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.”


16 thoughts on “WHAT DOES THIS EVEN MEAN?!

  1. Pam Smith says:

    Oh my goodness! Does he know what testosterone is, or that women have it as well?

    And how does the ‘stop and chat’ response work in evolutionary terms, exactly?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lisa campbell says:

    I read the article and believe you are right to be enraged by it. I also believe that unless we stop talking about men and women we are never going to move on. I have been involved in leadership where I am a ‘woman in leadership’ and spoken at conferences where I am a ‘female speaker’. When my husband does the same he is never referred to as a male speaker!! We are children of God. Each unique yet each made in the image of God. Is that not enough? We need to get over this rubbish but the way to do this is not to put ourselves as opposites or enemies to men and throw mud back. Carl has embarrassed himself in this article but come on ladies. Yes let’s call him on it but let’s do it with dignity and more importantly grace. I really don’t think when he was talking about ‘less helpful male traits he was talking about rape, murder or mutilation. These are not male traits- they are evil traits. We are tearing down our brothers in Christ to tie them in with that brush! If we respond in such an emotional over the top way we do a great disservice to women.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Mark Hewerdine says:

      Lisa: yes, this response to Carl was ’emotional’ because the proper godly response to someone saying damaging and untrue things is surely to get just a bit angry. I’d worry about someone if an article like Carl’s didn’t make them feel some kind of emotion and respond accordingly!

      As a man, I totally agree with Natalie and don’t want to have anything to do with the kind of woman-blaming games Carl engages in. I think shesy doing a great service to women AND men.

      Liked by 4 people

  3. Jenny says:

    The article is appallingly edited (the Childrens work one not yours). As you say Carl is free to believe the earth is flat but the magazine surely has some editorial responsibilities and there should have been an email that said:
    1.) Please could we have those ‘scientific’ assertions referenced.
    2.) Could you please not grossly insult women while making the case for men to be involved in Sunday school
    3.) Many Christians may find your illusions to evolutionary Psychology a little out of line with the biblical principle of creation (no that’s not just 6 day creationists)
    4.) Many Scientists may find your reference to evolutionary Psychology reason to dissimis everything you say.
    5.) Could we have a few more Biblical reference to back up what you are saying.
    6.) We wonder if rather than a ‘ help look women our destroying our precious boys’ tone a ‘hey guys the women have been holding kids church together for well probably millenia – lets go pull or weight’ May be more productive.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So many complex issues…

    I agree with Carl that there is a feminisation of the church. I don’t agree that it is the fault of women. I think it probably has something to do with the fact that church (in the West, anyway) has for a long time been attended by one half of a class divide. Look at the currently attending church; not many builders. Not many labourers, road workers and so on. Lots of doctors, lawyers, teachers, charity workers, academics. All people who are already less stereotypically masculine, more prone to discussion, emotional honesty, astute social observation. I don’t think Carl is bemoaning a lack of soft-handed professional musicians in church, he is bemoaning a lack of “men’s men”, “lads” and so on. Unfortunately, this desire to crudely rebalance current church culture is as misguided as it is doomed.

    Your fisking mentions how 62% of the CofE (I’m not sure if you’re referring to leadership or membership) is male. But this statistic, just like earning power, tells such a half-truth it may as well be a lie. We know men earn more than women on average, but we rarely balance this with the fact that women spend the vast majority of money in this country. Who are the majority of TV adverts aimed at? Where are they getting this money if they’re not earning it?

    This I think reveals some truth behind the cliche “behind every good man is an even better woman”. We laugh because it’s probably true; Mr. Bigshot would be absolutely left in the lurch if his wife wasn’t taking care of their house, bills, children, social calendar and pretty much everything else. This article states as such – behind the scenes, women are often working harder, sacrificing more and so on. For a long time, the status quo has been for men and women to pretend that they’re in charge, when everyone knew this was only nominal.

    SImilarly, you can point with outrage at all the Christian books written by men, the leadership positions of men and so on and say “men control the church!”, but it isn’t too hard to look deeper and see that’s not an accurate reflection. Men may think they’re running the church; they’re not.

