I am enraged. THIS article written by Carl Beech and published by Childrenswork magazine has left me ENRAGED. According to Carl Beech being stressed should lead me to “become vocal and chatty”. I am not feeling vocal or chatty, I am angry and I want to smash things.
I have known Carl for quite a few years. I had the privilege of working at the men’s event he runs for a couple of years. I’ve seen him call an event with hundreds to their knees in repentance of violence against women. In many conversations I had with women who were uncomfortable with some of his ideas and views I defended him, explaining that he loves Jesus and is a good guy. At the all-male events I attended he was very careful to ensure there were no derogatory comments about women, much more careful than I’ve seen organisers of women’s events be towards men. Yet over the last few years our paths have crossed less and less and our views have polarised more and more.
So here’s my thoughts on what he’s written.
The article is framed as “Christian Vision for Men’s Carl Beech thinks it’s time to man up and face the reality of a feminised Church.”
Man up is a term that has often been used towards male victims of sexual abuse to describe how they should respond to the choice of someone to violate them. It has been used to sneer at little boys when they are hurt and it has been used to bully and devalue men who don’t conform to gender norms.
What does it mean that the church has been “feminised”? When it’s used to suggest the church is failing, it suggests women are the problem. It assumes that feminisation is an agreed upon thing. That we all know that women are touchy feely emotional creatures who love quiche and liturgically dance their way around the building, snogging paintings of Jesus as they cry at the slightest upset, demanding that men join in, insisting they hold hands and skip.
Carl explains: Premier Childrenswork dropped me a line and asked me to pen a feature on…take a deep breath: What kind of men do we need in the 21st Century? What does an effective children’s work look like? What needs to change?’
Who decided Carl was the expert on writing about working with children in church? Unless I’m very much mistaken he hasn’t done a whole lot of it. He has been very open about his views on masculinity and what he thinks works, with many people at many times suggesting that there are alternative views to his. Why didn’t they think to invite a few people to comment? Perhaps Ali Campbell who is an actual expert in working with children? Why only one perspective and a very narrow one at that?
Carl says: “I fully believe that men and women think differently”
That’s fine, believing men and women think differently is fine. We can all believe things whether they are true or not. I mean, there’s a flat earth society. I’m totally up with respecting Carl’s belief in the difference between men and women’s thinking. Unfortunately he doesn’t stop there…
“Our brains are different. Some parts of our brains are bigger or smaller depending on our gender. For example, areas that deal with spatial awareness are bigger in men, while problem-solving areas are bigger in women.”
Yes men an women’s brains are different, but what neuroscience has discovered is that this difference is far too complicated to ascertain what it means. And what is clear is that neuroplasticity means that there’s no such things as hardwired difference between women and men. So so many neuroscientists have written rebuffing the so-called science Carl quotes here. At no point does he reference evidence for his views, but rather infers it is well accepted science, which it is not.
Research has shown that stressful situations seem to activate an almond-sized part of the brain called the amygdala, which processes fear, aggression and action. While in men it triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response, the female reaction has been dubbed ‘tend and befriend’. Men, as a whole, get angry when they are stressed. Women become vocal and chatty.
Responses to trauma are much more complex than Carl is allowing for here. We cannot underestimate the impact of socialisation on how people respond to trauma, girls are socialised to be “good” and not to fuss, we are told “boys will be boys”.
Hormones also play a role. It seems as though it has almost become a criminal offence these days for men to have testosterone. Athletes who inject additional testosterone get angrier and have a much higher sex drive. Men live with a higher level of testosterone 24/7. Women have fluctuating hormone levels according to their monthly cycles.
I don’t know anyone who has suggested men should be banned from having testosterone. I have however seen many suggest that testosterone is not a justification for rape, violence or other actions that perpetrated by almost exclusively men. God made men with testosterone. He also made men with free will. So whether it is men and testosterone, or women with monthly cycles, our hormones do not in any detract from the choices we make as humans gifted with free will.
It’s widely known that more men kill themselves than women. However, it is also known that more women seek counselling for depression than men. Men don’t report suicidal feelings or depression, they just go ahead and kill themselves; usually in far more violent ways than women, who are more likely to poison themselves. Men chuck themselves off buildings, jump in front of vehicles or shoot themselves. That’s what testosterone can do.
The deep irony of an article which starts with telling us to “man up” then suggesting that men being less likely to talk about their feelings because…MEN ARE WIRED DIFFERENTLY will hopefully escape no one. No wonder men don’t talk about their feelings! Weakness and vulnerability are squashed out of boys at an early age. The masculinity Carl discusses throughout the article perpetuates the very issues which underpin WHY men don’t talk about their feelings. In fact, a recent campaign trying to prevent male suicide is working on men not being defined by the very stereotypes Carl perpetuates throughout the article.
