In the modern world we like to think that the difference between the sexes is incidental and minimal. This is probably largely a function of the need of our economy for men and women to do similar work, which was not the case in the past. The obvious difference between men and women is in their different roles in reproduction which give the reproductive functions a different value to the different sexes. In nature, a woman is concerned to see her off-spring reach adulthood alive. In nature, a man's priority is to have as many off-spring as possible. Also, when fighting was hand to hand, there was a big premium on being a strong man. Hence the most common system in traditional societies is that in which men band together under a dominant male leader who generally has several wives and thus many children. This means that women leave their own family to go to the man's tribe. Consequently women have evolved within an alien environment in which their safety and prosperity depended upon their relationship with the man and other women were often a threat, whereas men have evolved in groups in which their safety and prosperity depended upon their relationship with other men who were their protectors or henchmen. Modern psychological research on risk taking and co-operation shows that, despite popular ideas to the contrary, men are more likely to co-operate with men and that women are also more likely to co-operate with men. This tendency alone is enough to ensure that men dominate in areas like politics. Notwithstanding the fact that in most modern countries women outnumber men, democratic elections almost invariably produce an over-whelming male majority of people elected. This is because men vote for men and women tend to vote for men too. The basic evolutionary factors also mean that for a woman the sexual relationship is more important than it is for a man. In nature the woman needed the man in order that her off-spring survive whereas the man's strategy was to simply have many off-spring so that some of them survive. This has obvious consequences in terms of behaviour which we still see. For men the act of sex is important whereas for women it is the relationship that is important. Men tend to wander so women have to scheme to keep them or get them back. Freud famously said that to be happy we need work and love. It tends to be the case that for men work is primary and love is a support whereas for the woman it is the other way around. All of this means that actually men and women are pretty different and it is a wonder that we manage to get along at all.
So how does this work out in spirituality? I take it as axiomatic that the divine encompasses each and all simply as are. Whether one is male or female does not affect the essence of the matter, but it may make a lot of difference to the opportunities that one has. In the time of the Buddha there were many women who became spiritually enlightened, but they were mostly people who had "escaped" from the social position expected of most women. They were widows, prostitutes, runaways, or women whose male protector had become a monk. There is even one story of a wife who wanted to hear the teachings who was not allowed to go to see the Buddha so she sent her servant to go and hear the teachings and bring back reports. Even today I have heard women in India sing a song the lyrics of which go something like "My husband will beat me but…I'm going to see the Buddha; my mother will lock me in the cupboard but…; my brothers will detain me but…; my sisters will scold me but… I'm going to see the Buddha." However, there are also stories of young men going on hunger strike when their parents would not let them go and follow the Buddha. Spirituality has always offered freedom, but often at a big social cost. Society is shaped by our evolutionary characteristics. Spirituality seeks to transcend this situation, not in the manner of modernism by imposing an artificial "equality" that still leaves us with a highly hierarchical structure, but by helping us to liberate our hearts and minds.