Manhood has been a subject of discussion in recent times. With the emergence of Feminism, boys or men have become even more conscious about what being a man means.
I remember growing up, young and ignorant, masculinity boiled down to sexuality and there was no debate about it. I later learnt that for over half a century, scholars have been grappling with this developing study. Raewen Connell, an Australian Sociologist, speaks of four different masculinities:
- Hegemonic masculinity: This is a dominant masculinity and a standard against which all other masculinities are measured. Its qualities include physical strength, suppression of sad emotions, heterosexuality, whiteness.
- Subordinate masculinity: Refers to men who are viewed as physically weak, who exhibit emotional weaknesses, gay men.
- Marginalized masculinity: Refers to men who do not have access to the privilege of those in hegemonic masculinity, even though they subscribe to the norms of hegemonic masculinity. They indulge in aggression and they suppress emotions. Black men and the disabled men are usually in this category. They have limitations beyond themselves that are a hinderance to them, they therefore experience marginalized masculinity.
- Complicit masculinity: Refers to a man who doesn’t fit in the hegemonic masculinity, but does not challenge what it stands for. This is someone who allows the status quo to remain, who does not challenge the systems of gender that remain prevalent in the society because they enjoy the benefits of being male.
It can be argued that masculinity goes beyond just the question of gender relations, but it deals with the position of men in gender. Others have also argued that females in same sex relationships do exhibit some traits of hegemonic masculinity, where they dominate and physically oppress their partner.
With these definitions in mind, we must attempt to look at masculinity from a Christian worldview, in particular with reference to scripture. The ideas expressed in this article are not meant to be prescriptive, but rather to spark and stimulate a debate and arise an appetite for the reader to go and examine her/his position on the matter.
What I find most unfortunate about the introduction of Christianity to any community is that it ends up being more than just a religion, but a philosophy of life and a culture that consumes its subjects. It’s a total take over and eradication of the way of life of its believers.
It therefore becomes vital how we, as Christians, understand and interpret the bible, which is the only legitimate guide for Christians. Christianity remains a dominant religion in South Africa and in some parts of the world. In many instances, it informs the moral code of society and it decides what is ethical and what is not.
However, it must also be taken into cognisance that the primary concern of the bible is the salvation of mankind, though it also addresses social interactions. Whenever scripture alludes to or talks about manhood/ masculinity, the context of salvation or social cohesion is often forgotten.
What we must also appreciate about the bible is that it was written within a context of a particular culture, at a particular point in history. The principles espoused in scripture transcend all cultures, they remain constant, but the application of those principles vary from time to time and place to place. I will try and explain this later.
One of the alarming things in the Christian church today is that scripture is used as a tool to suppress and oppress women. Dr Miranda Pillay in her article, “The Holy Halo of Patriarchy: A Root Cause of Gender-based Violence in Intimate Relationships”, talks about palatable patriarchy.
The concept of palatable patriarchy deals with how men use scripture to entrench a patriarchal order and patronage in the church. Anything that is communicated as the will of God will be obeyed with much relish, thereby making patriarchy palatable.
A few texts from the Pauline corpus that are usually used to entrench patriarchy and hegemonic masculinity in the church are:
“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.” – 1 Timothy 2:11 NIV
“The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” – 1 Corinthians 14:34 NIV
Reading these texts outside their context may suggest oppression of women by men, but on the contrary, they are advocating for the rights of women in terms of access to education. Mary Evans in her book “Woman in the Bible” argues that what these texts were addressing was a unique situation in the church.
Women were generally denied access to education and training, only men were allowed to read study and educate themselves. Women were uneducated and therefore, were given to heresy and strange teachings. Women wanted to have a voice in the church and Paul was in support of that, to an extent that he advocated for the education of women, because they also have a right to learn. To understand Paul to be making a general rule that everywhere in the world women must be silent in the church would not be correct.
The text also says that women should “learn in quietness”. The word used for ‘learn’ in Greek is ‘manthaneto’ which gives us sense of learning by inquiry. Therefore, it denotes women should learn, enquire with submissiveness. But this was not a submissiveness to men but the one required of every member in the church.
