Masculinity is good and not all men are toxic

“Masculinity” just means qualities that are characteristic of a man. But these days it has become a bit of a dirty word. This is partially understandable:

  • Most women have been at the arse-end of what has commonly been called “toxic masculinity” for an awful long time – that is everything from arrogance and casual sexism to misogyny and abuse.
  • The women’s movement is still relatively new (I talked about it a few weeks ago. You can read it here if you want to suss it out) and so we still have a lot of pretty poor attitudes, assumptions and behaviors towards women that have been institutionalised in our culture. For the longest time, we have been culturally numb to these, thinking its OK or doesn’t matter. But now, people are calling it out louder than before.
  • What erupts on social media is a reaction to hundreds of years of things that are not OK. Its a reaction to the feeling of not having had a voice before, or not being heard before, or just not plain being listened to before.

What happens then is that we have swung the pendulum towards all masculinity being bad and all men being jerks. This is just not the case.

What I want to see being part of the conversation is what real men look like, and what good masculinity looks like.

We might fall into the trap of thinking that all masculinity should be eradicated. But I don’t think this is what most women – or our culture – wants. We want our men to be grown ups. We want out men to be real men. But what does a real man look like?

Our culture actually celebrates what a real man should look like. The Marvel Universe movies have been some of the biggest and most popular movies in our generation. And what is aspirational in these movies is the men of character. In these movies we celebrate Captain America as the quintessential man. He is strong and powerful – but he is gentle and uses his power and strength in the service of others. He is humble, protective, principled, he has integrity, self-control, passion and a sincere sense of responsibility with no hint of complaint or resentment.

What we might not realise is that we have plenty of examples of just this kind of man in our day-to-day lives already – they just might not look like Captain America, and they might not be able to keep up that superhero character 24/7. But they try, and they self-reflect and they grow.

We should celebrate this. We should celebrate them.

Because that, in my opinion, is what a real man looks like. He is strong and he is powerful but he uses it for the good of others, in the service of others – not for his own glory or pride.

Does this sound familiar? It should. As Christians we have the picture of manhood: Jesus was the most powerful man ever to have lived. Yes, he is fully God, but he is also fully man. And as a man he, as the most powerful, did not relinquish or give up his power. He used his power for the salvation of the world.

When I say “power” here, I don’t mean like his superpower. I mean, on the cross, as a man, he used his power to die.

Just pause there and think about that.

God created man. And it was good. But after the fall, we all suffer from, and struggle with, sinful behavior. We will never be perfect until we get to finally relax in heaven. Until then, there will be good men and there will be bad men. There will be good women and there will be bad women. It is incumbent on us, with the help of the Spirit, to be active participants in our discipleship and growth in Christ-likeness.

Women – a discipleship journey does not preclude us from calling out crap behavior. But it means we should do it with love and grace.

Men – that means not being a jerk (you can read more about that here too). There is such a thing as toxic masculinity. But we have good men in our midst who should be celebrated for it. And we can help them use their power in the service of others. I know great men who you might call “feminist” in that, they choose to use their power and strength in the service of women – lifting them up, calling out crap behavior when its directed at them, respecting them, protecting them, working shoulder to shoulder with them, being aware (or actively learning) what women face, working to change institutional and cultural numbness to the plight of women, listening to them.

These are great men and we should not tar them with a “all masculinity is toxic” brush. Men are good. Masculinity is good. But like all things, good things can be made bad when mishandled or subject to pride and arrogance.

I want to celebrate our good men. I want them to be men. I want them to be masculine. Because I want us to be in conversation. This is a long game. If we are to change the kind of culture that results in terrible behavior towards women, we need men on our side. This is not a game to be played in opposition – nor should it be. We are co-workers in this life. We were created to be co-workers and it’s where we can be at our best, or our worst. I would like it be be at our best.

 

Just don’t be a jerk

Here’s a shocking thing.

