Zelophehad’s Daughters

Christian Masculinity

Posted by Kiskilili

I genuinely hope this doesn’t come across as sacrilegious, but if women naturally possess Christlike attributes–if, in fact, as Michael Otterson argues, “Stereotypical ‘Female’ Qualities Are Core of What Jesus Taught,”–why was Jesus a man? In a Church that seems to embrace some sort of gender essentialism, what does it mean to that concept of gender that a male Jesus exemplified core female behaviors?

The answer, obviously, lies in the term “stereotypical” and the quotation marks with which Otterson wisely highlights the term “female,” meant, I assume, to call into question the very appropriateness of coding as feminine values which it is incumbent on everyone to cultivate, and whose paragon exemplar is, after all, male. Otterson sensibly concludes by suggesting that these are not exclusively female values at all, but are, in fact, human values.

But Otterson takes his argument no further, although his remarks seem to suggest that our understanding of both femininity and masculinity require some renovation. On the one hand, his brief article is clearly intended to celebrate the status of women within Christianity. Yet on the other, he calls into question the truly “femaleness” of these very qualities. The Gospel of Thomas famously states that “every woman who makes herself male shall enter the kingdom of heaven.” If we trust statements such as Otterson’s, it seems in fact that quite the opposite is true: every man who makes himself female shall enter the kingdom of heaven.

It’s no secret that women have traditionally occupied a lower social status than men; as a result, behaviors and attitudes associated with feminininity are likely to be scrupuously avoided by men, since they have the effect of calling into question their masculinity. (Observe that, for example, although our culture codes blue as male and pink as female, it’s much more culturally acceptable for a woman to paint her room blue or wear predominantly blue clothing than for man to embrace the color pink. We’re much less suspicious of the tomboy than the “girly” boy. And heaven help the boy who shows interest in dolls or dresses as a mermaid for Halloween.) Reinforcing the stereotype that Christian values are feminine values, among the many problems it presents, leaves men in the unenviable position of choosing, to put it crudely, between their Christianity and their masculinity.

Many astute observers have pointed out the ways in which the Church is desperately lacking in female role models (an entirely male Godhead, exclusively male leadership in the highest echelons, and manuals completely lacking women’s voices). But in other ways, it seems to me, what the Church stands in sore need of is actually a model of Christian masculinity, in which masculinity (and thus femininity) has been reoriented. Such efforts are only hindered by the continued emphasis on the alleged near-perfect alignment between feminine attributes and Christian virtues, thereby implicitly setting Christianity at odds with masculinity.

To some degree, institutional authority likely fills this void, offering a sphere of activity that is exclusively male and yet requires Christian behavior and entails genuine service to God. (The natural result is that women who question the policy limiting the priesthood to men are not infrequently said to “want to be like men” by those who believe this linkage between masculinity and power to be non-manipulable.)

The priesthood, it is often claimed, serves as an essential factor in men’s socialization. It is astonishing to observe that, on the face of it, this assertion itself presents no argument against women’s ordination. One is led to ask: if it is the priesthood itself that appropriately socializes men, then how would these desirable effects be neutralized if women also held it? Could not the priesthood continue to socialize men if every worthy member were ordained? Implicit in such arguments is the claim that what is favorably socializing men is not the priesthood specifically, but men’s exclusive access to it. The priesthood is that exclusively male preserve from which men can serve God without compromising their masculinity.

Taking another tack, my New Testament seminary teacher liked to reiterate to us that Jesus was a “manly man,” with enormous muscles developed through his work in the carpenter’s shop. It’s difficult to understand how this speculative data point has any relevance unless we assume that the traditional attributes one associates with Jesus are experienced as “feminizing.”

But neither assigning our culture’s traditionally masculine attributes to Jesus nor coding power in the community as exclusively male strikes me as the optimal solution to the problem of what it means to be both male and Christian. The solution is obvious: Jesus’ very maleness should turn our notions of masculinity on their head. Why continue to refer to these virtues, for which a man serves as our most perfect example, as “feminine”?

Both men and women are needlessly restricted when authority is identified as male where Christian virtues are allocated to the female. It’s obvious that women can never become like Christ to the degree priesthood power is essential to his identity and is restricted to men. What’s less obvious is that men are not entirely free to become like Christ either, as long as Christ is our model of femininity and men suffer enormous cultural pressure to construct their identities around avoidance of the feminine.

