After being told about Andrew Wilson’s talk “A Theology of Maleness” in January, it’s taken me a while to get around to watching the whole thing. But I have now watched the it and will offer some (rather extensive) views on it.
If you don’t know who Andrew Wilson, he is an elder at Kings Church in Eastbourne and is a well known complementarian. He has an MA and is doing a PhD in theology.
Before I start my thoughts on his talk, I should make clear that he says towards the end of his talk that it’s content he would not deliver to women, so if any men would like to watch the 45 minute talk, and offer their thoughts, please do! Mr GLW’s response, listening in to the last 20 minutes of it was intermittent OH PLEASES so I don’t think that being female precludes my ability to critique what he says.
So here goes…
He starts by apologising for the “theological” nature of his talk, taking it out of the realms of opinion and into the realms of factual, or perhaps the academic, however rarely within the talk does he say anything that I would consider on an academic level. I’m sure he didn’t intend for it to be a communication device, but the effect of saying it is “theological”, is that people immediately assume a level of robust research and fact within the forthcoming content.
He uses the John Piper quote, “The question you have to be able to answer is, “What are you going to do when your son says to you, “Dad what does it mean to be a boy rather than a girl? Or to be a man rather than a woman?””
Personally if my son was to ask me this, I would reframe the question and say, “Well, Joshua, what does it mean to be you? What does it mean to be Joshua? Because God made you unique and different to everyone else in the whole world, and there are so many different ways to be a boy or a man that we need to be working out what it means to be who God made you to be and being a boy is only one part of that.”
However, Andrew’s approach is different. He acknowledges that we need a strong theology of identity, before then choosing to not focus on the macro of identity but rather on the micro of gender. He talks about the differences between absolute and generalised statements about men and women and says that “we need to be able to generalise about gender in order to articulate what the Bible says.”
He immediately makes generalised statements that women are more sensitive and men are more decisive, explaining that people get upset about statements like this. “It’s not absolutely true, but is generally true that women are more sensitive and men are more decisive”. He goes on to evidence that men are more decisive because within academia there are trends which show men get further in academia that women. He does mention that privilege could come into this; that men might have more opportunities than women, but says he thinks it’s probably more about Christendom and that white men were involved in the rise of Christendom. He also says that historically women were in the home and men had more muscles so worked as farmers. Which led to men having more time to do academia.Andrew doesn’t detail how that meant men had more time. Just that they did. I would suggest that if men had the muscles to do the farming, women would have been much better suited to academia, what with having less muscles, but anyway…
This section really seems like a response to feminist critique as he begins to talk about privilege, I definitely felt he was engaging with the issues I would raise in a conversation with him. However, his conclusion about privilege is that it’s “not necessarily true” that white men are privileged but that it is about taking responsibility and good stewardship of what’s been given to them.
He states the usual complementarian line, that men and women are “equal in dignity but not in function” and uses playing the bass as an example of this. He says the left and right hand are used in the bass for different things. The left hand plays the notes while the right hand plucks the strings. He suggests that the left and right hands are equal in dignity, but their function is different; just like women and men.
As an analogy it is deeply flawed. People play the bass that way round because that is the way they have been taught to play the bass, not because the left and right hand have been innately designed to pluck strings/play notes specifically. And the existence of the left handed bass suggests some people still play it the other way round.
He says that men should be talking about FGM, domestic abuse and rape, that these issues are injustices and should be challenged. That they’re not the same as what he see as inequality of function, i.e. the roles men and women should have are different to violence against women.
Except that every expert in understanding and ending violence against women will tell you that gender inequality is the foundation of violence against women. That the privilege he has just denied as a real thing is the reason men abuse 25% of women in the UK. That the position of men as the power-holders and gatekeepers leads to women’s oppression. These things cannot be separated into “real injustice” and “a God intended
He goes onto say something that I actually fully agree with (I know, it’s a shock. Have a pause before continuing if you need to…). He says that within the church, the rhetoric about “real men” and (to a lesser extent) “real women” is about what people “ought to” be doing, not who they are. So, by being a man or a woman, you are “real”. The existence of your body being male or female makes you male/female, not the need to perform a certain type of masculinity/femininity.
