Soft Men

Oooh yeah. That title’s gonna get some search traffic. I mean… not as much as had I titled it… well… otherwise, but we’ll still get some heat, I think. We’re gonna be big with the gay porn crowd, Mike! FFFAAABBBBUUUULLLLOOOOUUUUUSSSSS!

This bit of cultural insensitivity has been brought to you by my masculine side, which is made uneasy by homosexuality and floral prints, by afternoon teas and movies starring Diane Lane.

This week [Author's Note: I started this post two weeks ago, and Mike shamed me into finishing it], our church staff spent three days at the Hume Lake Pastoral Conference. It’s a highlight of the year for us. The church pays for the nice housing up there, with sheets and all! We get to play Frisbee golf in the afternoons and eat fattening food all week that we don’t have to prepare. It’s a gas.

Usually, the speaker gives a sermon type series of messages, often focused around pastors’ universally favorite topic when gathered together: endurance and tribulation. Pastors spend a lot of time getting their asses kicked, so when we get together, we like to compare bootprints. Or… so directors of spiritual retreats seem to think.

This year was different. The speaker was a guy named Dr. Don Wilson, senior pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley, in Phoenix, Arizona. CCV, as it will be hitherto referred… to… is a very big church that Dr. Wilson founded and has shepherded for 24 years. He spoke to us as if we were at a church growth / vision casting seminar, and to be honest, it was a bit of a breath of fresh air up at Hume. He forced us to think a lot. He challenged us. He pissed me off, and I let him know about it, and now I’m blogging about it.

The thing that irritated me, the thing which will be our topic of discussion today, was his discussion of soft masculinity. His second teaching was about men. He pointed out that, statistically speaking, men between the ages of 25-40 are the least churched segment of the population. He also cited a Barna statistic (that I’m too lazy to actually find) that suggests that if you convert a child to Christianity, you get 3% of families that follow suit. If you convert a mother, you get 17% of entire families to follow. But, if you get the dad, 90+% of the time, the entire family becomes involved in the life of the church.

You know how mega-church pastors love their statistics.

He wants men in his church. That’s cool. I’m a man. I like to hang out with other men. I like manly man stuff. The statements that started to put a burr in my britches was statements like this, and Dr. Don, if you ever read this, I’m paraphrasing, so forgive me, “Men do not like to spend a lot of time talking about their feelings. That only appeals to soft men.” There were several statements made about “Soft Men” and the things that they did and didn’t like and there was this sort of not-so-subtle implication that they were inferior to “Hard Men.” (Insert Beavis and Butthead laugh here)

What is a Soft Man?

I first heard about this idea of feminized men as a cultural phenomenon in a little flick called Fight Club, which was based on a book by the same title by Chuck Palahniuk. Yes, I remember the first and second rules, but I’m still gonna talk about Fight Club. Ed Norton played a character who felt like society had stolen his masculinity and, ultimately, his identity from him. He lived in an Ikea-fied world. He had a job calculating risks for a major auto manufacturer. He was deathly bored, and having, as John Mayer might say, “A Quarter-Life Crisis.” FYI, by quoting John Mayer lyrics from memory, I disqualify myself from “Hard Man,” status. Yup… Beavis still thinks it’s funny.

Norton’s character meets Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler Durden. Tyler is pure Id. He’s an entrepreneur, dresses like a rock star, shags like Brad Pitt, and befriends Norton’s pathetic sad sack. One fateful night, Tyler turns to him and says… “I want you to hit me as hard as you can… what can you really know about yourself if you haven’t been in a fight?” So… Norton does. They fight. They trade blows not because they’re angry with each other, but because they feel like they’ve been robbed of something primal and fundamentally male.

This, naturally, leads to psychosis, sex with Helena Bonham-Carter, and building demolition.

The movie made me want to go fight someone, preferably in a dark alley. I don’t know if I could take Shatner, but I know I could take Nimoy, and I would destroy Takei.

I had never felt particularly girlie before, and yet I knew the film had touched on something that was undeniably true. Men are changing. What it meant to be male, is changing. This is a huge topic to discuss, and I have absolutely no intention of giving even a fraction of the research that would be required to make intelligent statements about it, but I believe it’s true. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, right or wrong.

I hope this discussion can go somewhere, and all the rabbit trails can be run, but I want to just make the one point that I made to Dr. Don, when he opened the floor for questions. I said something like this…

“I get really hostile when I hear about Baby Boomers talking about feminized or soft males like they just emerged from the mist, or were grown in a tube down at FemmeLabs, inc. I especially get hostile when soft men are portrayed as inferior by boomers who don’t like to talk about the roles their generation played in creating ours, like… oh… I dunno… creating it.”

I could tell he was stoked that a guy with designer glasses, layered shirts, and carefully distressed jeans was taking him on right outta the chute in front of… well… everyone. I could practically hear Erica’s pulse skyrocketing, but he was diggin’ it. I refrained from inviting him to a discussion about soft masculinity while we ran the 3.5 mile loop around the lake, as… you know… I don’t want to be completely disrespectful… but it would have gone like this…

Chad (at a steady pace and heart rate): “So, in conclusion… I just don’t see why we can’t like to play football and know how to make our uniforms match!”

Don : “Gasp!”

Chad : “And furthermore… your stereotypes don’t help anything or reach any sort of conclusive game plan! Here I am, a professional musician and classic example of a 21st century “Soft” heterosexual, but I’ve negotiated a true place of leadership in both my home and community, not to mention the fact that I can outrun most of the “jocks” at your church!”

Don : “Oh, the burning!”

If you’re a boomer out there, and you think that we’re a bunch of sissies, just do me a favor and take a few moments to let me know that you know that you guys are the ones who broke all the rules and rewrote them as you saw fit. Only after I know that you have an accurate grasp on our current situation, can we get down to the business of discussing the pros and cons of a softer, gentler, and snappily dressed male population.

For the record, Dr. Don Wilson is a really cool guy. I introduced myself after that meeting and that lead to several discussion through the rest of the week. Dr. Wilson was raised on a farm in rural Kansas. He is indeed a man’s man, and he’s entitled to his take on the world. I found him gracious, ready to laugh at himself, and while I didn’t agree with his take on this particular topic, he himself said that if we agreed with 10% of what he said, he considered it a success. I agreed with somewhere between 45.6% and 51.2%, so I was doing well.

I think this discussion of the changes in gender roles is one that I am going to continue to explore here at The Road. I am sure that everyone will feel exactly as I do.

If you don’t, you’re obviously a total homo.

86 thoughts on “Soft Men

  1. aly hawkins

    What?? Wait. Maybe I need to go back and read this again. I thought he’s saying he’s embraced his next-gen manhood, and anyone who might call it “soft” needs to get a head-check. Right?

  2. aly hawkins

    I feel a little conflicted about throwing in my $.02, since I don’t have any idea what it’s like to be a man, twenty-first century or otherwise.

    But for my part, I dig guys who like to talk about their feelings AND know how to move a refrigerator single-handedly. I’m married to one of this ilk, and most of my guy-pals are of that variety. I find man’s-men annoying and juvenile, and — to be really vulnerable — a bit scary, and not in a sexually exciting way. (The Navy guys who sit in our spa every night drinking 16s of Bud and loudly announcing “I’d tap that ass!” are a daily reminder.)

  3. grammy

    I am so deeply satisfied with this post that I can’t even articulate a sufficient response.

    So, son, does this mean you FINALLY care about choir color coordination for the Christmas concert (oh, the alliteration!)?

  4. aly hawkins

    Oh, man. Cerise just sent this article to me, and it’s so perfect for this conversation I had to throw it up here. Be sure not to miss the GodMen song lyrics on page 3:

    No more nice guy, timid and ashamed / We’ve had enough, cowboy up / In the power of Jesus name / Welcome to the battle / A million men have got your back / Jump up in the saddle / Grab a sword, don’t be scared / Be a man, grow a pair!

  5. corey

    I like where they’re going with the article and GodMen thing, but it’s a little extreme for me. Why can’t they state their position assertively without being cartoonish? I’m not into the Kill-A-Bear-For-Jesus thing.

  6. Stick

    Where was it that we were just talking about BAD CHRISTIAN MUSIC!!!!! HOLY CRAP. Ok, no… very UN-holy crap right there.

    I am, of course, referring to the little video clip on the side-bar of the GodMen band performing a song where the hook has the word Testosterone in it. I mean, come on.

  7. Paul

    Does this mean that we can’t sing “Testosterone High” as a worship chorus next week?

    I thought for a minute that the GodMen article was from The Onion, or that one of the guys in the video clips would suddenly stop and yell, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Niiiiight!!”

  8. corey

    I work at a church that values its manpower, for lack of a better term. The executive staff is made up of superjocks and ex-military. I think it actually does a really cool thing as opposed to some of the other, feminine-styled churches I’ve played at. I’m sure there are some females who would frown upon the blatant mention of the “masculine spiritual power” that drives that body of believers, but I find it refreshing to not have to “Cry-And-Faint-For-Jesus”, either. My simple point is that I like that someone is focusing on male faith in an abrasive world. I just don’t think they have to turn it into a He-Man Woman Hater’s Club either.

  9. Kyle

    Amen, amen, amen.