Some of you may protest that men and women genuinely possess spiritual gifts in different proportions, and the system should reflect this. I maintain that such observations belong to the descriptive, and not the prescriptive realm. I honestly don’t know whether, on average, women or men behave more charitably, for example. But that question belongs to the primatologist observing various communities of hominoids, not the prophet advocating a community of Christians building Zion. For the latter, it is enough to recognize that both genders are capable of behaving charitably, and to believe that both are equally required to. After all, our Lord is a hard Master, reaping where he has not sown.

42 Responses to “Christian Masculinity”

  1. 1.

    It’s no secret that women have traditionally occupied a lower social status than men; as a result, behaviors and attitudes associated with feminininity are likely to be scrupuously avoided by men, since they have the effect of calling into question their masculinity.

    Ok, I hope this is coherant. I recently read the novel “Gibbon’s Decline and Fall” by Sheri S. Tepper, (not LDS) and it has changed the way I think about a lot of things regarding women and men. One of the ideas that she puts forth in the (fictional) book is that when in Genesis the Lord declares that there will be emnity between the serpent and the woman that it was really meant. Satan is out to get women. He is out to break down women. He does this by convincing a world of men to disrespect them, abuse them, discount them, ignore them, mistreat them, and every other abuse that feminists rage against.
    In addition this is perfect for Satan’s plan, since the kindly, righteous attributes that you mentioned in your last post, that women are said to embody (and that Christ DID embody, as you point out here) are “weak” and “feminine” and therefore to be avoided.
    I don’t know how doctrinally sound this idea is, but it feels very true to me. I have not been able to get it out of my head, and I cannot wait to re-read the book, and then go to the temple and pray it out a little bit.

  2. 2.

    In a Church that seems to embrace some sort of gender essentialism…

    You are right that our rhetoric (with the POTF as Exhibit A) assumes “gender essentialism.”
    My perspective is that we talk about things we know little about (what heaven will be like, whether there are “essential” characterstics unique to gender, whether gender exists in heaven) by using the language, examples, and metaphors of our own experience (which is usually (wealthy white American and male) .
    But, I don’t think this explanatory tendency should be confused with an accurate description of the way things really are.

  3. 3.

    Jesus’s maleness is a terrible puzzle — and a difficult instance of the problem of specificity. If Jesus was to be mortal, He had to have both gender and sex, since such is the nature of mortality. Yet, to have a sex and to adopt a gender identity means not having other sex or gender experiences; it means being limited and incomplete. Nonetheless, Jesus as God must be unlimited and whole. So the fact of Jesus as male mortal is hard to reconcile with the fact of Jesus as God; yet Jesus as female mortal would be no easier to reconcile.

    In one sense, it would seem that a female Jesus would have been more reasonable. We are told that Jesus’s mission was to descend below all things (see D&C 88:6 and 122:8). Obviously, at the time and place of His life, women were ranked socially below men. So a female Jesus might have been seen as lower-ranked than the male Jesus was. Has Jesus experienced sexism? Can He truly empathize with women who are oppressed for their sex? If so, it must be through supernatural means, rather than by His life experience.

    Janice Allred, in her book, has a nice essay on the ways that Jesus is discussed, in the scriptures, as a model mother. I like that idea. Jesus as father and as mother suggests that all of us — male and female — are intended to eventually develop the traits of the perfect father and of the perfect mother. If we acknowledge Christ as a model of both masculinity and femininity, and we conclude that both men and women are to become fully like Him, then we have an escape route from gender coding: sex is not destiny, because both perfected women and perfected men will be full of both “masculine” and “feminine” virtues.

  4. 4.

    Christ’s ‘feminine’ characteristics are not limited to abstract notions of charity, humility, and submissiveness. I find it interesting that the New Testament, John’s gospel especially, persistently uses metaphors of birth and labor that put the Savior in the role of a mother. Even physical descriptions get right down to it. For example, the mention of blood and water issuing from his torso during the moment of his crucifixion (the culmination of the ‘labor’ begun in Gethsemane) that leads to our new birth. He is our covenant father, no doubt; but he is, in the language of imagery and metaphor, the one who gives birth to our life as his children. That casts him in a mother’s role.

  5. 5.

    You may enjoy Ann Douglas’s Feminization of American Culture which discusses these issues. Also Stephen Prothero’s American Jesus. Both include perceptive discussions of the appropriation of Jesus by women/feminists. Some metaphysicians argue for Jesus as a reflex of the divine dyad. On the other side, there is of course The Backslider‘s very masculine Jesus.

  6. 6.