A recent study of 122,000 women found that over a third had been in abusive relationships. But of those 65% of remaining women who said they hadn’t been in an abusive relationship, almost two thirds had experienced problematic, harsh and potentially abusive treatment from a partner.* We tend to think of “abuse” as something visible that those other horrible people do. What this kind of study shows is that many are well into the grey-area of abusive behavior in their relationships – and may not even know it.

A study as far back as 1997 found that over a third of married women had been sexually coerced by their husbands. The reason this is important is that this is not just rape. This is not just coercing particular sexual acts that a partner is not comfortable with.  This can be actions that people don’t even realise are abusive. “Coercion” can include exploiting a woman’s sense of duty, expecting sex after spending money, bullying, repeated pressure or humiliating women into unwanted sex.** This can be particularly difficult to gauge because men and women are created so differently. There is the old joke that men are toasters and women are slow cookers. Women need some encouragement whereas (generally), men need far less encouragement. But when does “encouragement” become “coercion”?

How do we know? How can we tell? And then, how do we approach it better?

The Sydney Diocese drafted in 2017 (and formally accepted at synod in 2018) a document called “Responding to Domestic Abuse: Policy and Good Practice Guideline.”*** It is a great piece of work. At one point, it quotes a clinical psychologist and clergy wife:

“When you haven’t personally experienced abuse, it’s easy to listen with an attitude of
assessing whether what is being reported is really abuse. ‘Would I find that abusive?
Doesn’t everyone argue sometimes?’”

This is the trap that we (and those with their toes in the abusive end of the swimming pool) can fall into. Those listening to the victim’s story may mentally evaluate whether they would find that behavior abusive and judge the story on their own response. The question that has to be asked is not “Would I find that behavior intimidating?”. This is not about you. This is about how the victim perceives the behavior and emotionally responds. The question to the victim must be “Did you feel safe in that confrontation?”

You may not have found that behavior unacceptable. But you’re not the person living that life. When a person has been repeatedly subject to bullying and abuse over a long period of time, their capacity to deal with any situation is far less than someone who has a normal threat response.

Even worse, people can judge their own behavior as acceptable because they themselves would not find it intimidating, scary or abusive, or, have enough cognitive dissonance to not believe that of themselves when called out on it. I have heard a well-educated middle class male state, regarding an incident in which the police were called, say afterwards that the incident couldn’t be counted as part of his behavior pattern because he was upset. Here’s the newsflash. Hardly any abusive person thinks they are abusive – they think they are justified. Saying “You can’t count that, I was upset” is about as cliched as it gets unfortunately.

We hear about domestic abuse on the news a lot and yet things don’t seem to change. Is this partially because we are not yet having a conversation about worrying or inappropriate behavior before it becomes a news story? Do we need to talk more about the kind of behavior that dabbles in that gray-area? Do we need to look more closely at just basic appropriate behavior within our relationships?

This issue requires great humility and honesty and repentance from us all if we are to change this. The first place to start is God’s word:

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

Gentleness and self-control. The cause of much pain and conflict is pride and power. How much might be avoided if our interactions with our partners were marked not by pride and power, but by gentleness and self-control. This would mean regulating our natural negative emotions and processing them through our discipleship growth.

Anyone can do a marriage course (and they should!) but we can fall into the trap of making our discipleship a personal goal which is compartmentalised from outward interactions. The fruit of our journey in Christ-likeness must be shown in our interactions – and particularly our conflicts – with others.

What we need is for our churches and ministers to have discussion groups and seminars and courses on appropriate behavior in marriage. What does it look like? I mean, really look like? Get down and dirty with the truth. Are there some basic things that could come across as intimidating just because of physical differences? Are there things that we personally do that could come across the wrong way? When we get angry (which is natural), how do we process and regulate it so we can respond with gentleness? Or do we let it come out, un-filtered, in our words, tone, pitch, vocal register, our physicality, facial expression and stance. Are there things that your partner finds intimidating but doesn’t say? We need to find opportunities to talk about these things outside of conflict.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) This doesn’t say “Attack is the best form of defence.” This doesn’t say “You must prove yourself right.” This definitely does not say “If they don’t agree with you, they are by nature wrong.” What this boils down to is gentleness and self-control.