    Boomers think it’s manly of them to be afraid of having, acknowledging, or expressing emotions. I thought they were the ones who were into the big PromiseKeepers love-ins, too.

  10. Chad Post author

    Mike – If the shirt has Colbert on it, I’m in.

    Corey – You know… the funny thing is that I’m all about men being men. I am going to further this discussion, but I do think that there are positive AND negative side effects of the feminist and sexual revolutions. I think there could be a REALLY positive outcome of men our age taking what we’ve learned from this feminized phenomenon and reintegrating it with some of the values of our fathers and grandfathers. I dream of strong male leaders who aren’t afraid to make unpopular decisions for waht they believe is right… and can also articulate their reasons using more then grunts and jumping.

    We haven’t even gotten into the reality that young women are taking on what have been traditionally masculine characteristics, especially in regards to their mating habits.

  11. Morphea

    I’m in an angry place right now, so perhaps I’ll use my words later (this, Chad, is not what set me off, by the way – I’m just not Happy Girl right now for unrelated reasons), but Chad. The Chad…I love you. You’re what’s right about Gen X in my opinion, especially in your comfort with yourself in relation to your gender. I was all set up to get pissed off by your blog and was actually very pleasantly surprised.

    Corey, this isn’t fair, but you liking that article (or even just bits of it) made me ignore the rest of your writing. I’ll come back and read later – and respond – I promise, because I love you, too, and think you’re a killer guy. Seriously. But no one wants to hear from me right now.

    Grrr. Sorry.


  12. aly hawkins

    Here’s a dichotomy that bothers me about this issue. On one hand, I completely agree that the church experience in many (if not most) evangelical congregations is pretty frou-frou. (And not in a cool indie Imogene Heap kind of way.) The altar flowers, the Jesus-is-my-girlfriend songs, the color-coordinated banners with peppy slogans like “Share the Good Life!” and such. I don’t like this, and I’ve said so before.

    On the other hand, I think the evangelical church’s message is quite over-masculanized. (That may not be a word, but whatever.) They talk about “winning” souls, doing battle, defeating the enemy, stomping down evil, mastering the flesh, etc. (I realize that many of these metaphors are biblical…but most of the biblical writers were guys, so makes sense, right?) There is a part of me which suspects that the over-feminization of the church experience is connected somehow to a balancing effort to counteract the testosterone-fueled message. This is just a theory, but I think it may have merit.

    I’m all for making the church experience more gender-inclusive. But I also feel like the church experience is pretty far off the point. The point is the message, and I don’t think there will be any real progress here until we can find a way to communicate the message in universal terms.

  13. corey

    Aly, that’s extremely well stated. Kudos, indeed. I’m not sure if it was Donald Miller or Rob Bell, but one of them stated in not so many words, “okay- enough with the war metaphors. Enough.

    Morphea, I don’t mean to turn you off by finding validity in their motivations and I think I explained that pretty well. I understand that these are hot-button topics and one must proceed slowly and precisely when voicing his or her opinions here.

    My opinion is that -while I am a fuh-LAMing Metrosexual- finding proprietary value in our genders is a good thing. There’s a reason why babies need both maternal and paternal influence. And maybe the presentation of the gospel is confused by having to cull both the paternal and the maternal out of one God.

    Thinking out loud, as always.

  14. Morphea

    Well, Cors, I did say it wasn’t fair and that I think you’re great. Nevertheless, no one wants to hear, “yeah, you’re great and all but I’m not listening to you for a minute. Talk to the hand.” Perhaps I should, you know, say nothing until I have something to say. Righto.

    Sorry again.

  15. harmonicminer

    I was just wondering, you know, why the big names in the emerging church movement seem mostly to be, uh, MEN?

    What… don’t they let women lead, too? Or write, apparently…. I just searched for books on “emergency” (just kidding, really searched for “emerging church”), and found several websites that list many books and references on the EC, and almost none are by women.

    Sexist pigs.

    All kidding aside…. the beginning of conversations like this has to be some recognition of the fundamental differences between men and women. The notion that men are “feminized” requires some recognizable starting point as “unfeminized”.

    I’m voting for Conan the Barbarian (not to be confused with Ahnold, who is more feminized every day). He might be a pretty good neighbor… and would probably not expect me to pay for his medical care. Of course, after a hard day of raiding the local village, he might be grumpy.

  16. Chad Post author


    I agree that it’s important to start at a place of dealing with basic differences. For example, boys have a pee-pee and girls have a hoo-ha.

    I have never been as aware as the fundamental, undeniable differences between men and women as I have been in the past ten months, as a bundle of masculine terror has been dropped upon our soft and feminine household. Anyone who says boys are taught to be boys has never had a son.

  17. grammy

    “…smoking increases testosterone levels” (Jeremy’s link). WOW! Ash, you handsome stud muffin — this explains everything!

  18. harmonicminer

    Got three kids… all very different…. with gender-predictable interests, for the most part, though with occasional divergence.

    I’ve come to believe in “blank slate” tabula rasa theory. AFter you raise you kids, you’re a blank slate.

  19. grammy

    Cerise: What’s going on with you, sweety? I’m concerned. If you want to spill your guts privately, it’s

    Decreasing testerone levels: I just read in Psych Today (that fount of all wisdom) that 11% of women and 6% of men admit falling asleep during sex. They didn’t cite the source of that stat, but I was SHOCKED (not at the women–we’re often all about “let me know when you’re done, dear, so I can wake up and reposition my body pillow; I love you and everythingzzzzzzzzzzzz”). I mean, 1 out of 16 men has actually fallen asleep during sex??? It’s very interesting that in the past couple of years I’ve encountered situations in marital counseling sessions where the wife is complaining of their husband’s lowered libido. After assessing the usual (are you gay/what medications are you on/sexual history/etc.), it often comes down to this: the husband is just plain too tired to get it up. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find this alarming. Never in the history of mankind (deliberate use of the politically incorrect term here) has this ever stopped a man’s libido. What is up with THAT???


  20. Morphea

    Teri (et al, since you’re all beloved friends), in a nutshell: I’m sick of being an irritable, judgemental bitch. Everything makes me mad. My friends are in three camps – 1. Embrace your bitch. You are one; you’ll always be one. 2. Get help – you have a really lovely person inside locked in by fear/unresolved anger/chemical imbalance/not enough sex/whatever. 3. You’re not a bitch! You’re really nice to ME. Are you secretly hating me inside? You are, aren’t you? Why? Why?

    I could go on and on. Hence me not being Happy Girl.

    As to gender studies, I’m overwhelmed by conflicting beliefs, confusion and ignorace. I can hardly get thoughts out of my mouth before I’m arguing the contrary to myself. It’s exhausting and (say it with me) pissing me off.

    Here’s what I hate the most: assigning gender identification with value judgements. Example: saying a man is effeminate is not generally a compliment. Saying a woman is mannish: likewise (as a woman with many personality traits generally assigned to maleness I’m particularly indignant about this one – why am I less because I resemble men in some ways? What’s wrong with men?). Being unhappy with church atmospheres because they’ve been feminized with flowers and drapery and mauve carpet makes me crazy. I don’t like mauve! I’m a woman and I hate those atmospheres, too. Did women do it, really? Are flowers un-manly? Who decided that shit? I’m all for men getting together, if they wish, and being manly, just like I like getting together with women and just enjoying being a female among females (caveat: if the women are getting together to bitch about men I’m out). And to be fair, womenly women are just as annoying to me as manly men. They’re generally people who’ve fashioned a false stereotype for themselves based on what they think their gender is supposed to personify and then living by that. They’re caricatures of their respective genders.

    This doesn’t mean that I think people shouldn’t celebrate being whatever gender they’re born with (or whichever gender they’ve chosen). I just don’t like it when they do it by detracting the opposite gender. And I think many of these God Men, Promise Keepers followers are (maybe not consciously) men feeling threatened that their place as men is being taken over by women and that they need to put females back in their proper place. Or take back THEIR proper place from women who’ve perforce taken over the role because they stopped being manly enough. Which I believe is wrong. Women don’t have a place – neither do men. Women being in their “place” is why feminism even exists, and I think overall it’s historically a necessary movement. That article – that minister saying that men should grab their sword and lead their families offended me to the core. (Which precipitated my extremely ill-advised ignoring of your opinion, Corey, for which I apologize again. No one should ignore you. Not ever.) I guess I understand that many Christians believe that the male in the marriage is to be the spiritual head because of what St. Paul said, but I think that that’s another arbitrary gender-based assignment and therefore wrong. I know – I’m basically saying that I think that the Bible is either straight-up wrong on this point or grossly misenterpreted. I don’t think women or men should be assigned arbitrary roles in any situation based on gender. Churches, marriages, doctor/nurse, anything. Anything arbitrary, I mean. Women being assigned the role of childbearer isn’t arbitrary. At least not yet. I think very strongly that women and men are first and foremost people, and should take roles in their lives based on their acumen and preference and nothing else. If that means more women than men are full-time parents because more women than men happen to be best suited to and prefer a more nurturing-of-children role in the household, well…that’s another kettle of fish and I’m not getting into it. Whatever floats your boat, I say. I guess.

    [I realize that I've said 'arbitrary' like a jillion times now. Sorry about that. My inner thesaurus is apparently broken and I can't be bothered to find an online one.]

