Imagine a group of wives sitting in a coffee shop and sharing about their lives. One topic comes to its natural conclusion, and a long pause lingers. One of the women breaks the silence with just one word: “Men.” Which discussion do you think comes next?
A. Praise for their husbands and other good men they know
B. Curiosity about and appreciation of the distinctions between men and women
C. Frustrations about men and confusion about trying to understand and get along with them
D. Complaints about men and denouncing how they think and act
E. Rants about the Patriarchy and how masculinity can be toxic to women
I suspect the first option (A) would be the least probable outcome, with the second option (B) a close second. The more likely response would be frustration, complaints, and/or rants.
Why is the male species so unpopular among many women these days? What happened that pitted us against each other?
Is there a war on men?
I recently finished The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles the Sexes by Nancy R. Pearcey, a bestselling author, scholar, and professor at Houston Christian University (formerly Houston Baptist University). I was drawn to the title because I’ve long disliked the battle between the sexes but have seen it only grow worse in recent years. While some tension is inevitable, I desire greater understanding, compassion, and appreciation from men to women and vice versa.
In Toxic War, Pearcey makes the case that the attack on masculinity itself didn’t start recently. Rather, its history begins in the Industrial Revolution when husbands and wives went from living and working together to men going out into the public workplace and women staying home to manage children and household. It isn’t that there was never separation in tasks before, but for the most part, men and women shared the duties of provision and caretaking. When that changed, so did our expectations of what men and women should do and be.
Eventually, we landed on two versions of masculinity—the “good man” and the “real man”—and when the Real Man narrative becomes predominant, we begin to reject masculinity as a whole. We war against masculinity itself, when that’s not the issue. In fact, masculinity comes from God and is, as stated clearly in Genesis 1, “very good.”
So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them….And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.Genesis 1:27, 31
Men are not the problem. But sometimes we act like they are. Or we assign to all men what some men do to sour their good name.
Men are not the problem. But sometimes we act like they are. Or we assign to all men what some men do to sour their good name.Tweet
When it comes to sex specifically, we get into our heads that all men lust or look at pornography. We believe that men are hard-wired to “spread their seed” rather than commit to a single woman and family. We talk about men wanting one thing from women: sex. We suggest that they cannot control their sexual desire or roving gaze. We expect moral failure and then get angry when men fail.
But is that what it means to be a man? No.
We should be angry when men hurt women. But too often, we’re not confronting the bad actors, harmful behaviors, or wrong expectations of men. Instead, we attack men themselves. And insist that they become less masculine.
We need more manly men.
Let’s return to the Real vs Good Man dichotomy. In her book, Pearcey shares an experiment sociologist Michael Kimmel has run many times, asking several thousand guys the difference between a Real Man and a Good Man. Here’s a summary of answers he’s received.
|Real Man||Good Man|
|Don’t show your feelings||Be responsible|
|Suck it up||Be a good provider, protector|
|Win at all costs||Do the right thing|
|Be aggressive||Put others first, sacrifice|
|Get rich||Be caring|
|Get laid||Stand up for the little guy|
A lot of men have suffered under the pressure to be a Real Man when true, God-sanctioned masculinity is being a Good Man. That’s who Jesus was: a manly man who showed his feelings, provided for others, stood up for the oppressed, and lived with integrity and honor.
Here’s the masculinity Paul called men to:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”Ephesians 5:25–31
When men truly “man up” and become Good Men, they not only honor God but they become better providers, protectors, companions, and lovers to their wives.
When men truly “man up” and become good men, they not only honor God but they become better providers, protectors, companions, and lovers to their wives.Tweet
Where are the good men?
Nancy Pearcey begins her book sharing a personal story of horrible abuse inflicted by her father, a man who claimed to have faith in God. She knows from personal experience that plenty of men are not good, and the label “Christian” doesn’t provide the assurance it perhaps should.
Without going into detail, let me say that I also know from personal experience how some men hurt women intentionally, repeatedly, and deeply. I’m more than ready to battle against such oppressors. But I also know Good Men who would battle alongside me.
Where are these Good Men? Pearcey shares really interesting research about how evangelical men measure up against secular men when it comes to divorce and domestic abuse. You may have heard the statistics that divorce and domestic violence are just as rampant in evangelical circles as secular society. But in fact, evangelicals can be divided into two groups: nominal and devout.
Nominal Christians identify with a religious tradition but don’t have a transformative relationship with Christ. They divorce and abuse wives at a higher rate than secular men! They may attend church, but rather than embracing a deep faith, they “hear the language of headship and submission but not enough to learn the biblical meaning of those terms… They cherry-pick verses from the Bible and read them through the grid of male superiority and entitlement that they have absorbed from the secular guy code for the ‘Real’ Man.”
Over the years, I’ve seen a fair number of men like that commenting here or writing me messages. Some are actually quite well-versed in Bible passages but focus in on a few places rather than take in the whole counsel of God. And they tend to dwell more on their rights than their responsibilities.
Meanwhile, devout husbands—those who fix their eyes on Jesus—”are more loving to their wives and more emotionally engaged with their children than any other group in America. They are the least likely to divorce, and they have the lowest levels of domestic abuse and violence.” They are the Good Men.
Good men bring out the good in men.
How can we get past the Real Man fallacy and promote the Good Man calling instead? As a mom of boys, I often told my sons that being masculine meant using their strength to help and protect others. Given who they became as grown men, I believe they soaked up the message. But what mattered as much or more was the example they saw in my husband as he lived with integrity, cared for others, and encouraged them to do the right thing, even when it was hard. He also never shamed them for feeling and expressing pain—whether physical or emotional.
Truth is, nothing replaces Good Men demonstrating what masculinity looks like and teaching young men to become Good Men.
And oh, what a difference that can make in the arena of sexuality! Good Men need to show what it looks like to exert self-control, to see women as whole people rather than body parts, to woo a wife and be gentle with her, to seek emotional connection in the bedroom as well as physical, and to be faithful in body, heart, and mind.
Good men need to show what it looks like to exert self-control, to see women as whole people rather than body parts, to woo a wife and be gentle with her, to seek emotional connection in the bedroom as well as physical, and to be faithful in body, heart, and mind.Tweet
Above all, Good Men must point other men to Christ. Not the nominal designation of “Christian” or “religious” but having one’s life transformed by the healing power of Christ and guided by the inner working of the Holy Spirit.
And a word to the wives…
How would you have responded to the one word “men” at a coffee shop table with friends?
Yeah, I’ve been guilty too. Not of a war on men, but verbal jabs and stabs that paint men as a problem. But if what we want is less of the Real Man masculinity that harms women and more of the Good Man masculinity that champions women, then wouldn’t we be wise to make that distinction? To positively reinforce Good Men for what they do and calling more men to devout Christian masculinity?
How we talk about men matters. We can make them feel like the enemy, or we can let them know we’re on their side. We can fight against each other or fight alongside each other. After all, what can make a good man even better is a good woman.
- How a Good Husband Can Be a Great Lover
- To Good-willed Husbands Who Want a Great Sex Life
- On “Pigs,” Good Men, and the Difference
- What’s So Great About Men? – Knowing Her Sexually (khsministry.com)