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Friday, October 09, 2015

Too Hot to Handle: Ending the Gender War

In which two or more of our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Suzanne Venker at The Daily Caller says it’s time to “end the gender war”.

Venker says gender relations are seriously shot, and that the feminist establishment is to blame for telling women “You can do anything a man can” and “Society is simply holding you back”. She cites Camille Paglia, who confirms that “Men’s faults, failings and foibles have been seized on and magnified into gruesome bills of indictment”.

Even The Wall Street Journal concedes that an increasing number of men are checking out on the idea of marriage and family.

Venker sympathizes:
“The choice of some men to remain in a permanent adolescent state, and the choice of others to opt out of marriage altogether, or to ‘go their own way’, makes sense when you think about it. Men are burning off the testosterone America rejects.”
And Paglia adds:
“When an educated culture routinely denigrates masculinity and manhood, then women will be perpetually stuck with boys, who have no incentive to mature or to honor their commitments.”

The Worst Time to be Born Male

Immanuel Can: I’m not a sociologist, yet I observe in many of the young men I teach a lack of confidence that being male is really a positive thing, or that maturation as a male is connected with the acquisition of any particular set of virtues … or ultimately that becoming an adult man is any sort of an achievement. Or do you think I’m off base there?

Tom: I think this is probably one of the worst times in history to be born male. I mean, they were all bad in the sense that men were always subject to being drafted, always responsible to provide and always to blame when things went wrong. That’s normal human history.

But today if you live in China, they’ve aborted most of your possible partners. If you live in the West, feminism has made masculinity a dirty word. You are expected to apologize merely for existing, let alone holding opinions contrary to the approved PC narrative. The workforce is more competitive, the marital “marketplace” is more polarized and even most of your fellow men will tell you you’re a bad guy if you dare to actually behave like a male. Respect is a non-starter.

So I’m not surprised if your students lack role models or struggle to find a sense of who they are.

Breeding a Backlash

IC: Here’s the thing the purveyors of the PC narrative seem to have forgotten: if you’re born male, you cannot change that. You can only be a good one or a bad one, but you cannot be made into some sort of female through exposure to sufficient propaganda. So the PC hatred of masculinity inevitably breeds backlash, resentment and rebellion in young men — along with a simmering contempt for women, of course.

Tom: I think that’s fair. Sad, but fair.

IC: Paradoxically, I see absolutely no respect in the eyes of young women for the feminized, PC-cooperative male. And I don’t blame women for that: but they’re partly the authors of their own misery if they perpetuate the stereotype of males as naturally destructive, aggressive, sexually rapacious and irresponsible. A recovery of positive, vigorous and virtuous masculinity would to a great deal to help that, but I cannot see how it will come about in the general population.

Tom: You’re right about that. Society will do its own thing, and it’s almost sure to have unintended and negative consequences.

The World in the Church

What I’m really interested in though, IC, is how much the spirit of the age bleeds into the attitude of young men and women in the Christian community, and whether or not the church is doing anything to combat it.

Specifically, I see problems in two areas: (i) the unwillingness of young women to have their lives directed by a man, even when they give nominal assent to the teaching of scripture on that subject, and (ii) the consequent unwillingness of young men to submit themselves to a potential lifetime of direction by a woman, not to mention the risk of losing your shirt in a divorce. The first problem has been evident since the sixties, and is always on the increase. But the second has only recently manifested and many in the church are actually unaware of it.

IC: Yes, this is new. But I think, in retrospect, it’s predictable. Young men are opting out of conventional social roles, since none of those roles look masculine, positive, admirable and attractive anymore. If you tell young males that there is no way to become both a man and good, then the latter becomes optional — but the former never is. So they do turn into adult males still: but they primarily define themselves as men by their ability to reject, bully or dominate women. They remain big, angry, selfish kids … or else docile PC geldings.

This situation is by no means inevitable for Christians, though. We have strong, admirable, virtuous male patterns in scripture, and Christ himself chief among them. I’m afraid, though, that at present the church is reflecting the pathologies of the world’s masculinity crisis rather than taking advantage of the Christian resources. Is that fair?

Who Is Teaching Whom?

Tom: Absolutely. I have not seen much in the way of the church teaching men to be men. Another problem is the reluctance of Christian leaders to teach the biblical doctrines of headcovering and submission of wife to husband along with the corresponding practical responsibility of the man to love and lead in marriage, not just “mutually submit”. In the last 20 years, all I’ve heard from the platform is that the “older women are to teach the younger women”. That is an absolute wimpy, PC cop-out. In scripture, the teaching of doctrine in the church is never the responsibility of women. Doctrine is the responsibility of men. It is certainly entirely appropriate for older women to help younger women with the specific application of truths they’ve learned in church, but that is not an excuse for men to abdicate their responsibility to teach what the apostles taught.

IC: Okay. But I think you don’t become a man by talking to women about it. You become a man by picking up the pattern of masculine virtue taught by scripture, and by emulating it yourself. You also do it by seeing the living example of admirable men. You envy them. You want to test yourself with the challenge of becoming just as dedicated, truthful, strong, merciful, wise, kind, confident, spiritual and sacrificial as they are. Young men thrive on challenge; and every young man I’ve ever met wants to hope that his life will be about something that really matters.

Women have their instructions in scripture. They can read. As for us, we need to focus on the instructions to us first.

Creating Christian Expectations

Tom: No, but you show boys how to be men and girls how to be women by teaching in the church meetings about their respective responsibilities. And you create reasonable expectations of Christian behavior — especially those expectations that run counter to those of society — by stressing both roles publicly.