What this can also boil down to is just don’t be a jerk. This does not just go for men. This is also women. Women can be jerks too. Our discipleship growth is not the only answer, but it sure starts laying a good foundation for some long-term cultural shifts. We need to not respond to these harsh truths with hurt pride, but with humility and willingness to work together – and work hard.

What this also needs is a conversation. Because there is some pretty awful behavior happening that ends up in very bad places. It also ends up with people in our churches crumbling on the inside and needing things to change and needing someone to love and protect them.

Just because we are grown up doesn’t mean that we know everything. There may well be some behavior that needs to be repented of. At the very least there should be conversations within relationships and groups about what this might mean. And if you’re going well (which most are!), be a support to a brother or sister. Help them to understand and help them to course-correct.

There should be a commitment to learning and growing together – which is exactly what the Bible exhorts us to do anyway. We will not be finished until the last day, so in the Spirit, let us lift each other up, not pull each other down. But please, just don’t be a jerk.

 

* https://www.businessinsider.com.au/two-thirds-of-women-dont-realise-they-experience-abusive-behaviour-2018-5?r=US&IR=T

** https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12477095

and

https://truthout.org/articles/its-time-to-confront-sexual-harassment-within-marriage/

*** https://safeministry.org.au/wp-content/uploads/Responding-to-Domestic-Abuse-Policy-Guidelines-and-Resources.pdf

 

 

Free and fabulous or just single and sad?

I’ve known from the beginning of my separation that I would not be in another relationship. For me there were several reasons. For starters, I have some pretty massive trust issues and while I love the idea of a Hollywood style romantic love that is deeper and more pure than anything, I don’t really believe that’s true. I also have kids and I worry about bringing another male into their lives in a position of influence over them. I am also Christian and my theology informs my conscience which says I should remain single now. I make clear that this is my conscience because this is between me and God. Other people come to a different view and that’s between them and God. I can’t judge. I can only talk about what my conscience tells me about my situation. And for me, singleness is what I have always known will be my future after separation and divorce.

I’ve had to come to this through a process of thought and prayer. In the beginning, it was easy for me to say “I’ll just be single now” because I needed time to heal, and after a breakup I believe its a wise and healthy thing to be a alone for a while.

As time moved on, I had to keep developing my idea of singleness. This was because as I healed, I needed to be sure of what I was thinking. Partially because of my own clarity of thought as the fog thinned, and partially in response to other people’s treatment of my situation.

I’m sad to say that some treated me as though I had become morally tainted for life.  That takes some coming to terms with. You can do your business with God, you can weep and pray. You can be right in the eyes of God. But you can’t be right in the eyes of some humans.

This all goes into the mix. If people judge you as a failure, it plays into how you see yourself. This can drive you away from God, or towards Him.

Praise God that he met me in my mess and when judges were loud, God was louder.

So does that make me free and fabulous? Not really.

stockvault-friends102742

The telly tells me that if I am single I am supposed to be larking about with other single fierce and fabulous women. We would do lunches and go on crazy holidays and call each other while we watch the TV like we’re a conference-call-Gogglebox family.

My life looks like a continuous episode of a really boring TV show. There’s work and parenting and cleaning and cooking and forgetting school presentations and eating toast for dinner. This is not “Sex and the City” this is “Slogging it out and the Suburbs”. Life is good – but it’s relentless.

So am I single and sad? Well that’s a no too. I still choose singleness, but now I am more sure of it, I am more confident in it. The turning point was reading the book of Ruth (which seems somewhat cliche but there you go).

Ruth is a foreigner. An outsider. She has nothing. She is nothing. Boaz, her kinsman protector, shows her special kindness and “She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”” (Ruth 2:10).

This is how I felt with God after I was separated. I was an outsider. I had nothing. And I was nothing. And he showed me special kindness. Who was I that God should notice me?

I pondered this for a long time. It resonated deeply with me. But it seemed also familiar, and it drove me to Psalm 8 where a similar line to this sits within a psalm of David. I’ve put the psalm in full below so you can also ponder. It’s a psalm about God’s big-ness, his amazing huge-ness, his absolute glorious infinite powerful massiveness.