    Anyway [sigh], this is all my opinion and you know that I’m a pretty frightened, angry person at the moment. But I still think what I think and I don’t believe a lot of this is going to be shaken any time soon – my beliefs about gender, I mean.

    Another thing really quick. I practice what I preach, in case any ad hominem attacks are coming my way. I don’t roll my eyes and snort: “Men!” I don’t speak ill of the male gender in anything resembling general terms (unless they’ve joined Promise Keepers and then they’re fair game. Kidding.). I don’t want women to be pigeonholed and therefore I don’t do it to women or men myself. I don’t say “Anything boys can do girls can do better” and if I had a daughter, I wouldn’t teach her that either. Maybe I’m a neutered ultra-PC-whore, but I really, really want to make the world more fair for future people, you know? Future girls AND boys. And I don’t want to be made to feel responsible for flowers in the goddam sanctuary just because I’m a woman and I think flowers kick ass.


  21. Sharolyn

    Wow, Cerise, you go! Your anger is only interesting to me, so this is a safe place to LET IT OUT!

    On this whole gender topic… We have a daughter and recently had a son. With both pregnancies, we waited until the delivery room to discover the baby’s gender.

    It has surprised me how many people have said, “That’s great, you’ve got one of each.” I got one of each? PHEW! I’m so glad I’m not missing out on anythihng! (Kidding, of course.)

    If I’m going to be completely honest, I must admit that in life I would like at least one daughter, so I have no room to judge a man for wanting a son.

    My husband enjoys sports. We know a few families with daughters only, and those dads are coaching softball, etc. We even know a girl who is on an all-boy little league team! I love that. My husband once said, “I want to take (our daughter) to a WNBA game, just so she knows she can do that.” My husband will coach, I’m sure, whatever sport for either or both of our children, regardless of gender.

    By the way, I’m not trying to stereotype that males are better coaches. You just wouldn’t want me to coach ANYTHING. Which might illustrate one of Cerise’s points – possibly because I’m arbitrarily not physically coordinated, or possibly because if I had been male, I would have been encouraged more to participate in sports..

    Now my thoughts are rambling. So I’ll just say to Chad that I like guys in designer glasses who talk about their feelings.

  22. aly hawkins

    Can I just say kudos to you, ‘rise, for a great explanation of your angst? I’m right there with ya, and appreciate your clear and passionate breakdown of your thoughts about the matter.

    And you’ll have to excuse Chad. Sometimes being funny is more important than anything, apparently.

  23. Chad Post author

    I’m sorry dearie! Aly’s right. I have a terribly overdeveloped sense of gallows humor.

    To address one specific point you made:

    “I just don’t like it when they do it by detracting the opposite gender. And I think many of these God Men, Promise Keepers followers are (maybe not consciously) men feeling threatened that their place as men is being taken over by women and that they need to put females back in their proper place. Or take back THEIR proper place from women who’ve perforce taken over the role because they stopped being manly enough. Which I believe is wrong.”

    I cannot possibly agree more. I like to tell people this: My wife and I have different gifts. One of her gifts is financial management. She leads our family in that way. One of my gifts is musical creation (and my wife is a musican), so I lead the family in that way. Erica’s better at this… I’m better at that… and so on and so forth.

    The bummer of the feminist (or masculin…ist) movements is just what you’ve outlined. The last thing on their minds, if you read the rhetoric, is how to better serve and honor members of the other gender. Since I believe that God made us in his image, and we’re clearly made differently, (remember pee-pees and hoo-has), He needs us to be ourselves to the Nth degree for this whole thing to function correctly

  24. Morphea

    See, this is where my having no sense of humor kills the whole blog humor thing. No worries, Chad. The sigh was a “Oh, Chad, you naughty naughty kidder, you!” and not so much a “I can’t win. I try and I try but no one cares blah blah blah…”

    You see, Mr., this is why you rule and I love you. You too, Sharolyn.

    Now you guys go out and fashion the world the way you want it. I know you’re up to it.


  25. phil

    Cerise, When you said this:

    “I just don’t like it when they do it by detracting the opposite gender. And I think many of these God Men, Promise Keepers followers are (maybe not consciously) men feeling threatened that their place as men is being taken over by women and that they need to put females back in their proper place. Or take back THEIR proper place from women who’ve perforce taken over the role because they stopped being manly enough. Which I believe is wrong”

    it seemed to me that you immediately did the thing you said you didn’t like in the first sentence. Maybe I misinterpreted…

    Anyway, while I’d probably never go to Promise Keepers convention (I’m more into bonding with my MIDI keyboard), I know several folks who do… I’ve asked them about it… main message is “Be faithful to your wife, and take care of your kids, or you’re a jerk.”

    I wouldn’t knock it. USA would be a WAY, WAY better place if all husbands/fathers WERE Promise-Keeper types.

    A better target to pick for your male-related angst… the huge numbers of so called men who don’t keep their promises.

    My 2 1/2 cents.

  26. phil


    We live where we live because she wants to. She writes the checks. She homeschools our 14 yr old, and home schooled one of our other kids, too. Also her choice. I work more than I would if she had a job outside the home. Now that I think about it… I think most of my life is shaped by her, except where I work and what work I do.

    I guess I’m another soft man. But I do go the range now and then and pretend I can see the target. And I attend faculty meetings (very courageously) without body armor.

  27. Morphea

    Oh, no. No, no, no. My whole long-ass response just appeared on this page and disappeared. Oh, dear god. There were links and everything.

    MICHAEL!!! HELP!!!

  28. Swoosh

    “If ye would take liberty over wealth, and contest for freedom over peaceful servitude, and if ye drink my own beer, which is proof God loves us, then ye are a man.”
    (my interpretive paraphrase and gross conjoining of of ol’ sam adams, and B-Frank)

  29. harmonicminer

    Cerise, have Aly or Chad (since Mike’s on sabbatical from the blog) check the SPAM folder. Sometimes posts get put there automatically, if they have certain characteristics the spam filter looks for (Did you cuss at me a lot or something?).

    Anyway, I’ll bet they can find your comment and put it up.

    Aly, Chad?

  30. Morphea

    [rewritten, sobbing all the while]

    Oh, look, an ad hominem attack.

    Just kidding.

    So, Phil, you’re thinking I’m generalizing about the men in these movements just when I was going on about how I hate generalizations? That I’m detracting from the male gender by expressing my fears about PK and the GodMen thing? Fair enough.

    To clarify: I wasn’t trying to generalize about the men in the movements as much as point out what the movements are about that gives me pause. I’m starting to think that protesting the destructive bits of a multi-faceted movement makes generalization unavoidable, but I did some digging and this entry will be link-a-licious in a sincere attempt to back up my criticisms with facts about what exactly PK and GodMen stand for.

    You’re right – I read about Promise Keepers at their website and believe along with you that there’s more good than bad going on. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, Phil, but I hope you don’t think that because PK is doing good things that they’re above criticism.

    I didn’t find much, I’ll admit, that bothers me, at least from a gender-equitist’s standpoint (somebody please come up with a better label!). Here are some links to things in their FAQ I found quite encouraging actually:

    PK’s stance on the role of women

    PK’s position on women clergy

    Obviously they’ve been asked the questions and have responded with a “it’s none of our business” or “what’s the biggie? Just as long as men feel included in the life of the church”.

    However, this I found in their “For Women” section:

    7. What steps can I take to be an enthusiastic and effective “Promise Reaper?”

    “Be grateful for the spiritual hunger your man is showing. [Acknowledge the little steps he is making to lead you and your family well.] Be affirming in public. Practice patience. Paul wrote in Ephesians chapter five that respect is one of the important things we can give our husbands. It has been said that the wife is the spiritual barometer in the home. Protect your own time with the Lord so that you will be able to discern the spiritual cues in your home and with your man.” [brackets are mine]

    Also, here’s a quote from one of their supporters (who was weighing in at the GodMen article comments section, coincidentally):

    “Posted By: Steven Hronec (11/1/2006 at 10:59:02 AM)

    Comment: Please don’t equate Promise Keepers with what these guys are doing. Promise Keepers has never been a “chest thumping” display of masculinity. I attended multiple Promise Keepers conferences and worked at one of them. The speakers at the Promise Keepers conferences talked about loving our wives and treating them with the respect they deserve. [The man is to be the spiritual head of the household, but he is not to be a hard fisted dictator.] He is to love his wife as Christ loved the church, which means that he would gladly give his life for her. I just wanted to say this so that hopefully people who read these comments will not equate the “GodMen” activities with those of Promise Keepers or others who are doing their best to live as Christ taught us to live.” [brackets again mine]

    Man, I know that, as I said, many Christians believe that the man is the spiritual leader of his household because he is male because St. Paul seems to have said exactly that, but I have to say again that I do not hold to that belief in my very bones. I didn’t believe in that even before I left the church. That one thing, among many good things, is what I don’t like about PK. I know that the last quote is only the words of one man, but if he so clearly came away from PK with that very belief reinforced, is it too much that I assume that many other men came away with the same thing? In that one quote from the PK website, also, it’s clear that they (PK) believe that the man is indeed to lead his family because he is male. This is harmful teaching, in my view, and is damaging to the furthering of gender equality.

