Trigger warning: rape/child sexual abuse, cultures of abuse.
As I said, I’m working on a post on how gender, and specifically ideas about masculinity, factor into the sexual abuse of boys by men, and into the cover ups of such abuse in hierarchical institutions. With Penn State and in other cases where institutions enable abuse, I think we’re seeing at work the most toxic and damaging side of notions of what it means to “be a man” or grow into manhood.
There are recurring themes about aspects of masculinity and male-dominated cultures/contexts that pop up in these cases. Fatherhood and proxy fatherhood. Teaching boys to be, act like, or grow into men. The role of relationships between adult and minor males in producing and reinforcing certain concepts of masculinity. The patronage and power of older men over younger men. And race and religion and the cult of sports are all factors here as well.
I put together some preliminary thoughts I tweeted for the post on Storify. I can’t embed it on the blog, unfortunately, but I’ve pasted it in plain text below. It’s easier to read on Storify, though. There are a few more points I want to add, but the basic points I want to make about how patriarchy enables adult male abuse of boys specifically are mostly here. I’d love some comments and feedback.
I need to write about how our ideas of masculinity inform power structures, relationships in institutions like sports teams and churches and how this contributes to an environment where abuse of various kinds is enabled and covered up. Going to tweet about this for a bit.
Part of my frustration with some responses to the #PSU case is this language of monstrosity that frames abuse as distant and rare. It’s not.
RT @rightingteacher People don’t want to think those they know, love, admire have committed this kind of crime. But they have.
RT @rightingteacher Believing it’s distant keeps kids in danger, keeps abusers free from scrutiny, facilitating further abuse.
Up to 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been or will be or are being sexually abused. That doesn’t include physical or emotional abuse.
That’s not rare. That’s an epidemic.
MT @rightingteacher Terrible 2 think it’s your son, husband, aunt, mom who abuses; worse 2 be child abused because some are beyond suspicion
All that to say, child abuse is incredibly common. And this matters, not because it would be less horrible if it were a rare thing…
But because when horrible things happen with that frequency, on that scale, there’s a degree of cultural complicity in it.
We really resist thinking about ways in which culture & society enable child sexual abuse. It’s true of rape in general, but esp. w/ kids.
There’s a bit of conversation now on how the culture at #PSU and the cult of personality around JoePa enabled Sandusky, but still limited.
To my mind 1 thing largely missing from mainstream coverage of #PSU is an interrogation of “masculinity,” how it enables this kind of abuse
There’s a recurring theme in #PSU case and others of ideas about fatherhood and surrogate fatherhood, specifically of boys.
Sandusky is the most obvious. He targeted boys who were being raised by single moms, gained access by presenting as a “male role model.”
He was able to package himself that way bc of assumptions (not necessarily all bad) about how boys/young men need older male mentors and because of assumptions of what that kind of relationship between older men and boys/young men should look like.
Sandusky talked a lot about discipline, structure, being a father figure who provided those things for boys who didn’t always appreciate it.
I mean, there are real challenges to growing up with only one parent, esp. a single mom, bc of classism, racism, misogyny, heteronormativity
But that’s not the message we send to boys who are being raised by single moms. Not, “this is a tough road,” but “something is wrong w/ you”
And I think we need to talk about the fact that Sandusky targeted boys who had been primed to see themselves as lacking something…
That only a man in this role of “father figure” or “mentor” could provide. That he was able to home in on that sense of loss and longing.
He took advantage of the idea that any older male who is there & “provides,” whether materially, or with “affection” or “discipline” is good
And that’s about a culture of a certain kind of masculinity, or beliefs around masculinity. It’s not just about Sandusky or others who abuse
And we can see this in defenses of Paterno, most of which are about his being a paternal figure to “his” players, “his” staff, all of #PSU
I was struck, e.g., by how the new acting head coach at #PSU said Paterno has meant more to him than anyone but his father. Hmm.
And with the students who rioted because “JoePa has done so much for this university” and “he is Penn State”
That again is about the idea of unwavering loyalty to the older male figure who “provides” and acts in this paternalistic/patron role.
.@SylkoZakur right. & those messages are *especially* targeted at black boys & young men, from folks who aren’t black and black ppl as well
The whole culture of coaching, esp. of boys’ teams, but also in general, is based on similar assumptions about male mentoring, leadership.
W/ men coaching sports, men leading churches/being spiritual fathers, men being “father figures” much of what we consider good leadership…
Is actually men trampling over boys/young men’s emotional and often physical boundaries in the name of “discipline” and “structure.”