    Very interesting and lots of food for thought.. I do have to draw the line right here, though:

    dresses as a mermaid for Halloween.

    This is not okay. No matter what sexist sociological male/female constructs may exist. Boys should not want to dress up like female anthropomorphic fish.

    Dollies? Fine. Pink? Fine. Mermaids? Not fine. It’s just too much.

    That is all. :)

  7. 7.

    There’s been a great deal of theology and mysticism in the Christian tradition identifying Christ as a woman – usually, as a mother. Julian of Norwich does this quite a bit. And yet, at the same time, God and Christ of course identified as male as well with the sort of masculine attributes of strength K mentions. What is interesting to me is that, in Julian, for example, this is done in the next breath after calling Jesus a nurturing mother. One of the most primeval roles for Christ is that of Bridegroom. Interestingly, assigning Christ this role feminizes the mortal soul who is claimed by Jesus. Puritan men, for example, were encouraged to be meek and passive when Christ came for them.

    So, there’s some degree of gender flipping here, and all this imagery is much less about gender essentialism than gendered attributes. This question, then:

    Why continue to refer to these virtues, for which a man serves as our most perfect example, as “feminine”?

    seems to me quite astute. It’s my impression that the Christian tradition implies that gender essentialism is not really about attributes at all.

  8. 8.

    Ryan, that’s all well and good that you don’t like mermaid costumes on guys, but you must admit that my merman costume is the height of masculinity, with its 6000 green-and-silver sequins and imitation seaweed wig.

  9. 9.

    I second smb on American Jesus. It’s been a while since I read it, but I recall the author talking about historical swings in American thinking about Jesus. At times, he was held up as the epitome of stereotypical femininity–submissive, meek, etc.–but then there would be a reaction to that and focus would shift to the idea of Jesus as a muscular superhero-type. I guess this latter approach was the one you mentioned your NT seminary teacher taking, Kiskilili.

    I know this is tangential to what you’re talking about, but I wonder if holding up Jesus as a feminine ideal makes it harder to get men to come to church (not just the LDS church; any Christian church). I’m sure this has been discussed before, I wonder if men are put off by the idea of the central figure of the religion appearing to be a traitor to his gender as they see it. I mean, if Jesus was a sissy, who what real man wants to be his follower?

  10. 10.

    Thanks for the great comments. I’ll try to find time to respond substantively in the near future. In the meantime, I’ll add a few additional remarks:

    In part, I’m motivated to write a post on masculinity by the observation that often when we discuss gender we mean women’s gender, as though gender is something men don’t have (men being the default against which women are defined). References to femininity are not uncommon in Church discourse, and discussions of womanhood are actually quite prominent. In contrast, masculinity seems to be mentioned much less often, and manhood virtually never. (Please correct me if I’m wrong–I don’t attend meetings addressed to men. :) Does manhood receive attention in EQ?)

    Several years ago at a stake fireside I heard an extended admonition that we fulfill our divine gender roles without any indication that men even had a divine gender role, for example.

    And as recently as 1999, President Faust could admonish women that, although getting an education was sound advice, they not lose their “sweet femininity” in the process. To my knowledge, men are never similarly chided to vigilantly maintain their masculinity. This fact is all the more striking since cultural pressure to conform to gender expectations tends to be much more pronounced for men, as I noted in the post.

    It interests me that, to my ears, the phrase “divine womanhood” sounds perfectly innocuous. “Divine manhood,” in contrast, sounds bizarre. I think it’s worth asking why this is.

    Jesus is often described as “tender,” “meek,” and “mild,” attributes that are pretty clearly attributed to the feminine. But even more general virtues such as “charity,” central to Jesus’ message, women are said to possess in a manner men do not.

    The conclusion is that women are continually associated with divinity. This is beyond ironic, considering there is no doctrinal evidence to believe women are even able to achieve divinity, at least in the manner men do. Heavenly Mother is apparently not even enough of a God to belong to the Godhead. It’s said “the errand of angels is given to women,” and yet there’s little evidence women can even serve as angels.

    Since all known occupants of the category God (Heavenly Father, Jesus, Abraham, Holy Ghost, etc.) are male, one might logically expect that divinity would be coded as a male property by the community. And yet, quite bizarrely, divinity is being associated with the feminine.

  11. 11.

    A few years ago Bishop Edgley gave a talk in priesthood session where he spoke of Christ as the model of manhood. I’m not sure if that gets at what you were asking about, but even if it does, it seems fairly rare. (The talk can be found here.)

  12. 12.

