Masculinity According to an Evangelical Christian Woman: A Critical Appraisal

An Updated, Expanded Version of Gender Traits and BS: What Does It Mean to be Masculine?

Troubled by nagging doubts of my own masculinity, fostered no doubt by my own not-so-unique enculturation, I thought I’d do a little online “research” into masculinity and what passes for masculine traits. What I found was, quite frankly, a lot of twaddle, like the nine “masculine traits” listed by an evangelical, Protestant Christian woman on her website. Why do I say it’s a bunch of hooey? Well, let’s take a look, shall we? I’ll list each trait in her words, then respond. So, here we go…

Confidence: Believe in yourself, not only that you can do what you set out to do, but that you already are what you need to be (even if on the outside it doesn’t yet show.)

O.k. So if this is a decidedly masculine trait, does that mean the corresponding “feminine trait” is lack of self-confidence, timidity and diffidence? If the “real man” is supposed to be confident, because confidence is definitely masculine, then should the woman be shy, hesitant and fearful? Was Jael timid; did she lack confidence when she drove a tent peg through the temple of Sisera? Was Artemis, the great and wild hunter-goddess, timid? Ooops, sorry! I almost forgot Greek mythology and polytheism are not allowed in such discussions … nevertheless, I’ll leave this statement as at least a curious point of reference to the divine feminine, which was, undoubtedly, one of the most widely venerated deities of the ancient world. (Note: the Roman equivalent is Diana; also, some scholars believe Artemis may actually pre-date Hellenistic culture.) Let us proceed, though, to the next vaulted quality of genuine masculinity, namely:

Courage: A masculine man is courageous (I’m not talking about being willing to do stupid stunts, either), willing to do what is necessary without showing weakness (even if he is scared to death.)  A man cannot be truly courageous and brave if he does not fear something.

Oh great! So courage is definitely masculine – that is, it pertains to or is characteristic of man, or men, which is the definition of masculine. Right? Wrong! This is nonsense! The Blessed Virgin Mary was just as, if not more, courageous than most any other character of history that comes to mind. And what about Joan of Arc, Mother Teresa, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, Boudicca, Ruth, Queen Esther… Need we add more names? Courage does not fall within the province of masculinity or femininity. It is a universal virtue that pays little heed to class, ethnicity, gender, creed or age. Period.

If this rather misogynistic woman is right – very doubtfully so, but… – perhaps Queen Esther was wrong to pray, “Remember, O Lord; make yourself known in this time of our affliction, and give me courage, O King of the gods and Master of all dominion!” (I can’t help it; I just have to note, too, that if there are no other gods, then there could be no “King of the gods.” Of course, there could also be no “putting other gods before” Yahweh, either, so anyway…) Strangely enough, though, Esther seemed to exhibit not only courage but a great sense of responsibility but, alas, this may be a masculine-defining quality as well…

Responsibility: Take responsibility for what happens in your life and stop being a victim.  Being a victim is exactly what society expects you to be.  Be who you really are intended to be – a leader and victor.  Make plans and carry them out.  Don’t fear failure.

Oh wow! Feminine women are not expected to be responsible? Femininity precludes accountability and dependability? Again, nonsense! Men and women, old and young, rich and poor ought to be “responsible.” This is another universal virtue arbitrarily made “masculine.” Unfortunately, this sort of thing has been done over and over and over again, down through the ages. Men, if they are “real men,” are confident, courageous, responsible, dependable … and disciplined. (See below)

On the “stop being a victim,” advice: How many men in our culture cry about being victims, anyway? Personally, it’s understandable why so many women go to counselling for being victimized and, consequently, I hear (or read) an awful lot of criticism of women “playing the victim game.” I believe this is largely unfair, but that’s not what this woman is saying. Remember, she’s delineating, however fallaciously, supposedly “masculine” qualities; consequently, the question, “‘how many men play the victim game?’”

As for “who you are intended to be,” are we to suppose women are only intended to be barefoot and pregnant chattel-slaves; household sex toys, dishwashers, and laundresses, so that there is no need to question what they are to be? Obviously, it would be out of the question, then, that any individual man, i.e. in his unique individuation, could possibly be the stay-at-home spouse, “help-mate,” dishwasher, launderer, et al.? (I have deeply desired to be this, but evidently this is grossly feminine; however, I can go one step further in my apparent heresy and say that I perceive no deficiency or inferiority on my part for having such desires.)

