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Should We End
Masculinity?

The Traditional View: “The Need for Real Men”

But many in the debate are not willing to simply redefine masculinity, but rather seek ways in which the traditional view can be revived and restated in a manner that addresses the current culture.  Most major religions are active in defining and defending some form of traditional male and female roles and characteristics.  With the decline in male influence in area of poverty in America, there is a ground swell of work to recall men to their traditional role as well.  Is the problem with masculinity?  Or is it that men have stopped defining masculinity appropriately?  Does the definition need changing, or do men need to recall what the word one meant?

The first article to read in this view is a reply to Rosin’s article above.

It’s Not the End of Men

By Ann Friedman (Source)

Despite lots of hand-wringing about the death of masculinity and the he-cession, the problem isn’t men. It’s traditional gender stereotypes.

With each step that American women have taken on the road to equality, detractors have fretted about what their advancement means for men — particularly the “manly man.” The lumber jack. The quarterback. The captain of industry. Clint Eastwood.

Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood

Sure, we occasionally see articles lamenting the end of traditional femininity and the difficulty of finding a submissive woman who derives all of life’s pleasure from nurturing her family. But a far more common modern lament is the demise of masculinity. In 2000, Susan Faludi explored “the betrayal of the American man” in Stiffed. In 2001, Christina Hoff Sommers decried The War on Boys. In 2005, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote that “this is turning into a woman’s world,” and Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens published a book about “saving our sons from falling behind in school and in life.” In 2006, Harvey Mansfield eulogized Manliness, and a Newsweek cover story again warned of an impending “boy crisis.” Last summer, in Foreign Policy, Reihan Salam declared the economic crisis a “he-cession.”

The latest contribution to the masculinity-crisis meme is “The End of Men,” a cover story in this month’s Atlantic by Hanna Rosin. Women are outperforming men in schools, at work, and at home, she argues. The global economy is shifting in such a way that it favors “female” characteristics, and male-dominated industries such as manufacturing, construction and finance are declining. “As thinking and communicating have come to eclipse physical strength and stamina as keys to economic success,” she writes, “those societies that take advantage of the talents of all their adults, not just half of them, have pulled away from the rest.” What if, she asks, “the economics of the new era are better suited to women?”

It’s disappointing that, despite a history of sharp observations about gender and 5,000 words to work with, Rosin makes the same oversight as all of the other hand-wringing articles about the state of the American male. She thinks the problem is men; really, it’s traditional gender stereotypes. The narrow, toxic definition of masculinity perpetuated by Rosin and others — that men are brawn not brains, doers not feelers, earners not nurturers — is actually to blame for the crisis.

Business People Arm Wrestling

Unlike some other chroniclers of the so-called decline of masculinity, Rosin acknowledges men are not biologically predisposed to jobs that require strength and aggression, just as women are not biologically destined to be better thinkers and caregivers. Yet her underlying assumption is that the growth industries we currently consider to be “women’s work” (nursing, home health care, food service, child care) will always retain that designation. Maybe it’s just my feminist idealism talking, but I fail to see why these “nurturing professions,” as Rosin dubs them, must forever be the province of women. Not once does she posit what would happen if we stopped writing articles that reinforced the stereotype that men are best suited to the manufacturing and finance sectors.

While Rosin does include a paragraph-long caveat about the persistence of sexism and discrimination, when it comes to women’s economic achievement, she fails to dig much deeper than anecdotes. Sure, college-age women tell her they hope to become surgeons and marry men who will be primary caregivers. But research shows that few women actually realize this domestic arrangement– they tend to marry other high-achieving men who expect their own careers to take precedence. Many of the fastest-growing, female-dominated industries, which do not require a college education, are among the lowest paid. And while there are a handful of female CEOs and senators, women have yet to crack the glass ceiling with any sort of critical mass. (Rosin’s piece, I should note, appears in The Atlantic‘s annual ideas issue, in which only three out of 15 “ideas” articles are written by women. How bold of the editors to apply some affirmative action to advance the careers of men in the “thinking and communicating” magazine industry, where they are at such a disadvantage!)

When it comes to what determines which Americans succeed in this economy, race and class completely overshadow gender. Yet the conversation keeps returning to the decline of men. “The working class,” she writes, “which has long defined our notions of masculinity, is slowly turning into a matriarchy, with men increasingly absent from the home and women making all the decisions.” She describes single mothers who are “struggling financially; the most successful are working and going to school and hustling to feed the children. Still, they are in charge.” As if it is audacious for hard-working single mothers to want control over their lives and those of their children! To hear Rosin tell the tale, working-class and lower-income men across America are clamoring to be involved parents, but mean women are shutting them out. If this were the case, it’s doubtful the federal government would be funding programs to get men interested in the idea of fatherhood.

Finally, in the weakest section of her article, Rosin trots out some pop-culture examples to prop up the notion that women are truly dominant — and men are now the second sex. Demi Moore has a much-younger husband and the “cougar” is a cultural phenomenon. In the most-watched music video of the Internet era, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé kill a restaurant full of people. On the flip side, she points out, nearly every popular Judd Apatow movie features a romantically challenged loser — who, according to Rosin, represents the neutered downfall of the American man.

