Gentle. Warm. Caring. Sacrificial. Loving. A Woman.
Aggressive. Cold. Strong. Demanding. Self-Seeking. A Man.
If you agree with the descriptive adjectives above, chances are that you are sympathetic to the idea of toxic masculinity. Women and even men today have bought into the lie that masculine traits are inherently bad and even dangerous—something to suppress, not celebrate. As a woman myself, it is easy to get drawn into the negative rhetoric and grow discouraged by the behavior I see exhibited by men. However, true masculinity as a whole was not always perceived this way, and it is high time we flipped the script for the benefit of both sexes.
Nancy Pearcey’s book released last month, The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles the Sexes, tackles this idea head-on with vigor and clarity perhaps never seen before. She takes a historical and sociological approach to manhood without sacrificing her personal perspective as a woman who candidly shares her own painful experience with domestic abuse. In true Pearcey fashion, the book is a perfect blend of compassion and straight-up truth. If you’d like to hear Pearcey discuss the book herself, play the video above to hear her conversation with Christian apologist Alisa Childers.
At the heart of the book is the idea of the “Good” Man versus the “Real” Man. In the first chapter, Pearcey cites a recent survey where men describe a good man as one who is honorable, responsible, sacrificial, protective and duty-based. However, when asked to describe a “real” man or what it means to “man up,” these same men described dominating, competitive, strong, and selfish traits. Why the discrepancy?
Pearcey acknowledges that while men and women are created in the image of God (imago Dei), they are also inherently different (she also explores this idea in-depth in her book Love Thy Body). However, she writes, “The creation account states that the division of humanity into two sexes is ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31). We must reject any notion that being male is inherently toxic or that being female is inferior.” (pg. 27) In other words, while men and women are different, their differences are good and part of God’s original design—both sexes needing, loving, serving, and supporting each other. No part of their biology or personality were evil.
However, when the fall happened and evil entered the world, both sexes were cursed with specific sin struggles. From that point on, men would have the tendency to abuse their power. But this “Real” Man that would develop over time, Pearcey argues, is not truly the real man as God originally designed him; he is the one-sided manifestation of a man’s sinful nature. Instead, just as everyone is called to conquer their sin, so God calls and expects men, as articulated in scripture, to be the “Good” Man as he was originally designed to be.
Pearcey explains in The Toxic War on Masculinity how Christianity, through the course of human history, has counter-culturally encouraged men to be the “Good” Man and protected women from the “Real” Man. Even today, she cites how evangelical Christian men and women (i.e., actual practicing Christians, not just nominal ones) are shattering the stereotypes by having the lowest rates of divorce, lowest levels of domestic abuse, highest family involvement, and highest marriage satisfaction. She writes,
“Churchgoing exposes men to messages telling them the family has transcendent meaning—that it was created by God and is not merely a cultural construct or a product of social evolution. Churches call on husbands to show love and respect their wives. They remind fathers that they are accountable before God for how they treat their children—that human fatherhood is a mirror of the fatherhood of God.” (pg. 43)
Culture is telling us that men, particularly Christian men, are toxic and harmful to society—especially to women. But what about this vision or these statistics sound toxic to you?
As emphasized previously, there are certainly many men who behave toxically. They have embraced Western secular culture’s definition of manhood and have hurt everyone in their path as a result. Even men who call themselves Christians have bought into this lie. As Pearcey explores in her book, this is largely a consequence of the Industrial Revolution moving men and work outside the home and into the dog-eat-dog industrialized world. (This idea is also emphasized by Contributor Erika Bachiochi, who explains this important cultural shift and its impact on women in her interview with us.) Pearcey writes,
“The Industrial Revolution became a watershed in the social definition of masculinity. By taking husbands and fathers out of the home, industrializing created the material conditions that made it more difficult to fulfill a biblical ideal of manhood. Men were no longer physically present enough to be fully engaged husbands and fathers. They spent most of their time in the public realm, which was growing increasingly secular. The Industrial Revolution became the catalyst for the acceptance of secular views on masculinity.” (pg. 101)
Over time, this separation has only increased and compounded the effects that secular masculinity is having on society. The main point of Pearcey’s book, however, is that secular masculinity has never been the norm in Christian thought or practice, nor should it be accepted as the norm today. She calls us to stop letting men off the hook and hold them accountable to the vision of the “Good” Man.
Society’s pitfall today is that we like the idea of the “Good” Man but simply do not think men are capable of it. On the contrary, Pearcey writes in her closing epilogue,
“Even men who may not be Christian still retain vestiges of the biblical teaching that masculinity consists in Christlike sacrifice for the sake of others. Men seem to instinctively treat masculinity as the call to die so that others may live—the highest form of self-sacrifice. Jesus said, ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’ (John 15:13). That principle seems to be built into men’s created nature. Men know what it means to be a Good Man, even when a secular culture pressures them to fit into its mold of a ‘Real’ Man. Manhood is fulfilled in the opportunity to serve and protect.
Masculinity is not originally or intrinsically toxic. Duty and compassion are masculine virtues, integral to the male character. True masculinity is a good gift from God, and we should be grateful for the men who embody it.” (pg. 270)
Every day, brave men sacrifice their lives for others. Faithful husbands love and cherish their wives. Caring fathers provide for and nurture their children. Despite what modern-day feminism is telling us, we need men like this. Women need men like this. And when men are falling short of this standard—as many today are—we should not question their personhood, put them into stereotypical boxes, or blame it purely on the testosterone coursing through their bodies. Instead, we should point them to the only ever truly Good Man that walked this earth, Jesus Christ, and tell them to follow His example.
Thank you, Nancy, for a book that is unfortunately so needed during our cultural moment. Women should read this book as a reminder that there is no justification to hate or “kill all men” (as some feminists have gotten into the habit if saying). Women should read to get a picture of what true masculinity should look like and how to support men in rising up to this high standard. Likewise, men should read so they can be reminded of this high standard. To be clear, this is not a book vindicating all men—it is an urgent and serious call to live out the best of their masculinity that is within them.