    Regarding GodMen, so much in that article is so blatantly sexist and damaging to men’s beliefs in their role as males (let alone damaging to their beliefs about WOMAN’S role) that I’m not going to spend any more time on them. Unless you want me to, and then prepare to reap the whirlwind as I pick it apart. The fact that it is most emphatically not led by Christian leaders – only laypersons are allowed to take the stage – and the lambasting they got in the comments section (link above) from men and women, Christians and Other, lead me to believe that this is a hysterical, cultish movement that’s not to be taken very seriously. Though I’ll admit that I pray that it fades away quickly. These guys think PK is for pansies.

    Thank you, Phil, for your kindness of manner in your challenge. I think I’ve done my best not to fling shit too irresponsibly (though I shamefully admit that carefully researched debate isn’t something I’m terribly familiar with), and have learned a lot in the process. Thank you for that as well.


  31. Morphea

    OK, it disappeared again. Fortunately this time I saved it to Word. I need a hand here. For once I debate as responsibly as I’m able and it’s getting swallowed in the ether.


  32. Morphea

    Going to try submitting it when I get on the MacPro at home…

    If that works there’ll be no living with Michael when he returns.


  33. harmonicminer

    Thanks for finding Cerise’s post, Aly.

    Who are these “GodMen”? I went to the link, but it seemed to be just a set of relatively incoherent comments about an article that wasn’t shown at the link.

    Cerise, if you knew me personally, and the way I relate to the women in my life (those in my family, those I work with, those I teach, etc.), you’d probably see that I have absolutely no problem with women in leadership roles, blah blah blah…. all the usual disclaimers. Shoot… I changed LOTS of THOSE diapers, when I was home… it seemed only equitable, since I don’t have the sensitive sense of smell she does….

    There are differences between men and women that go beyond external anatomy. I’m not suggesting you said there weren’t… but it’s the place I still think we need to start. You’re aware of the effect testosterone has on women, right? Increased sex drive, among other things…. including extra aggresiveness, more risk-taking behavior, etc. Oh yeah, and the mustache. Almost forgot. Imagine growing up with that stuff in your blood…. The primary task of men is self-control, and that’s no joke. Every man knows it. He’ll admit it to other men…. maybe. But too often when this is said to women, it’s taken as meaning some kind of confirmation of the suspicion women mostly already have of men….. so we shut up and soldier on, if we’re men, or act out, if we’re boys.

    Chad’s quote of statistics about the effect of a man’s religious commitments on is family seems about right, to me.

    I think there’s another way to read Paul’s comments. I’m not claiming it’s absolutely what he meant… but it’s an option. So try this:

    If a man DOES lead spiritually in some way (and by definition this doesn’t mainly mean making pronouncements and enforcing doctrinal perspectives on the family, but simply showing love and care, and exhibiting commitment to their welfare and the spiritual unity/participation of the family in seeking God), the family will tend to follow…. and a smart woman will not resist the obvious benefits flowing from that, for herself and her children. I.e., if he wants to lead, bless him and help. If he wants to lead AWAY from spiritual commitment (i.e., he insists his children be raised as pagans or something), nothing in Paul’s writing seems to say the wife should let him lead in THAT direction.

    Women’s leadership styles are often remarked upon as being more “consensus building” than men’s. Probably a stereotype… I some pretty, uh, assertive women. I always like them…. as long as their assertions agree with my point of view. :-) Anyway, go with me here…. my point is that leadership involves a great deal more than being boss… which you know, of course.

    My point is that the best way to lead is to DO things, not just or mostly to SAY things. When you DO and others FOLLOW, you have led… even if you weren’t BOSS. I have, in fact, led quite a few bosses in my life in the direction I wanted them to go, merely by DOING and succeeding at it.

    I’d like to believe that’s the kind of “leadership of the home” that Paul had in mind, as opposed to the “ordering around” sort. As far as the “he is her head” and “her covering” stuff, I dunno what it means, except he’d better be willing to give everything (including life itself) to take care of her and the family.

    Excuse me, gotta go… the boss just called. She wants a backrub.

  34. harmonicminer

    I’m still cringing in the corner waiting for someone to tell the Greek proves that my, uh, exegesis is all wrong. The only Greek I know is “feta cheese”.

    But if feels right to me and mine.

  35. Morphea

    You have to know, Phil, that “lead” has been explained to me (and every other Christian) every which way from Sunday, all my life, in order to make it palatable to hear. I know every every every way to explain the scriptures in this matter. It still boils down to the fact that the man leads, because he is a man, and the woman does not. I didn’t dig it when I was ten and I’m not buying it now.

    And calling your wife ‘the boss’ doesn’t earn you gender-equity cred with me. I never said I suspected you were a sexist. I’m pretty sure you’re not.


  36. harmonicminer

    Um… are you sure the scripture says women don’t lead? I don’t see that… and the scripture is full of women leaders… and not just in the Old Testament.

    But, maybe we can approach it this way:

    What do YOU think are the typical, “normal”, differences between men and women, other than morphology? (See.. I KNEW you’d like that word….)

    If you are commited to the idea that there are no differences other than “primary and secondary sexual characteristics” (i.e., that all other apparent differences are merely cultural norms, not based in any actually facts of gender difference beyond that), then I think our conversation is done, because we’ll never agree about much.

    If you’re willing to explore some actual differences between men and women… maybe we can talk. But if so, I’d like to start with where YOU think the differences lie, instead of saying what I think…. mainly because I’m not exactly sure what I think they are (ask me tomorrow, and I may think something different), but I’m sure there are some.

    Just to stimulate the conversation: it seems that a man’s first impulse is to throw himself in front of the bus to save her. If he has time to think about it, he may chicken out… but it’s the reflex position. Women’s first reflex is to do this for children… but not for “the man”. Oh, she’ll feel bad when he croaks… but she won’t do something stupid trying to stop it.

    Cerise, I don’t mean this rudely… but I’m not trying to earn “gender equity cred” with you or anyone else. I have nothing to prove to you. But I am interested in having this conversation, if you want to.

  37. grammy

    …as am I, Phil.

    As a card-carrying, bra-burning, acid-dropping member of NOW in 1969, the church’s arcane views on the role of women in the home and in the church were deeply offensive to me on so many levels that I threw out the proverbial baby with the bath water for some time. One of the important paths that brought me back into organized Christendom was realizing that there were not just others, but many ORGANIZED, INTELLIGENT, PUBLISHED “others” who openly voiced my guiltily held secret beliefs. (Ex: the day I read that some of the earliest manuscripts refer to the Holy Spirit in the female gender, I literally cried from feeling vindicated. For years, whenever I had tried to have a non-argumentative, mind-expanding dialogue about the possibility that since God said “Let us create man and woman in our image” that just MAYBE the holy spirit represented the feminine character of the Trinity. HOLY REACTIONS, BATMAN!!! If we’d been further from the big city, I might been burned at the stake!)

    I think Paul’s writings on the role of husbands and wives were targeted at pathological, dysfunctional marriages where the relationship was so bad that rules had to be imposed to give some kind of working structure to the family. Let’s call that “Plan B.” I like “Plan A” better. That’s the Egalitarian marriage where we are both equally worthy and responsible for our little civilization before God. Since we are co-presidents, all issues/problems are talked through and fully listened to, with every effort given to developing a gameplan that is enough of a compromise for each person to be satisfied sufficiently to sign off on. Can’t come to that shangrila of perfectly balanced compromise? Don’t make a decision yet. If each person feels utterly and respectfully heard, at some point one will eventually conclude, “Okay, since I can’t win them all, I’m okay bending more toward him/her on this one. In fact it’s much less important to me to “win” this one because I feel like I’ve already “won” by having my feelings and opinions heard on such a deep level. It’ll be my turn next time.”

    So I had all this figured out and neatly packaged years ago and then ran across the passage that talks about the man being the head of the wife. After retreiving all the daggers I like to throw at my St. Paul poster during moments like these, I decided to be fair and do a word search. “Head” obviously does not mean “better than” or “boss” in the original language, it means “the source of the water…where the head waters spring from.” Now THAT is an interesting thing to ponder, isn’t it? There IS some kind of significance attached to the man that we always get hostile about because we assume it means Paul is trying to tell us to run for our birkas. But obviously, there was an honoring and respect for “things that came first” in that culture.

    You know what? My Halcion has kicked in and I stopped being coherent many sentences ago, I think. But count me in on this issue. I feel rather passionately about it…


  38. aly hawkins

    My personal library is over-stocked with books by authors teasing out the meaning of the “biggie” scriptures on men and women and their relationships in church and home. The egalitarians don’t issue cards yet, but when they do, I will carry one… and I hold this position partly because I believe it’s the clear teaching of scripture.

    The other reason I hold an egalitarian view is that I genuinely believe there is no cookie-cutter way to do relationships, marriage or otherwise. We can make generalities all day long about the differences and similarities between men and women, but the truth is that everybody’s weird and different and unique, and consequently relationships are weird and different and unique. There’s no one “right” way to do marriage (except with the obvious respect and healthy self-sacrifice)… there’s only the way that works, and that way is never the same for any two people. I believe the Way of Marriage Teri has described above is the BEST way, but even that will look different for every red-headed stepchild and her man.