Here Evans gives us the understanding that this learning is not to be completely silent but it means to learn with submission like any student should submit to a teacher in order for him/her to understand. This is not a submission of women to men but a submission required between a student and a teacher. Therefore, this text cannot be used to advocate for patriarchy.
Leon Morris brings another dimension on the text to the church in Corinth. In Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: he argues that this injunction by Paul was given for pragmatic reasons than theological reasons.
He submits that in this text Paul was beseeching the Corinthians to submit to the accepted norms of society. Had women partook in public ministry in those times, it would have been to ‘discredit Christianity’ in the people of those times. Whether Paul’s method was correct or incorrect, that’s a debate for another day. According to Morris this was not a permanent prohibition, but a contextual prohibition.
This is the same principle that Paul used when dealing with Timothy and Titus, who were both Greeks and not required to be circumcised according to their captures. It’s interesting that Paul insists that Timothy should be circumcised because not to do so was going to compromise the gospel (Acts 16:3).
However, he was vehemently opposed to the circumcision of Titus, because his circumcision was going to compromise the gospel (Galatians 2:3-5). The principle remained the same, to safeguard the gospel, but the application of that principle was dictated to by the unique circumstances of each society.
It is my humble submission that the reason why many of us as men in the Christian community degenerate to what I call “dogmatic masculinity” is because we ignore the overarching principle of race, gender and class relations in scripture and yet, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ” – Galatians 3:28.
Jewish men have morning prayers where they thank God for three blessings. Every morning their prayer is ” Thank you God for not making me a woman, a slave and a gentile”. Jews assumed that God is male and he is a Jew or identifies with Jews. Galatians 3:28 is dismantling that attitude of entitlement. Paul’s position is rooted on the foundation that we are now “heirs”, “one man” in Christ. This means one body.
Given the fact that Paul wrote and thought in Greek it is important that we read this text from a New Testament Greek perspective, so that we understand that being “one in Christ” means that we are one body of Christ. Men are a part in the body of Christ and also women are a part in that same body. In this text, it is pellucid (clear) that Paul was advocating the rights of women as well.
It is also interesting to note that every time the subject of the gender of God comes up, there is almost a universal consensus that God is male. The same way men refuse to hear anything about a female God, white people have gone all out to give us a picture of a white God. Whenever anyone jumps to protest the white God, the white man will tell you the colour of God is not important, however they continue to oppose the idea of a black God, they rather have him remain white, because “the colour of God is not important.”
Personally, I believe that God is gender neutral, but for me it doesn’t matter even if people refer to God as female or male, its immaterial. Our discomfort about a female God talks to the same sense of entitlement and privilege Jews feel about a male Jewish God. That privilege therefore fuels this oppressive behaviour because at the back our minds we say ‘God will not mind, He is one of us.’
I know you are probably thinking to yourself, “the bibles addresses God as ‘He’”. Scripture uses human and earthly language to communicate celestial themes. The bible was written within a particular culture and God used culture as a conduit through which the message was communicated. These caricatures of God are tools for our own understanding.
Just for a moment imagine if the bible was written from the perspective of a matriarchal society. If the bible was by members of the Mosuo people. This group of people live at the border of Tibet, China. Their families are led my mothers, lineage is traced through the mother’s side and property is passed through the matriline. The mother handles all the business decisions of the family.
Kids are raised in the mother’s household and they take her last name. It is the woman who chooses a husband and they don’t believe in the concept of a marriage contract, they have what they call “walking marriages”. Women choose their partners by literally walking into a man’s house. If they have kids, she takes them to her home and raises them there. In other cases, the father’s identity is not even known because fathers do not play a role in the raising of the child.
This is a female dominated society. Imagine the picture of God they would bring to the world had the bible been written from their culture and philosophy of life. They wouldn’t paint a picture of a male God, for that would be a weak and powerless God.
The idea of using scripture to push male domination is not sustainable. We shouldn’t use scripture to rationalize our misogynistic and homophobic vile attitudes. This ‘dogmatic masculinity’ we are engaged has no basis is scripture. The kind of masculinity that is advocated by the bible is the one that is all embracing.