Last week, a British parliamentary committee proposed removing references to “male” and “female” from thousands of government forms. They also proposed exploring a raft of other changes, including a “gender ‘x’ option on passports,” and suggested that gender-specific school uniforms and lavatories were “problematic.” Here in Canada, the Minister of Education of my own province of Alberta has advanced a number of proposed reforms for our schools Among those reforms are requirements that schools allow children who identify as transgender to use washrooms assigned to the opposite gender, and permit them to play on opposite-gender sports teams.
It’s sad and ironic that it was the UK Parliament’s “Women and Equalities Committee” proposing such changes when the ultimate effect of such changes will be to damage women. One need look no further than one of the proposed Alberta guidelines to see how. The guidelines in Alberta call for the elimination—as far as possible—of “separate activities for students based on gender.” So in the case of sports teams, in particular, students should be “given the opportunity to participate on the team that reflects their gender identity and expression.” In other words, Alberta schools will soon be forced to choose between two alternatives, both of which undermine girls.
Proposed Alberta School Guidelines
The first alternative will be allowing, say, a six-foot-tall, 200-pound, 16-year-old male student to compete with girls for a place on the girls’ basketball team. He’ll get to be publicly affirmed as a girl, which is what the progressive activists behind these regulations want. This affirmation will come at a cost. That cost will be paid by the girl he “beat out” for a spot on the team. A real human being—a child, at that!—with real hopes and dreams and feelings will have her feelings hurt and her confidence undermined, all in the name of political correctness.
The cost will also be borne by girls competing against transgender boys. Certainly, any physical sport carries the possibility of injury, but introducing a male physique into women’s sports needlessly increases that danger. How will a five-foot-tall girl guard against such an opponent on a basketball court? What if girls simply don’t want to play against boys?
The Alberta government’s response to that attitude is brutally clear. The CBC article above explains: “Students who do not feel comfortable in a group setting should also be given the option for ‘independent study to earn physical education credits.’” In other words, girls must either consent to competing against boys, or they can work by themselves for credit. Toe the party line, or do your work “outside the camp” as an outcast.
Girls Will Have Less Opportunities in Sports
What of the possibility that non-transgender boys might, as a joke or out of extreme competitiveness, attempt to “game” this new system? Or, after years of telling our boys that their masculinity is little more than a fashion statement anyway, we convince them that they really are no different than girls and should thus act accordingly? What happens when the girls’ team is hijacked by a group of boys who didn’t make the male team, converting it into the de facto “boys’ B team”?
I expect Alberta schools will eventually opt for the other alternative: dispensing with “boys’” and “girls’” teams and leagues entirely. However, this will only compound the problem. Certainly there will be some highly gifted girls who can beat out enough boys to make the new, gender-neutral teams, but because biology is politically incorrect, they will be a minority. Overall, it will be much more difficult for girls to participate in competitive athletics than it will be for boys. The effects on our girls—though painfully obvious—will be an untouchable subject in public debate. (For an example of such a “chilling” effect on discourse in the public square, just look at the apologetic disclaimer at the top of this Calgary Herald article).
Gender Distinctions Matter
High school athletics may seem like a relatively unimportant matter in the grand scheme of things. Yet this example illustrates that gender distinctions, far from being instruments of oppression, actually protect women. If it’s true in the small things of children’s education, it’s also true in society as a whole. If governments will not be permitted to acknowledge gender differences in their correspondence, what will be the implications for, say, national statistics? How will, say, poverty among women be measured in the future? How will the very different needs of male and female single parents be addressed? How will Western governments, for instance, be able to monitor human rights abuses against women in Muslim countries, or be able to advocate on behalf of such women, if we can’t even publicly acknowledge that “women” meaningfully exist?
I can’t help but think of how GLAMOUR magazine recently anointed Bruce Jenner, who now identifies as a woman named Caitlyn, “Woman of the Year.” The dubious value of magazine accolades aside, that meant that otherwise qualified, biological females lost out to him in GLAMOUR’s process. As the irate husband of one former recipient asked: “Was there no woman in America, or the rest of the world, more deserving than this man?” More important, though, is the underlying assumption that GLAMOUR’s decision represented. Womanhood is now merely an outfit to be worn as an identity statement. This means, in turn, that femininity is diminished in value. Clothes wear out, after all. Fashions are replaced and go out of style.
When gender distinctions are reduced to fashion statements, women suffer. Why? By forcing society to pretend such differences and distinctions do not exist, transgender activism will ultimately result in the “law of the jungle.” Only the strong will succeed.
Towards a Biblical View of Gender
This is why the need for a biblical conception of manhood and womanhood is so pressing in our day. The distinction between male and female is God-ordained: male and female he created them (Gen. 1:27c ESV). The distinction is not to be reversed, whether in manner of dress (Deut. 22:5) or in roles in the home and the church (Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Tim. 2:12-13). Christian men, especially, must respect these physical differences, and particularly the greater vulnerability of women to harm at male hands. Peter commands them—on pain of God ignoring their prayers!—to be respectful of their wives’ very different and physically weaker nature (1 Pet. 3:7). Peter’s warning to husbands has implications far beyond marriage. The very reason Peter tells husbands to honour their wives in this way is because it is fundamental to biblical manhood (as opposed to “macho” secular conceptions) that men are to honour women with their strength. This certainly entails a husband refraining from using his strength and size to harm (and not merely physically!) his wife, but this principle extends far beyond marriage. Inherent in being a man, and not a woman, is the measured and careful use of greater strength to provide for and protect others, particularly women.
What these governments are telling men, through these proposals and guidelines, is that they should treat women like men—and that women should expect to be treated like men. For girls, for women, this is terrible news. But for the church, this is an opportunity to teach and demonstrate the truthfulness and beauty of who God made us to be, as male and female.
Jeff was born in British Columbia to a Christian family. He joined the Canadian Army at 17, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration, with a minor in Military Psychology and Leadership, from the Royal Military College of Canada. In 2003, before he finished his training, God used an injury to awaken Jeff to living faith in Christ. Leaving the Army in 2005 he took a Master of Divinity from Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary in Cochrane, Alberta. Jeff pastored at a Southern Baptist church in Calgary (2006-2008) before leaving to join the staff at Calvary Grace. He also is a corporate chaplain in the hotel industry. He and his wife Erin live in Cochrane, Alberta with their six children.
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