Punishing gender variant masculinityPosted: September 16, 2010
Perhaps the central concept of Christian patriarchy is that everyone has their “proper place” in power structures, whether in marriage, family, the church, or society. This is true for men as well as women; women are taught that they have to be submissive, and men are taught that they have to dominate. Men who aren’t “masculine” in this way are seen as refusing to accept their proper place at the top of the sex/gender hierarchy – and therefore refusing to be “real men” and choosing instead to be like women, i.e., “effeminate.” Under Christian patriarchy, male “effeminacy” – meaning any kind of non-normative gender expression in males – is something that needs to be constantly guarded against, strictly policed, and severely punished.
In certain ways I think gender nonconforming males pose even more of a challenge to Christian patriarchy than “unsubmissive” or otherwise noncomforming females. Under complementarianism, it’s definitely a sin for a woman to want to be in a position of authority over a man – but at the same time, it’s cast as an understandable desire. As they see it, who wouldn’t want to be entitled to unquestioned submission and obedience? Of course women would want to “usurp” the authority of the male role. As extreme complementarian Mark Driscoll puts it, “Men want to be men . . . and women do, too.” 
Complementarians have even incorporated the idea that women want to be men into their theology of sin. Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem both teach, for example, that God’s curse on Eve that her “desire will be for [her] husband” actually means that Eve – representing all women – “would [wrongfully] desire to rule over her husband (contrary to God’s created design) . . . woman would be inclined now to usurp the man’s rightful place of authority over her.” 
So called effeminacy in men, by comparison, is not merely considered sinful; it’s both totally incomprehensible and a fundamental challenge to claims of masculine superiority. If masculinity is truly defined by having and exercising authority, and femininity is truly defined by submission to authority, there’s no reason why a man would want to act like a woman: “Men want to be men.” So the mere existence of males who behave in ways coded as effeminate is a direct threat to Christian patriarchy.
This is why complementarians are so obsessed with “raising boys to be men” and “teaching men to be men.” Complementarianism places tremendous pressure on males to conform to patriarchal norms of masculinity. Both boys and men receive constant and intense coaching in “manliness.” Further, they are subjected to close scrutiny of their gender expression and risk serious consequences for any behavior, mannerism, or interest deemed insufficiently masculine.
Males who violate patriarchal gender norms face various kinds of punishment for their behavior, forms of negative reinforcement used to force compliance with these norms. Gender variant men face, just for starters,
– family and social disapproval
– ridicule and contempt (verbal and emotional abuse) from family, peers, teachers, etc.
– psychological and spiritual abuse in the form of teachings that construct God as a patriarchal, gender normative male, that present gender variance as rebellion against God, and threaten divine anger and punishment in response
– threats of physical violence and often actual physical abuse both at home and in other contexts.
Sexual molestation and abuse both in and outside the home is also a very common experience of gender variant men. And it’s also important to keep in mind that gender variant/nonconforming people of all genders are victims of most and often all of these forms of abuse.
These punishments for gender variance communicate, often without explicit words, to men and boys: If you decide to act like a woman, we’ll punish you until you learn to act like a real man. In the next post I’ll talk about some concrete examples of how threats of violence and actual violence are used to discipline gender expression and punish gender variance.
 This Isn’t “Separate but Equal’