No, it cannot be otherwise than that he is intended to be the “leader and victor.” By the way, over whom or what is he supposed to be the victor? At any rate, all this surely requires a great deal of discipline.

Discipline: Take charge of your life and what goes on in it.  Carry out and complete your goals.  Do everything you say you will do.  Eat right and stay in shape, therefore you will also be able to think more clearly.

Of course, women are not expected to “take charge” of their lives; that’s for the man, i.e. to take charge of his life and her life, too, because as everyone knows, women are not capable of administering their own personal affairs (despite the fact that they commonly raise families and run households, but who’s being logical here??? And if some man simply does not possess leadership qualities, although he may very well have many other wonderful qualities, well … guess he’s just s**t out of luck! Right?) And so it stands to reason that the “masculine man” will keep his word, “eat right and stay in shape,” while the “feminine woman” will vacillate, gorge herself like a pig, and get fat…  Make sense?

Evidently, this woman has never really studied the 31st chapter of Proverbs, often horribly misunderstood and woefully underappreciated, in my humble opinion. This teaching is introduced as “the words of King Lemuel, an oracle his mother taught him.” This is almost assuredly not Solomon, and, come down to it, we really have no idea who Lemuel was; that Solomon did not author this oracle is almost certain, though. One point worthy of mention at the outset is the fact that this teaching comes directly from the woman, not the man. In an important sense, then, the originator is female, and what does she teach?

Skipping down to the so-called “Proverbs 31 woman,” she describes the capable wife as a virtuous woman of power and strength and intellectual acumen, thus she is invaluable. She is completely worthy of trust; she is dependable. She is marked by constancy and permanence, like a rock, i.e. like the divine rock of salvation. She is an economist, merchant, realtor, and manager. She is fit and resilient and healthy (as much as is reasonably possible, which would naturally differ with each individual.) This woman is productive, altruistic, and charitable; wise, magnanimous, and courageous; kind, honorable, and praiseworthy…

No, this teaching has never struck me as one positioning the woman cowering before her tyrannical husband, or even being “submissive” in the misogynistic sense so often believed to be “biblical;” just the opposite, in fact; the woman pictured here is one who is worthy to be reverenced (and for many of us, yes, followed.) This is not to say, as the scriptures certainly do not teach, that men are not to strive to exemplify these qualities in their lives. What strikes me is that this was, of course, written in the Ancient Near East from within a decidedly patriarchal society, and I don’t know that one can torture the whole of this teaching enough to make it misogynistic. This has always come across to me, in an individual-personal way, as an injunction to pray for and find this sort of woman (or for her to find me), with whom to enter into an interdependent (not co-dependent), mutually selfless relationship of love, joy, peace, and happiness … at least as the supreme ideal for which to strive. However that may be, we can be quite certain on some points:

  1. This teaching derives from the woman, not any man
  2. The qualities and characteristics mentioned here are enviable and laudable virtues, skills and endowments for anyone to possess, so…
  3. The woman herein described is in no manner being denigrated, but – the temporal and cultural context rightly understood – is being exalted and venerated

So, this teaching may not reverse the traditional husband-wife roles of antiquity; nevertheless, it does seem, at the very least, to alert Lemuel to the truth that the most desired qualities in the wife are not docile submissiveness, but upstanding character and integrity, strength and fortitude, etc. Someone may protest that submissiveness was not mentioned because it was so commonly held that, of course, the wife would be submissive. The answer to this is that this teaching would have served to reasonably temper this understanding. Look at verse 23: “Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land.” Commenting on this passage, 19th century Methodist Bible scholar Adam Clarke remarks, “He is respected not only on account of the neatness and cleanliness of his person and dress, but because he is the husband of a woman who is justly held in universal esteem.” It would seem this is as much the truth of the case as the husband’s esteemed civil service as one of the elders/magistrates. The whole of the passage says as much, really.

We’ve spent enough time on this point, though, so let us move on…

Honesty, Integrity, and Kindness:  Be honest with yourself and others, holding yourself to the highest of standards.  Find the fine line between kindness and honesty when necessary.  Sometimes, one is more important than the other.  With some finesse, you will be able to be honest and kind at the same time.  Be kind and gentle toward women, children, and the elderly.

