Tag Archives: gender roles

Man as an automatic leader and/or utterly untrustworthy animal?


cavemanWhen I read certain Christian publications, especially from American sources, I get the weird notion (tell me if I’m making straw man arguments here, I’d be glad to hear that all of this is a criticism of something that does not exist) that man, as opposed to woman, is both ‘hardwired’ to be

A.) The natural leader, who should lead in the family and in society!
and
B.) An utterly weak creature, who cannot control himself, even the sight of a strange woman in bikini will make him stumble.

Maybe this sounds logical to some people, but I do fail see any logic in it myself, and I find both options completely incompatible with each other, and also forms of quite unhealthily exaggerating and generalizing. If man is such a weak creature as B says, don not in a million years let him lead, please! Or let him and the woman lead together. But sorry, to me this makes no sense at all.

Old-fashioned patriarchy in the highly praised classical cultures may not have been the best system to live in if you were a woman, a slave or a child (a Roman ‘Pater familias’ sometimes even had the right to kill all of those whenever he wanted!), at least there was some kind of internal logic, although based on false facts: The old Greek (and some of the Church fathers influenced by them) believed that man only was a rational being, who could exercise self-control and virtues, and for that reason man was seen as superior to woman, who was seen as irrational, weak, lustful and dangerous. So it was the man who was seen as strong and virtuous, and therefore the man was the leader.

(Note also that the Christian religion was looked down upon by Romans exactly because it was considered, as Celsus said, “a religion of women, children and slaves”! Never heard any of the ‘masculinity in the church’ preacher ever talk about that though… )

Now compare this to the supposed logic of modern fundamentalist neo-patriarcy: The woman is seen as almost asexual in a way (the man is always initiating, the woman follows) and having no sexual desire of herself sometimes except in bad cases, but just dangerous by being what she is. In talk about relationships it seems to be always the boy who wants to go to far and too fast and the girl that needs to be the one who slows down.
Okay, some women can be dangerous seductresses, but apart from that it’s mostly even ignored or denied that women have a sex drive and are actually a lot like men. And anyway, according to this idea, above all it is the man who is weak, without self-control, and ultimately powerless against temptation, even unwilled temptation from a woman who dresses too short, so no woman should show some skin to not tempt this poor weak creature. Nor would the Greek or Romans recognise this as a man of any sorts…

What a weak wimp of a creature this man is, and how pitiful such a weak-willed being is. I wouldn’t let such a being even babysit my pet mouse if the poor thing would still be alive. And yet it still is this man who is supposed to always be the leader according to those who hold such views, apparently.

One would ask why, if we men as ‘visual beings’ are not even in the possibility of seeing a ‘sexy’ woman without having lustful thoughts or even controlling our deeds. (Note that here we go into very dangerous territory, this way of thought could lead to rape apologies and other abominations) Should he even be allowed to walk out alone on the street, with billboards using half-naked female bodies to sell random product not related to female humans at all on every corner? Maybe men should be protected and kept at home, and kept away from all women, and all women who would enter a place where men are should cover up.

We’re just to weak people, sorry. Lock us up, it’s not the women’s fault, they just are what the are. But men are just weak, keep them away from civilized humanity, and please, don’t give them any power at all.

(A side note, I never understood how people stressing an ‘every human is completely evil and cannot be trusted’ form of the theology of ‘total depravity’ can believe in strong hierarchical structures where fallen human beings are given quite a lot of power and responsibility and no-one should question them. The more depraved man is supposed to be, the more we need a system in which no man has too much power. No man (and I use it in a gender-inclusive sense here) can be trusted if we really are completely depraved! Balancing, dividing and delegating power should be a first concern for anyone who takes total depravity serious!)

Now, as we all know, luckily both thought systems A and B are quite wrong on some points:

To start, men nor women are completely weak creatures who have no chance of ever exercising self-control. And yes, I do believe men can have more self-control than post-Freudian-synchretizing Christian fundamentalists make them out to be. Although this might be not the easiest thing in a world where men are indeed conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs to react to images of women’s bodies with sexual interest. We will indeed become very visually and dominated by what’s called ‘the male gaze’, and those things might not be originally ‘hard-wired’ in our brains, but our habits and conditionings do have form us and even alter our brain!

