Hello there! We at Two Friars and a Fool are huge giggling fanboys of Rachel Held Evans and towns full of monkeys. Conversations with her about her year of biblical womanhood project inspired us to do some thinking of our own about masculinity and biblical portrayals of masculinity and whether we have anything intelligent to say about these subjects, being men who sometimes read the Bible. So we sat down to have a little conversation…
Fool: Lots of talk these days about biblical gender roles. Why do you think that is?
Friar 2: Wait a minute. Talking about biblical gender roles doesn’t have to be a cover for sexism. Why can’t we start looking in the Bible for images of godly masculinity?
Friar 1: Because the very premise of discrete masculine and feminine roles has been demolished. We should be looking beyond gender, not trying to define it further.
Fool: Why can’t we just go back to the good old days, when men were men, and women were women, and the two were different? It worked well for 10,000 years.
Friar 1: Haven’t we already done this? It was called patriarchy, and it turned out horribly for everyone involved.
Friar 2: I’m just saying, maybe we don’t need a scorched-earth policy with regard to what people have said about men and women in the past. Society has changed radically, but people haven’t really changed at all. Some ancient wisdom about what it means to be male and female probably still applies.
Fool: Speaking of ancient wisdom doesn’t the Bible, and 2,000 years of Christian tradition, teach us that men should be in authority, and that women are primarily nurturers?
Friar 1: That is exactly the problem – this is what most people think and what most people say when they start talking about “biblical gender roles”, and with justification because with few exceptions the church has been pretty sexist these past couple millennia.
Friar 2: Maybe, though, there are corn-kernels in the poo here. As a man, I find that I honestly have no freaking idea what I’m supposed to be doing. I have no cultural script, except to be told that I am a violent rapist waiting to emerge from some kind of chrysalis. I know very well all the things I’m not supposed to do. But what am I supposed to do, as a man? The church using the Bible could have some important words to speak into this void. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who challenged the gender rules in their time more than Jesus Christ. Two thousand years later, we still don’t really get it.
Fool: A majority of seminary graduates are women; women can be ordained and do any job men can do. Isn’t this all kind of behind us now? The liberals won.
Friar 1: I’ll let you know when we win. You’ll be able to tell because Rupert Murdoch will commit honorable seppuku and neoconservatives will be up for war crimes. That being said, no, it isn’t over, not by a long shot. Most traditions still don’t ordain women, and even among those that do things are far from equal. For all those seminary graduates who are women, very few of them end up in actual pulpits.
Friar 2: I think that a ton of attention has been focused on women – on gender issues and women’s studies and those kinds of things. I think that’s great, and should continue. What I’m interested in seeing is genuine men’s studies. Not studying to be patriarchy 2.0, but rather doing exactly what women’s studies does for women – just with dudes.
Fool: What’s good about men? The answer seems to be “nothing”. Isn’t masculinity run amok the problem?
Friar 1: In brief, yes. For thousands of years, male dominance meant that women were seen as faulty or incomplete men at best; at worst, physical and sexual property of men. Bad theology hasn’t helped one iota.
Friar 2: But the answer isn’t to just go the opposite direction, unless we are actually going to say, as a culture, that there is nothing good about men. They are violent, selfish women, but with penises. It’s past time we started talking about masculinity in the positive sense – what is it? What does it consist of?
Fool: Isn’t this just a way to sneak in patriarchy? Like “sure, racism is bad, but what about reverse racism?”
Friar 1: That’s definitely my concern, yeah. Oh, poor men, they’re so put upon now, it’s so sad and unfair. Give me a break.
Friar 2: I’m not going to say reverse patriarchy or something here – that’s kind of dumb. On the other hand, men are at the top and the bottom of society. We fill corporate board-rooms as well as prisons. We earn more but we die younger. We drop out of high school much more often and are also more likely to be homeless. Aren’t these things we should be thinking about?
Fool: What’s the point in looking at masculinity? Isn’t that what every discipline and every society essentially did until about fifty years ago?
Friar 1: Feminism is so young we can still basically count the generations of it on one hand. First wave, new wave, third wave, and so on. The pioneers of modern feminism are still alive and being interviewed by Stephen Colbert. This is not the time to start hitting the brakes. The study of masculinity is a Trojan horse, and hiding inside of it are Mark Driscoll and James Dobson.
Friar 2: That’s just the thing, though – patriarchy is not masculinity. The two aren’t the same. But, apart from patriarchy, what is masculinity? The thing is, none of us know, because almost no one is thinking about it. Or worse the only people thinking about it are the ones who just want to push patriarchy in disguise, with hipster glasses and a UFC t-shirt or something. What is it to be a man, apart from either being part of patriarchy or being told how evil you are for being part of patriarchy? If I knew, I would tell you, but I don’t. I’d like to, though.
Fool: So do we have anything coherent to say about Biblical Masculinity?
Friar 1: This is such a potential minefield. There are so many things we have to be sure we are NOT saying, but maybe it is time we got a tentative conversation going. There are some interesting directions we could take this – Paul for example advocated celibacy, directly contradicting this image we have of men as helpless victims of their sex drives.
Friar 2: Exactly. We’ve spent this entire time arguing and we haven’t gotten anywhere because when it comes to talking about masculinity from a progressive perspective we just get buried under disclaimers.
Fool: We need a round 2, in other words.
Friar 1: That depends on Rachel Held Evans, and whether she ever wants to be seen in public with us again after this episode.
Friar 2: Tell us what you think below.