Who is my authority? Human judges? Or this God of infinite sovereignty? My authority comes from him. Everything I have and everything I am comes from him.

I am single for the gospel. I am not free and fabulous like the world tantalizes me with. I am not sad and single – I am fabulous and single. I will be single and celibate and proud of it. It won’t be easy. It will be (and already has been) difficult. But God is my rock and my kinsman redeemer. His love and protection are astonishing gifts of grace and I will use my singleness in any way he leads me.

And any time someone judges me for being divorced, I’ll read Psalm 8 and remember where my authority lies.

 

Psalm 8

For the director of music. According to gittith. A psalm of David.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Do we still need International Women’s Day?

Until recently I didn’t know whether I was a feminist or not. Mostly because I don’t really know what it means these days. I mean, back in the 1910s it was about identity and political recognition – the vote (and so much more!). Back in the 1960s it was personal freedom and social and cultural recognition (and so much more!). But I don’t really know what it means today. Surely we’re doing OK? Do we really need a day if we’re all basically doing alright?

The women’s movement that I see on the telly and social media seems angry, bitter, screechy and just downright unpleasant sometimes. It can even seem like its not about equality any more but superiority. And I’m not down with any of that. BUT we still seem to be in a cultural mess when it comes to attitudes to women. (This includes how “the screechy feminists” are reported on in the media and portrayed in opposition on social media as it turns out).

Time to spend too much money at Book Depository and read up about women and decide once and for all if I am a feminist, I thought.

The good news is, Goal #1 (Spend too much money at Book Depository) was achieved v v quickly. Goal #2 (Decide if am a feminist) has taken a few months of reading and thinking.

It turns out I am one. Just not one of the angry screechy ones.

Walk through my thinking with me because this involves the guys too.

I read quite a bit about the history of the women’s movement and was reminded just how “new” the women’s movement really is. We’ve had the vote for only 100 years. It became illegal to sack us for getting pregnant only 40 years ago. It took 20 years in the US to ensure marital rape was a crime in 50 states – it was achieved in only 1993, just one year after marital rape became a crime in all States in Australia. That’s right. A husband could rape his wife less than 30 years ago, and it was not a crime.

In terms of large scale movements, this is a fledgling one. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that we still have a long way to go. This feels weird to write because comparatively, I’m doing fine. I went to university, I have risen gradually through my profession, I work now in a firm that has excellent attitudes to gender equity.

I have also seen men defend, support and protect women. I’ve seen them go into bat for them, put them forward, lift them up. I’ve seen women not have to fight the fight on their own. I’ve seen it work as a team effort. And it is amazing.

But I have personally experienced attitudes that range from casual sexism to downright misogyny. Unfortunately this goes for inside the church as well as in the world. I’ve seen women hurt and damaged, I’ve seen them held back and put down. I’ve seen attitudes to women that are old fashioned, unhelpful and just plain damaging. I’ve even seen these attitudes smuggled in under the guise of biblical male headship. (For anyone struggling with this, I alluded to the “inferior-and-different” attitude in a previous blog. You can read it here. Just know there’ll be future pieces exploring and re-dressing the equal-and-different paradigm that is cleansed of those damaging elements.)

I also know that in our broken world, there are nearly 25 million slaves today and 71% of them are women and girls. In fact, sex trafficking is one of the fastest growing “trades” in the world. There are also an estimated 15 million women and girls forced into marriage every year. There are still countries where a woman, if she is raped, will be flogged or executed for adultery.

So yes. I am fine. And the Bible tells me who I am in God’s eyes and it is beautiful. But we also live in this awful broken world and so if one woman is held back, hurt, enslaved or executed on the basis of her gender then I am NOT fine.

Yes, I am fine. But that means that I must speak up and become mobilised. Its the price for being alive and OK both at the same time. I have been blessed by God in my situation and my home and my finances. It is incumbent on me then, to use them in support of others who’s blessings have been removed from them.

