Binary Masculinity?

Is this what Driscoll means when he talks about church planting boot camps?

“I am large, I contain multitudes”

-Walt Whitman

I’ve been contemplating some of the stuff about masculinity and so on in the church as it has recently been tossed around on this blog. I’m thinking particularly about Kevin DeYoung’s words as posted here:

“So yes, Ted Nugent is not the only way to be a man. But that doesn’t mean Sting is the alternative.”

This may be true, but I worry that it gets us thinking in this sort of binary fashion. Now elsewhere in the original post DeYoung has the good sense to suggest that it’s not wrong for a man to enjoy musicals or ballet, which is a very sensible development, but then he sets another standards of manliness by suggesting that it’s unmanly to enjoy shoe shopping a great deal. As some one who enjoys looking for cool sneakers, I found this a bit disheartening.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. What is disconcerting is that we have a continuation of these sorts of lists of cultural habits that define masculinity in opposition to femininity. This is the binary part: we are making a big mistake if we think that masculinity and femininity can be arrived at by taking every human attribute  and dividing them all up and assigning them to men or women. The reality is that what makes for virtue in a man or a woman overlaps. A lot. Men need to be brave, but, if their children scrape their knees, they need to be tender.

I suspect that most readers of this blog would accept that something like the list of the fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5 overrides anything about masculinity or femininity in terms of important traits for a believer to possess. Everything else can and sometimes must be a bit more fluid. Consider the one event where gender roles are their most absolute – childbearing. Someone has to provide sperm someone has to provide eggs one way or another. Here though something fascinating happens, a number of studies suggest that fathers-to-be experience hormonal shifts – they produce more female hormones! It’s not quite clear why this would happen, though there is some suggestion that this prepares fathers to be more bonded with their children.

Now I would challenge anyone to say that raising their own child well is somehow less manly than watching two men crawl all over each other in Speedos. The Speedo-clad grapplers might be more macho, but not more masculine in any classical sense. Here’s what’s troublesome then about a lot of conversations particularly in the church about masculinity: a lot of what makes for a good man – duty to family, loyalty, courage – are traits that are equally valuable in women. Maybe instantiated differently from time to time, but often the same basic kinds of virtue. If someone has these, who cares if their favourite TV show is Sex in the City?