The rest of his talk is about equipping men to know more about what being a man looks like. Which doesn’t sound that contradictory when he says it, but actually is.
He mentions the feminisation of the church, without giving any examples or citations of how the church has ben feminised and states that some Christian conversations/resources/ideas about manhood have been an “overreaction” to this non-evidenced feminisation of the church.
He says that we should be looking to Jesus for how to be a man, and also for how to be a human being. Which is weird, because his whole talk is about theological differences between men and women, but he’s saying Jesus is the model for being human. Which really He can’t be, if there’s particular ways that men are meant to be. Because either Jesus conformed to the theological way of being a man (therefore not being a model for women) or He was a model for being human (therefore not conforming to the theological way of being a man, which would suggest it might not be all that theological if Jesus didn’t do it).
He explains that since the sexual revolution men are being “infantilised” by society and that even though women have progressed in lots of ways, that they are “not happier”. He doesn’t provide any evidence that states women aren’t happier, or really explain how society is infantilising men, he just states it as a fact.
He then pitches “very feminist” and chauvinist as a polarised positions, the two extremes and says people mainly sit in the middle. This is deeply problematic. Last time I checked a chauvinist was “a person displaying excessive or prejudiced support for their own cause, group, or sex” whereas a feminist is a person working for “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” I’m not sure how those two things can be polarised. A chauvinist is excessively prejudiced, a feminist is working towards equality. Hmm…
However, polarising those two terms works to the benefit of Andrew’s points. That being in middle, being a moderate means not being a chauvinist, but also not being a feminist. Now, I know I’m biased as a feminist, but I would say feminism is the middle ground between hatred of women and hatred of men. The portrayal of feminists as “man hating” is not from evidence of the feminist movements, but a mischaracterisation by people against the cause. Chauvinism and misogyny however is evidenced in language and actions. Men rape women and kill women, men tweet about raping and killing women. There’s no similar action from feminists towards men. Women are not as a collective or on a large scale killing or raping men. It simply does not happen.
Andrew then moves into his 7 points about what a Theology of Maleness looks like. He explains that as it originates in Genesis and is “bound up with marriage” but is applicable to single people too. However, he doesn’t at any point during the talk expand upon the implications for single people or how it is practically worked out in the lives of single people. Here are his 7 points, and my thoughts on them:
1. Men = Tohu. Women = Vohu (Genesis 1:2)
The earth as formless (tohu) and void (vohu). Andrew explains that Tohu refers to men; men bring form to the earth and that vohu refers to women; women fill the earth. It’s interesting that this verse is mentioned long before men and women are created and that it’s just an idea that he (and perhaps others) have come up with. It suggests that women’s role in the world really involves birthing children, which creates great problems for single women and women who can’t have children.
It places men as subjecting the earth, being agents in the world; the ones who shape what the world looks like, while women act within the constrains of what men decide. This leaves me wondering, why did God give so many women gifts of leadership. Surely, they are anomalies within a world of men who were created to shape?
2. Men = Subdue and Dominion. Women = Multiply and be fruitful (Genesis 1:28)
It’s interesting because this verse is said to woman and man together. There is no mention within the text that these commands are gender specific. It is only after The Fall that gender differences are mentioned at all.
He talks about penis and vagina (which obviously I was pleased about, given my goal of making vagina a more acceptable word across society). He explains that women’s reproductive organs are internal. Men’s reproductive organs are external. This mean’s that men are “externally focussed agencies there to protect”. That seems like a rather large leap in theory to me, but then I may not be theological enough…
He states that men’s “involvement in child birth and child rearing is relatively short.” As Christians we believe that women and men are equally called to be parents, the biological reality is not the one which dictates how we behave as parents, otherwise men would generally just, “shoot and leave”. Instead, we hope for integrated family structures, seeking after “the important things of justice and love”.