And a supporting culture that coaches/bullies the kids on the receiving end to see it all as “for their own good” and not question it.
And that provides a context where predatory behavior by older men can be seen as “mentoring” by other adults…
And kids get the message that having a father/father figure around is inherently a good thing, with no education about patriarchal violence.
Dunno how coherent all that was, but the upshot is this idea that older men in positions of authority are there to tell us to do things…
That we don’t want to do, and there to make us do them for ‘our good’ (whether it’s coaches, priests, bio/foster/adoptive fathers)…
And that we owe them this uncritical loyalty for sacrificing by disciplining/mentoring us in these ways – this is all important context.
It’s context for why male adult abusers are able to target boys using the promise of a “father figure.”
Also context for why men in hierarchical institutions excuse, enable, cover-up abuse. “Masculine” Loyalty, discipline, doing as you’re told.
NaBloPoMo Day 11: Just a video and article recommendation today. There’ll be a guest post on this blog tomorrow and a post by me at another blog, so I figure I get a free space to work with!
Colorlines shared this lovely video about a young gay Latino man and his family not only coming to fully embrace him and his sexuality, but also to provide support for LGBT youth and their families. The video touches on some interesting issues around ethnicity, masculinity, and sexuality, and religion as well. I particularly loved what the dad had to say about rethinking his approach to masculinity when he realized how damaging his assumptions had been to his son and their relationship. The Colorlines article about the Family Acceptance Project that this video came out of is also really worth reading – it’s a project focusing on how families of LGBT youth of color respond to their coming out. This video is the first of several resources they’re hoping to develop for different communities that tell stories of families of color who have accepted their LGBT children.
Day 6 of NaBloPoMo: Bringing the Sunday news roundup back! I haven’t done one of these in a long time, but I’m hoping to get back into the habit.
Here’s some of the interesting reading I’ve come across this week:
the righter you get it: Great post that addresses, among other things, the push to get things perfectly right in fundamentalist Christianity and the damage it does even after people have left fundamentalism. I also really identify with her frustration with other Christians who minimize the negative experiences of ex-fundamentalists by saying that we just weren’t taught the right kind of Christianity.
My then-husband had studied to be a minister so our home was bulging with Bible translations, commentaries, books on theology, and hermeneutic helps. My children remember me studying the Bible surrounded by more than a dozen open volumes. They also recall that I always first submitted my understanding to God in prayer. I genuinely wanted to know what God thought on any matter. If you could show me that God desired me to do, think or act a certain way I’d have crawled over broken glass to do it. On the other hand, if I couldn’t see a thing in Scripture, I wasn’t one to rush off following what Christian leaders or friends were doing even if they could make a strong case for it. When my best friend and her family became Amish and she and her girls all started wearing cape dresses and head coverings, I agonised over the Bible to see if I could agree with their new practice. I ended by saying that it would break my heart that my worship might not be pleasing to Christ because I was inappropriately attired, but that I just couldn’t see either uniformity of dress or the necessity of head coverings for contemporary women in Scripture. Had I been able to, I’d have frocked up in a flash.
A coach of the Poland team said: “By wearing skirts, in my opinion, it gives a good impression, a womanly impression.” This might be an example of officials assuming that (1) men are the main audience for boxing and that (2) men will watch women’s boxing more if they differentiate/sexualize women.
It might also, however, be an example of an attempt to retrench difference between men and women exactly when those differences start to dissolve. Discomfort with the lack of actual differences between men and women sometimes leads individuals to encourage or enforce artificial ones. I would say that this is one of the main functions of clothes today. Yeah, I said it. I think exaggerating what are actually rather weak and strongly overlapping differences between men and women is one of the primary functions of clothes.
Fathers, Sons, and Guns: A really interesting interview of Michael Messner, a sociologist who has studied and written extensively about masculinity, on the relationship between masculinity and guns.
[The interviewer, Jackson Katz]: There is very little thoughtful discussion of one crucial aspect of the role that guns play in our lives: the relationship between guns and manhood. It’s a stunning omission when you consider that men own the vast majority of guns, comprise the vast majority of hunters, and commit the overwhelming majority of gun violence….Alas, many people assume “gender” means women. The subject of women and guns does merit further inquiry and discussion. But men are every bit as gendered as women. It is long past time that the gun debate was infused with a sophisticated understanding of how gun use and abuse – from hunting to homicide – is tied inextricably to cultural constructs of masculinity across a range of class, racial and ethnic categories. Part of this understanding has to do with the emotional connection so many men feel to guns – and to the men they bond with around them….