Just saying “They can read”, to me, is a bit of a cop-out. It’s like saying about any doctrine to any demographic within the church, “They can read”. Sure, the older men can read the instructions to older men, and the younger men can read the instructions to younger men. And yet Paul instructed Titus to “urge the younger men to be self-controlled”. He doesn’t just assume they’ll read his letter at some point.

There’s a difference between the church teaching something and me learning it for myself in scripture. Both actions are necessary to my development, but neither should be neglected, and especially not simply because teaching it might be politically touchy.

Examining the Scriptural Models

IC: No, of course we should teach the truth, always. But even so, I don’t believe the answer to this issue is preaching. It’s studying continuously for oneself, and doing what the scriptures characterize as truly hearing, i.e. listening intently with a practical commitment to obey. There’s a very great difference between listening for the purpose of giving general assent and listening for the purpose of obeying. That’s why the models, teaching and instructions directed to men are key here.

Tom: Okay, carry on.

IC: We Christians have many excellent models of real men. Consider Daniel, who stood up to lions, and his friends who endured the furnace. Consider Abraham, who obeyed even when he did not understand, or David, who only gave to God what was costly, or Stephen, who spoke with a spirit that none could refute and whose testimony could not be extinguished even by death, or Paul who endured shipwreck, stoning and countless beatings … and above all, consider the Lord himself. All these, except the Lord himself, were mere men, just like us, but became great by obedience to God. But we need to listen: to hear their stories as a call directly to us.

Better Men or Better Partners?

Tom: Practical question though: Modeling ourselves after such examples will make us better men, and I think that’s the primary issue. And if we’re talking about living the Christian life well without having a partner, the Lord and Paul can certainly model that for us. Stephen and Daniel as well, for that matter: we have no evidence they were unmarried, but the faith they exemplify for us does not contain that partnership dynamic we’re discussing. Even David and Abraham had marriages with very serious problems we would not want to emulate, though they were terrific male role models in other ways.

So my practical question is this: Will be a better man make me a better partner, and even if it does, are most Christian women today likely to recognize that? Or are they looking for something else?

Short version: Does being a better Christian man mean I may end up going it alone?

IC: Well, there’s this verse (Matthew 19:12), so it may just come to that. But I don’t think it has to. What does have to happen is that men have to step up, act like real men of God and lead, whether or not women want to come along. Paradoxically, I really believe that’s precisely what most women today find so lacking in our modern, PC, compliant, liberal, open-minded and gelded men. So the quickest cure to unwanted singlehood for males would be to stop acting like spiritual pantywaists.

Too blunt?


The Lesson of Donald Trump

Tom: Nope. I like the “gelded” part. It well describes almost all the current Republican presidential candidates — not literally, but in their obvious terror of being perceived as anti-female, racist or homophobic. You can see them biting their tongues and looking to their spin doctors for cues every time they’re asked for a sound bite.

Meanwhile Donald Trump is demonstrating that a lot of people like it when a man frankly speaks his mind and insists that change is genuinely possible if people are not afraid of it. I’m not a fan of Trump personally, nor am I convinced he’s sincere about every suggestion he’s put forward, nor would I hold him up as a model to Christian men.

That said, he’s a living, current, ongoing demonstration that both men and women love it when a man is actually manly.

IC: I suppose it also points to the idea that the deficiency in the modern male is not so painfully noticed in regard to the substance of his beliefs as to his style. People are not necessarily responding to Trump’s ideas as to his forthrightness and boldness in stating them. He’s unapologetic, direct and unflinching; and people cannot help but be wooed by that in a generation characterized by male nervousness, uncertainty and confusion.

I think that observation also comes with a worrying note: people today are starved for stylish leadership, and they’re less attentive than they should be to substance.


The Reflexive Apology

Tom: Well, that is certainly true. I think one thing the Christian man can learn from that is not to apologize unless there’s genuinely something to apologize for. Our society has been taught to apologize reflexively the moment someone complains, whether or not any wrong has actually been done. But these days, an apology is taken by many as an admission of guilt, so you had better be sure there is a real sin to apologize for before you capitulate to criticism. The Lord didn’t say sorry every time he offended people. The problem was the people, not him. And Paul corrected himself when he made an inadvertent error in failing to identify the high priest and spoke out of turn, but he certainly did not grovel the way men do today when they violate political correctness. He did not surrender the moral high ground.

But there are, as you mentioned, better role models than Donald Trump for the young Christian man. We could emulate Joseph’s diligence, Stephen’s courage, Jonathan’s faithfulness or Daniel’s dependent prayer life.

Can you think of other deficiencies in society’s version of manliness that scripture corrects?

The Most Important Qualities
IC: Lots. I’ve always admired the critical incisiveness and eloquence of Apollos. Or the stalwartness of Paul at the Areopagus, and again in his address to the Ephesian elders is marvelous. But there’s also the instant repentance of Matthew, the sincerity of Nathanael, the spiritual authoritativeness of Elisha — and my personal favourite, the ruthless righteousness of Phinehas. But of course, nothing comes close to the collocation of unmatched masculine virtues so evident in the Lord Jesus himself.

We’re not short of models for manhood, that’s for certain.

Tom: Agreed. Now, I noted when we started that the unreasonable expectations of the feminist establishment seem to have spurred writers like Venker and Paglia to cut modern men some slack for a little misbehavior, immaturity and selfishness. But I’m not sure as Christians we need excuses.

Do you think there is any reasonable prospect of ending what they call the “gender war” in the church at least?

IC: In the church? Absolutely. But we need a new and vigorous conception of masculinity, one derived solely from a Christian perspective, which we are prepared to encourage in boys and young men. But one word of caution: it’s bound to be utterly offensive to the world. And we have to be ready not to apologize for that, and not to back down, and not to relent.

In short, we need to “man up”.

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