    When our previous (large, evangelical) church put on a men’s weekend that I attended, it didn’t really work. Two things became clear: some of the men were quite happy being vulnerable, crying, hugging etc. and didn’t really need special manly activities. Some other men just wanted to enjoy doing the activities with other men for a bit of fellowship and head space – they didn’t want to sit round talking about “men’s issues”. In fact, that would be the last thing they wanted to do. I think Carl’s version of “men’s ministries” will fail because most of the men in church are there precisely because they like the safety within which they do not have to be stereotypically masculine. Those who are more stereotypically masculine are unlikely to want to do engage with the more serious things Carl wants them to do. But these chaps are in the minority; every once in a while, a charismatic “man’s man”, a natural leader, rises up. They gather a bit of excitement, a bit of momentum, they lead people in a way seemingly only a man can – and then they crash and burn, because that extra dose of testosterone that put them ahead of the other, gentler men in the congregation combined with the influence they’ve accrued gets them into trouble, usually by way of sexual sin. Time after time we see fantastic leaders fluffing things, rarely thinking their flaw was probably the same character trait that helped them reach the heights they did. Solomon. Bill Clinton…

    Finally, if you blame all men for raping/mutilating/murdering women and children, or at least failing to stop it, you too are making a distinction. As I mentioned on another comment, I am as responsible for domestic violence as your husband and your son. This “there are a few good men (my immediate family), but most of them are monsters” rubbish has to stop if you want any kind of unified solution. As does a blindness to generalised character flaws in women but focus on them in men, and vice versa with strengths. If you want to say “men in general are more aggressive, more violent, sacrifice less for their families”, fine – you may find people who disagree. But what are women’s commensurate failings? And if women are great at being honest with each other, supporting each other, sacrificing for their families and have a unique, special bond and ability to provide for their children, what are men’s commensurate strengths? Because we seem very rapidly to get into the sort of generalisations I would think you might disapprove of.


    • Rah says:

      On whether men or women spend more money: are there any statistics for this beyond TV adverts? If men are earning more money, how can women possibly be spending the vast majority of money? What is advertised on TV only relates to expendable income. What about the rent/mortgage we pay? Petrol/public transport? If a man is earning more than his wife, he’s probably also paying more towards these bills. I’m very confused as to what your logic, or even you point is here?


      • Women can spend more money because women have more power in household spending decisions and because they live longer, among other things. The problem with the idea that men’s greater earning power means that they have greater spending power is that it neglects the fact that most people pool wealth and spending decisions in households and families, and the power to make most of these spending decisions is typically exercised by women in particular. Most men don’t earn money purely or primarily for the sake of their individual spending, but for their families. Even when the husband is the primary wage-earner for the household, the wife is typically the primary person deciding how the household income should be spent. This holds even for the biggest items such as houses and cars. When it comes to houses, for instance, women typically have more power than men in determining what and where the home should be, how it should look, how it should be furnished, etc.

        Here’s one example article on women’s greater spending power from the US.


      • Hi Rah, thanks for the response.
        I was only using the the economic example as just that: an example, so I don’t really want to get bogged down with it. But as Alastair mentioned, there is reliable and repeated evidence pointing to the fact that women spend more money, even if men earn it, and (as I’m constantly being reminded by my socialist friends) this really does equate to a degree of “power”. Randomly choosing one statistic to look at, without seeing how it actually might be balanced by other statistics, can lead us down a rabbit hole of trying to crudely make things fair, when often it does quite the opposite. The point being here that women are not as economically disempowered in the West as those income statistics like to make it look.
        Alistair also makes a very good point about the real life situation for most people – pooling or sharing of resources. It isn’t reasonable to expect to see total gender equity in every quantifiable aspect of people’s lives, and if that is what we push for, we are only going to antagonise men and women against each other. (This, by the way, is my overarching hope in all of this: that we find peaceful, happy, loving and respectful ways for the sexes to interact, rather than some system that is mathematically fair but makes everyone miserable and hate/resent/mistrust each other. I’m not saying it won’t involve equality, but the question is what kind of equality?)

        But relating this to my point about church, I was trying to suggest that just looking at one measurement regarding church membership, church leadership and so on does not necessarily prove the point you might think it does. So just because a sermon was given by a man, using material from a book by another man, and afterwards songs written by a man are lead by another man (!) doesn’t mean that women are not influencing and shaping all of those communications. It was in response to GLW’s point that if feminisation was occurring, it was coming from men. Back to our debate regarding economics, that’s like saying that it must be men influencing a particular market in a certain way, because they “earn all the money”. We’ve see that it isn’t that simple. Men can sell very well to women, and vice versa. A product/style/brand/identity can be packaged and sold with a particular customer in mind, and it doesn’t have to be delivered or created by someone who matches the target audience.


    • Rah says:

      Women being more likely to make decisions doesn’t actually give them greater spending power. Because if it’s not your money then you don’t really have power, you are just being allowed to make the decision. The person who earned the money remains in control, even if unintentionally so. Either way women making more decisions is not comparable to men earning more money.


