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A Question of EMasculinity

Male The subject recently came up on a mailing list I follow, and then a related item popped up in my feed reader from an unrelated source a couple of days later.

First it was an article on men and church which suggested that men were leaving church, or churches other than Orthodox churches. It proceeds to speculate why by generalizing about what men like and how the Orthodox church provides it like nobody else. The article quotes Leon Podles in The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity and explains,

In the 12th- 13th century a particularly tender, even erotic, strain of devotion arose, one which invited the individual believer to picture him or herself (rather than the Church as a whole) as the Bride of Christ. “Bridal Mysticism” was enthusiastically adopted by devout women, and left an enduring stamp on Western Christianity. It understandably had less appeal for guys, and perhaps the rigor and objectivity of the Scholastic movement which arose about the same time was an equal-and-opposite reaction. “Head” and “heart” were split; men retired for brandy and cigars in the Systematic Theology Room, while praying and church-going were given over to women. For centuries in the West, men who chose the ministry have been stereotyped as effeminate. A life-long Orthodox layman says that, from the outside, Western Christianity strikes him as “a love story written for women by women.”

The Eastern Church escaped Bridal Mysticism because the great split between East and West had already taken place. Christians in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa continued to practice an earlier, non-dualistic form of Christianity, with an emphasis on acquiring continual awareness of Christ’s inner presence through spiritual disciplines and humility.

I’m not sure I buy the thrust of the article that the Orthodox church is appealing to men because it appeals better to some stereotypical primal urge: “Evangelical churches call men to be passive and nice (think ‘Mr. Rogers’). Orthodox churches call men to be courageous and act (think ‘Braveheart’). Men love adventure, and our faith is a great story in which men find a role that gives meaning to their ordinary existence.” Still, there’s something to this whole feminization theme, but even the attempted counterbalance is often nauseating to me, this whole fist-in-the-air woof-woof-woof-ing men’s event, the “Stand up and be Men!” injunctions. And then the follow-on bemoaning of “Oh, where-are-all-the-men in the church?” Men need to be leaders, we need more men in our churches. Sorry, I’m worn. You tired me all out. First you wanted a SNAG and then you wanted Fabio. You wanted manly-men who sing about getting married to Jesus and kissing him on the lips. Uh, there aren’t any like that. Sorry, Jesus is not my boyfriend, unless you somehow imagine he’s coming back to marry his bride’s big toe. Yes, it’s a biblical metaphor, but for the corporate church. We’ve got enough trouble with individualist Christianity as it is.

The whole bemoaning the absence of men thing used to get to me… maybe still does. People ask where all the men are and why they aren’t leading spiritually (forget the gender role assumptions that inform the question for a moment). I always wanted to say, “Maybe they are leading — right out the door. Why aren’t you following?” But I always was a sh**-disturber.

There’s enough gender confusion going on that one article poses the question, Can a good father be a real man? Soundbite against which the article rants: “[A] good parent needs to be expressive, patient, emotional, not money oriented. Basically, masculinity is bad for you.” The source of the soundbite is an article in Time which asked, “Does being more of a father make you less of a man?” Let me just say that we’re in a bad state if we can even ask the question. C’mon guys, even “Maximus The Gladiator” loved his son. Yeah, it’s confusing, but I didn’t really realize how bad it was… contrary to some of the man-on-the-street interviews in Time, I don’t think that just “being there” is quite enough to be a good father. It’s head-and-shoulders above what some achieve, but the bar for “good father” is higher than that… and it’s got nothing to do (again from a deluded man-on-the-street) with being “whipped.”

I’m shamed to admit that I watched the first episode (and only that episode) of the new-this-fall television show Big Shots, which one reviewer rightly called “aggressively bad”. It really is that bad — like “Sex in the City” but with CEOs and far more misguided stereotypes. I’ve never seen a series jump the shark (huh?) in the pilot, but this one did at the precise moment when

Duncan (Dylan McDermott) baldly states, “Men. We’re the new women,” as he and his friends lounge poolside in spa robes, discussing their relationships. One buddy can’t control his mistress, another’s wife is cheating on him and a third is so cowed by his wife he can’t tell her that he hasn’t found the right pastries for her party. On the plus side, Duncan now appreciates having sex with his ex-wife; on the minus side, he’s hounded by a female reporter investigating a misbegotten encounter with a transvestite hooker. (source)

Going back to the whole fatherhood thing, I wrote in the margin of a notebook someplace a few years ago, “Not only is society no longer paternalistic, it’s no longer paternal.” This was to suggest that men were abdicating their role of fatherhood, I would suggest in a bit of a state of confusion. And it is all very confusing. The church wants “men” but they want men kissing Jesus on the lips. Society wants a stand-up guy, but one who lounges around in a robe talking about relationships. Is being a family man being un-masculine? I’m thinking of an ad I saw someplace that showed an image of your stereotypical biker with Harley, leather, and chains juxtaposed with an image of a guy standing in front of a mini-van with a full compliment of rugrats. The ad asked, “Which one is the Real Man?” Good question… and I want to foist a few more questions out to the crowd. (1) What makes a man a good father? (2) Has the church become ‘feminized’? (3) Is the Orthodox church really more masculine, and if so, why? (4) Are men “the new women”, and why or why not? (5) Are fatherhood and masculinity at odds? (6) Which stereotype do women want, and which do children need? (7) Are men abdicating fatherhood, or masculinity, both, or none?

