I have, now and again, had occasion to pop off on the subject of feminists who can’t decide if they’re trying to channel a swaggering machismo persona – or delicate, hyperventilating, victimhood. And the thing is, the whole situation is funny. It really is. One minute these ladies are rough, tough, and hard to bluff . . . and the next minute they’re pasting trigger alerts on all the sharp corners of everyone’s lives like those dreadfully inelegant foam protectors for the edges of coffee tables. You’ve seen those moments of high heels gone wrong in which the poor girl staggers violently in every possible direction before actually falling down? That’s what the evangelical feminists remind me of. There’s no clear trajectory. One minute they’re galloping nor’-nor’-east, and then suddenly they’re staggering to the sou’-sou’-west. On the one hand, they want to be hard edged modern women, all pant suits and nun chucks, but then again, what they really want to be is tender and empathetic, cherishing and tenderly petting the hurt feelings of everyone everywhere.
Like I said, I find that whole thing funny. But actually, in a surprise move, I wanted to actually take a moment to explain in what way I totally sympathize with them. I don’t agree with the nonsensical road they’ve taken, mind you, but I can at least understand how they came to be in this ridiculous place.
Men. Men who are chumps. Let us be frank – that’s the real problem here. If we want to dig in and get down to first causes, this is where the problem lies. There are lots of chumpish men of course, and each is chumpish in his own way . . . but there’s one particular breed I wanted to look at for a minute.
The thing that makes the evangelical feminists (which is a bit of an oxymoron really) as mad as fire is that Great Nemesis of the Western World – Patriarchy, and anything that reminds them of patriarchy, or alliterates with patriarchy. (Like “Paul” for instance.) So let’s take a moment to peer into the bushes that the feminists are setting up a squawk about. What men do we find in that camp? Well, if we let the feminists define the boundaries of who is in “That Camp” then we find a whole smorgasbord of men because it turns out that feminists aren’t terribly good at defining their terms. We find little tin-pot dictators who advocate for old school patriarchy and who rule their sparsely populated and badly educated red-neck demesne with a rod of iron. But we also find timid little would-be-hipster-city-dwellers who are trying to hide behind the label “Complementarian” and hoping that will fool the feminists and make them go away.
Interspersed in there we find a whole number of strong, faithful, masculine men who assume a godly authority in the home . . . but, and let’s be real here, we also find plenty of men who are chumps. By the grace of God, I have lived my entire life surrounded by the first kind . . . but I have actually been around the block a time or two, and I’ve seen plenty of the second kind as well. And it’s those men – the chumpish ones – who provide much of the ammo which the feminists are flinging at the faithful men. So I would like to humbly offer the suggestion to the menfolk – if you don’t like the feminists, then for heaven’s sakes stop making their point for them!
I’ve had men (in the name of headship and submission) tell me I ought not to be educated.
I’ve had men (in the name of headship and submission) tell me I ought not be wearing anything but dresses.
I’ve had men (in the name of headship and submission) tell me I ought not to disagree with them . . . because I was a female and they were male.
I’ve had men (in the name of headship and submission) tell me that any woman who disagrees with a man doesn’t have a gentle and quiet spirit.
I’ve had men (in the name of headship and submission) tell me that women don’t need an education, because they only need to know how to have babies and cook.
And I’ll be straight-up honest with you. I didn’t handle those men in a very saintly way. I called them names and made rude remarks. I danced around in a tight little circle and lit my hair on fire. And without fail, after about ten minutes of conversation with these pills I was ready to wear nothing but pants for the rest of my life, go to law school, run for president, and become a rugby player.
I remember sitting at dinner one time when I was probably 19, and I was venting to my dad about the twerp who had told me I needed to wear only dresses. (And no, he was not an NSA student, so don’t go running away with the idea that this is the kind of thing NSA breeds.) Anyway, I was vowing by all that was holy to never wear a dress ever again as long as I lived – because I didn’t want that guy to think that he had convinced me. To me, at that moment, the ultimate ninth layer of hell would have been for that guy to see me wearing a dress and say, “nice dress.” I would die first, yea verily, I would DIE before I let that happen. (Basically, what I’m telling you is that I would have made an awesome Rachel Held Evans. I, too, can rocket up like an indignant jack-in-the-box suffering an emotional spasm.) But Dad said something at dinner that night which was phenomenally important for me to understand. He said something like, “Look. You don’t want that guy to be able to dictate your clothing choices to you, right? Well, if you swear off of dresses – you will have allowed that guy to dictate your clothing choices. You will have allowed his opinion to sway what you pull out of the closet and put on in the mornings. So keep wearing what you want to wear, and don’t give that guy a second thought.” Holy cow, that was huge. And freeing. And phenomenal. Basically, Dad was telling me to be above that guy, not descend to his level . . . which is exactly what I had been doing, even though I was violently disagreeing with him. In the name of not letting him boss me around . . . I was actually letting him boss me around.