Ah, neuroplasticity is such a great thing, isn’t it? We aren’t hard-wired as some believe at all, but our wiring system forms when we grow up, and could develop in a lot of different ways. And even if we’re adults we can make new patterns and brain connections (Yes, it’s better to learn to play music as a kid, but sometimes there are examples of people who get an instrument later in their lives and learn to play music and make amazing stuff, like blues singer T-model Ford) and re-wiring is possible, but not easy, and in some cases it will always be a weaker spot and a temptation. I once read somewhere that people might need half of the time they spent in a bad habit or a relationship to really get over it…

This also means that a man who’s ‘trained in virtue’, or for example a Kung Fu master, who has been working on self-control, is a wholly different being than us postmodern Western wimps who believe the lies that we cannot say no to temptation and only know a world in which people just ‘follow their instincts’, (Even that expression is nonsense, most of the time we have a lot of incompatible instincts telling us to do completely opposite things, and it’s still our reason or something else that chooses between them, not our instincts themselves that lead us!)

And indeed, feeling attraction in itself might be unavoidable sometimes, but we can choose how it develops and what we do. If all patterns we have made are to just ‘go with the flow’ it might seem irresistible, but that’s because we’re trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy that might even have been written onto the hardware our internal system. Which makes it not that easy to fight, but still that doesn’t mean it’s an impossibility…;

Also, as a Christian, it’s nonsense to say that we are to love everybody, be good to everyone, and then make an exception for those whom we find attractive in the wrong situation. Aren’t we supposed to be mature enough anyway to cope with such things without running away from such a thing? No, they are human beings made in Gods image just like us, and we have to learn to see that, and respect them just like every other person. Attraction should not trump anything, au contraire, love, and respect, and friendship should trump whatever wrong intentions we might have when we feel misplaced attraction.

After all, attraction without love should not be acted upon because it dehumanizes. And if we are led by love and respect, we will see more interesting things in a person than that misplaced attraction alone.

So, man is not a creature to give absolute responsibility, but neither is he the untrustworthy animal some make him out to be. And a man in Christ, and even a virtuous man in any tradition who has formed the right habits, is not going to be led by the first impulse or instinct that comes up, and can do some quite impressive things sometimes. But it’s the same with a woman.

(And if you noticed that I didn’t say much about  A, I find the ‘every man is a leader’ idea so ridiculous that I didn’t even put much energy in it; and that  even apart from the ‘every woman is a follower’ bit that’s equally stupid. Let’s just note that the idea of a leader becomes quite devalued when 50% of the population is said to be one. Especially when there’ a lot of women leaders too… And a lot of men who should never in their lives be ‘leaders’ of anything at all)

And in the end it depends on our personality, our character and our calling whether we are to be a leader or not. Some men and women are good leaders, some are not, and will have other callings. Which is not something lower at all. The body needs both the eyes and the kidneys, and the nostrils and the pancreas…

Let’s all take up the responsibility we’ve been given, and do it together, and not be fooled by fundamentalism of pop-Freudianism that paralyses us and says we can’t do it, nor by any false ideology that says we shouldn’t be working together in this. Together is how it goes, as brothers and sisters! And whatever we do, let’s do it in love for the other, respecting the full humanity of each other. (Even the ones we don’t agree with that have despicable ideas!)

And let us not forget as Christians what the fruits of the Spirit are:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)

Are those not one of the basic characteristics of both men and women that profess to follow Christ? (Among other things as loving neigbors and enemies, and caring for the least, and not wanting to be leaders but servants?)

(And let us not mock nor belittle nor disbelieve in them, blaspheming the Spirit is a serious thing!)

Peace

Bram

On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism?


I read this excellent bvenus_de_milo1logpost by Sarah Schwartz, and American Christian blogger, in which she apologises for the damaging way men are often viewed in her (sub)culture. A quite horrible view of men, that’s preached not just by women, but by men too. The way she expresses it goes probably a lot further than what I know from local Christian circles, but I do recognise it nonetheless. What’s more troubling is that I recognise it not mainly from Christian circles but much more strongly from other places, and it’s something I’ve always been sensitive towards because I found it quite painful.