    I think Promise Keepers (and maybe even GodMen, though they frighten me a bit, as I said) are addressing some real concerns: marriages falling apart, kids out of control, lack of genuine community (especially among men) that leads to isolation. But what bothers me is the solution they offer to these problems is one-size-fits-all. And one size DOES NOT fit all. A big part of growing up and growing a marriage is figuring out what size DOES fit… together. (And not “just the two of us” together, either. But I’ll save the “marriage is a communal commitment” rabbit trail for another day.)

  39. harmonicminer

    Still hoping someone will address the issue of the “real” differences between men and women.

    Aly, I hear what you’re saying about everyone being different, requiring different balances in every relationship. I agree, actually, being the pragmatic sort. But: are you saying there is no “tendency to a norm” that is based on the typical differences in nature between men and women?

    In a culture where women were sometimes viewed almost as chattel, Paul’s writings were purely revolutionary. Those who view men and women as basically “the same” will disregard him now, except as historical footnote, even while lauding him for moving things in a better direction. Those who see men and women as having real differences will try to understand what Paul was really getting at.

    My point: as usual, the presuppositions we bring to this will form our interpretive lenses (how pomo of me). So instead of trying to read Paul’s mind, it might be good to get our presuppostions on the table, so to speak, so that we can all see them, and assess their influence on how we see Paul… and maybe even consider how good those presuppositions really are.

  40. Morphea

    Sorry, Philly. I read back and the levity did NOT come through. Of course you’re not trying to prove you’re a gender-equitist. Only us young dickheads thrash around in such a silly manner. My apologies – not funny.

    I am not equipped to outline what I think the differences between the genders are, besides plumbing. No, NOT besides plumbing, because I believe transsexuals have their place at the table of “who are we, woman and man?” discussions as well. Just to throw one more grenade in the fire, you know. I am not equipped. I just got into this maybe 10 years ago, you see, and have actually been reading up on it only for maybe two years. I’m still dwelling, obviously, on millenia of oppression and am trying to discern which qualities truly are gender-specific, worthy of note and celebration, and yes, which are traits handed to men and women based on years of cultural conditioning that will eventually, I hope, be unlearned. Traits that served to keep women in the kitchen and men in the woods with chainsaws. [Side note: I wasn't raised talking about gender-equity with my parents, but my dad did teach me the use of a full-size chainsaw when I was 10. Never mind that I could only operate it for 10-minute intervals. With him hovering nearby and nibbling on his fingernails.] Here’s the thing – I can’t tell the difference, if it exists at all. You and me having a conversation about it – and I’m game – would be very, very hard, just because I don’t have a clue and don’t want to concede anything just yet. It’s stupid, yes, but kind of where I’m at. You and Teri and Aly do this, and I’ll listen. I wish I could promise that I’ll listen with a shut mouth, but hey – this is ME we’re talking about here.

    Another side note: the first gender-studies book I ever read was “The Frailty Myth” by Colette Downing. It’s a good bokk, but you want to get your new young feminist mad really fast? This’ll do ya.

    Corey? [He hasn't forgiven us, Precious, and we deserves it.] I’d really like to hear your thoughts. You seem to be in a really interesting place in researching gender roles and I’m curious what you think. Have I already apologized for being a butthead?

    You too, Chad. Come on. You’re both men – good ones, I’ll say – and people I trust with good thinking. (And not to your exclusion, Phil, but you’re already in, so begging and flattery are unnecessary.) Please? Angry feminist going through a quarter-life-crisis needs a hand.

    Here’s my other question: Why? Why DO we need to outline the differences between men and women? They’ll all be wild generalizations and won’t go for everyone, so why do it? What purpose will it serve, really?


  41. phil

    I think we have to at least put our presuppositions out for others to see.

    I’m actually not looking right now for BIG generalizations about gender differences. I’m more looking to try to establish a baseline of differences we can maybe agree on, as a starting point for discussion. It may be a small baseline… but it’ll be a start.

    Does anyone have ANYTHING to say in the way of observations about real differences, however small? Based on science, based on your own experience/observations (or other people’s!), or whatever?

    I just find it hard to believe that most people really think there is no difference but plumbing, yet enormous amounts of rhetoric seem to have that as the background.

    So take a chance, say what you think, stick your face out there, engage in risky public behavior [in other words, act male... :-) ] and say what you really think. It’s OK, you don’t have to prove it… like anybody could… but I’ll bet down deep in there, we all have some opinions on this.

  42. Swoosh

    Ok-I’ll take a serious shot at this.
    There are the obvious physical differences, which speaks for itself, but can interpreted a million different ways.
    There are the not so obvious; such as an average of 4 times more neurons connecting the rigth and left sides of the brain in women than in men…hmmm, and all of is implications as well.

    I like Dr Michael Conner’s (Clinical and Medical Physchologist) take on this:
    There can be no absolutes, only tendencies.
    That being said, take a look at some interesting “tendencies” he found in some of his research:
    On placing groups of boys and groups of girls in a maze (at different times) and asking them to find their way out it was found that:

    “A group of boys generally establish a hierarchy or chain of command with a leader who emerges on his own or through demonstrations of ability and power. Boys explore the maze using scouts while remaining in distant proximity to each other.

    Groups of girls tend to explore the maze together as a group without establishing a clear or dominant leader. Relationships tends to be co-equal. Girls tend to elicit discussion and employ “collective intelligence” to the task of discovering a way out. Girls tend to work their way through the maze as a group. Boys tend to search and explore using structured links and a chain of command.”

    Regarding the use of brain power for problem solving, the tendencies were:
    “Women can focus on more than one problem at one time and frequently prefer to solve problems through multiple activities at a time.”
    “men rely easily and more heavily on their left brain to solve one problem one step at a time.”

    On memory:
    “Women have an enhanced ability to recall memories that have strong emotional components. They can also recall events or experiences that have similar emotions in common. Women are very adept at recalling information, events or experiences in which there is a common emotional theme.

    Men tend to recall events using strategies that rely on reconstructing the experience in terms of elements, tasks or activities that took place. Profound experiences that are associated with competition or physical activities are more easily recalled.

    There appears to be a structural and chemical basis for observed memory differences. For instance, the hypocampus, the area in the brain primarily responsible for memory, reacts differently to testosterone in men and it reacts differently to changing levels of estrogen and progesterone in women.”

    These are just a few of his observations on general tendencies in behavior and such.
    That being said, trying to remove the nature vs nuture or socializing affect on the formation of today’s genders, is almost impossible.

    The story here in florida of a kid being attacked by an alligator in front of his parents, and his father looking for a tool to confront the gator with, while the mother simply runs out to the kid to grab him, kind of sums it up.

    As for the “why do this” question, equality does not equal sameness, nor should it, and I can’t stand our damn PC culture, which only serves to make liars of us all when deep down inside we know some people are full of shit and some stereotypes are born out of true tendencies, like it or not.
    Women ARE more emotional, less rational.
    Men ARE often singleminded, and thick-headed.
    Women CAN’T do everything men can as well as they can, and men CAN’T do everything women can as well as they can.

  43. phil

    Thanks Swoosh, that was an absolutely lovely start… and I learned something. I didn’t know the story of the alligator, or the thing about the 4 times as many connections between left/right brain.

    I can confirm that the women I know tend to recall names more easily than men, tend to recall many more details in almost a visceral way of events in their lives.

    Sadly, I tend not to be able to recall the thing itself after awhile, but only what I told myself about it at the time. Mere words, and a few images, in other words. I’m jealous.

    The business with the maze was fascinating too. Sounds kind of right to me, just off the cuff.

  44. aly hawkins

    I’ve read many studies detailing the differences between men and women, such as the ones Swoosh has indicated here, and I think they’re pretty useful for pointing toward generalities in behavior tendency. But tendencies are never hard and fast. “Sex” is biological, while “gender” is psychological, and both are a spectrum, not an either/or. We’re learning more every day about the prevalence of inter-sexual people, who fall somewhere in the middle of the “sex” spectrum, and about transsexual people, who fall somewhere in the middle of the “gender” spectrum. While these may indeed be the exception and not the rule, their very existence indicates that the “rules” are pretty bendy.

    My sex is female and I identify with the female gender, but I have a hard time explaining why that is. I’m pretty rational and not terribly emotional, but I find it easy to empathize emotionally even with irrational people. I have a tendency toward taking charge and bossing people around, and I hate running around in a group without a plan. I have a terrible memory, even of emotional and important events. (Any close friend can confirm this.) I’m a multi-tasker by nature and I think “collective intelligence” is about the smartest thing since sliced bread. I’m really good at figuring out how things mechanical or electronic work, and I can take them apart and put them back together again without reading the manual. I believe relationships are more important than tasks, but I also tend to be a bit pragmatic in “using” relationships to get things done. I have an excellent sense of direction and love maps. When I’m in a mixed group, I usually like talking with the guys more than the girls…I’m frequently more interested in the guys’ topics of conversation. (Not always, but mostly.) I like card games, and I can be pretty competitive. Scratch that. I’m a sore loser. I love babies and kittens and puppies and flowers, but I would never use them as a decor theme.

    So that’s me. I can’t tell you what the fundamental differences are between men and women, because there’s just me: somewhere in the middle, identifying female, but not really sure why.

