Why does Jewish Law treat men and women so differently? Contrary to common understanding, it is not because women are more spiritual than men.
When Hashem created the world, he made it separated – heaven and earth, waters above and below. And everything on earth – save for people – springs from that lower world, the world of the physical.
But mankind is the exception. Since it is our job to unite the physical and the spiritual, G-d equipped us with a piece of both worlds. We have both a body and a soul – physical desires and a conscience. Thus Hashem created Adam with two distinct acts: “Hashem formed the man of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life.” (Br 2:7). And it became Adam’s mission (and then ours) to properly unite our bodies and souls. It is no understatement that the history of every man features the clash between these two very different components of our being.
But Chava was NOT created as Adam was. Chava was a second generation prototype, not made with two disparate (and opposite) ingredients, but made in one step from the already-joined personage of Adam. I submit that women are primarily different from men because a woman’s body and soul are created more in sync with one another. (This is a reason behind Tefillin, and why men (and not women) are commanded to wear them: men have to work at bringing their bodies and soul together.)
A woman is far more likely to perceive her appearance as a reflection of her soul. Consequently, the way a woman presents herself tells us a lot more about her very nature. And women thus spend a lot more time on their appearance than men do – because for a man, clothes are what someone wears. For a woman, clothes reflect what they are. So a woman being self-aware about her appearance is not an indication of selfishness or shallowness. It is a reaction to an intuition that the way she looks is the way she is.
This understanding explains a great deal else, of course. A man has a much easier time doing something wrong and then insisting that while the act might have been vile, it was not really a reflection on the man himself. It was, after all, just something physical. Men have a much easier time committing crimes without considering themselves to be criminals. Women not only commit much less crime, but they also have much more difficulty separating a physical act from its emotional component. So men can have an illicit relationship without regrets – and without falling in love. Women instinctively connect physical acts with emotional responses: intimacy links to love.
This same understanding answers an age-old question: When two men wear the same suit to a party, they are not likely to notice – and if they do, they’d merely compliment the other on their obviously discerning taste. But if two women show up to the same fancy party wearing the same dress, why must one go home and change?
The answer is that every neshama is unique – representing another of the infinite facets of G-d himself. So for a woman to wear the identical suit as another one would be a denial of her individuality, of that which makes her holy. A man, on the other hand, doesn’t need to wear his soul on his sleeve.