God made men with testosterone. It is not testosterone that causes suicide. Circumstances, mental health issues, lack of support, stereotyping are all contributory factors in men being at risk of suicide. And let us not forget that 90% of those who self-harm are female, which is inherently a violent act.
“We do open up and chat, but often in male spaces. I recently heard about a barber shop that created additional male spaces for guys to hang out. The owner related how men would openly share their feelings at quite a deep level and share very intimately. But when a woman came in and sat with them they stopped sharing and moderated their behaviour in an unhelpful way.”
Ohhh! So it’s women’s faults men don’t talk? Not the fact that having to “MAN UP” is a thing men have invented? Carl’s following comments talk about men not being into lovey-dovey Jesus is my boyfriend stuff, but just here insists men can’t do feelings because…WOMEN. How about men insisting other men don’t like lovey-dovey stuff perhaps impacting men’s ability to be honest about their feelings? No…? Let’s just blame women then eh?
So what’s all this got to do with children’s work? Well, a heck of a lot actually. Unless we start to ‘get’ men rather than trying to change them, we’ll never crack it. Yes, there is a broad spectrum of masculinity, just as there is with femininity. I understand that, but let’s get real. Let’s stop using a female standard to measure emotional and spiritual health.
Oh, so there’s a broad spectrum of masculinity? I thought all men couldn’t talk about their feelings, had good spacial awareness and get angry when stressed? Because of their brains? But now we hear (very briefly) that some men aren’t like that, then a SWIFT MOVE ONWARDS.
Who is using a female standard to measure emotional and spiritual health?! Who is doing that?! Last time I checked (and I actually have checked) the national Christian platform is 62% men, so it’s not there… How about in Christian publishing? Christian media? In local churches? Oh no, on every level of the church, men are the majority of preachers, writers and holders of the message. So unless women are controlling the message via some sort of mind meld, I’m unclear as to how the measure is in any way FEMALE.
“One example of this trend is the constant emphasis on ‘falling in love with Jesus’.”
I’m not sure where Carl has been in the last decade, but the falling in love with Jesus thing was a sort of 90’s cultural thing. It didn’t last long and it certainly wasn’t (and isn’t) a CONSTANT EMPHASIS. I’ve never heard a sermon on falling in love with Jesus. The only church leader I know who was into it was male (who incidentally also insisted we all hold hands in a service and sing “Bind Us Together Lord”).
“I’ve heard pastors tell me that I need to fall passionately in love with Jesus.”
Now, I could be wrong here, but I’m guessing those pastors were MALE. I know most of the songs Carl is talking about are written by men. So where exactly is this message coming from? Because it’s certainly not women who have the majority voice in the church. Anywhere.
“The love I have for Jesus isn’t sexualised.”
I’m sorry to have to break this to Carl, and everyone. THE LOVE I HAVE FOR JESUS ISN’T SEXUALISED EITHER. What does that even mean? How would the love people have for Jesus be sexualised? That sort of thing is usually relegated to cults who have all sorts of alternative sexual practices. It’s certainly not something I’m into, or any of the women I know (unless they’re secretly part of a Jesus sex cult I don’t know about…). In fact I’d suggest it’s deeply heretical and offensive to suggest that any of us have a sexualised love for Jesus.
“It’s a love that I hope means I would take a bullet for him, not light a candle and gaze into his eyes dreamily. Men don’t get this eros love for Jesus stuff. They don’t fashion a strong faith in the melting pot of Mills and Boon, but in the context of sacrifice, honour, humility, grit and picking up their cross on a daily basis. Testosterone can be harnessed to this end, or we just end up switching the men off, throwing them into the cauldron of redundancy until, confused, they start to display less helpful male traits.”
I love Jesus. With all my heart I love Him. I hope that if I am ever given the opportunity to sacrifice my life for Him, that I would do it. I’m not all into the dreamy eye gazing either. Where exactly is this MELTING POT OF MILLS AND BOON?! Seriously, it’s not something I’ve come across and I’ve been in church my WHOLE life. Women are up for this call of sacrifice, honour, humility, grit and picking up our cross daily. Across the world women are utterly familiar with this, what with doing it for their kids while in many countries we see men don’t do this for their kids. As the saying goes, “a pound for the man is a pound for the man, a pound for the woman is a pound for the family”. I know that being a mother and the sacrifice that involves isn’t the sexy taking a bullet kind of love, but it is something that women do more often than men, across the entire GLOBE.
