Friday, May 11, 2012

The Masculine Mystique

On Wednesday I shared some reflections I had on reading Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique. Today I want to explore the corresponding idea of a masculine mystique. Friedan of course was not primarily concerned with this question, but even she hints at it in her book, such as when she writes: “It seemed to me that men weren't really the enemy – they were fellow victims, suffering from an outmoded masculine mystique that made them feel unnecessarily inadequate when there were no bears to kill.” (For those who believe feminism to be fundamentally anti-men, note well her statement here.)

I have not had the time and resources to thoroughly investigate and document this masculine mystique, but I believe it exists as surely as the feminine mystique. The masculine mystique asserts that for a man to be a real man, to belong to the “dude club,” he must demonstrate certain character and behavioral traits. Among these are that he must be strong both physically and emotionally. He must be independent. He glorifies strength and power and the exercise of these in violence – of course only that which is justified by the situation. He enjoys dominating and controlling his environment, including of course being in charge of the women around him. No real man would allow a woman to tell him what to do, though he might lend a moment of his time to listen to her if he must. A manly man should love cars, guns, sports and competition in general. He recognizes that life is a battle and his job is to come out on top.

A card-carrying member of the dude's club could not possibly enjoy literature, romance, the performing arts or expressions of beauty. He can admire a “beautiful” woman or a “beautiful” car, but you won't see him getting emotional over beautiful scenery or a beautiful painting. In fact, the only truly acceptable emotion for a manly man to express openly is anger, because anger demonstrates his desire for power and control. He may tolerate certain “non-manly” things in order to whoo the girl or woman he loves, but he can't possibly admit to liking it or enjoying it. He would lose his club card for such a thing. As I understand it – and I don't know Spanish – the Spanish language has a word for this manliness which we have borrowed into English: macho. A real man is a macho man.

This image of manliness has lost some of its currency in the culture, although our media continues to promote these stereotypes both in programming and advertising. More significantly, the Church continues to uphold the masculine mystique. The Church has added to it certain expectations of being a good, caring, devoted husband, but without losing those core traits of the masculine mystique (which in fact often leaves a man with internal tension as he tries to fulfill both expectations.) Lately certain prominent male Church leaders have made statements pushing for an even stronger masculinization of the church, railing against what they view as the effeminization of Christianity and of men in the Church. Men like Mark Driscoll, John Piper and John Eldredge have written and spoken a clear message upholding traditional, macho-driven models as being the ideal of “biblical” manhood.

The time has come to cast off this masculine mystique. There is room within the Kingdom of God for men of all types. God doesn't welcome only men who meet a certain image of “maleness.” He doesn't check for your dude club card at the entrance. Yes, there's room in the kingdom for men who are very traditionally male. And there's room for men who express characteristics and behavior that have traditionally (and still by many in the Church) been considered “feminine.” I think the designation “masculine” and “feminine” need to lose their meaning in society and in the church. At least they need to lose the stigma we currently attach to them. Men and women are different biologically and they may tend to express certain differences in behavior according to their biology, but much of what we label as masculine and feminine – gender differences – are really culturally and socially determined and therefore can be changed.

Not only does God's kingdom have room for men and women of different characters, but I think that we men need to cast off the masculine mystique because it hinders us from recognizing the qualities of godliness that have too often been labeled as feminine. We need to let go of our desire and need for power and control, for competition and superiority. I could make another entire post out of this topic alone, because I think we have falsely skewed our understanding of faith, godliness and the kingdom of God because of the influence of the masculine mystique.

We do so much damage to individuals and to the body of Christ by insisting that being “godly” means following the feminine mystique if you are a woman or the masculine mystique if you are a man. Godliness isn't about gender. It's about justice, mercy, humility, redemption, transformation and a host of other things that transcend gender.

I have a dream that the Church can become an inclusive, embracing place – a place where men and women are free to develop the character that God has given them without being constrained by culturally-driven definitions of manhood and womanhood. We're not there yet and sometimes I wonder if this dream will ever be realized. But I hold on to the sparks and the small signs of hope and transformation.

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