Christian and former cage fighter Matt Morin has a fantastic article on mixed martial arts (or MMA, the technical title for cage fighting) and its implications for thinking about masculinity from a Christian perspective. It’s a brilliant and thorough takedown of Mark Driscoll’s absurd fetishization of violence and domination as the epitome of “real” masculinity. Morin systematically unpacks misogyny, the homophobia, the harmful assertions about “real” masculinity, and the deep-seated insecurity about gender and embodiment that underpin the current trendiness of MMA in some complementarian circles.
And he does it all from a perspective informed by Christian anthropology! It’s very heartening to me to see challenges to Christianized toxic masculinity from within Christian circles. It drives home the ridiculousness of complementarian assertions that gender essentialism and bigotry are inseparable from being a “real” Christian. And it’s extremely powerful to have a Christian man explicitly reject Christian patriarchy and call it out as misogynist, homophobic, and harmful to everyone.
Seriously, it’s an amazing article and an absolute must-read. Check it out – The Confessions of a Cage Fighter: Masculinity, Misogyny, and the Fear of Losing Control [discussions of physical violence].
Morin particularly takes apart this clip of Driscoll claiming that MMA represents “pure” masculinity:
And I don’t think there’s anything purer than two guys in a cage, no balls, no sticks, no bats, no help, no team, and just see which man is better. And as a pastor, and as a bible teacher, I think that God made men masculine, he made humanity male and female. And men and women are different, not that one is good and the other’s bad, that’s why I married a woman, I’m very glad to be married to her [laughing].
But i think men are made for combat, men are made for conflict, men are made for dominion, and it doesn’t matter what you do to a bunch of guys, I mean, you could put ‘em in the worst public high school, and tell ‘em that they need to just be into their feelings, and talk about their feelings, and cry a lot, and fingerpaint their inner life, but at the end of the day, they’re still gonna want to throw down. And when they go out to recess, two guys are gonna go at it and see which one is the dude.
And that’s just the way that men are made. So we either allow that in way that is violence [sic] and inappropriate, which is what a lot of guys do, through criminal activity, or we put it together as a viable, legitimate sport, and let men be men and do what men do, and let the other fat, lazy men sit around and criticize them while watching.
Driscoll appears to have a talent for packing lots of wrongheadedness into a small number of words. Where to start? Perhaps with his statement that humanity was created “male and female,” a launching point for much of complementarian theology. Driscoll takes for granted – as do most people, to be fair – that all humans fit into binary categories of sex and gender: male/female, masculine/feminine. But both sex and gender are far more complicated than a binary system can account for.
In biological terms, what we boil down to the single word “sex” is actually made up of several different paramaters (e.g., genes, gonads, genitals, secondary sex characteristics like body hair and breasts, etc.) These factors are interrelated, but don’t always correlate with each other as we expect, and don’t always easily add up to an answer of “male” or “female.” Intersex is the most obvious example of this, but there’s also a tremendous among of variation in sexual characteristics between people who fit “typical” expectations of male or female sex, as we can plainly observe by huge differences in appearance (and specifically sexual development) between men or between women.
Gender is perhaps even more complicated than sex, with incredible variance in both gender identity and gender expression. We’re all assigned a gender at birth based on what our genitals look like, or are prematurely surgically altered to look like, as is sadly the case for some babies born intersex (trigger warning). But the gender we’re assigned at birth doesn’t always fit with our actual gender identity (i.e., some people are trans), and there are many people whose gender identity is nonbinary: neither male nor female, or not entirely one or the other. And in addition to gender identity (what we feel internally), gender expression (how we express our internal gender) also varies widely. Many cultures past and present have recognized this.
Perhaps Mark Driscoll doesn’t know – or doesn’t want to know – that gender variance is in the bible. The very same bible he quotes as evidence that humanity was created male and female features eunuchs – not just people who were castrated, but also people who in Jesus’ own words were born eunuchs – and others who challenged binary sex and gender categories. Peterson Toscano, creator and performer of the play Transfigurations, points to some of these examples:
(I’ll try to get a transcript of this up later.)
Of course, there’s a lot more wrong with Driscoll’s comments than the assumption of binarism (which, again, is widespread), and I’ll get to those and some of Morin’s criticisms of them in subsequent posts.