And what are these “less helpful male traits” Carl speaks of? I guess working in the field of ending violence against women, I would suggest they are raping women, mutilating women, killing women, killing their children, killing and mutilating other men? Perhaps sexually abusing children? You know, the “less helpful male traits”…? As someone working full time in ending violence against women, I can assure you feminisation is in no way contributing to the choice some men make to abuse, rape and violate. The very thing Carl wants to perpetuate, testosterone fuelled, feeling-less MANLINESS is what underpins the violence done to women and children by men. It is by learning empathy and compassion that men choose to stop. It is through taking responsibility (not blaming women and feminisation) that men change. It is through re-humanising women and seeing them as equals that men re-humanise themselves.
“In other words, we’re getting it wrong. We tell boys off for wrestling and scrapping because it feels unseemly and somewhat un-Christlike. It isn’t! They’re just blowing off steam the way boys know how to.”
I’m confused. Jesus was and is the greatest advocate of non-violence that ever existed. He didn’t defeat evil with a sword, but by being stripped and beaten. By giving up all power as God and becoming a human baby, birthed from a woman, and raised as a weak, feeble human.
“We don’t let boys play with toy guns because we think they will grow up to be aggressive. Rubbish. They’ll just go out and make swords and rifles from sticks. Harness, don’t extinguish. Go with it, don’t deny it. Shape ’em, don’t destroy ’em.”
My son’s favourite game was cooking right up until he went to school. Within weeks his favourite game became killing. That’s what socialisation does to boys, it tells them to kill not cook. To destroy not build up. And that is not the Gospel of Christ. We are called to pick up our cross, not beat people with it.
“We need to train our children from an early age to engage with the world around them without losing their faith and integrity. We need them to learn how to win and lose with grace. We need to show them how to be competitive without being brutal and vicious. We need to harness the testosterone of our boys rather than hoping it goes away or trying to re-programme them. We were given it for a reason.”
I feel like quoting The Princess Bride in response to Carl’s constant assertions around testosterone “You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”.
Why do we need to teach boys to be competitive? Last time I checked the teaching of Jesus was that the first should be last, that the greatest will be the least. And it that’s too hard for Carl’s MANLINESS, then that’s unfortunate, because that’s the Gospel.
“We need men who are trained and raised up not just to lead in Church, but in every sphere of society.”
I hate to break it to Carl, but men are already leading the church and society. Women on the other hand, are a minority voice in all decision making processes the world over.
“We need strong men of God who can take a hit for their faith in the media and the arts; on building sites and farms; in factories and accountancy firms. The same goes for women, of course, but they shouldn’t have to do it by pretending to be masculine to compete. They have uniquely redeemable skills and qualities of their own.”
I don’t ‘take a hit for my faith’ by pretending to be masculine. What does that even MEAN?! Should I don a fake beard before entering any space where I may need to stand up for my faith? Boys have plenty of role models for what it means to stand up for their faith. The Bible stories we tell across Sunday School, the great people of faith they hear about are almost exclusively male. It’s not boys who need role models for standing up for faith, it’s girls. I don’t need to pretend to be masculine because I continue to be authentically who God made me to be, with the gifts and talents He gave me, to do the work He has called me to. The same as all the women I know who are standing up for their faith are doing.
“What kind of man do we need in the 21st Century? A beatitudes man. A man who will live and die with Jesus Christ as his master and commander. A man who has submitted his strength and testosterone to Jesus. He is secure in his identity and doesn’t care whether he is good at sport or not. He is who God made him to be. He doesn’t feel demonised because he has big muscles, nor weak if he doesn’t have them; he is not looked down on if he is competitive and aggressive. He’s a kingdom man.”
How is the 21st century kind of man different to the 21st century woman? As human beings choosing to give our lives to God we should all b seeking to live and die with Jesus as our Master and commander, as our Saviour. We should all be submitting our strength to Jesus and be secure in our identity. Surely we should be KINGDOM PEOPLE? Really?
“Do you have men in crèche and in Sunday school? If not, get some.”
Oh yes, because it’s that easy! Most women I know have been asked to be on the Sunday School rota. How many of the men are asked? And surely this could have been mentioned sooner? We all know that Sunday School is run by women. So we’ve been told for a whole article that we are the problem with the church, but now it’s our job to fix things.
“Do you tell the boys off when they rough and tumble? Why? Let them blow off steam and find other ways to bring the discipline into play. Bring back wide games, I say!”
The problem is we rarely tell boys off when the rough and tumble. The “boys will be boys’ mantra sits beneath offensive banter, rape and sexual violence, sexualised bullying in schools, domestic violence and other forms of woman and child abuse.
“Learn to celebrate male strength as much as you celebrate more feminine qualities.”
WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN?!?!?!?!