There’s some fodder for you. If you take your response to your own blog, be sure to track back or post a comment here with a link. Ready? Discuss.

9 Responses to “A Question of EMasculinity”

  1. grace Says:

    It seems like when conversations turn to gender, they automatically become distorted, probably because they inherently resort to stereotypes which inhibit appreciating the uniqueness of the individual.

    I think that feminization of the church is a straw man. :) When we try to pin the problems there, we miss looking at what the real problems are.

    I tend not to think in gender delineations until I am confronted with them directly. It seems it would be better to focus on emphasizing that each person be allowed and encouraged to become the fullest expression of what God created them to be. In that, they will be the best father/husband or mother/wife and person that they are capable of being.

    I love masculinity and gender differences. Heaven forbid that men would be expected to be women, or vice versa. Men are amazingly interesting creatures in my opinion, and I certainly wouldn’t want them to be like women. I feel the same way about women, and I think we lose something when we try to rule out or stereotype the differences.

    I don’t think masculinity can be stereotyped by either strength or gentleness when ideally the best expression of masculinity includes both. One of my favorite images is of new daddies gently cradling their newborns in their strong arms. To me this symbolizes the best of a what a man and father is.

    What makes a man a good father? Love, respect, kindness. The same thing that makes a good mother and a good person. The key being that we are each allowed to express that in the uniqueness of who we are as an individual.

  2. Grant Says:

    Yes, I think in some ways the church has become feminized. And yes again, in particular to some of the newer worship songs. Worse still in my opinion, is the veiled (or not so veiled) message from “the front” that those men not “getting into worship” are somehow missing “it” and then end up feeling badly. Ultimately these men too often leave the church for good. The church when it is (too) often referred to as the bride of Christ, men, again in my opinion, move to the sidelines or try to somehow connect with a gender-based concept (bride of Christ) in a manner of worship that too often is feminized.
    I don’t know how often I have heard people instruct men to “get in touch with their feminine side”, unfortunately equating certain attributes like tenderness as a feminine quality. Worse still, in my opinion, is the notion (I’ve heard it ) that there are certain male qualities that christian men should not have (i.e. anger, strong desires, competitiveness). In my experience it has been the message for christian men to shed certain qualities that has done more damage than the message (from other men and women) to embrace ( wrongly inferring that stereotypically men are deficient)other qualities.
    Which stereotype do women want? In my experience (i.e. past vocations) I have seen many men being asked to be more like their wives. For the record, I have never agreed with that notion and disappointed many (men and women) along the way.

  3. sonja Says:

    I love what both Grace and Grant have to say …

    I’m going to take it one step further and say that while I don’t think men should be asked to be women, neither should women be asked to be men.

    I think that some of this cross-gendering that is happening is back-lash because often women feel that they have to act like men in order to be accepted or acceptable in ministry circles, or in business in the secular world. So it’s become tit for tat (or sauce for the goose, as it were).

    When we are able to understand that both genders have much to offer in terms of leading, teaching, etc. we’ll be able to shed a lot of the negatives that the stereotypes have given us.

  4. Julie Clawson Says:

    Don’t even get me started on this issues….

    What I hate about the whole “the church is to feminized” discussion is that it assumes that stereotyped feminine characteristics are inferior to masculine ones. That if men are loving, and caring, and kind, and good fathers they must be acting like women and not like men. And since whatever a man is supposed to act like is always better than what a women is supposed to act like then we have a problem. This can’t get beyond the hierarchy of gender stereotype discussions not matter how one spins it.

    After the popularity of books like Wild at Heart that told men and women what they are supposed to be across all cultures and all times forever and ever amen, I’m surprised that this study put all the “me man, me kill people” movie emulation on the Orthodox Church. I do see that being an appeal on the Orthodox church given my small experience with converts to that tradition. Every single convert I know to Orthodoxy is male and were the sort of males that despised women to begin with. They couldn’t stand to be taught by women, they didn’t understand why women went to college, and wouldn’t read books with female protagonists. They found much they liked in the Orthodox church that fed their idea that being a certain sort of male is the way to go.

    Sure there are issues with the way we do church that men and women find nauseating. But to blame those issues on women or on men who “act” like women doesn’t seem like a healthy solution to the gender problems we already have.

  5. Jonathan Brink Says:

    (1) What makes a man a good father?

    To love deeply in spite of opposition.