      • I agree, if one person is earning the majority wage, that often means they have the final say on how its spent because they can pull the “well its my money” card. I’d also say that many couples I know don’t pool their money & so the one with the greater income has greater disposable money at the end of the month. It’s a really interesting one regarding whether that reflects mutuality in a relationship, I think. Also this conversation changes dramatically for single people, where single women are paid less (on average) than single men. Also the advert thing, surely it’s about household products rather than things you would spend disposable income on?


      • A few remarks addressing the issues raised in both of these responses:

        1. My point was in response to your questioning how women could spend more if they didn’t earn as much. Unless you are going to work with a highly stipulated sense of what it means to ‘spend’, I think that it should be clear both that it is possible and that there are reasons to believe that it is actually the case.

        2. Whatever the broader dynamics of the situation, the spending power of women is decidedly real relative to the people selling to them. Which is the point when it comes to advertising. If you are making the buying decisions, you really do have power.

        3. Although some couples may not pool any of their money, this is quite besides the point. The point is that it happens and, as a result, one’s partner may make spending decisions using your money. Also, as most couples will pool their finances to some degree, the fact that family spending decisions are often made primarily by women will have a large scale effect. The exceptions don’t change this fact.

        4. In actual fact, in many settings, single and full-time women are paid more on average than their male peers (see this and this, for instance). The ‘gender gap’ in wages is principally a gap between the wages paid to mothers and those paid to everyone else. When we are talking about single women and single men, the picture looks very different from what most would expect.

        5. Technically having the ‘final say’ is far from straightforwardly the same thing as having more power when it comes to spending decisions, and most definitely doesn’t mean that one ultimately has all of the power. At least, it would only mean that one had all of the ‘power’ if we were working with a rather tendentious definition of the term ‘power’. Exercising a final veto or say, for instance, is only one kind of power in a situation and is often a very weak one. For instance, HM the Queen may enjoy the power and right of withholding Royal Assent for an act of parliament. However, if she actually exercised this right in any but the most extreme of instances, the Monarchy itself would be put in jeopardy.

        Perhaps the greatest problem with pointing to this power of the ‘final say’ is that a healthy and happy household needs to operate according to some sort of consensual dynamic. Within such a household, there is a balancing, pooling, and mutual negotiation of interests and agencies, rather than an absolute competition, conflict, or opposition of interests. For such a dynamic to pertain and to continue, the final say typically can’t be exercised. It will seldom if ever be possible to exercise it forcefully and still preserve the desired dynamic. The final say will generally only be forcefully employed in the most radically dysfunctional of situations, where one party or other in a relationship has jettisoned the consensual dynamic. In some respects, the final say could be compared to the nuclear button: one would not press the nuclear button without very severe repercussions. One cannot even threaten it in the overwhelming majority of situations.

        Try to imagine for a moment what it would be like if a husband and main wage-earner for a household came home one day and decided that, from that point onwards, he would demand his right to settle the majority of decisions in the household. He would decide exactly how the 70% of the rooms of the house would be decorated—in his preferred hyper-masculine style. He would decide what 70% of the meals would be, whether or not the other members of the household liked them. His preferences would be given 70% weight in the choice of house. He would insist on identifying which 70% of items in the house were his own and would refuse to allow others to use them. If his wife ran low on money from her lower paying job, she would have to cut back, while he could continue to splurge. Etc., etc. Such a husband would soon be without a wife and kids, because having a loving wife and kids depends upon the preservation of a loving and consensual dynamic, where the interests of all parties are considered and upheld and where an overt power dynamic is avoided.

        6. Behind all of this, it seems to me that there is a profoundly deficient account of power and of interpersonal dynamics more generally. The fundamental unit of analysis seems to be the detached individual, who stands in a subtly antagonistic relationship to everyone else. So we have detached men pitted against detached women, as if they are acting independently of each other and purely for their individual interests, which are presumed to be at odds with each other. Those individual interests may partially align for some time with those of a romantic or marriage partner, but we still remain essentially individual units, entering into transactions and alliances for our personal benefit. As Wendell Berry once observed:

        Marriage, in what is evidently its most popular version, is now on the one hand an intimate “relationship” involving (ideally) two successful careerists in the same bed, and on the other hand a sort of private political system in which rights and interests must be constantly asserted and defended. Marriage, in other words, has now taken the form of divorce: a prolonged and impassioned negotiation as to how things shall be divided. During their understandably temporary association, the “married” couple will typically consume a large quantity of merchandise and a large portion of each other.

        Given this understanding of human beings and the nature of their relationships, it is understandable that ‘equality’ should be such a preoccupation for many in the context of contemporary culture. The reality of power differentials is a fundamental threat to its underlying vision of humanity, which struggles to process that non-competitive, non-transactional, non-contractual, and non-oppositional modes of relationship are the most fundamental forms of relationship of all.