    I have nothing to add, I just want to say thanks for a fantastic essay.

  13. 13.

    My experience in EQ is that manhood does receive attention, but not by name. There is a tendency to talk about priesthood or fatherly roles and duties.

    I would argue that the Church (and other Christian groups) do provide a Christian masculinity that responds to traditional male stereotypes, reinforcing some aspects while refuting others. By way of illustration, I read a study about men and women who convert to Evangelical Christianity in Colombia. Evangelical masculinity is seen as an attractive alternative to machismo influences by Colombian women. Converted men are still above women in gender hierarchy, but they are less prone to be abusive (and to fall victim to violence), to sleep around, and to spend the family’s money on drink and other women. Their masculinity is recentered on their fatherhood and on Christian virtue (quite like the values promoted by Edgley link provided by JKC).

    There are examples of Christian masculinity in the U.S. as well, such as the Father-Daughter purity balls, where both pledge to guard the daughter’s virtue, or the Promise-Keepers. Missionary work and Church culture help build a model of Mormon manhood that emphasizes religious leadership at Church and in the home, a strong work ethic, heterosexuality, and guardianship over the domestic core (governed by the women). Once again, Jesus isn’t much of a role model–Mormon men have to look to contemporary examples of this form of masculinity.

    I’m not making value judgments on Christian and Mormon alternatives to mainstream masculinity, but I wanted to toss some examples into the discussion. I think as consciousness of the constructed nature of men’s gender grows in mainstream (and certainly in academic and artistic) culture, and as more alternatives abound (greater acceptance of gay culture, stay at home dads, metrosexuals, etc.), Christianity and Mormonism will be forced to respond with their own versions.

  14. 14.

    Back when I was teaching primary a hundred years ago, I was always struck by the meek, humble, teachable example of Jesus that was presented to the children. It was very clear to me that the image of Jesus they were being taught was for the purpose of getting the kids to be meek, humble and teachable, so they could be more easily controlled.

    Jesus was not just meek, humble and teachable. He was strong and confident and a powerful speaker and leader.

    “Come follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

    This parallels Lynnette’s Natural Woman post (and especially RTs comments; you da bomb, RT). Meek, humble, teachable, strong, confident – none of these traits are exclusively desirable for men or for women.

  15. 15.

    I agree, John (Remy)–I suspect there’s enough convergence regarding the behavior of Mormon men, as opposed to Mormon women or non-Mormons, to speak broadly of a Mormon masculinity, and there are undoubtedly factors in the Church that play a significant role in constructing this. Masculinity is, no doubt, a genuine force in community interactions. But it interests me that it plays virtually no role in theological discussion, especially since gender is said to be so significant.

    I’m using “Christianity” above somewhat reductively, and perhaps unfairly, to refer simply to behavior/attitudes focused on Christ, which is I why I assert that Chrisianity is at odds with masculinity when we claim women have a special monopoly on the virtues Jesus displays or advocates. Of course, this is ideological Christianity bereft of any human context; you’re right to point out that Christianity is in fact a complicated set of communities that might look elsewhere, other than to Jesus, for models of behavior.

  16. 16.

    Interesting points, RT. A closely related question is this:

    Since gender is said to be both eternal and significant–the only difference that is formally codified in Church policy and ritual–then it’s no surprise the efficacy (or appropriateness?) of vicarious ordinances is said to be contingent on their being performed by the right gender: women are baptized for women and men for men, etc. Elsewhere I’ve argued that this explanation could be used to account for men’s exclusive access to “God’s power” (priesthood) which women are denied (since Heavenly Mother has no power that we’re aware of).

    How, then, was a male Jesus able to atone (suffer vicariously) for females’ sins? (Or is gender really not essential to a vicarious ordinance?)

  17. 17.

    I should add to my earlier comments that I think this dynamic is not driven exclusively from one side or the other. Several commenters have pointed out the ways in which Jesus is sometimes depicted in our culture as meek and mild and almost passive, thus exhibiting traditionally feminine traits.

    But the other side to this dynamic is that women are continually said to be especially spiritual, charitable, and close to God in a way men are not. I’ve even heard it said that women come closest to God and his role when giving birth. (One can only speculate whether men correspondingly have a special relationship with Heavenly Mother through their own role in procreation.)

    It doesn’t seem to me that we’ve reached any theological coherence between our tendency to put women on a spiritual pedestal and our gendered God.

  18. 18.

    Interesting ideas, Megan and Staheli.

