I've tried to tread very lightly there, because that rarest of rarities--civility--seems to be the rule of the day. I've decided not to link to that blog nor to call further attention to them. Not sure why, exactly, but that seems right for now.
Why it's getting any mention here at all is because one of my all-time, least-favorite insults showed up in the comments there yesterday: "Feminized men." When it did, I asked the commenter to clarify what she meant by that term. (Like so many other phrases and terms popular among pro-patriarchy Christians, there doesn't seem to be any real consensus when it comes to defining them.) She seems to basically hold with the "Wild at Heart" stereotype of the manly sort of man, one who seeks adventures, works with his hands, isn't tame, and who brings up his sons to play with guns and be boisterous because that's what boys do. (She said that boys who are expected in the schools to sit down, be quiet, not play with guns aren't being allowed to be boys.)
I am disappointed to see this stereotype being bought into, but I know that's simply where many young Christians, men and women, are required by their teaching and traditions to be. And to the extent that individual women find a rugged "Marlboro Man" (hopefully sans the cigarette!) to be more their "type" than a quieter, artistic sort of man, there's nothing wrong with that! I doubt she's actively lobbying against male dancers, introverted male desk workers, male clergy (a less than overtly rugged calling, to be sure!), and so forth. I'm hoping that she, like so many Christians, simply hasn't thought through the reasons why she would choose to declare so many men "feminized."
I find human beings to each be created unique, masculine or feminine simply by virtue of being created male or female respectively, and not all are easily boxed into culturally defined patterns. I've seen the hurt those patterns cause some men, such as men who are gifted artists, dancers, musicians, etc. I think it can also hurt women who don't fit easily into the "captivating" mold, who are more adventurous than some women find comfortable. I never cease to be amazed at the unique combination of traits and passions God places in each one of us. I think sometimes people go way overboard in declaring some of those traits/passions "feminine" and others "masculine." I read on one particular website that advocates "gender roles," and was shocked to find that nearly every one of the aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit was called "feminine"! Then, it goes on to say that only men are to be spiritual warriors. I don't think we can divide up the Bible that way into "feminine" and "masculine."
I've been disturbed over the past number of years at how quick people are--including women--to use anything to do with "feminine" as an insult. It shows in many of the vulgar ways people of the world insult others. To insult a woman, you refer to her sexually and to her personally as less than human. But to insult a man, you attribute female sexuality to him, or else you call into question his mother's virtue. It says a lot, albeit subtly, about how our English-speaking society (de)values women. If you declare a man "effeminate," "feminized," or some less couth reference to the female, you lessen his worth as a man and as a human being. Yet the opposite is not generally true. Instead, you lessen a *woman's* value by assuming she is not attracted to men, is promiscuous, has an unattractive body, or some such. Calling her "mannish" is not a compliment, but it is a much milder insult than saying a man is "effeminate." I think this has roots in our society for so long considering it just "the way it is" to think that women are not as intelligent, not as fully human, as men.
In short, we have a value hierarchy (traditionally) in our society, and it looks something like this:
- Alpha male
- Unattractive-looking male who conforms to other "masculine" stereotypes
- Male, but non-conforming to "masculine" stereotypes
- Attractive, stereotypically "feminine" female
- Unattractive female who conforms to other "feminine" stereotypes
- Female, but non-confroming to "feminine" stereotypes
Now I am mindful that, in their own system and to those who buy into their system, pro-patriarchy Christians at least do lip service to "respecting" women. Fit their mold and don't rock the boat, and there will be a modicum of respect if you are a woman. The problem is, not all women, and not all men, fit their molds. God doesn't respect those molds. Both men and women are expected to grow into the people God created them to be, not necessarily the people the pro-patriarchalists insist we have to be. When by the Spirit of Almighty God you outgrow that mold, you have a dilemma: Obey God, or obey the patriarchal pattern they say is required of you and every other member of your gender.
There comes a time when we have to think about what our rules and regulations say about us. The portions of Scripture that define its consistent themes (Exodus 20:1-17 [the Decalogue] , Deuteronomy 6:4-5 [The Shema], Micah 6:8 ["What does the Lord require...], Matthew 22:34-40 [The Great Commandments], Matthew 28:19-20 [The Great Commission], and John 13:34-35 [The New Commandment], among many others) take what could seem complex and reveal to us that the laws of God are simple (though never easy to obey in their fullness). The rules of "gender roles" are one of the many ways that present-day Christians burden believers with requirements that God does not place upon them.
All this to say, I think we need to "mind our witness" when speaking of others, whether in the world or of one another in the church. Like it or not, the non-Christians of the world pay attention to the respect we do and do not show one another. I believe that declaring certain men--and churches--"feminized" is a thoughtless, malicious, and false means of merely insulting those we have decided we need not love. It is a way we keep waging war against those we (not God) have decided to declare "outside" our comfortable, easy definition of "Christian." Us vs. Them, with God on the "us" side, of course.
Now if the woman who brought up the "feminized men" insult happens to visit here and read this post, she is certainly free to upbraid me for using her preferred terminology as an example of this much larger practice within the conservative church. I freely postulate that most Christians who do this have not given the practice careful thought; perhaps they are merely repeating what they have been taught by those whose opinions and positions they respect. I firmly believe, however, that the time has come for us to recognize that human beings created male, are masculine by virtue of their being male. Human beings created female are feminine by virtue of their being female. Outward conformity to roles defined by 1950's upper-middle class American values does not make one masculine or feminine. Declaring such roles "Christian" does not make them so. And insulting fellow human beings by calling them "feminized" because they don't conform to such "roles" is, frankly, sinful and needs to cease. The same goes for bemoaning the "feminized" church. The truth is, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever, doesn't need the cultural conformity police to decide the church is too pink or too blue. So long as we're blood red (as in, covered by the precious blood of our Redeemer), whether we're feminine or masculine enough to suit anyone else really doesn't matter. We're the bride of Christ, being transformed into his likeness, serving Christ as he reconciles all creation to God. "Feminized"? Please...get real! Stop bowing down to the idol of "gender roles" and remember Who, alone, deserves our worship!