Yes, I am fine, but we still need International Women’s Day to shine a light on inequality of respect – even casual sexism feeds a culture that is numb to rubbish attitudes to women. We need International Women’s Day to help people understand that at current rates, women will achieve parity in the workplace in 202 years. We still need International Women’s Day to come together to look at how we can use our “fine-ness” to support other women.

When it works best though, is when the men get involved too. “Male feminist” is not an oxymoron or a joke. I know many of them. They are secure in themselves as men and as Christian men. They are confident enough to stand up for women without being jerks or being patronising or hypocritical. They are just good guys with good attitudes and who feel compelled to call out crap when they see it.

There is so much more to be said about a lot of this, but for now, let’s keep the spotlight on why we need days like International Women’s Day, on using our “fine-ness” in support of others, in fighting – shoulder to shoulder with men – against basic terrible attitudes to women that provide fertile ground for even more terrible behaviour.

 

We need you, Christian men!

OK, normally I don’t like to shout but this made me bloody angry. A game called “Rape Day” (I kid you not) was set to be released on video game platform Steam run by Valve. In the last couple of days, a change.org petition got up and in the last 12 hours, Valve decided not to sell the game on Steam.

Here’s the facts you need to know: The game is set during the zombie apocolypse and “described by developer Desk Lamp as a visual novel, players can verbally harass, kill and rape women as they progress through the story.“*

This is not made up. Someone actually thought up and developed this game and one of the largest gaming platforms nearly distributed it.

Valve said that “After significant fact-finding and discussion, we think Rape Day poses unknown costs and risks and therefore won’t be on Steam. We respect developers’ desire to express themselves, and the purpose of Steam is to help developers find an audience, but this developer has chosen content matter and a way of representing it that makes it very difficult for us to help them do that.

You know what they should have said? “We, as humans, are OUTRAGED that someone could even THINK that something like this is OK, and we are not going to have anything to do with it. Further, we’ve referred the developers to the authorities as we think this game publicizes, celebrates, endorses and condones violent behavior towards other humans which could be ILLEGAL.”

THAT’S what they should have said.

Desk Lamp (the developer) wrote “The game is marked as adult. It’s for a niche audience; If it’s not your type of game you definitely don’t need to play it but as other’s have said I tried to make a game that I would enjoy playing, and there are other people like me. 4% of the general population are sociopaths and the type of people that would be entertained by a story like this is not even limited to pure sociopaths.

You know what this means? That there are people who are so entirely lacking in humanity that they think its alright to feed the dangerous fetishes of sociopaths and mainstream them for entertainment. And we are allowing it, because we aren’t fighting this tsunami of rubbish.

So let’s break down all the element’s of the developer’s rationale above.

  • “It’s a game for adults.” Oh. That’s OK then. Because if it’s for grown ups, acting out rape is totally alright.
  • “It’s for a niche audience. If you don’t want to play it, then don’t.” Of course, you’re right! I don’t know about you girls (and guys!) but the next time someone is trying to rape us, we should acknowledge that this is just their particular fetish and that’s OK.
  • “It’s not just for sociopaths.” Great! What used to be the just for insane people can now be done by any anyone and everyone!
  • “They will be entertained by it.” That’s RIGHT! Because rape is ENTERTAINING. Frankly, WHAT THE EFF.

This is why domestic violence is one of the biggest problems of our era. This is why there are over 20 million sex slaves in the world today – a quarter of which are children.

Why are people not outraged by this? Have we become so culturally numb that we have allowed this to just become part of the backdrop of our world?

Well, here’s what we need. We need our Christian guys to get outraged. Women have been saying for millennia that guys should stop raping people and nobody has listened. And now its a game.

So now we need our men to get so thoroughly heart sick of this that you become mobilised to speak and to act, to protect and to fight for us. Christian men – real men – exemplify this:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23

Please, let’s start a conversation about what Christian men can do and how we can fight this fight together because if we don’t, we are looking at so many more millennia of this inhumanity – and who knows where it will end up if we don’t?

 

* https://au.ign.com/articles/2019/03/06/controversial-game-rape-day-wont-be-allowed-on-steam