This is also “masculine.” Truth, upstanding character, and compassion all fall within the domain of that which pertains to or is characteristic of man, or men … evidently not women. These traits are definitely not feminine, right? So, what are the counterpart, feminine traits here? Deception, manipulation, corruption, cruelty, animosity, etc., and this is a woman writing this! Astounding to say the least … but how many women and men actually, subconsciously buy into this faulty line of thought? (Or, perhaps, even consciously.) Far too many, I’m afraid! But here comes one of the best…!

Treat Women Like Women:  Most of today’s men don’t seem to have a clue anymore (this is largely because of Feminism).  I take my kids to Judo practice and am saddened by what I experience there.  There are only a few chairs and they are always full of both men and women.  When I arrive, not one man ever offers me his chair – a masculine thing.  Real men honor women.  Real men treat others with respect and dignity.

Ah the boogeyman (or, should I say, bogeywoman?) of feminism! Damn the heresy! Women deserve to be treated like the shy, hesitant, fearful, irresponsible, fat, vacillating, corrupt, cruel, and manipulative creatures they are! Unless, of course, they’re some of those damn feminists who act like men, i.e. display “masculine traits” instead of being feminine like God created them! Horror! And shamefully, “most of today’s men don’t seem to have a clue anymore!” Yeah … I’m one of those men. By the way, I’d gladly give up my seat to any woman or man who needs it, or maybe even if they don’t need it, just because I’m that courteous. (Courtesy? Is that masculine or feminine?)

One question about the judo: Are her children all boys? Surely only boys ought to be trained in the martial arts! This dear woman effectively says as much below under the heading of “defend the weak.” But first, listen to the weak.

Listen:  We have two ears and one mouth for good reason – we are supposed to be doing twice as much listening as speaking. When a woman speaks, listen with your heart. Instead of thinking, “Oh great, here she goes again;” think, “She has a need. What is it? What can I do to help?” This goes against the nature of today’s men, it seems. They want to strike back and have forgotten who they are dealing with. When a woman lets you know she’s upset, what she is really doing is asking you to take charge and help her. It is a cry for help. Most of the time she will just need your love, understanding, and a listening ear. But under no circumstances are you to take abuse from her. Make that very clear. You must keep your cool. A woman will not respect a man who loses his cool.

Of course, listen to the woman with your heart, because trying to mentally process what she’s actually saying is a waste of time. Everyone knows women are not rational, so what they say is not worthy of the time-consuming and sometimes arduous process of thinking and cognitively comprehending. Conversely, the man has no need for someone, anyone to listen to him “with their heart.” Men don’t need the heart, right? After all, men are supposed to be confident, courageous, diligent, responsible, strong, honest … etc. ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Oh! But don’t let that woman abuse you, because women are like that! Constantly abusing men! It’s an alarming problem in our society … actually, always has been, right? Women abusing men! Right? Yeah, right! She needs you to be strong and take charge. (And I will open up at this point and admit, honestly but embarrassingly, that I am a man who came out of an emotionally, psychologically abusive relationship; therefore, I know from personal experience that, yes, women can be abusive. I trust, however, that my readers will understand that this is not the point, or denial, I’m making here.) Her emotional diatribe, according to this evangelical Christian, is her way of crying for help as well as subjugation because the woman is, after all, weak. Which leads to the next important masculine trait:

Defend the Weak:  Protect and provide for your family and anyone who is being unfairly attacked.  Consider getting martial arts training; learn to use guns and keep them ready, etc.  Be prepared for disasters and have a plan.  Refuse to allow anyone to overstep their boundaries, but be smart about how you accomplish this.  Plan ahead.  Remember, you are a leader, so act like one.

“Defend the weak,” that is, women and children. Especially your woman; after all, that’s why she’s with you. She needs provision and protection. In return, you get good food and great sex! And laundry service, too, of course. Obviously, guns are necessary in order to properly protect your woman and family, and you’re the only one who needs to know how to properly use these weapons (as well as the only one who needs to know judo.) Women are not capable … or, at least, they shouldn’t be because effectively using weapons (and/or martial arts) is “masculine.” This is all part of masculinity and is, consequently, the responsibility of the man.