Messner: It is fascinating to me how, in this day and age, national politicians still apparently have to establish their affinity with hunting. Obviously, this is motivated in part by a desire not to alienate a huge lobby and voting bloc–the NRA. But it’s also connected to a very American ideal of frontier masculinity, as though every national politician has to prove some affinity with the image of Teddy Roosevelt as frontiersman and big-game hunter. The male politician who fails to establish this image risks being seen as weak and feminized. What you don’t see as much these days is politicians posing with animals they have killed (well, maybe Sarah Palin does so, but conservative women politicians–think Margaret Thatcher’s muscular militarism–risk not being taken seriously unless they wield an even thicker stick of masculinity).
Getting some nuance up in your reproductive rights: This is a few months old, but it’s a great post on why reproductive rights are not just about abortion, and how they also matter to people who are not women. Truly comprehensive reproductive rights movements have to address the various ways in which reproductive rights are undermined.
Reproductive rights has tremendous intersections with race, class, sexuality, and disability. These are not ‘side issues’ that people should pay lip service to when they have a chance, or address at some point. They are key, critical issues that must be addressed in any and all discussions about reproductive rights. Whether or not you are allowed to have children can be determined by race, class, sexuality, and disability status. Minority communities have a fundamentally different relationship with the reproductive rights movement than the majority community. Our relationships include not just the fight for bodily autonomy in an oppressive world, but the fight for basic humanity within social justice movements, the need to constantly assert our own personhood in a movement that often rejects us or silences us….
Among many others, Cara Kulwicki has covered, extensively, the use of sterilisation to control poor communities, which often have considerable overlap with people of colour, nonwhite people, and people with disabilities. Drug addicts and alcoholics, many of whom are poor, are paid to be sterilised in the United States. In Chile, HIV-positive women were sterilised without consent. Many reproductive health access programs in the United States aimed at poor people contain incentives for sterilisation, and stop providing coverage like pap smears after participants are sterilised. Poverty very much determines access to reproductive health services, and the level of care received.
Aleksa Lundberg, Transgender Actress, Mourns Forced Sterilization (some problematic reporting, trigger warning): A concrete and heartbreaking example of how reproductive rights are more than just abortion rights. In Sweden and many other countries, trans people are required to be sterilized, with no allowance for them to freeze sperm or eggs, before they are permitted to legal transition to their actual gender. This forces trans people to choose between having children or being fully recognized as their actual gender.
“Compulsory sterilization” has been quietly practiced for decades in countries typically cast as progressive on LGBT rights: France, the Netherlands, Australia, and a number of U.S. states still require it. Italy and Germany have just recently overturned similar legislation.
Although Swedish leaders have been talking for months about repealing the sterilization law that Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called a “dark chapter in Swedish history,” it remains on the books. The conservative Christian Democrats have doggedly opposed the repeal, arguing that sex reassignment surgery is a threat to traditional social roles. Transgender advocates like Lundburg say they are fed up with being the last of the LGBTs to win their rights….
The infertility requirement has meant that some patients chose to wait to have corrective surgery so they can have a family. “I know at least one man in Sweden who lives fully as a man but has kept his womb because he wanted children and it’s very problematic for him to still legally be defined as a woman,” says Ulrika Westerlund, president of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL).
Trigger warning for anti-trans and misogynistic gender policing. In a development that will come as a shock to exactly no one, Mark Driscoll has once again indulged in misogynist, bigoted douchebaggery. This time he invited his Facebook followers to mock “effeminate” worship leaders:
Text: “So, what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed?” [Screencap from Homebrewed Theology]
Well, I have many thoughts. The first being that this would be an excellent candidate for a post at Tea Party Jesus. Can’t you just see those words issuing from the lips of Jesus himself? I know I can.
Second thought: This dude is epic fail as a pastor even by his own supposed standards of faith. Honestly, what kind of a pastor invites people to MAKE FUN of worship leaders because of how they look or act? Isn’t leading worship supposedly an act of service to God and a ministry to the congregation? Isn’t worship a sacred time of expressing love and reverence for God? So how exactly is it acceptable to “lead” people to mock worship leaders based on external appearances or presumed anatomy? Isn’t that blasphemous? Doesn’t God judge the heart? Explain this to me, conservative Christians. I am baffled.
Also. There’s the whole part about how worship leaders are human being like anyone else, with real feelings and all that. Not to belabor the whole Jesus thing, but I’m missing how it’s repping Christ to talk about people like this under the guise of being a shepherd of souls. ETA: Joy makes a similar point here.