He mentions the book “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps” saying he has “no idea idea whether it’s true or not”. It is not true. The book is based on ridiculously bad neuroscience. Andrew’s mention of this book allows him to example the differences between men and women, without having to stand by the conclusions of the book as true.
He talks about how until relatively recently men went to war because women were the one’s bearing children. He fails to mention that those creating the wars were also men. He says that God could have created us to be fertilised like plants or as asexual, but instead, “God did something and in doing so made a statement about how women and men are meant to function.” All mammals function and reproduce in the same way; so rather than God choosing a specifically unique way for human’s to reproduce (to infer all the special things Andrew wants it to show) it’s actually the way all mammals reproduce (including whales). Unless we’re saying male whales are uniquely purposed as “externally focussed agencies there to protect” it’s not really going to work.
After this he references a shooting in Colorado in which three men died after having laying over women to protect them from a gunman in a cinema. He said the men were in no way connected to the women they chose to protect. In fact (according to Wikipedia) the three men who died were protecting their girlfriends. Andrew’s point is that men are wired to protect women. That it’s somehow an innate characteristic of men. He failed to mention in his talk that the person who shot dead 12 people and injured another 70 was also a man.
This section of Andrew’s talk left me crying.
We live in a world where male violence is at epidemic proportions. Rape, murder, torture, emotional abuse, street harassment, female genital mutilation, female infanticide, sexual abuse; all perpetrated by men in every community and society of the world. We don’t live in a world where there’s an epidemic of men protecting women, but rather, hurting women. We don’t live in a society where a woman sees a man in a dark alley and thinks “Oh he’s going to protect me”. That’s not what our world looks like.
I have argued before with people that I don’t want to be offered a seat or have a door held open for me by a man if they’re only doing it because I’m female. If they always offer their seat to women and men or they always open the door for women and men, then that’s fine. But the assumption with those things is that I am weaker, but let’s face it, I am not more in need of a seat than a man.
The belief in women as weaker is what lays at the roots of male violence. I delivered an assembly to a group of 240 13-14 year old students. One boy said, “The thing is I think girls are emotionally weaker than boys, that’s why they get upset more.” Afterwards a teacher explained that this same boy had been abusive to all his girlfriends.
Although Andrew says women aren’t defective or impotent, but instead inherently “precious”, the reality is that if women are weaker, especially when it comes to “dominion” then they should be less trusted than men in relation to those things.
His example of the men who died in the Colorado shooting was used to say that “men immediately knew” women should be protected, but across the world men don’t immediately know that, how do we know those men’s responses didn’t come from how they’ve been raised? Andrew excluded the information that the women were the men’s girlfriends and at least four of the people murdered in the Colorado shooting were women, not all of the women had men “immediately” knowing how precious they were and jumping in front of a bullet.
3. Man = Guard. Woman = Helper (Genesis 2:15 and 18)
Verse 15: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (ESV)
Verse 18: “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.””
Andrew introduces both of these verses and explains that although nowhere in verse 15 does it actually say “guard” he is going to use it interchangeably with “keep it”but doesn’t explain his rationale for doing so. It’s interesting that at this point in the story there were no threats to human beings, so there wasn’t actually any need to “guard” the garden from anything. Other versions use the word “take care of…” which definitely doesn’t sound like a “guard” type role. He does say the word is related to that of the priest role in the Old Testament, however the guards in the tribes of Israel were not the Levites. In fact the Levites didn’t go to war, their role was to enable the community to worship God.
He mentions how women are called to be men’s helpers, and does reference that helper is used as a word in the Bible to describe God bringing help to His people. Andrew doesn’t mention that it is a word used to describe God on 15 occasions, he also doesn’t explain how God helping His people differs from what he says as men’s role of “guarding”. To me they sound quite similar…
Andrew talks of how men will always get up to check for a burglar if there’s a noise in the middle of the night. That men’s role as guard is “why men protect their families.” That men would always ensure they were first to deal with suspicious noises in the middle of the night. He didn’t offer any research to back this point up. Just his assumption that men always protect their families.