  45. aly hawkins

    BTW, the maze thing would’ve driven me bats. I would have made my best effort at the “wandering around in a group” thing for about 5 minutes, and then ended up getting a nice helmet and one of those nifty horse crops like General MacArthur had and drawing up orders for each girl.

  46. harmonicminer

    Aly, that last sounds suspiciously like one of Cerise’s books, according to her description….

    And absolutely… we’re talking here about “norms in a population” or even just “central tendencies” in a population. Whatever differences there are between men and women must be largely based in biology (including the very subtle ones), but those biological facts also relfect a spectrum. That’s what makes this a difficult conversation to have, and one requiring us to avoid using generalizations as determiners for a particular person.

    Give us more! This is really interesting.

    And Aly, given that a particular person may not fall squarely into one simply category of personality, can you make any generalizations based on your own experience of OTHER women and men, as opposed to just self-observation?

  47. aly hawkins

    Whoa…believe me, I had nothing kinky in mind when I mentioned the horse crop. I was riffing on the whole “boys generally establish a hierarchy or chain of command” thing. I’m not really into playing military dress-up with the girlies. At least, not so far.

    My observation is that many of our couple-acquaintances have more “the norm” dynamics that do we. This was actually a problem until recently, as it’s pretty difficult to make friends with couples who don’t get you. Ash is more flexible and adaptable than I am (as a rule), and he was fine hanging with the manly-men, talking tech and sports, even tho that’s not his daily M.O. But I had problems vibing with the chicas. I don’t read People, I don’t have TV, I don’t listen to much pop music, I’m not a big shopper, I don’t have kids, and I prefer action/adventure movies over romantic comedy. (For the record, I HATE that I’m generalizing right now about what girls like. But these are my experiences and my observations.) I like theology and social sciences, and not a lot of other girls have read Moltmann or Hauerwas. (Not a lot of guys have either, but the odds are better.)

    But every once in a great while, I meet someone like Cerise or Gretchen or Erica or Teri or Sharolyn, and we recognize each other from across the room. “Aha!” we say to ourselves. “She will get me. She might read People or have kids or listen to Christina Aguilera, but deep in my gut I know she also likes to exercise the muscle between her ears, and she can set the clock on my DVD player.”

    I’m rambling. Where is this headed?

  48. harmonicminer

    Absolutely nowhere definite… but maybe someplace interesting.

    I’m just interested in what different folks think, from there own experiences or study, what the “real differences” between genders may be.

    For people like you, female with some (give me liberty here) “male” traits, or vice versa, the really interesting thing to me is to try to relate that to the notion that most “gender based traits” are socialized, not “original”. For the latter to be true, there would have to be a socialized explanation for the divergence of some people from the “blank slate but socialized” norm for a given society.

    I’m not sure that analysis will hold up under the facts… and I’m always especially interested in knowing what influences, if any, people will adduce in presenting their own self-perceived divergence from the societal “norm”. It seems to me that many say it was there almost form the beginning, as far as they can recall, and use this observation to defend the notion they were different from the beginning, e.g., not socialized in the “normal” way.

    So they’re defending their differentness as organic in some way, and use that as an argument against there being a gender organic norm, since they feel they’re just naturally the way they are, and those other people must have been socialized to be different from them. I think this feeling may describe a large number of gender theorists… who are often drawn to the field by their own sense of difference from the “norm”.

    I don’t think I’m say this very well… but I suspect that the people who most talk about this are those who happen to organically differ from the “mean”, and who can’t quite shake the notion that those who are different from them most have been socialized to be that way.

    I dunno.. is this coming through at all clearly? If not, ask me a question or something, if you want… or just ignore me, as it probably deserves. Being Daddy of three, with both genders represented, I have come to think we’re all very different the very day of birth… but that there are some gender norms, though of course that won’t be determinative for every person.

    Which is, of course, one more reason why bigotry is just so STUPID… because the bigots assume they know something about a person based only on a particular thing, gender, race, whatever, and may fail to notice the differences in populations which may nevertheless frequently have certain characteristics.

  49. aly hawkins

    Huh. Good thoughts, Phil. Your ideas about “organically” different people suspecting socialization as the culprit for others’ extreme gender identification is pretty interesting, and I’m gonna chew on that. I think you might be onto something. Maybe. Though I personally don’t remember feeling “different” from an early age. I found it easy to make friends and relate to both girls and boys as a kid. I liked girlie activities such as playing with dolls, dressing up, and imaginary games involving complicated relationships and “grown-up” conversations, and I also loved to climb trees, get dirty and blow shit up. But if memory serves (iffy, at best), that was pretty “normal” …at least in my neighborhood. Girls and boys ran around in a big tumbly gang, and we played whatever our guts (or I, in my guise as Gen. MacArthur) told us to play.

    It wasn’t until pre-adolescence that I began to feel alienated from other girls. Suddenly they just seemed dumb. Actually, the boys seemed dumb too, but their brand of dumb was easier to understand. I think my personal experience is the reason I’ve latched onto socialization as a key (not necessarily THE key) for extreme gender identification …it just wasn’t there until we started becoming adults. I didn’t see it among my peers until age 11 or 12.

    One thing I DO wholeheartedly agree with: bigotry is stupid. The need to categorize and taxonomize is inherently human, and our urge to stereotype is understandable. But stereotypes just don’t account for the breadth of human diversity, and making judgments based on them is idiocy.

  50. harmonicminer

    I wonder if for some folks the great sense of “organic” difference just doesn’t emerge till late pre-adolescence.

    I think many of us have a sense of being the “odd one” in some way or other, which is part of what makes this so hard to write about/think about without putting yourself on other people.

    When I was a kid, I loved to read. No kidding, at age 9 I’d check out about a dozen books from the library, read them all in a week, return them and start over. Biographies, novels, histories, short stories, science fiction, futurism (not same thing), even a smidge of philosophy. Shoot, I’d read math books recreationally, just ’cause it was interesting. You should see my Marvel comics collection from the 60s.

    I felt so completely unlike the other kids, male or female… unable to make “small talk”, didn’t care about the latest band or singer, thought the Beatles were bugs from England, you name it.

    Of course….. some things never change.

    My point: if you are “off the norm” in some way (and I hesitate to use a value-loaded word like “norm” here… but “mean” or “median” doesn’t quite say it, either) you really can’t tell on your own just why.

    People who participate (even READ) conversations like this one are probably “off the norm”….

    Anyway, on the topic of gender, some of the things I liked as a kid would be seen as “less masculine” than other boys’ preferences. Even now, I’m a really snappy dresser, and obsessively neat about my immediate environment. (Well… that last sentence was just tossed in there to see if Mike is reading this on the QT.) Chad, stop choking. Take a breath.

    And Aly… when you’re smarter than the average bear, other people are GOING to seem dumb to you sometimes. Or so I’ve heard from smart people. But, as the great sage said, “Just because they’re dumb doesn’t make them wrong.”

    I can relate to that. I know some really brilliant stupid people. And vice versa.

  51. corey

    formulating thoughts… trimming the fat… making sure the good folks at Standards & Practices won’t wanna have my head…

  52. grammy

    Wow…I haven’t been on for a couple of days. Great discussion, Aly and Phil!

    Aly, you struck a chord with me when you were describing not having a “slam-dunk” identification with either boys or girls while growing up. To this day, I don’t feel like “most women.” I feel guilty admitting that I’d rather work with men rather than women because of the kind of atmosphere that is generated in an all-female office. And one of my biggest pet peeves: going out with another couple and the other wife starting a separate conversation with me at the table because she assumes I couldn’t possibly be interested in what those menfolk are talking about. I’m ALWAYS more interested in what the “menfolk” are saying, because I never could stand the mindless drivel that most women vomit out in social situations. (Present company completely excepted, I hope it goes without saying…)

    Okay, gotta stop now.

  53. Swoosh

    I can relate to harmonicminer (sorry man, don’t know you by name). I too, always enjoyed reading, including sitting down and simply reading an encyclopedia, ‘cuz I enjoyed it.

    I also liked classical music and performing arts (to an extent). When I went to boarding school, and had to “live” with other boys my age, these were hard things to cling on to. I struggled with the whole popularity thing, especially being a sports guy. On one hand, were I to reveal my nerdy tendencies, including the fact that I was supposed to wear glasses all the time, I felt I would probably be just a little marginalized with teammates, but on the other hand, were I to associate fully with the jocks, then it was a pretty safe bet that the more studious types would probably “dumb-ify” me. A catch-22. I chose sports.

    It wasn’t until late in my high-school experience that I realized I did not really give people enough credit. By my senior year I had all my mates in the dorm reading and listening to classical music, and at the same time had some great experiences and conversation with some of the intellectuals as well (yes, that’s including you Morph-y).

    Now of course that is not always the case, as it can be incredibly hard to merge two worlds, or two diverse influences, real or imagined.
    The same kind of thing happened in coming to the US after spending a good part of my childhood overseas in Africa.

