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Models of Masculinity

I first posted this after attending the 2009 London Men's Convention.  I'm genuinely looking forward to the 2011 London Men's Convention (with Mark Driscoll!) and will be going with 25 guys from our church.  I'm sure I'll learn loads and be encouraged.  But I'll still be asking the same questions I did two years ago...


It's an age-old question, but it's taken the Flight of the Conchords to pose it again with aching poignancy:

What man?  Which man?  Who's the man?
When's a man a man?
What makes a man a man?
Am I a man?
Yes... technically I am.




On reflection there were two models of masculinity on show at the London Men's Convention on Saturday.

The first was communicated in mainly non-verbal ways.  As John has put it, there was, at times, a 'Top Gear' spirituality (Top Gear is a popular British TV programme where middle aged men salivate over an array of sports cars).  You can guess the kinds of things - jokes about sports teams, jokes about baldness (lots of them!), jokes about scrotums.  All the usual stuff.  There was an uncomfortable insistence on making fun of the main speaker (Tim Keller) in a laddish kind of, 'Hey, you big bald son of a gun.  Not much hair on you is there? Baldy.  You big bald son of a bald man. Ha!'  That kind of thing.   Graciously Keller did not call down bear attacks as was his right as prophet of the LORD.  Now that really would have sorted out the men from the boys.

(Just as an aside - British men, the cruelty that passes for 'banter' among men is quite shocking for foreigners to cope with.  On one hand I speak as someone who's lived here half his life and, for better and for worse, speaks the lingo.  I also speak as an Australian male.  But I confess that even we hard-headed convicts gape in wonder at the incessant jibes about 'Fatty' and 'Who ate all the pies?' when the man in question is only slightly overweight.  Or 'baldy', when we're really dealing with a high forehead.  Or - and I dare not even name what red-heads are called in this country.  I would try to dissuade anyone with auburn hair or lighter from stepping foot in the British Isles.  The word "Ginger" could be followed by any number of appellations, most of them four-letter.  And this kind of culture is rife in the church too.  Last night in the pub I heard two Christian men speak about another Christian friend in shockingly unChristian ways.  But it was completely in keeping with this lads culture.)

Under this first model of masculinity we're told that we have a God given masculinity to be lived out.  Which is true.  We're told what a huge problem it is when men aren't real men.  Which is true.  But then it's basically assumed that everyone knows what a real man is.

So Mark Driscoll bemoans the prevalence of 'chickified' men in church.


Apparently the real men are those "watching a ball game, making money, climbing a mountain, shooting a gun, or working on their truck."  And these are the men that are getting it done in the world.  So Driscoll wants these kind of men in the church.

Well.  Alright.  It'd be great to have them in church.  And yes, in some limited sense they'd make a welcome change from the other kind of false masculinity that abounds.  But let's be clear - all natural masculinity is wicked.  Masculinity as it occurs in its natural state is horribly and dangerously perverted.  Whether the perversion occurs in the cowardly retreat direction or the aggressive domination direction, it's a perversion.

The other model of masculinity came in Keller's talk on the cross.  He took us to Gethsemane where Jesus was at His wits end, craving the support of friends, crying, sweating blood contemplating the cross.  The furnace of God's wrath lay ahead of Him.  He begged His Father for another way.  But there was no other way to save us.  The prospect was simple: It was Him or us.  And so Jesus said 'Father, Let it be me.'

That's a man.

Laying down His life for others, bearing shame in their place, accepting weakness to strengthen them.  None of these things looked impressive.  He looked like a total failure, naked and choking to death on a cross.  He did not look manly.   And men from all sides told Him so.  They had all sorts of opinions about what Jesus needed to do to be a real man.  They were all wrong.  He reigned from that tree.  Here was the manliest thing ever done.

And it has nothing to do with back-slapping dudesmanship.  It's not about being mechanical or sports-loving.  And it's not threatened by aesthetic sensitivity or quiet thoughtfulness.  It's defined by heart-felt, loving, sacrificial service.  It's stepping into the roles Christ has for us and saying 'My life for yours.  My weakness for your strength.  Father, Let it be me.'

Oh for real men!  Oh to be a real man.  But not like those 'real men' we're told to be.

