It has happened again. A young man in the Twin Cities area, fearing for his safety, even for his life, recently transferred from his high school to another. The threats came from fellow students because of his perceived sexual orientation. But not only from them. The circle of ridicule even included some of his teachers. Yet the young man says he is “straight.”
I believe him on both counts, that he was targeted for being “gay,” and even when he isn’t. For having long hair, playing the violin, being bookish and un-athletic, and too shy to date, I too was identified in high school as “gay” and was threatened, teased and beaten up for it, by the self-appointed enforcers of the male code of machismo.
While churches and denominations are rightly engaged in discernment over our pastoral and missional responses to homosexuality, there is a broader and bigger issue of sexual broken-ness that we must recognize and deal with: mainstream masculine culture.
Males and masculinity are not the problem. Being male or female is a gift of God. “God created them male and female; in his image God created them (Genesis 1:27).” I take that to mean that men and women are necessary to each other in order to best reflect the image of God, whether in marriage and family, or in any other relationship and contact in life, church and society. Thus, the more equal and mutually-supportive in power and dignity men and women are for each other, whatever the relationship, the more they reflect the image of God, both personally and together.
There may be problems in mainstream female culture, but I, being male, am not in a position to name them or address them. Sin and its distortions leave no one untouched. But as a man, I am most responsible to address the distortions and problems of mainstream male culture, which are common to most times and cultures. They showed up at the very beginning of history and the biblical record, when Adam and Eve suddenly felt the need to cover themselves with fig leaves and to hide from God, when before, “they were naked, and un-ashamed.”
That sin left its estranging and divisive effects mark on their relationship we can tell by the way in which Adam, in place of confessing and asking forgiveness, blamed his problems and his misconduct on “that woman, which you gave me (Gen. 3:12).” Its no surprise that, within only a few generations, we read of Lamech, who took two wives, and who threatened anyone who injured him with “vengeance seventy-seven times (Gen. 4:23).” One aspect of sin is this rift between the sexes, which runs not only between men and women, but between the male and female aspects of ourselves. Healing these relationships is vital to being healed ourselves of sin’s shattering effects.
In Lamech and his boast we see three common aspects of mainstream male cultures, whatever time and place on earth and in human history we are considering. I call them “the unholy trinity” of misogyny, machismo, and militarism.
Misogyny is the contempt of women and all things female. You hear it as a common staple of male banter: blaming their conflicts or misunderstandings with their wives on their wives’ hormones, their periods or pre-menstrual syndrome; joking about things women allegedly can’t do well; focusing solely or mostly on physical characteristics they find attractive or not. When they feel threatened by women’s power in the home or the work place, some men will simply tune women out, or take a judging and adversarial stance toward their suggestions. A few will even resort to sexual innuendo or even sexual harassment. Lamech, by taking two wives, was saying, symbolically, that each woman was only half his worth.
He was also saying, symbolically, that women were livestock which he could collect, to show his power and worth. Which brings us to machismo. Though it is a Latin word, it is common to many world cultures. Machismo is the belief that maleness is about domination, control and ownership over women, because, at heart, they see power as something for which men and women must compete with each other. Men thereby measure themselves, and each other, by their control over women, their desirability to them, and by how many women they have “owned,” or with whom they have “scored,” sexually. Its what drives men to boast of their sexual conquests (even of other men’s wives), even while they boast of their wives’ fidelity and submissiveness, without admitting that, mathematically, they can’t all be telling the truth. Nor do they admit the degree of insecurity this introduces into their lives and relationships. But of course, it reflects deeper insecurities to begin with.
Militarism is the sense that male power is primarily destructive power, the power of death, destruction, and the threat thereof. Lamech’s boast of seventy-seven-fold vengeance is another step, after the murder of Abel, in the militarization of the world. Mennonites, in their pacifist sub-culture, may be unaware of the degree to which, in some countries, and even in some parts and sub-cultures of the United States, military service is virtually a required male rite of passage. And while movies like Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers may contain very realistic and discouraging images of the wasteful brutality of war, many other aspects of these same movies reinforce religious messages and sentiments about warfare and weapons. Even while men are dying and killing in the most gruesome and painful ways, the background music is often as solemn, emotive and majestic as a hymn or a chorale. Thus is reinforced the notion that men can only be brothers, they can only share themselves intimately and love each other deeply, while they’re in combat facing a common enemy. Or when they’re ragging on women. Or when they’re drinking.
More thoughts on healing male culture and dethroning the unholy trinity of mainstream masculine culture will come in later posts.
Pastor Mathew Swora