    The world-view that many people in the US had (a gross stereotype, I realize that now!) was so very sheltered and quite ignorant that it was incredibly shallow to me, it was another catch 22, as to what sort of life and expectation do I live up to? I certainly tried to assimilate as much as I could, and am pretty good at it now (ha ha), but ultimately I think it takes real initiative to be willing to step out and understand where people are coming from.
    At the risk of offending, let me offer this:
    It is relatively easy to come down on those things or people that do not stimulate us intellectually or otherwise.
    It is always fascinating to me to try and understand where people come from. Most often, there are things from childhood that directly affect where people are today, some of them are conscious things dealt with in a persons life, and some are not even yet on the radar yet deeply affect a persons emotional make-up.
    There are reason’s that jocks are jocks, but why? What expectation are they trying to live up to? Whose approvals are they so desperately trying gain? What insecurity are they trying to hide? There is always something behind the obvious that makes people tick.

    For some people of course, getting there and getting through all of the superficial stuff is an impossible task it seems.
    There is definite value that everyone can bring to the table, no matter how dumb or stuck-up a person really is. If you can get into the sincere stuff, you will find human existence at its bare minimum.
    So why not step out for a bit? Why not go to the sports bar to enjoy a game with a bunch of wanna-be jocks, instead of the center for performing arts? (again, more gross stereotypes!) There is value in that experience, and there is value that everyone can bring to the world. Who knows how much you will expand someone’s world-view simply by allowing yourself to be accessible..?

    So while there will probably always be stigma and stereotypes of which some are not accurate, and do not fully show who a person is, these are often symptoms of something else, and it is definitely easier to understand peoples ignorance (yours and mine included) in light of that fact that it is probably based on a very real experience or expectation in their life, instead of reversing the effort to stereotype them.

    Let me go one-step further and say instead of turning away from shallow conversation, why not turn it into something better? Why not take control of it, instead of worrying about our own sensibilities and understand that this person has reasons for being like this, probably emotional ones, and what can I do? Its ok to meet someone else’s needs from time to time, instead of worrying about our own.
    People who may seem shallow or dumb in the world are still people who live, breath, bleed, hurt, laugh, cry and experience emotions as sincere as the ones you and I experience. It just may be that their passions are different than yours or mine, and instead of dismissing them as offering any value to us, maybe we can offer value to them…and in turn, maybe learn something new or grow in some way within ourselves…
    What this has to do with Soft Men, I have no idea, except that if stereotypes are to change, why not be the one’s to help facilitate that change? Of course I have my own ideals about being a man, things I strive to live up to, but why not allow what someone else views to come in and perhaps enrich my own experience.

    Anyways, enough out of me, I’ve raided this posting for too long and can’t shut up!

    - a blind fool of a former dumb-ass jock reformed to a wanna-be dumb ass nerd guy who wants to build a bridge across the troubled waters of a devisive existance, one sport at a time…;)

  54. harmonicminer

    Well…. I played basketball as a freshman in high school. I was the worst player on the team. It was the worst team in the city.

    It was a big city.


  55. corey

    Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter :

    • I guess I see the value in a Godmen rally, not because I think it’s holistically a great idea, but because I think it pushes men to an extreme place that may give them perspective to be of benefit to those around them once they correct the leaning and right the boat. I find it hard to believe that they’re being trained in the fine art of misogyny there. It may not be your style, but to read an article online and assume that it’s going to do more harm than good just doesn’t register with me. And besides, there are women rallies as well. If there were no outlet for women then I think y’all may have a case against it (can you say Latin Grammys or Ebony Awards?), but there are opportunities for many to get together and celebrate the things that make them unique. Today is a day that extremes don’t seem to bother me. So long as their extreme manliness doesn’t infringe on me (or you) then it’s none of our concern. And the notion that it somehow exacerbates a problem of an already patriarchal gospel presentation is a stretch, in my opinion. I’d say that the presentation of the gospel is either quite feminized (turn the other cheek and blow a kiss to your detractors) or militarized (let’s storm the gates of hell with water guns like God’s Special Forces!!! Yo Joe!!!). But I’m not sure that I’d say it’s overly masculine, in my experience. The fact that women are still unfortunately disallowed from participating in many churches and/or denominations is a topic that I won’t get into because I think it pulls us off topic of the gender issues. It’s a big can of worms that doesn’t necessarily have to be popped open for me to make my point here.

    • On the topic of Gender-Angst (Morphea, Grammy, Aly, et al): Please trust me when say I know what it’s like to feel excluded, left out, unfairly judged, misunderstood, and lumped into a group based on stereotype. I’m really sorry that you feel this in relation to gender. It seems like it does some real damage to you and your worldview. Unfortunately, I think it’s an issue that cannot be solved externally. I’ve found in my own situation that finding a corner of the world and learning to exist in that intimate space is the best thing for me. It becomes my reality and it becomes the world where I exercise my worldview. And if I’m surrounded by people who support that worldview, then I can coexist with little (or at least less) strife and personal turmoil about the big bad unfair External. If anything, that turmoil helps me look more forward to a time when I see God face to face and he appreciates me by name, not by any other factors.

    I am a firm believer that there are distinct behavioral and chemical differences between boys and girls. I think these obviously carry over into distinct differences between man and woman. It frustrates me when one sees the other and says, “hey, I can do that“. Why can’t I be known for that? It reminds me of my obsession with guitar gear. I have chased a ghost around for years that says “If you have X, gigs will come”. And so I filled in the “X” constantly with random crap that inevitably left me wanting. And so what I assumed was that I had filled in the variable incorrectly and I then proceeded on my quest to fill in the correct piece of gear. I’ve been through thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars in gear and magic beans over the last 5 years and my level of gigs are still pretty much the same. And when the good gigs came along, it almost never had anything to do with the “X” for that week. And all the while, the one thing that NEVER changed was my acoustic guitar. I never even looked at acoustic guitars. I’ve played $10k and $15k one of a kind acoustics and didn’t bat an eye at putting them down or giving them back to the person who put them in my hands. What made my acoustic different? Beth got it for me as an anniversary gift after a few years of marriage. It wasn’t particularly expensive (out of 60 different models, it was one of the bottom 10 from Taylor Guitars- so not cheap, but certainly not what I’d call a trophy guitar by any means). And then I realized that what made that piece of gear special to me (and what made it enough to cure my longing for searching for its replacement) was that it had a little story attached to it. Beth gave it its very own “mojo” and that was enough. No matter how it compared in a side-by-side comparison to other guitars, for better or worse, it was mine and it started to transcend competition. It just wasn’t even in the running. Other people could scurry around, comparing acoustics all day long and mine lived 10 feet above that fray- in peace and out of competition. :: So I applied this line of thinking to all of my gear. I asked the gear (yes, out loud, like a crazy person), “what’s your story?” And then I looked in the mirror and said, “what’s your story, dipshit?” And I started to find meaning and purpose in the gear that I had and in the person that I was. First of all, gear makes very little difference. If it works and it doesn’t become an impediment (sonically or visually) to the purpose of those who’ve hired me, then it’s fine. I realized that I get gigs because I’m a part player who plays “feel good” parts that make live shows sound like recordings. My parts are notoriously non-glamorous but if I stopped playing, you’d feel like something was missing. And I also realized that I’m not an L.A. Fusion Guitar Shredder. I was raised in Spring, Texas. Beth and I had a talk the other day about how I had to fess up and admit to myself that George Strait is probably my favorite artist of all time. These color who I am, but at the same time, they account for the best gigs I’ve ever had. These things become my back story and they help me find comfort in the gear I have, the gigs I have, and they help me sleep when I have to eat for dinner the gigs I didn’t get. :: So how does this relate to my views on gender? Well, I think that my search for fullness was being somehow attached to this one little slice of my life. And it was an exercise in futility trying to solve all of the problems of my world with this one little tool called a guitar. And I feel like some people get hung up in that cycle. I think there are things boys can and should do because they’re boys. I think there are things girls can and should do because they’re girls. I think there are many things that both boys and girls can do and they should learn to share the duties. I think there are things that both can do, but one wants to do it more, so he or she should do that and let the other watch and learn. I think, however, this angst comes from looking over fences into someone else’s backyard and neglecting the one beneath your feet. It’s like you’ve filled in the “X” with gender equality. And trying to solve all of the problems of the world with the one little tool of gender equality seems like futility to me as well. It’s a very very large machine, and something tells me it’s gonna take a lot more than a penis or a vagina to make it run like it’s on rails.

    I’ve been reading lots of books on Gender these past couple of years as a result of therapy. My studies are almost all Jungian in theory and place a great deal of emphasis on the role of the mother in man’s development. What an odd cycle man lives, in being physically separated from nurturing perfection at birth and then spending the whole of his life trying to find it again (constructively or otherwise). But what this tells me is that both man and woman are players in that game. I’m assuming there are issues and theories about woman’s struggle to reconnect with the Personal Mother (or surrogates later in life- maybe one of the reasons Grammy is so popular ‘roun these parts). But everything I read is about how profoundly large is this issue between man and woman. Woman as the actual mother and surrogate mother to man- searching for that same nurturing, warm heartbeat where all the ills of the world are outside of the embrace. And THAT to me, is the whole of gender studies. Man as the Fragile Searcher and woman as the Elusive Nurturer. And what is born out of the aberration of this relationship is man as the Compensating Wounded and woman as the Scorned Provider. Now obviously, I’ve dumbed all of mankind down into 4 categories, and the fact of the matter is that there are actually 6 Billion-plus different shades of these 4 archetypes, and those shades change like mood rings with heartbeats. But to focus on this helps me see man and woman as something more than one car with two different options packages, one Sport and one Luxury. I see man and woman as distinctly different and I see nothing wrong with celebrating what it is that makes me man, as a unique creation of God. And I see nothing wrong with woman celebrating the fact that she is woman, a unique creation of God. I really don’t see the necessity in trying to bridge the gap between the two to create a perfectly well-rounded, androgynous creation with different trappings.

