Future Men vs. Fathers and Sons: Further Thoughts on Gender Typology
In the comments to my last post – “On Niche Churches and Prefab Christian Cultures: Why Driscoll is right but he’s got it all wrong” – we got talking about the Douglas Wilson book that I referenced and I ended up giving an alternate plug for Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen’s Fathers and Sons: The Search for a New Masculinity. The following was going to be a comment giving a comparative analysis of the first chapters of either book, but I’m now offering it as a supplementary post. I’m keen to keep talking about the other post on ecclesiology, but I’ll direct further discussion about Driscoll’s gender typology here. So I invite you to consider some telling quotes from the beginning of Douglas Wilson’s Future Men:
“At the beginning of his life, a boy does not know what century he was born in, and consequently exhibits to many of his politically correct and aghast elders some of the same traits exhibited by the boyhood chums of Sennacherib and Charlemagne. He doesn’t know any better–yet. But in our day, many of these designed masculine traits are drilled or drugged out of him by the time he is ten. Faith resists this ungodly process and defines sin by the Scriptures and not by pietistic traditions” (9).
Notice here that Wilson is aware of the tensions of nature and nurture, but then he goes forward on the premise that the masculinity of the good old days is somehow closer to nature and to the creation mandate (!) than today’s masculinity. He has stacked the deck from the get go against “politically correct” and “pietistic” and wants us to think that there is a natural in-born masculine tendency which is confirmed by (his reading of) Scripture. Notice the results:
“Men are created to exercise dominion over the earth; they are fitted to be husbandman, tilling the earth; they are equipped to be saviors, delivering from evil; they are expected to grow up into wisdom, becoming sages; and they are designed to reflect the image and glory of God” (11).
These may be a fine list of things to recommend to boys (although what does it mean to say they are “equipped to be saviors”?), but if one wants to say these are particular masculine qualities then one has to deny the fact that all these things could be taught to girls as well. Wilson makes the argument for male dominion (men are “lords”) from Genesis 1:26-28, and yet but does not mention the female in this section at all (12ff).
When Wilson talks about men being the “glory of God” he points out that this just means a different kind and level of glory, but not that men are better (15-16). What does it mean then? Here he doesn’t say. But he does proof-text his point from 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5:23-24 – to my mind missing the point of both texts. 1 Corinthians 11 works its way to a point about male/female interdependence, and Ephesians 5 is built on a point about mutual submission out of reverence for Christ .
In the next chapter Wilson differentiates between “effeminacy” and “macho-like counterfeit masculinity” and calls for men to avoid them both because the supposedly “effeminate” virtues are not “his virtues” and the macho “pseudo-virtues” are not virtues at all (17). Confusingly, however, he then says “[of] course a biblical man is to be kind and gentle, but the model for this is to be (ultimately) the Lord Jesus, and in conjunction with this, the teaching of Scripture …. not our composite cultural picture of what an accommodating male looks like” (17-18). Wilson follows all this with a “defence of stereotyping” (e.g., (“boys should not play with dolls” and if they do “they have a problem”), and by now we get the sense that this is all he intends to do (everything Biblical with a capital B, of course).
Nevermind that later in the chapter Wilson offers the (Buddhist?) principle of “balance” as his answer to the dilemmas he’s posed, let’s just notice that when it comes to gender types Wilson stacks the deck again and asks us to accept his assumption that anyone who wants to say different from him is neither able or willing to defend their point from Scripture, but is merely going along with a watered down application of a Woody Allen film or something. We could go on, but I think I’ve illustrated my point. Hopefully the rest of the chapters are better.
To be clear, I think it is fine to write books for boys — even to write for a certain “kind” of man — and to apply the Bible to their lives in a way unique to their general quirks and leanings. Have a target audience, fine. But to build an ideology of masculine and feminine off these generalities and to do sociology by applying stereotypes and supporting them from Scripture selectively according to one’s own cultural leanings is just irresponsible if not tragically misleading. Ironically, this is the opposite of what Wilson wants us to think he is doing. But let us not be fooled. If egalitarians can read in their own cultural preferences, so can complementarians and patriarchalists. Best we notice them all. But I digress. This was not meant to be a full-on book review, but a comparative glimpse. So let me close with a snippet from the first chapter of Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen’s Fathers and Sons and hopefully you’ll see and be persuaded that the latter is a far worthier read. She frames her sociological and biblical analysis of gender roles and masculinity with paragraphs like these:
“Decades ago lay theologian Dorothy Sayers wondered why women and men were referred to as ‘opposite sexes’ rather than ‘neighbouring sexes’. The question is still a good one today, especially given the popularity of books such as John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. Gray treats the sexes as if they were distinct species raised on different planets who … must now spend vast amounts of energy learning to decode each other’s values, habits and emotional sensibilities. His working assumption is that all behavioural sex differences are biological or metaphysical givens, subject to little individual variation and largely immune to environmental influence.
Gray has done no systematic research to support his claims, but there is a large social science literature that calls his assumptions into question. Over the last thirty years of the twentieth century, modest average differences in spatial and verbal skills became even smaller as educational opportunities were equalized for boys and girls. And even where somewhat larger differences exist–for example, in communication and conflict-management styles between spouses–the amount of variability within each sex still exceeds the small average difference between the sexes….
The truth of the matter is that women and men are both from planet earth…. ‘In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion…”‘ (Gen 1:26-28)….
God does not say to the woman ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ and to the man ‘Subdue the earth’. Both mandates–to exercise accountable dominion and accountable generativity–are given to both members of the primal pair.
The passage need not be taken as a blanket endorsement of androgyny, for reasons that will be explored in later chapters. But it does suggest that any construction of gender relations involving an exaggerated separation of activities by sex–as happened, for example, in Western society after the Industrial Revolution–is eventually going to run into trouble because it is creationally distorted and therefore potentially unjust towards both sexes” (28-30).