More posts on masculinity:

Three thoughts on headship

He said - She said

Is the fruit of the Spirit too sissy for real men?

What real men look like

Larry Crabb on gender

Spouse speak

Arian misogyny


13 thoughts on “Models of Masculinity

  1. David

    I think that your point ('But let’s be clear – all natural masculinity is wicked. Masculinity as it occurs in its natural state is horribly and dangerously perverted') is key here, not least because how Jesus has been imagined by the church down the centuries has become what you might call a site of contested masculinity. It's very easy to be aesthetically repulsed by the stained glass/children's Bible image of Jesus as some kind of limp-wristed hippy - Maria von Trapp in drag, but the image of Christ as a 'man's man' is equally perverse.
    I suspect that a lot of the 'dudemanship' you mentioned is a kind of infantile insecurity about the idea that there is something slightly effete about Christian men, and so people over-compensate accordingly. It reminds me of Judith Butler's idea that gender is a performance, and as such needs to be constantly policed (hence the jokes and general laddishness) and constantly performed in order to function. The ironic thing is, you are actually fighting for authentic masculinity in this post!

  2. Glen

    Haven't come across Butler. Do you think gender is more than a performance?

    Here we are back to complementarity again :)

  3. Matt F

    Hi all,

    I've thought a far bit about this for personal and academic reasons and I don't know how much further on I've got, though the angst about it seems to have lessened!

    For those wanting to follow up more on Butler you could start with or an interview with her

    One of the things it's important to note with her is that her idea of gender as performative has quite a specific meaning and it's not the same as saying that gender is performed, like taking on a role in a play. She actually argues that we can't remake ourselves anyway we want (see part way down the interview for more on that).

    Hope that helps those who'd like to know more about Butler. For those going 'er, who is she', I would say she's one of the most significant theorists on sex, gender and sexuality in terms of impact at university level of social science/arts courses at least in the UK anyway. Chances are if you have students doing those courses in your church at second or third year level they will probably have heard of her.


  4. David

    I think that gender is more than just a performance (and I don't here think that 'performance' is an inherently bad or deceitful thing), but where feminist/queer theorists are onto something is in questioning the idea of a stable identity that is the same throughout a life - in a sense, we are also what we do, and not just do what we are; so being a man or a woman is kind of a life-long work of gender construction, policing, and performance, as well as a fixed psychosomatic reality. If this weren't true then there wouldn't be as much anxiety about making sure men and women behave as men and women ought to behave, however that is imagined to be at any given time, because they just would.
    I don't really know enough about the theology of complementarity (but that's never stopped me before), but what worries me is the possibility that it might buy into current ideas about who or what a man or woman is or should be. What I mean is that the words used for the categories of complementarity could so easily be used to legitimize ungodly ideas about gender - e.g. the idea of male headship could imply both ontological superiority and dominance, whereas a genuinely gospel understanding totally reverses and de-naturalises our normal categories of thinking about leadership and headship.
    In Barthes Church dogmatics he writes some really helpful stuff:

    But what is the man in his sex and the woman in hers?
    We cannot really characterise man and woman in the form of a definition, but only as we recall that in their very differentiation God has willed and made them in mutual relation and that His command has also the dimension or component that in the interests of this relationship they must be true to their specific differentiation. We have no right, especially if we ask concerning the command of God, to define or describe this differentiation.
    The summons to both man and woman to be true to themselves may take completely unforeseen forms right outside the systems in which we like to think. It is thus a mistake to attach oneself to any such scheme, however well considered and illuminating it might appear to be.
    What God's command wills for man and woman is that they should be faithful to this their human nature and to the special gift and duty indicated in and by it. This means that although we recognise their achievements we definitely reject every phenomenology or typology of the sexes...
    Book III
    He goes on to give examples of such typologies, and points out how ridiculous they are in reality.

    Saying all that, though, I probably ought to stop riding horses side-saddle.

  5. Pete Bowman

    Surely it's the WALL that's important? It says nothing about bodily posture. Ok, standing up might making pissing on the wall easier, but what about those heretics who think that pissing against a tree or in a bush is somehow acceptable?! Be a man: find a wall. :-)

  6. Pingback: Weekly RoundUp: The Carling theology Edition | The Church Sofa

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