Also, the man is “a leader,” so he should “act like one.” How many men without any leadership qualities have been promoted into leadership positions over capable women just because they were men? Many, many times, of course, and in my own life I’ve been given the same … what? Order? (Coming from a woman, too, which is interesting in itself.) Yep… Stand up and act like a man. Be a leader. You’re in a leadership position now, so take your responsibilities seriously… There was never any consideration that I might have been able (in my own past profession) to teach, speak, write, plan and coordinate, etc. but not actually lead, at least administratively. No, no consideration whatsoever, and so guess what? I simply could not continue – and, no, I’m not whining – and had to transition into another profession.

Of course, there have been some irritating limitations here, too, such as: Not being considered for hire precisely because I am male and the job being applied for is a “woman’s job,” which is horrendously degrading to women. What? If they have to work outside the home, then they have to be in some service under men? I know this is changing quite significantly, yet the ways of the old world are still more current than many might think. Old ways die hard, even if they have no rooting in an ethos of light, life, love, peace and truth. At any rate, being “the leader” means there are follower, so the man is expected to…

Inspire submission: A masculine man in a relationship with a woman will always inspire and never force her submission. He will remain a gentleman at all times.

Yep, if you’re really a “real man,” then the woman will just naturally be your servant; after all, this is what God created the woman to be, right?  Submissive, docile, compliant, passive, subservient, obedient … along with being shy, hesitant, fearful, irresponsible, fat, vacillating, corrupt, cruel, and manipulative of course! Can’t forget these fundamentally feminine traits, can we? Maybe, though, submission in the sense of yielding and reasonable compliance can be inspired; I’m certainly willing to entertain this idea. However, one question comes to mind: Why can’t any woman inspire yielding, in areas where she is more qualified and capable, and reasonable compliance, as opposed to stubborn (and potentially harmful) resistance?

This is very much part of the problem within the evangelical/fundamentalist religionist world: All of these traits – except, perhaps, the sixth point, but even then we can turn that around to simply respecting each person – are admirable, universal virtues we should like to see in anyone and everyone.  Why does this conservatively religious woman list them as being “masculine,” that is, pertaining especially to men? They’re not exclusively “masculine,” not even especially masculine, and you know what? So far as the last one goes, as a man I’d happily “submit” to any woman displaying all of these traits… She would certainly be more than worthy of my love, allegiance, deference and respect!  Don’t you think??? But, then, maybe I’m being too feminine.

Then again, are there specifically masculine traits? Even in sacred scripture one does not find traits specified so much as positional responsibilities. The husband is presented as, say, the priest of the family, or rather more appropriately to the Ancient Near East, the patriarch of the familial clan assumed this role. Yes, this was a patriarchal society, but it’s worth mentioning that the patriarch was patriarch in this capacity. The Ancient Near East knew nothing of our “nuclear family.” This in itself changes the dynamics a bit. Some men, presumably, would live out their entire lives without ever assuming the priestly-patriarchal role. Add to this the fact that most people lived in an agrarian society, and one justly wonders just how much “telling to do” there was, practically speaking. Most people likely woke up each and every morning to perform work – excruciatingly hard labor – with which they were very familiar.

Men went to the fields; sometimes men and women went to the fields. Women worked in and around their living complex; men also performed labor in and around the domicile(s). Women would barter, trade; men would also trade, etc. What did it mean, then, in the Ancient Near East for the man to be “head of the household” in the biblical sense? To the exclusion of cruelty and abuse, which was never divinely intended, (if we can at all trust holy writ,) it would seem that, at least in a general sense, they performed the roles of prophet, priest, and king (more in the capacity of ductor, not tyrannus.) But, then, one might imagine (as not completely outside the realm of possibility, especially if Proverbs 31 is at all indicative of the ideal of marriage and family life in this temporal-cultural context) that the wife, or matriarch, assumed the role of prophetess, priestess, and queen.

I will leave this subject at this (for now) and reiterate my last point that certain admirable traits are not highlighted in Scripture as being exclusively masculine; if there is any separation, as is obvious in even a cursory reading, then the differentiation is that of role-performance. One must remember, this comes from out of a particular temporal-cultural context, though; how likely is it, even if more or less assigned roles were sensible and even beneficial then, that those same assignments are still beneficially applicable today? More on this later, perhaps … if there seems to be any interest. For now I will finish off by expressing my deep thankfulness that God is not constrained by gender at all, though S/he is most assuredly holy in every sense of the word, according to the Judeo-Christian faith-religion; this salient truth has had very deep and salvific implications in my own life.

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