose caring for their family over career. The thing is, so do men. Life in the past was brutish for both sexes, and the “problem” of women’s inequality tends to disappear when you stop comparing women against our 21st century ideals and instead start comparing them against men of their own time and social class. Their lives don’t really tend to be all that much worse, especially when all things are considered (and by “all things are considered”, I mean that while a 19th century woman might have been deprived of the vote, she also wasn’t likely to get sent to the front lines during time of war. Let’s be fair here.)
Whether you’re a man or a woman, life starts out full of choices, but as you choose, your options tend to restrict. Life has no undo button. You can choose career or you can choose family. You can choose one of several strategies for balancing the two. You can choose neither. Whatever you choose, there will always be trade-offs. There will always be opportunity cost.
The word “opportunity” in “opportunity cost” is actually redundant. The cost of using something is already the value of the highest-valued alternative use. But as contract lawyers and airplane pilots know, redundancy can be a virtue. In this case, its virtue is to remind us that the cost of using a resource arises from the value of what it could be used for instead.