I posted the post above on my facebook-wall with a quote from her and a short introduction:

Quite sexist to reduce men to this, not? I hope she exaggerates, but I do recognise some of it…
“You are nothing but a slave to your desires. You are a sex hungry, uncontrollable, animal-like creature with no capacity for empathy or self-control. It is laughable to think that you could possibly prize relationships over sex, people over sex, vows over sex. You are sub-human, and no one expects anything different from you.”

The first person on facebook who reacted, Simon, has no connection at all to American Christian fundamentalism at all, but did surely recognise it as a very real problem, even on facebook:

Too bad the capitalist consumerist greedy types never cease trying to rewire our brains… For example: as a male I am constantly bombarded with sex ads on facebook (to a point where it’s disgusting me), even after I ‘told’ facebook I’m in a relationship. It’s a never ending onslaught and I think it’s degrading for men as well as for women. We are more than sex hungry creatures who can’t control ourselves. We are more. People are more. Even most animals are more. But ‘they’ don’t want us to be more. They want to control us, divide us, make us manageable to be able to make lots of profit doing the least amount of effort possible.

And yes, it’s true, if Sarah’s quote above is the description of how men are seen in American Christian fundamentalism and likewise-minded circles, it does not differ much at all of how the media and the advertisement industry in our Western system of consumer capitalism is constantly abusing us, just for profit.
The only big and very substantial difference here is that fundamentalism wants to stop this, to keep men down and to draws walls around them and puts us in boxes imprisoned by guilt, and that consumer capitalism abuses it, that it wants to make money out of it, reducing both men and women to less than humans for the sake of Mammon, which is very, very, very, low.

What’s very painful is that I’ve met enough men (and women) who just go along the lines and follow the flow, who let themselves dehumanise, and act like it could not be differently. As if we are indeed hard-wired for this as modern ideologies as fundamentalism and pop-Freudianism claim, and that we can’t function otherwise. We buy into the lie, and buy the crap the want to sell us, and let it destroy potential relationships and friendships and trust and intimacy, and…
And I refuse to believe the lie, and I refuse to accept that the lie is being spread, that people are indoctrinated and re-wired to fit the “man=animal, woman=prey” stuff. I refuse this as a Christian, as a humanist, as a human being, as the human being that I am, as a friend of both men and women, as a lover, and as a father of 2 little girls.

Problem here, if we speak about ‘wiring’, is neuro-plasticity which results in the possibility of strong conditioning by making connections in our brains. Like Pavlov’s dogs we can be conditioned in a lot of ways, and also reprogrammed later in other ways. If I compare men to Pavlov’s dogs here it’s not to reduce them to animals, but because that’s how it works biologically for both Homo sapiens and Canis lupus familiaris.
On the other hand, conditioning can be changed if we change our habits. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. We are not hardwired, and we can be rewired. We should work on this re-wiring if it hinders us from being human! This leads us to the old-fashioned idea of virtue, in which we follow a certain path of life that forms us.

I might need to clarify the word ‘misandry’ in the title for some of my readers, a words that means something as hatefullness towards man. It is a parallel to the word misogyny, which is actually the more visible part of the same problem here.
I don’t have a better word, but I am aware that it might a word that is rarely used (my spellchecker doesn’t know it) and that when it’s used, it is sometimes employed by people who come from a ‘war of the sexes’ worldview who say feminism should be fought in every possible way and want to turn the relationship between misogyny and misandry in a zero-sum game. I completely reject this line of thought, and want to be clear that I believe that sexism always has 2 sides, and that every system with heavy sexism against female human beings has another way of dehumanising male human beings, no matter how much power and privilege they have. Disconnect both sexes from each other and everybody gets dehumanised.
(I do think about Ursula Le Guins short stories about the planet Seggri here, with men having all the privilege, but women having all the rest, see my post on the sex-life of aliens and sexism on Earth) We need to treat both sexes (and all people who don’t fall into 2 binary genders) equally as humans. There is no other way. A zero-sum game approach to either women’s rights or men’s rights, or emmancipation of any minority group will always and invariably lead to some kind of ‘animal farm revolution’ which ends up with the same amount of oppression but differently distributed.

Women are human beings!
Men are human beings!
Everyone else who doesn’t fit in those 2 gender is a human being too.
And as a Christian I believe all human beings are made in Gods image.