        The alternative, of course, is to recognize the possibility and normative reality of families, of married couples, and of men and women enjoying unified agency, where ‘mine’ is given little significance in comparison to ‘ours’. In such arrangements, the fact that a husband might have more earning power than his wife need not cause such outrage: he is earning for them as a family, not for himself. What greater strengths he might have are exercised for the sake of his wife and children and put at their disposal. He takes seriously his wedding vows, in which he promised ‘with all my worldly goods I thee endow’: whatever he earns is promised to his wife. Likewise, his wife does not believe that she has privileged possession of their children, just because her body bore them: the children are theirs and she expresses her appropriate love and respect for her husband by acting accordingly. All of this is in stark contrast to the ‘his’ and ‘hers’ approach to money or the approaches to marriage and the interests of men and women that keeps the focus on negotiating and aligning the private interests of detached individuals and never manages to attain to the level of a discussion of what is ‘ours’. Instead of a profound one flesh union of man and woman at the heart of this vision of society, there lies only detached and implicitly competing individuals, who enter into transactional relations with each other, whose differences must be reduced to the level of indifference, but who never truly transcend their atomized individuality.

        ‘Power’ dynamics work out in very different ways in healthy marital situations. It is no longer a matter of pitting the wife’s power against the husband’s power—or ‘his’ money against ‘hers’—because they aren’t fundamentally in competition. In marriage they pledged to use their power for the sake of each other from that point onwards in all sorts of circumstances. Their power is pulling in the same direction and is also pooled in various ways. The husband may perhaps enjoy greater earning power, but his greater earning power is empowered by his wife and employed for the sake of his family. He in turn will empower his wife in her spending power (which is also employed for the sake of her family, rather than for herself as a detached individuals) and in many other ways and she will empower him in various others. The fact that power is not a zero sum game and the fact that most of us in society are not locked into a great gender war between detached male and female individuals punctures a lot of the arguments that are brought to such debates.


      • Rah says:

        What you say about trying to imagine what it would be like if a man tried to exercise control over his family in that way: I don’t have to imagine. That’s the world we live in. Many, many men are like that. You appear to have an incredibly naive understanding of the realities of male privilege, & female oppression.


      • Thanks for the response, Rah.

        I don’t doubt that many are. I am also sorry if this has been your experience.

        My position is not based upon a denial of the existence of abusive men, nor need it be. Rather, it draws its strength from the fact that such a situation: a) is not necessary; b) is not universal; c) despite being common, is not the norm; d) is dysfunctional and contrary to the normative and natural healthy modes of relations between the sexes.

        The last two of these points are the most important ones. Illness, while common, is not the normative, natural, and functional state of the human being. Just as physical well being is not primarily achieved by combating illness, but by pursuing good health, so healthy relations between the sexes are not best served by attempts to counteract dysfunction, but by attempts to pursue healthy functioning. You don’t raise healthy kids by feeding them only medicine. The problem with taking illness and dysfunction as the most basic and natural states is that positive health has a positive dynamic that isn’t just the absence of dysfunction.

        The problem with taking our starting point with abusive men is that we start to take much of the dysfunction for granted (as a parallel, imagine if we regarded parental abuse of children as the normal reality and the sort of policies that might be suggested in response). Our concern becomes the negative one of minimizing its damage, rather than the positive pursuit of situations where the dysfunction doesn’t even feature (and this still allows us to take measures when it does). The problem with many of the feminist and egalitarian positions that are put forward is that they all too typically presume the naturalness of a situation where we have detached, competing, and opposed individuals, with only private interests, where power is a zero sum game, and where the sexes are fundamentally and inescapably at odds. This situation, however, isn’t natural, but is dysfunctional. Once we appreciate that the natural, healthy, and normal situation is one where men and women are primarily defined by their union, commitment to a common good, and sharing property and goods a lot of egalitarian and feminist arguments will be seen to fall short.

        Thanks for the discussion: I’ll leave you to have the final word.


      • Disposable income too, surprisingly.
        Do this experiment Mrs GLW: walk down the high street, or round a shopping centre, and try to take a crude tally of how many shops have window displays you would say are trying to appeal to men vs. women. I’ve done this before; the results may surprise you (or not, given what we’ve talked about).


    • Hi Tom, the stat was from work we did on speakers on the national Christian platform, rather than the C of E specifically. I totally agree with the “perpetrator = monster” mentality & regularly address this when delivering training etc. The reason this blog focussed on men’s issues was because it was in response to Carl’s article rather than because I think women are “better”. In fact, just as the monster mentality is damaging, so is the “perfect woman” attitude. Surely our humanity is rooted in our ability to enact both great good & great evil?


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