I also remember my dad pulling that same guy aside at one point or another, and saying basically this. “You are supposedly the champion of headship and submission. But if you had even the vaguest understanding of what headship and submission actually means, you would realize that you are not Bekah’s head. I am. What she wears is absolutely none of your business, and by trying to dictate to her you are demonstrating that you actually have no idea what any of this is about.” That one made me happy. It did.
But here’s the thing. In the same way that I was ready to violently disagree with some guys in a way that actually was letting them lead me . . . there are many (many) men who, in the name of violent disagreement with feminism, are letting the feminists lead them. Which is ironic if you think about it. For these guys, the ultimate “weak man” is one who is led by women . . . and yet they are letting a bunch of fussy and self-serious women dictate their theology, their family arrangement, their life choices. Their guiding principle is that if it makes the feminists mad then it must be right . . . which means they set their course based on what the feminists are doing. The feminists are the wind beneath their wings. They’re being led around by the nose by a bunch of shrill and intolerably bumptious, insecure women – and, what’s even sadder, they’re congratulating themselves the whole time about how strong and masculine they are. The irony of course, is that the feminists are doing the same thing. Being led around by the nose by a bunch of blustering, self-important mushrooms – and congratulating themselves all the while about how they’ve thrown off the old shackles of submission. The whole sad situation is like one of those caterpillar trains that has accidentally gotten itself into a circle but everyone still thinks they’re making great progress.
I think there are plenty of men who are attracted to the biblical idea of covenant headship in the home . . . because they don’t understand it whatsoever. They think it gives them the right to camp out on their testosterone and boss everyone around. To be honest I think this is because they are weak-sauce little putzes who are unlikely to get any respect on their own, so they like to cluster around a strong man or strong teaching, hoping that they’ll get a little “trickle down” masculinity and moral authority by virtue of proximity. So they find some alpha male to stand next to and they puff out their chests and put their thumbs in their suspenders and talk in their deep voice and smoke cigars and drink scotch and have faux-intellectual discussions and think that is suitable behavior for the Head of the House (all rise). These are guys who set an incredibly low bar for themselves (facial hair is the basic requirement), which is why they are threatened by any woman with brains or abilities. Maintaining their authority depends upon keeping the women around them uneducated enough to be suitably impressed by their cheap swagger, cigar collection, and leather armchair. Or their cheap swagger, their can of chew, their camo jacket and their hunting rifle. Or their cheap swagger and their Bud Light and their man cave. Whatever it may be, they put on the accouterments of what they think is “manly” and then hope everyone will read that as godly masculinity.
Thankfully, I didn’t grow up with that as a father. God was gracious to me, and gave me a father who trained me to be unthreatened by that kind of little man syndrome. If I functioned purely on the basis of my instincts, all my hackles go up when I’m confronted by men like that. But I had a strong father who taught me that being irritated and reactionary is weakness not strength, and he taught me to be strong enough not to be swayed by weak men. It took a lot of practice and a lot of dinner conversations, but I got to where I can snicker when I see that kind of guy rather than let it actually affect my behavior. I don’t need to let that kind of weak man change what I think, or how I behave . . . not in any direction. My father also taught me to have an extremely high bar when it came to the kind of man I would willingly submit to – and I love it that my husband is now instilling the same instincts in my three (strong) daughters.
You can’t choose your father but you can (thank the Lord!) choose your husband . . . and I would encourage all the single ladies out there to make sure you understand the difference between counterfeit masculinity and the real thing. Don’t be fooled by bluster. Don’t be fooled into thinking that’s what leadership ought to look like. But also don’t let yourself be steered into reacting against that kind of man and veering into the other ditch. Don’t fall for a weak man dressed up as a strong one . . . but also don’t think that a weak man acting like a weak man will make you happy. You don’t want a husband who’s a dictator, but neither do you want a husband who will be your girlfriend . . . and to be honest I’m not sure which one of those options would be more hellish.
Which is all to say, I sympathize with the feminists’ assessment of a particular kind of man. But I would argue that the feminists have shown a shocking lack of insight into what the actual problem is, and they have taken the weak road out.