There should be nothing radical about this !!!
It is more logical than our ABC or 2X2=3.

peace

Bram

More posts on similar subjects:
Nothing more natural than cross-gender friendships?
I don’t understand ‘complementarianism’
‘Male christianity’ vs Mother Teresa
the emerging Joneses and my anarchist marriage…
on sexy porn models and human dignity
Some old critique to ‘true love waits’ and Joshua Harris…
A purity culture I don’t know…
teenage flashback: I’m not flirting, but I might need a hug…
On the sex-life of aliens and sexism here on Earth…
Meditating on sexy models

‘Male christianity’ vs Mother Teresa


I was reading this article (it was linked by Christine Sine on her blog) about ‘cage fighting for Jesus’. And I just don’t know what to think about this… The first reaction is just one of total disconnect. I’m just not the type of man who would ever be interested in violent sports, so I guess I’m not the target audience anyway. All things macho are just something that I can’t take serious I’m affraid… But there are more serious doubts about this kind of stuff that I have on a more theological level.

It’s a problem that I have with the whole movement of ‘male christianity’, especially in the USA. In fact, most of it seems totally intermingled with the American culture too for my european eyes anyway…

Thr first problem is that you cannot push people into exact gender roles. Men can also be totally differen from other men, and women from other women, and sex is only one factor. For example; the difference between me and my wife is a lot smaller than the difference between me and some other man (let’s say driscoll, Eldredge and those Christian fight club dudes), you just cant lump people together because they are of the same sex… You cannot force your own preference and stereotypes on people just because they are male or female. Especially not if those stereotypes are just cultural, and not even part of my culture (sorry Mr. Driscoll, your gender roles are not biblical, just american) when I read the men are from Mars book, I sometimes recognised myself in the men fom Mars, sure, but at other times I did find myself more in the description of women, or I felt like coming from Jupiter or maybe Sedna

When it becomes a male-female dichotomy, and the other sex becomes something bad that can be used as a derogatery word (like Driscolls word ‘chickified’) something is wrong. This is sexism, and there is no place for it in the church. ‘Bad masculinity’ is nothing like femininity…

But there is something more that bothers me about the whole ‘be a man, be violent’ stuff. Let’s take for example the qoute at which I finally stopped reading the book ‘wild at heart’ by John Eldredge, after not recognising myself in it from the beginning on. “Jesus is no pale-faced altar boy with his hair parted in the middle, speaking softly, avoiding confrontation, who at last gets himself killed because he has no way out. He works with wood, commands the loyalty of dockworkers. He is the Lord of hosts, the captain of angel armies. And when Christ returns, he will be at the head of a dreadful company, mounted on a white horse, with a double-edged sword, his robe dipped in blood. Now that sounds a lot more like William Wallace than it does Mother Teresa. No question about it, there is something fierce in the heart of God.” (p 19)

The critique of Mother Teresa was too much to read on through a book that already troubled me. I guess eldredge just uses her as a caricature, but I’m sorry, she may be a woman, but she may be more Christlike than all those Jesus-cavemen lumped together… And if for some autistic reason a woman can’t be an example for you, then take St-Francis, or our belgian St-Damien of Molokai, or Stephen in acts… Jesus was God, the Almighty, who laid of His power, and came as a baby, and suffered with us. When they came to arrest Him, the disciples started fighting, but he rebuked them and healed the ear of the soldier who was wounded by Peter. so if Mark Driscoll says “I cannot worship a guy I can beat up”, he misses the point entirely. He came to be beat up, and worse…

The fighting of the good fight is a methaphor, (just as the double-edged sword) It has nothing to do with our fleshly muscles, and endorphines and adrenaline… No, those are things of the flesh, which are not the core of the Kindom fo God, which comes

Not by might, nor by power,
but by my Spirit says the Lord…

I believe Jesus didn’t came to teach us violence. Hhe didn’t say ‘blessed are the bruise-makers’ (or even the cheesemakers) but blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the Children of God. He doesn’t break the bruised reed or quench the smouldering wick, and we are called to follow in His way.

The Kingdom of God will not come through Martial arts… But through His strength when we are weak. And that may be impopular for us who want to be strong and in control, but in the end, we are to be weak, so He can be strong through us… And if our false idols of so-called manhood have to go in that process, so be it…

Shalom

Bram