A further thought: When he calls “effeminate” male worship leaders anatomically male, he clearly means that they are only “anatomically male,” i.e., not really male. It’s quite amazing, really. Mark Driscoll is so obsessed with this gender role nonsense that he’s now taking it to the level of genital policing. He might as well have said that effeminate male worship leaders are male in penis only.
This raises all sorts of questions. What makes him think that anatomy determines gender identity or should limit gender expression? Again, again, a penis is not what makes someone male. The colors or clothes a man wears or how he talks or walks are not what makes him a man. A man is someone who identifies and understands himself as a man. Period.
Perhaps even more confusing… what makes him think he can tell what someone’s anatomy looks like beneath their clothes? More to the point, why on earth does he CARE so very much about what’s going on with other people’s genitals? And what’s up with his FB followers and defenders elsewhere who seem to think he’s making a harmless joke, or worse, a really profound point? I get the feeling if he had put his comments in plain words and actually used the word “penis,” those same people would be up in arms.
Text: Mark Driscoll providing the definition of effeminate: 1: having feminine qualities untypical of a man: not manly in appearance or manner 2″ marked by unbecoming delicacy or overrefinement. [Screen cap from Jesus Needs New PR].
People who defend Driscoll. Let me break this down for you. This isn’t clever or funny or insightful. It’s stupid and juvenile. Let me translate for you.
Driscoll: “I think that person has a penis! But he moves and talks funny! This makes me feel vaguely unsettled and insecure! I don’t want to think about what this means for me as a man so I will mock him mercilessly instead! Har har, look at that guy with a penis who looks funny!”
Ask yourself, Driscoll defenders, why you tolerate or even expect this kind of immaturity from a pastor. From a leader. Ask yourself why this man is so clearly unsettled about his own gender identity that he needs to take potshots at other people’s gender to make himself look and feel more manly.
And ask yourself the excellent questions that Dianna Anderson asks of Driscoll:
I want you to ask yourself this: You are a married man. You have (according to the info I could find) five children, a couple of whom I imagine, by sheer probability, are female [Driscoll has at least one daughter – G]. So think of your wife, think of your daughters, and ask this: Is being female a bad thing?
I know the response already: being female isn’t a bad thing for girls, but it’s a bad thing for a man to display female characteristics.
Ask yourself how this kind of incessant degrading of feminine behavior and appearance makes women and anyone whose identity is in any way “feminine” feel. How it hurts us.
Let’s say that we live in a world where women are in charge. Instead of male pronouns to describe God in the Bible, it’s all female. There’s a zealous writer named Pauline whose words about pastors don’t talk about the pastor having a wife but rather a husband. Her instructions about being quiet in the church are directed at men. Now say you go to a church – you’re faithfully trying to live your life following a savior named Jesus, a woman, who preached great love and sacrifice and spreading the word of her Gospel through the world. You’re doing the best you can to follow what she said in a broken world.
You go to church with your wife and family. She works while you stay at home with the kids, because it’s what men do in this world. And your pastor preaches time and time again about a “feminine” Christianity, about a womanly savior who exhibited all the good things about being female, and she complains about a church that is masculinized, of a church too taken over by men that it’s uncomfortable and wrong and even, possibly, sinful.
You, however, have a complex sense of your own gender identity. Sure, you like doing “manly” things, but you equally feel fine when you do feminine things. You never felt like you quite fit into that subservient role in this Matriarchal world. How does hearing that it’s a bad thing to be masculine, that it’s awful for your wife to share some of your burden as a man, that it’s sinful to the point of keeping [her] from heaven to be masculine?
Does that make you good and angry? Do you think you should be allowed to be masculine or feminine if you wanted because God created you that way? Do you think those archaic gender roles, which aren’t even clearly laid out in the Holy Scriptures of your religion, might just be wrong? Do you feel like who you are as a person is being ignored because of what you happen to have between your legs? [Dianna Anderson, Dear Mr. Driscoll, at Jesus Needs New PR]
When Mark Driscoll pulls stunts like this he’s sending a clear message that anyone who challenges gender hierarchies that place patriarchal masculinity above all else is to be isolated, shunned, and mocked. Men who are not stereotypically masculine. People of nonbinary gender. Trans women. Cis women. Women whose behavior , identities, or personalities at all challenge male assumptions of dominance and superiority. It’s inevitable that there are people in each of those categories who look up to Mark Driscoll as a leader and who read his comments.
Try to see, just try, how this kind of daily, ceaseless attack on femininity makes the many, many people who don’t fit into the patriarchal model of gender feel. Try to see how it makes us feel like we have to embrace an identity of inferiority to be part of the church, or leave.
Original post here.
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.