    (2) Has the church become ‘feminized’?

    Have men become bored might become a better question.

    (3) Is the Orthodox church really more masculine, and if so, why?

    I’m not sure why you put Wild at Heart type ideology in the orthodox category.

    (4) Are men “the new women”, and why or why not?

    No. Men are beginning to wake up as much as they are stereotyped on media. Androgeny is popular in fashion but not in the midwest.

    This has more to do with the loss of an agricultural society where the family lived and worked together. With the advent of the factory, the father was not around most of the time. This loss was huge in term of father son development.

    (5) Are fatherhood and masculinity at odds?

    What?????????

    (6) Which stereotype do women want, and which do children need?

    My wife wants someone who loves and is willing to take a stand for my own dignity.

    (7) Are men abdicating fatherhood, or masculinity, both, or none?

    To a certain extent they are not abdicating it as much as they simply don’t have a role model to follow for reasons detailed in #4.

  6. Calacirian » Women Are the New Women Says:

    [...] There were posts by Makeesha and Julie earlier this week that fed it.  Then Bro. M. posted on EMasculinity yesterday, quite independently of Mak and Julie.  I know it was independently because he’s at a [...]

  7. Patrick Says:

    This is, I think, one of the more pressing questions in the broader church. It’s an odd question too. Because the other pressing question, I think, is how women can become more involved and be given more responsibility. Which leaves us in a curious place in which men don’t go to church but women can’t lead in churches.

    A seeming paradox.

    So far a lot of the conversation has been about married men. As a single guy, however, I don’t think in terms of marriage and fatherhood. And, honestly, I see a much bigger problem in the church in the lack of single men. Single women will be nodding their head at this. Single men just don’t go to church anymore, making for an enormous gender in balance.

    At least in my experience. Which seems like it wouldn’t be a shabby deal for me, except for the fact that at no church is there really a community of friendships for me with guys.

    Maybe it has something to do with a lingering Christendom reality. We want church to support our cultural institutions, making church a place where all too often the topics are more Oprah than Gospels. Or maybe its the fact that there’s an ‘alpha male’ thing going on. Women feel excluded by leadership but they don’t realize that men are often just as excluded… if they are not within the chosen ranks of a pastors ‘leadership team’. Between the obsession with leadership as the driving ecclesial value and relationships/family as a driving conversation value there’s just little place for those who would want to just get involved and who have the time to be the most involved.

  8. Brother Maynard Says:

    Just settling in after being away for a week, catching up with some comment-reading.

    Grace,
    Appreciate your perspective here. I wonder if the interpolation of gender distorts conversation because we are then only talking about half of God. Dunno if that’s remotely worth considering, just a thought that occurred to be processed, perhaps discarded. You’ve no idea how refreshing I find it that you would enjoy gender differences without implications of inequality.

    Grant,
    How come I’ve never heard anyone tell a woman to get in touch with her masculine side? Maybe we’re afraid they’d do so by flattening us with a really good wallop. I think you’re right, it’s not so important if a trait is Martian or Venusian as whether or not it’s Christian. Another great perspective.

    Sonja,
    Per my response to Grant, I think I like “is it Christian” as a better gauge. Why assign gender at all to our actions other than saying, “You’re a man, show graciousness through that lens; you’re a woman, show graciousness through that lens.” I can’t think “graciousness” (or substitute what you will) needs to have an absolute expression founded in one gender or the other… that’s how we get around to asking one to act like the other, isn’t it?

    Julie,
    I didn’t want to get you started… I’m afraid…
    But I don’t make that assumption at all, not sure who or how many do make it. If the assumption is made, it might equally be observed that the drive to feminine characteristics is based on the assumption that those characteristics are superior. As I noted to Sonja, why assume that either is “better”? And what’s wrong with a different lens reflecting a different expression of the same good trait, kindness, love, whatever. My kids have a mother, who shows love through a feminine lens. They have a father, who… well, you get the idea. Perhaps trying to use the same lens leaves us with a shallow understanding of love, a single-faceted one that is deficient for being single-faceted, not for being single-gendered. Stupid idea: “Well, you know, ‘gentleness’ is a feminine trait…” Ptoooie. If Paul says gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, then I damn well have to figure out how to show it through the masculine lens I’ve got, because that’s all I was issued.

    Mary,
    Similar comments to what I said above responding to Julie. I’m not sure the assumptions are so universal, or so one-sided… but to the extent they exist associated with gender in this way, they would be wrong either way. Good post on your blog, too.

    Jonathan,
    Fascinated by your observation on the loss of an agrarian society… something profound there, I think. For the record, the far-out questions weren’t my ideas, just the ones that come from some of the articles I linked. Of course, fatherhood must be an expression of masculinity, else we are fundamentally misunderstanding one or the other, or both.

    Patrick,
    Hmmm, perhaps if I was a single guy looking for a girlfriend or wife….
    ….nah, never mind ;^) Good observations.

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