Christian patriarchy hurts men, too

I read a summary today of a sermon by Randy Stinson on, ahem, how it’s necessary for boys to get “bumps and bruises” and be indoctrinated with “warfare language” in order to avoid raising them to be “feminized,” “weak, soft, and ineffective” men.  Stinson is the president of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, an influential evangelical complementarian organization that also includes John Piper and CJ Mahaney (Joshua Harris’ mentor) as part of its leadership.  Some highlights of his comments:

“We are raising our young boys to be way too soft, way too careful, as if the ultimate prize in our parenting of boys is to get them to 18 years old and say they never got hurt, nothing bad ever happened . . .. They never experienced pain. They never experienced disappointment. They have just had a wonderfully smooth life,”

“What you’ve done, you have handicapped that boy for the rest of his life,” Stinson counseled. “He will be a weak, soft, ineffective man.”

. . . A “therapeutic” model that eliminates competition and rough play among boys has created a generation of 20-something males that are the “most self-absorbed generation in American history.”

Stinson said that has spawned an industry of things like male skin-care and hair-color products that would have been unimaginable a generation ago. (Associated Baptist Press)

OH NOES, you guys, the only thing more self-absorbed than a woman is a man who moisturizes!  Watch out for those male skin and hair care products, they’ll turn your little dudes into lady-men!  Wow.  These folks are completely oblivious to how ridiculous and immature such statements sound to the rest of the world.

Stinson’s comments demonstrate that in addition to insisting on hierarchies of privilege and oppression based on biological sex, complementarianism and other forms of Christian patriarchy also insist on rigid policing of gender expression and identity.  Christian patriarchy teaches boys and men that relational, physical, and sexual dominance and aggression are the only appropriate expressions of “true masculinity.”  It teaches boys and men that displaying gentleness, vulnerability, interest in beauty, and really, any trait or pursuit coded as “feminine” makes them lesser men, or not “real men.”  It warps and damages boys and men who, naturally or otherwise, conform to this extremely narrow and rigid definition of masculinity, and mercilessly discriminates against  boys and men who don’t conform to this standard.

“Men solve problems. They fix stuff. They get stuff done,” he said. “When we give men such weak assignments — we put them on the bereavement committee and the flower committee and the grounds committee and the fellowships committees — give men a God-sized task that they know requires a man.”

He also called on churches to “bring back warfare language.” . . . “The Bible is all about warfare, from Genesis 3 on,” he said. . . . .”We don’t talk about battle and warfare, but we’re in one,” he said. “Let’s just reclaim the language. Keep reminding our men they are in a battle and maybe they will start acting like a warrior.” . . .

[On a boy raised to be “weak”] He’s not going anywhere, and he’s not going to pursue your daughter, because he’s weak and scared and has no godly ambition. When he gets knocked down he’s not getting back up. He has no godly resilience.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a person of any gender having a naturally assertive or even dominant personality.  But the constant expectation that a “real” man always has to be “hard,” “strong,” or in control places an incredible burden on men in patriarchal communities, even those who naturally tend towards “traditional” expressions of masculinity.  There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that our cultural discomfort with men who express strong negative emotions besides anger and aggression, or express interest in “softer” or more creative pursuits, makes men more prone to serious depression and puts them under huge amounts of psychological and emotional stress.

Worse, Christian patriarchy indoctrinates men into being obsessed with having power, and to think of wielding power and authority over others as defining their maleness.  It teaches that males are in constant need of something or someone to dominate in order to be “real men.”  As a result, relationships between patriarchal men and anyone who is coded under patriarchy as being of inferior status are inherently imbalanced and dysfunctional.  While women and children are taught to be submissive, subservient, passive, and silent even in the face of suffering and abuse, men are taught that they must always be aggressors, always in charge, and never vulnerable.  This pushes an exaggerated and incredibly limited version of masculinity on men that makes it impossible for them to sustain healthy, functional relationships with women and children.  It pushes male assertiveness and dominance to the point where it becomes oppressive and often violent (psychologically, physically, sexually).  It fosters an environment where abusive men are protected and enabled while their victims are forced to keep silent.

These are some of the real, tangible ways in which patriarchal gender expectations harm men who conform to them.  In the next post I’ll talk about about how patriarchy marginalizes and oppresses people who don’t conform to these expectations.

7 Comments

  1. What I don’t understand is – if gender roles are some inherent, God-given design, why the fear that if they’re not encouraged, they’ll disappear? Wouldn’t it be something that naturally expresses itself, that cultural conditioning could not dissuade no matter what? There’s a lot of fear I’ve noticed that surrounds the idea of blurring the lines of gender, and I don’t understand the origin of that fear. Is there a belief that if men and women stopped being conditioned, and therefore stopped acting, like polar opposites of each other, that moral decay would run rampant throughout society and the quality of life would cease to be good?

    I thought this statement was very telling: “give men a God-sized task that they know requires a man.” The presumption is than manliness = god-like qualities. A standard no one can meet, and thus, every single man technically fails at his supposed role. The pressure is enormous and the fear to be less, to be “female” so ingrained in this kind of indoctrination that the only way to go is to be angry and domineering to ensure that one never slips into anything remotely “less.”

    Interestingly enough, I wasn’t protected much by my parents, and experienced a lot of pain myself growing up. That’s probably why I’m too strong and independent of a woman for these kinds of Christians!

    • What I don’t understand is – if gender roles are some inherent, God-given design, why the fear that if they’re not encouraged, they’ll disappear? Wouldn’t it be something that naturally expresses itself, that cultural conditioning could not dissuade no matter what?

      I’ve wondered the same thing myself. The constant effort to maintain “biblical manhood and womanhood” and gender policing that comps insist on doesn’t make any sense given how natural and God-ordained they claim these roles are. I’d guess their response is that people rebel against God’s good plan for men and women because we’re so horribly sinful. It’s a convenient catch-all answer.

      Great point about equating manliness with god-like status. I hadn’t thought about how that relates to the pressure to be “manly,” but I think you’re right that it must add even more of a burden to an already unrealistic standard of masculinity. Sad. Now that you said that I think a lot of the rage and attempts at domination I’ve seen in patriarchal men comes from a place of frustration that they can’t be the god-like men that their churches are teaching them they have to be.

      Lol, I think any woman with an opinion and the inclination to share it is probably too much for these kinds of Christians!

  2. Very true. You might be interested in my book, “Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy” where I unpack similar themes at some length:
    http://numenoldmen.wordpress.com/numen-old-men/

  3. Another excellent blog posting. Great food for thought.

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