This post is an invitation to a conversation, because I don't have all the answers. If you've found this blog, I'd like to know what you think.
J.K. Gayle over at Aristotle's Feminist Subject has brought up the current fear among many Christians that the empowerment of women is emasculating men. He cites the new book by William J. Bennett (former U.S. Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan and former Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush) called The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood. Bennett appears to voice a concern I've read in several places on the Web, that women's social and economic gains are somehow leading to a male identity crisis.
My first reaction is to ask myself, why should it matter to men, ultimately, what women are doing? When Peter to said to Jesus, "Lord, what about him?" referring to Jesus' plans for John, Jesus answered, "What is that to you? You follow me." John 21:21-22. Shouldn't following Jesus be enough?
And yet as a follower of Jesus, I myself must not be selective in doing unto others as I would have them do unto me. What I would have done unto me is for my concerns to be taken seriously and listened to. So I must listen to my Christian brothers.
One thing I'm certain of. Men should not define themselves by whom they get to be in authority over. Is a man in slavery, beaten by a master, any less a man? Is a man interred in a concentration camp any less a man? So, even though the Christian Patriarchy movement seems to want to define men in terms of their "leadership" in the home, I cannot feel that a man must be in charge of someone else, in order to feel like a man.
Two Friars and a Fool, makes this point rather well. But the other thing they're saying also should be heard:
"Patriarchy is not masculinity. The two aren’t the same. But, apart from patriarchy, what is masculinity? The thing is, none of us know, because almost no one is thinking about it. Or worse the only people thinking about it are the ones who just want to push patriarchy in disguise... What is it to be a man, apart from either being part of patriarchy or being told how evil you are for being part of patriarchy? If I knew, I would tell you, but I don’t. I’d like to, though."
There is an interesting thing going on here. Women (except perhaps those embracing Christian Patriarchy), because we have traditionally been the "other" sex, tend to want to be viewed primarily as just people. We don't want to be defined by our sex, but by our humanity. But the question being asked here by men is, "what defines us as men?"
Traditionally, men have been the "default" sex. To be human has been viewed primarily in terms of being human as a male. The traditional name for humanity is "man." What humans do that makes them human has, through history, been seen in terms of what men do. Until recently, being a man meant just doing what men-- that is, people-- do. Working, resting, praying, having a family. Self-expressing through art or literature or craft or sport. Being in charge too-- but that was only part of it.
Now men are finding that the meaning of words have changed, as a concerted effort has been made in the last few generations to include women as part of the default of what "human" means. We no longer say, "man," we say, "humanity." And now many men seem to feel themselves at a loss. If "humanity" is no longer, by default, male humanity, what does it mean to be male, as opposed to being female? Particulary since women, who have always worked, rested, prayed and had families, just like men (only without being in charge, and with their self-expression largely suspected, suppressed and devalued), want to be defined mostly as just "people"? And maybe to get to be in charge sometimes too?
If you're a man, only you can be a father. And if you're a woman, only you can be a mother. And those are different things, and the differences are important. And there are physical differences, and hormonal differences. And they tend to affect the way we behave-- but not universally. There are always exceptions. And there are no good traits that are the exclusive province of one sex or the other. For Christians, Jesus is our example, and he modeled all good traits, all of what it means to be human. And Jesus was male, but was not afraid to describe himself as spreading wings like a mother hen and taking chicks under them!
Perhaps the answer is not to come up with a certain set of traits and call them "manhood," and another set of traits and call them "womanhood," whether the word "biblical" is attached to these terms or not. Perhaps men as well as women need to simply look to the humanity of Christ for an example of what being a human ought to be. If you're doing your best to be like Jesus, then you are a biblical man. You are also a biblical woman. Not because there are no differences. Males and females are different, and the differences should be celebrated. Christianity is not a religion that calls the spiritual good, and the physical bad. Our bodies are good, and they are part of who we are-- and our bodies are gendered.
But the problem my Christian brothers are expressing-- those who don't want to embrace patriarchy as part of the definition of manhood-- is not fully answered by saying, "Let's just all follow Jesus and not worry about it." One of the commenters on Two Friars and a Fool, Douglas Hagler, put it this way:
"I would say that I have been thoroughly taught to see masculinity as bad. Only recently have I begun to see the possibility of another view. That is, obviously, part of my motivation here. I guess I would also say that I have also been taught to see certain things as associated with masculinity - violence, domination, unconscious privilege, etc. - and that all of those things are negative things."
The problem also goes deeper than mere perception. There is also the fact that unconscious privilege is apparently now actively hurting men, particularly in education. MaryAnn Baenninger, in her article in The Chronicle: For Women on Campus, Access Doesn't Equal Success, notes that women are not really "winning" in the way William J. Bennett seems to fear-- but she also notes this:
"And while we were focusing on gaining access for girls and women, we neglected the needs of boys and men. We didn't plan well for the consequences of a society that taught one sex that it had to work harder to gain access, and the other sex that access was guaranteed. We find ourselves surprised each time we learn that the educational system is not serving boys and men as well as it might."
So though I disagree with the Christian Patriarchy movement as the right solution to the problem, I do not deny that there is a problem. Many men-- even egalitarian men-- feel a sense of disorientation. The traditional ways they have always acted are now associated with negative things such as domination and privilege-- even violence. Maybe it's not so much that men don't know who they are, as it is that they don't know how to act; they don't feel it's ok any more to just be themselves. And maybe it's not as easy for them, just living life, as it used to be.
Can we, their egalitarian Christian sisters, help them, without having to be ourselves forced into traditional, subordinate roles that we don't feel reflect the nature of the New Creation kingdom? Brothers, do you have input on how men can learn to be comfortable with themselves without returning to the patriarchy of the past?
If you have thoughts to share, please keep them respectful and accepting of others who may differ. Thanks!