This is what I don’t get about her argument — and most other plaintive cries that we are on the verge of losing American manhood forever: If the, as she terms them, omega males of Knocked Up and The 40-Year Old Virgin are representative of the way men live now, shouldn’t they be ideally positioned to take advantage of the nurturing and cerebral jobs that are the core of America’s new post-masculine economy? These aren’t testosterone-fueled brawny men who are desperate to find a job in the manufacturing sector. Rosin can’t seem to make up her mind: Are American men aggressive brutes who need to make a living on their physical strength? Or are they omega males, cowed by high-achieving women?

Seth Rogen, in movie, "Knocked Up"

Seth Rogen, in movie, “Knocked Up”

Perhaps the answer lies in the success of these high-achieving women. In previous generations, women busted all sorts of gender stereotypes in order to get their piece of the economic pie. While there were various schools of thought among feminists about how to best make the case for hiring women, all involved reshaping popular notions about women’s abilities. Women could be firefighters and floor traders, CEOs and carpenters. The best man for the job just might be a woman, or so the 1970s slogan went.

It’s long past time we also acknowledge that the best woman for the job might just be a man.

——-

Finally, a Christian writer examines what it might mean if we are in fact seeing “the end of traditional masculinity.”

The End of Traditional Masculinity?

By Brandon Smith (Source)

In a recent article for Christianity Today’s  “Her.meneutics” blog, Amy Simpson makes the case that women should be more sensitive to stay-at-home dads because such men are a small percentage of the population and likely feel like outcasts of sorts in the parenting community. Referring to her husband’s role as a stay-at-home dad, she understandably realizes the problems that he faces and is sensitive to it. Simpson is a gifted writer, and I genuinely appreciate what she wrote and the tone she displayed. As a complementarian, though, this piece caught my attention and even caused a bit of alarm for me.

Father Holding Infant

Clarifying the Terms

Before I go on, allow me to clarify a few things.

Among other matters, complementarians agree on this essential point: husbands should humbly lead, protect, and provide while women should humbly support his leadership and joyfully work in the home. This argument comes from all over Scripture, including Gen. 2:15-20; Eph. 5:22-33, 6:4; 1 Tim. 5:8; 1 Pet. 3:1-7; Titus 2:1-6; Col. 3:18-19, and more. The secondary specifics of how this plays out from family-to-family vary slightly, but complementarians agree that men must take responsibility for provision of their families.

For our purposes here, I don’t want to argue semantics on secondary issues. That’s another post for another day. I would much rather engage Simpson’s article in two major ways.

Masculinity Defined

Citing conclusions from Hanna Rosin’s book The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Simpson posits:

If this truly is the “end of men” and traditional masculinity is becoming less dominant—perhaps even less relevant—in our world, women face a brand-new opportunity for grace. This is true in all our interactions, and especially true in the domestic arena, where we have long held sway. Will we allow men to express themselves in the home, or will we turn the tables and shut them out, as some men historically have done to women outside that domestic sphere?

If she’s right about equality of roles, then women should show incredible grace to men in their domestic endeavors. Unfortunately, we must rely on Scripture rather than cultural trends.

As I’ve stated before, masculinity is very clearly defined by God. All Christian men are called by God to lead their family (Gen. 2:15-20; Eph. 5:22-33, 6:4; 1 Tim. 5:8; Col. 3:19; 1 Pet. 3:7) and this includes a specific “job” description. God’s endorsement of manhood includes provision, protection, bravery, sacrifice, fidelity, and many other assignments. This is fulfilled through taking charge, working hard to earn an income, and discipling the family as a sort of shepherd of the home. What this does not appear to include – according to the forthright passages that I’ve already mentioned – is being a homemaker.

Regardless of the shaky foundation of sociological realities, Scripture is objectively and authoritatively stable.

Growing-rate-graph

Statistics Laid Bare

Simpson gave a stimulating statistic to further her argument:

Trevor [Simpson’s husband] was an at-home dad from the time our oldest was 9 months old to the day our youngest started kindergarten. We opted for this arrangement more than a decade ago, when at-home dads comprised 1.6 percent of all stay-at-home parents in the U.S. In 2011, that percentage had risen to 3.4 percent. That’s 176,000 at-home dads raising more than 332,000 children.

Perhaps we should take a moment to consider that many of these men experienced uncontrollable factors that led to these percentages. In our current economic climate, unemployment and underemployment are real issues facing families. Additionally, many men suffer from disabilities, work part-time while finishing school (in order to better provide in the long-run), and so forth. So, I don’t want to be unkind and attack men who truly want to provide for their families but have limitations.

On the flip side, there are certainly families who make the decision for the husband to stay home. And that’s their decision. What I’d caution for the Christian family is to carefully ponder the Scripture offered here. God has much to say about the home.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that these statistics may point to a larger point. Sure, the statistics of at-home fathers have risen slightly as egalitarianism makes a harder push into mainstream media and politics. This is good news for those who seek such forms of gender equality. I would submit to those folks that that 3.4 percent is still a miniscule number and this leads me to believe that the egalitarian camp is merely fighting against a natural current that they may tread, but never stop. If God has truly placed leadership into the hearts of men, as I believe that he has, then these trends will not prevail. The percentages may even grow, but men will still be men. And stay-at-home dads will likely still pursue their God-given desire to take the reins even when misguided by cultural pressure.

Toward a Better Conversation

Complementarian brothers and sisters, culture will continue to press on what we believe to be true and we must be bold. In your boldness, show the character of Christ and love for those who revile you and disagree with you. May we spur one another on toward a better reflection of Christ and his Church in our marriages and our interactions with culture.