Except men don’t always protect their families. In fact women and children are much much more likely to be at risk in the middles of the night from men they know than from burglars. Children sexually assaulted by their father or step-father while their mother sleeps unaware. Women awakening to find their husband raping them or perhaps not allowed to go to sleep because their husband’s abusive tactic is to force them to stay awake all night. If we’re going to use collective male behaviour to decide that something is innately built into men, it seems violence and abuse is something we should be talking about.
He also doesn’t explain how single women are supposed to protect themselves. Without a man are single women sitting ducks for burglars?
Also he seems to think protection is solely a physical thing. I may not be physically strong enough to protect my husband physically (though some women are). However, if someone was being verbally hurtful towards him, I would be the first to stand up and say something. If someone was going to try and take advantage of his kindness or support, I would be the first to challenge that. Perhaps, as women and men we are supposed to protect each other, based on our gifts, rather than some assumption of difference from a word that doesn’t actually appear in the verse being talked about?
Andrew states, “The role of guarding and protecting is always something God has said, “Men I want you to do.” I could be wrong, but I don’t think this is actually a verse found anywhere in the Bible: “And then God said, “Men! Guarding and protecting is always your job!”
God likens Himself to a mother bear protecting her cubs. Jesus likens Himself to a chicken gathering chicks under her wings. Unless I’m mistaken, those are female images of God protecting and guarding. In fact, mothers are well known for protecting their children. There are many anecdotal stories of women having “Hysterical Strength”, lifting a car off their father or fighting a polar bear to save their children. 1 Corinthians 13:7 tells us that love “always protects”. Protecting isn’t limited to men, it’s a characteristic of love.
4. Men = Beloved. Women = Beloved (Genesis 2:23)
“The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman”, for she was taken out of man.’”
Andrew says that Adam “Initiates the relationship” and Eve responds. He explains, “That’s why a man asks the father’s permission” to marry a woman. And states, “That’s the way civilisation has worked ever since.”
Where to start with this..? The reason a man asks the father’s permission is because historically the woman/girl belonged to her father, and the marriage contract enabled the husband to buy the woman so she goes from being her father’s possession to becoming owned by her husband. That’s not okay.
When Mr GLW and I decided to get married, God told us we should marry each other. So we had a conversation about it and decided to get married. Perhaps Andrew thinks this is unBiblical, but that’s how God worked out our marriage and it is no less valid because Mr GLW didn’t initiate the relationship. In fact, I think the model of having a grown up conversation about marriage, rather than a romantic proposal, might be more useful for lots of people…
He goes on to say that it’s obvious what this means “in a marriage context, but with implications for single people as well.” He does elaborate further, leading me to wonder how exactly this works for single people. Men should initiate all things? Women should stay silent? I’m not really sure how this works out in the lives of single people even if Andrew is.
5. Man = Christ. Woman = Church
Andrew says that “Christ leads the church” and that the “church responds and submits to him” and that should be the “same with husbands and wives…this is very obvious.”
Setting aside the content issue. He has used a communication device here (perhaps unintentionally) which says that what he’s just said is “obvious”. Basically everybody should get this, everybody should agree with it. The fact that there are many scholars, theologians and others who don’t accept this is what the Bible says, or that it’s actually quite offensive to say that one gender is more like Christ than the other is neither here nor there when you say something is “very obvious”.
He goes on to liken the spectrum of masculinity to having various points on it. It looks like this:
He says that Christian men should be at the servant leadership end of the spectrum . That is what Christ is like. Though it would seem women shouldn’t even exist on this spectrum, we’re somewhere else, on the “submission spectrum” no doubt. He explains that his life hasn’t required him to stand in front of a bullet for his wife, but usually involves him having to get up earlier. He doesn’t really explain why getting up earlier makes him a servant leader, but anyway.
We are all called to “prefer each other’s needs”, as Christians. Personally, I don’t want Mr GLW getting up early for me every day, I want us to exist in mutuality, where if he’s tired he can have a lie in, if I’m tired I can. We submit ourselves to God and each other, in full partnership. It’s not our gender that dictates how much we offer, or how we offer it, but our love for God and for each other and the gifts God has given us.