    Thank You,
    The Management

  56. aly hawkins

    [Unfortunately, I'm at work so I can't write the long-ass response that I'd like. There's a lot I'd like to say (mostly affirming), but it'll have to wait until later.]

    One thing that made me squirm just a little, Corey, is the sideways allusion to good ol’ Freud’s theory about women and penis envy. Speaking for myself, I can say without equivocation that my angst about gender is not envy about the nice penis grass growing in the next yard over. I’m quite happy with the nice vagina grass growing…wait, am I taking the analogy too far? I think you get what I’m saying. I don’t wish I were a guy, at least not on most days. My angst is not often about the gender inequity I personally experience (though I’ve had a good helping now and again). It’s a response to the culturally entrenched ideas that I just don’t believe are true: not because I’m a feminist anarchist who wants to rule the world, but because I genuinely believe they are wrong and damaging to people and relationships. (Example: One of my mom’s conclusions from her dissertation research went something like this: “Men succeed for all men, and fail only for themselves. Women fail for all women, and succeed only for themselves.” That’s just not okay.)

    I agree that gender equality is not the solution to all the world’s ills, and it certainly is not the solution to all MY ills. But it IS the solution to gender INequality, which I truly believe exists.

    More later on Jungian archetypes (one of my favoritest of all topics)…thanks for yarking out your thoughts, Corey.

  57. harmonicminer

    Aly, what was the topic of your mom’s dissertation?

    Here’s a book. I read it 17 or so years ago. At the time I resisted it… I felt like it demeaned men, by over-simplifying us.

    I’ve come to believe most of it is “spot on”:

    Why Men Are The Way They Are, by Warren Farrell

    And another by the same author:

    The Myth of Male Power, by Warren Farrell

    BTW…. he’s basically a shrink, if you’re interested in his background. He is a former board member of NOW.

    If you haven’t read these, or something like them by a MAN… i.e., if most of your reading on gender issues is from a feminist perspective by WOMEN…. well, I can probably guess there will be some surprises here for you.

    I can practically guarantee that most men who read these will have a powerful sense of recognition, even if they resist some of it…. and women are going to have some eyes opened.

    Corey, lots of what you said rang true to me…..

  58. aly hawkins

    My mom did a study about leadership development among women pastors in the Church of God (Anderson). J. Robert Clinton was her mentor at Fuller, and she framed her research with his theory of leadership emergence. (I think he has something like five or six catalytic “rites of passage” that must happen in the development of a leader. It’s been two or three years since I’ve read her dissertation, so I’m going on memory here.) She surveyed women from three ethnicities (African-American, Caucasian, Latina) who are ordained in the U.S. COG about their journey toward leadership and did in-depth profiles of six of those women as case studies. She compared the results with those of men in the same age-range and ethnicity, and drew conclusions based on those results. I believe one series of questions in the survey was about perception of success — I can’t remember the exact details, but the quote about gender success and failure sticks very clearly in my mind.

    Actually, Mom and I were discussing that very finding this week on the phone, which is why it’s so fresh in my memory. Over the course of her career and ministry, she has very often felt pressure not necessarily only to succeed, but pressure NOT TO FAIL, and she was telling me that her research gave her a vocabulary for that dynamic. Her drive to achieve has often not been about finding success for herself, but avoiding failure that might reflect poorly on her sisters in ministry.

  59. harmonicminer

    That’s interesting… and I think I get the point. If you’re the first of a particular group breaking into unfamiliar territory, you feel extra pressure to succeed so that the door stays open for others.

    BTW…. The Church of God Anderson IN is where my family came from. My dad was a minister in that “denomination” (they reject the term) till his retirement. I saw lots of stuff that didn’t endear the group to me.

    I went to undergrad at (then) Anderson College.

    I do recall seeing quite a few women ministers when I was a kid.

  60. aly hawkins

    My folks both grew up COG (seven generations of pastors on my dad’s side), but are quite open-eyed about its short-comings. They decided long ago to be ecumenical in belief and practice while working within the “brand” they came from.

    I’m no longer COG, which is more about me being no longer a church member of any kind. But I do remember having some rousing arguments about 10 years ago with my parents about how if “unity” was the driving force behind the COG reformation movement, the choice to start their own church was pretty ironic.

    As you probably know, women have always been ordained in the COG, but apparently the number has been steadily shrinking since the 1950s. (I believe for the first 60-70 years, something like 35% of all COG pastors were women.) Part of the impetus for my mom’s research was to find out the reasons for the decline.

  61. corey

    Aly, I didn’t mean to imply that whole of the issue was penis envy. And if it somehow came out between the lines of my writing, I’m sorry for that as well. The “success and failure” quote from your mom’s dissertation is eye-opening and helps me to better see what the issue is.

    So what’s the solution to this? Or at least what are the steps to take? What I fear is that, in trying to equalize the efforts of men and women, we’ll create an androgynous society. I think it’s the offenses and offenders of inequality that must be addressed. Is there a way to surgically make the repairs without the collateral damage? In my opinion, this is where feminine movements take on a negative image. To strive for equality and to bring to light the offenders of inequality is fine and good. At the same time, to create some sort of reverse inequality is unacceptable. Why the bitterness towards Godmen? And to, in the course of trying to move women up the power scale, attempt to move them past men discredits both the Cause and the platform.

    Additionally, you may be staring at one side of a coin. In the book I’m reading right now, I found this a few weeks ago:

    ” As men have no meaningful rites of passage available to them, no wise elders to transmit what lies on the other side, they have necessarily had to take their clues from societal role expectations and essentially hollow role models. All the while, the pain and confusion to the soul is pushed inward, or acted out violently, or distanced from consciousness. Accordingly, the gap between wisdom and experince has been filled in by outer images, images which, as has been true for women as well, seldom feed the soul.
    Hence the first of the great secrets to be openly acknowledged is that men’s lives are as much governed by role expectations as are the lives of women. And the corollary is that those roles do not support, confirm or resonate to the needs of men’s souls.
    It is the growing awareness of this terrible discrepancy between role expectations and the needs of the soul that has given rise to what is called the men’s movement. While no representative institution or body has emerged (such as the National Organization for Women), nor has there evolved a clear socio-political egenda, the scattered men’s groups and growing body of literature attest to the stirring of awareness that something is terribly wrong. The need for such a movement is succinctly summarized by John Lee:
    It’s an emotional movement, a releasing of the pain and poison men have been holding in their collective stomachs for centuries. It is not power oriented in any way, but powerful in that it frees men and their spirits from the tyranny of the old paradigm of ‘Don’t feel. Die younger than women. Don’t talk. Don’t Grieve. Don’t get angry. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t trust other men. Don’t put passion before bill paying. Follow the crowd, not your bliss.’
    I concur entirely with these sentiments. However the shadow of power inevitably creeps into any group, any movement. When overly socialized and domesticated, men have rightly felt a longing for something wild and very deep; still, the average man will never join a group, would feel ridiculous meeting out in the forest to beat a drum, and will seldom risk being vulnerable with other men. I do not criticize those who have gone into the forest and wept and raged and beat the drum, for they have frequently found soemthing needed for their souls. At the same time, such an activity may have as much long-term relevance as bra burning now occupies in the long march of women toward dignity and equal opportunity. Bra burning was an important emotional release, for a few at least, but to my mind such energies are more effectively spent in discussion, in court and in working towards cultural change.”

    I think he touches on the purpose of a GodMen gathering, as well as the possible

  62. corey

    whoops- I hit subit too soon.

    ….as well as the possible relationship between women’s struggles for gender equality and the opposing force of men’s struggles. While it feels a little like tectonic plates rubbing together, maybe this is the balance afterall.

  63. harmonicminer

    Corey, I think you’ll really find those two books I mentioned above to be interesting. They’re related to what you’re reporting, especially the sense men have of being locked in roles every bit as much as women, and all the ways that hurts them.

    Particularly the The Myth of Male Power. But they were both eye openers for me.

    Aly, I remember lots of women ministers when I was growing up, and they were in prominent positions in the church, leading conventions, workshops, the whole nine yards. The Church of God (Anderson IN) was also very consciously integrated at the national level… there were many “black churches” and “white churches” because of demographics, but they all met together, made national decisions together regarding the direction of the organization, traded pulpits, etc. My parents, being ministers, made sure I understood as a very small child that black people were “just like me”… not that common a sentiment in many quarters in the 1950s.

    Having said that: for a group that claimed not to be a denomination, it acted awfully denominationally…. which is probably inevitable for any social group.

    Are any of you aware of the trend in higher ed this days in male/female enrollment ratios? More and more women are going to college, and fewer and fewer men. Many campuses (campii?) have a 60/40 split. This has huge implications for the filling of leadership roles in society over next decades….

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