On being a male feminist

May 19, 2008

church / culture / marriage / ministry

I’m a male, Christian feminist. I have learned and taught the truth of Scripture, that before God there is no division between men and women, just as there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles. I have sought to authentically live that out, as a minister, as a husband, and as a person.

Now that I’ve gotten that statement down, I want to look at a couple of challenges that a guy who makes that statement faces.

When I was in college, one of the really trendy books for “young Christian men” was Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. I must confess: I read it once. Further confession: there were certain parts of it that I liked, and that I think spoke truth to me as a man (and, I feel that I was able to integrate certain concepts into my very different perspective). But other parts of it made me sick.

I haven’t read any of his other books, and I haven’t read his wife’s book (books?) either, so I may not be entirely informed on his views. But, a fairly large part of my memory of this book is the mental image of a man feeling alive and masculine because he was able to hike up a mountain with a gun, and kill a bear. Another fairly large part of my memory is the concept of a man being alive and masculine because he can rescue his lovely princess from dreadful dangers, because of course she wants a knight in shining armor to come galloping by and do just that.

I don’t believe guns make anyone masculine, and certainly they don’t make anyone alive. I think guns are barbaric, even when they are used against other beings that know how to use them. But against a bear? Bears may be big and look impressive, but what are they really going to do to a man from hundreds of feet away? Growl? Maybe stand up and wave their arms around, if they even see him?

Further, I don’t believe my wife needs a knight in shining armor. Certainly, she needs support. She needs to feel cherished and celebrated, and her mind sees those things manifest themselves in different ways that mine does. But rescue is a universal thing, and she’s as capable of rescuing me (and I need it just as much) as I am of rescuing her. And, of course, ultimately neither of us are entirely capable of rescuing each other anyway, and will utterly fail at marriage if we expect that from each other.

I was reminded of all of this as I was watching a video called Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage. Apparently, it is a series of six (or so) videos, and I’ve seen two of them.

First video

The first one was decent. It discussed the metaphor of a man’s brain as being full of boxes that are, by default, separate. So, there is a wife box, a kid box, a work box, a car box, a recreation box, and so on. Each box stays as separate from the other boxes as possible. Then, there is the metaphor of a woman’s brain as being like interconnected wiring. Everything touches everything else, and so everything affects everything else. An argument my wife has with her boss may pop up while she’s watching a movie, while an argument I have with my boss may never pop up outside of work.

This is not a new metaphor. I learned it in counseling classes in college, from people who’s wisdom I respect, and I do see evidence that it is at least partly true. I don’t entirely disagree with it (as long as its implications are not blown out of proportion, which they often are). However, it does bring up a strange question. Is this a Western issue? Typically, Eastern worldviews (this includes Jewish thought, which is very important to those of us who seek to understand Scripture that was predominantly written by Jews) are very holistic. Spirituality is not separate from the rest of life. Eastern thought, for example, does not have the saying, “I’d do ______ if only I weren’t in church,” because it recognizes that one’s interactions with Jesus are not confined to a single location for a few hours a week.

So, does this metaphor break down outside of Western society? Are Eastern men as non-compartmentalized as Western women? If so, why? How? What can I do to become less compartmentalized? If Western women do not have compartmentalized minds, how do they have an equally compartmentalized worldview (the above quote is given by women just as often as it is by men)? If Eastern men do have compartmentalized minds, how do they manage to have a holistic worldview? What can I do to get a more holistic worldview?

Second video

Now, I also saw a second video. This second session went into the oft-repeated idea that men essentially want to be action heroes, and women essentially want to be in wonderful relationships. Men want to beat up the bad guys, and (direct quote) “go back for the girl.” Women want to be in relationships, and for men to (direct quote) “go back for the girl.”

Aside from the obvious exceptions to both of those rules, (I hate action movies, unless they have intelligent thought, and don’t care to beat up anyone or anything, and my wife loves to make fun of chick flicks) the statement that the guy needs to go back for the girl has a direct implication that she is behind him. That makes me entirely sick, and in the context where it was used it reeked of chauvinism. It brought up the image of a man doing _____ while his wife sits at home, taking care of his kids (which was used as an example) until he comes back to sit down and talk to her until he goes back out to do whatever it is that he does.

The (most) frustrating part of the message presented in this video is that it takes legitimate differences between men and women (the fact that they do not think the same way), and uses them to impose limitations and illegitimate gender roles (because they don’t think the same way, certain limitations are seen as necessary) on the people who listen to it. It’s not the kind of message that says, “everything that can go wrong in a marriage can be fixed if the woman just does what the man wants.” It at least has progressed beyond that, as it regularly talks about mutual give and take between the partners in a marriage. I think there is good information mentioned in the message, and if this post weren’t already so long I might go into some of it. But the good information in part two, at least, seemed to be subpoints to a main point that is essentially oppressive.

The struggle that makes this post worth writing is this: being a male feminist who wants to continually improve his marriage is a difficult thing. I enjoy going to marital counseling with my wife. Whether or not I think there is room to grow, of course there always is. I enjoy resources that teach me to grow as a husband. In order to get anything out of some resources, I have to filter what I’m seeing or hearing through my own perspective because the perspective of the given resource (in the case of Wild at Heart, or this video) may be entirely antithetical to my own.

Other things

For what it’s worth, there are some great resources that can speak to a desire for equality.

Thoughts? I may look further into what it actually means to be a male feminist if there is interest, but for the sake of this post I wanted to look at an issue that repeatedly arises in trying to improve one’s marriage.