6. Man = Representative. Woman = Beneficiary (Genesis 3:9)
“But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?””
Andrew explains that even though Eve was the first to eat the fruit, it was Adam who God addressed the question to. He doesn’t mention that in verse 13 God asks Eve, “What is this you have done?” But anyway…
He likens this to a civil servant and a Government Minister. When the civil servant makes a mistake, it is the Minister who is held accountable for it, because they are the representative of the department. After using this analogy he then says that “boss isn’t the right language to use” when talking about headship, which is problematic when that’s the exact analogy he has used to explain the whole “man is the representative” thing.
It’s interesting that there is actually a verse about being a representative in the Bible, “Therefore, we are the Messiah’s representatives, as though God were pleading through us…” (2 Corinthians 5:20 ISV) So we see that actually, all of us, men and women are Jesus’ representatives and when I get to heaven my husband won’t have to make account for my behaviour, I will.
He says that he sees headship as who the woman is identified by. For example when he sees other men in the room he recognises them by their head, not their shoulders or body. In the same way, he explains, the husband/father is the representative of the woman. He goes on, “That’s what still happens in many cultures, even now. The father speaks for the family…he carries the can…he gives the family their name.”
Andrew may not be aware, but male violence against women is also directly correlated to the level of autonomy and control women have over their own lives. The less autonomy women have (like in the cultures he’s mentioned) the more instances of violence against women. Because where women and girls are seen as possessions and as less than equal to the men, they are treated and discarded like possessions.
7. Man = ground. Woman = Womb. (Genesis 2:16-19)
Andrew mentions the curse on Adam and Eve; childbearing pain for women and the ground being cursed for men. He explains that this is what he sees as men’s and women’s “spheres of responsibility”.
He omits the part of the verse which says, “Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” This is an interesting section to omit, given his previous mention that men should be talking about FGM, rape and domestic violence more. Every society in the world is blighted by male violence. And yet the Biblical basis for male violence and domination isn’t referenced at all in his talk.
What is referenced however as evidence of men’s sphere being different to women’s is the Man Drawer, specifically Michael McIntyre’s portrayal of the Man Drawer. Yes, this is a theological talk that references the Man Drawer as irrefutable evidence of men’s sphere of responsibility being different to women’s.
Towards the end of the talk he explains he would not be present teaching about gender in the same way to women as it wouldn’t be helpful, especially not for single women as “marriage changes a woman’s life an impacts a woman more than a man.” He didn’t explain how/why it impacts women more. I’m not sure it does actually. Surely if he believes that men are supposed to be the servant leader, getting up early and being the representative in the relationship, it should probably be more difficult for men than women, but as it is, I’m really not sure how women are affected in a greater way than men…
Personally, when I do talks or write blogs, I hope everything is as useful to men as it is to women. It’s interesting Andrew’s view is that his message to men can’t be delivered with the same content to women. Maybe that’s because, like me, women see the implications of his message on them, or can see that it doesn’t make sense.
Andrew finished by talking about the Gospel and reminding all the men present that in relation to Jesus they are the “female”; the Helper, the Beloved, the Beneficiary. It’s confusing how this works out for women though. Are women the Helper to their husband and then Jesus? Or Jesus and then their husband?
He said that “in the Gospel we [men] play the part of the wife, we respond with submission and obedience…we are recipients, not agents of…” Which gets to the crux of the matter. He seems to see men as agents, women as recipients, which doesn’t look so different to the rest of society. This TED Talk by Caroline Heldman explains powerfully and clearly the ways the media ensure men are the subjects and women are the objects. Men act, women respond. This is not good for men or women.
God implanted free will within all of us. As male and female beings we are called to make choices and we will have to account for those choices. No distinction is made between men and women in Jesus saving us and to do so, especially within Andrew’s restrictive terms is not enabling us to be more Christlike, or more deeply rooted in God, but rather to find our identity in our genitals and tenuous links to The Man Drawer.