Christian patriarchy hurts men, tooPosted: August 25, 2010
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.