    Thanks for the information on John about Christ as “mother,” JKC, as well as the link to the talk on manhood. I was not aware of either of these. In her book In the Wake of the Goddesses Tikva Frymer-Kensky tries to build a case that the God of the Hebrew Bible (=Old Testament) transcends gender. I find her argument untenable, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

    And thanks for the recommendations, smb.

    Heh heh, Ryan–I brought up the mermaid example because I had a roommate whose four-year-old nephew was indeed dead set on dressing as a mermaid for Halloween. His parents were terrified that he would grow up to be gay. (!?) I guess I would be interested to know what appealed to the kid about mermaids. If it was just the shiny fish tail, why not? ;)

    Nice comments, Matt. It is interesting that since the OT God plays the role of husband, this puts the human community in the position of wife. (This however does not strike me as entirely satisfactory for what I think are obvious reasons: God plays the male role because he is the dominant partner in a hierarchal marriage arrangement–femaleness and relative lack of power are still being associated, even on the metaphorical level.) As I understand it the sort of gender bending that results, that you describe, is easier to negotiate theologically in other Christian traditions. Once you claim anthropomorphism and eternally fixed gender the plot thickens.

    Ziff, your remarks are exactly relevant to what I’m talking about. It seems unlikely to me that telling men, in a sort of oblique way, that they must behave like women (and then continually reminding them that they are not doing well enough) is likely to produce the desired result. Why, then, do we keep shooting ourselves in the foot?

    Thanks, Veritas! It’s nice to see you over here.

    Ann, I agree completely–in addition to wishing we would not speak in such a way as to cut men off from Jesus’ traditionally feminine attributes, I also wish that we would more often highlight others of Jesus’ attributes, such as his leadership ability, and enjoin women to model themselves after these traits as well.

  19. 19.

    It seems to me that Exemplar, Savior, Champion of the rejected, Redeemer, Conqueror of death and hell, are all rather masculine attributes. I am not so sure they are entirely produced from a cultural perspective. The natural order of things with women invested more in their physical contribution to their young is to nurture, care for. The woman also becomes much more valuable for the survival of the species. Therefore men become the soldiers, the workers and breadwinner’s to provide and protect that which is needed for species survival. Evolutionarily this explains why the males of most species are generally physically stronger and testosterone makes one more prone to violence.
    I think the dichotomy is false. Both gender’s attributes are present in the Savior and his perfection lies in this fact. The thing is our theology states that we are both required for perfection, hence the desire to proscribe roles. However, those roles lead to a life out of balance in and of themselves. The meek may inherit the Earth but at some point women devalue themselves to the point that they may become an ophelia, which does no one any good. Likewise, hierarchy, lust for power, violence seem to be hazards of unchecked masculinity and lead to blood and horror on the Earth. I think our tendency to want to proscribe the roles is largely a function of our emphasis on Eternal Marriage. We are told it isn’t good to be alone. That said, I suppose as long as your mate balances their strengths with your weaknesses and vice versa, which gender is doing which role is not entirely necessary.
    The gospel of Jesus Christ is full of paradox. Statements that turn mankinds view of importance on its head, like “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” The Beatitudes are a striking list turning conventional wisdom on its ear. What I think the Savior was trying to do was teach us by exalting feminine virtues is teach us that often that which we do not value is what is in fact the most valuable from an eternal perspective.

  20. 20.

    I agree with Doc.

    Kiskilli, I think you (and society generally, including Otterson, apparently) must selectively interpret Christ to conclude that he’s “stereotypically feminine,” overlooking the counter-examples of his masculine virtues like truth, jutice and the American way.

    For example, Christ’s saying he’s going to destroy most of humanity when he comes again is not a “feminine” virtue. Nor is his saying that he came not to unite but to divide, that he has no place for whosoever loves mother or father more than him, that we’re his friends if we do whatever he tells us, cleansing of the temple, etc.

    Like Doc, I believe Christ exemplifies every virtue. One benefit of the Book of Mormon is the way the male prophets model masculine and feminine virtues, showing that manly men can be men of God.

  21. 21.

    How, then, was a male Jesus able to atone (suffer vicariously) for females’ sins? (Or is gender really not essential to a vicarious ordinance?)

    The atonement is not a vicarious ordinance. Everyone must complete the ordinances; that is why Christ was baptized despite his perfection. There is no ordinance that everyone suffer and die; that’s why it’s remarkable that Christ *chose* to suffer and die, even though it was not necessary and he had power over them both.

  22. 22.

    Christianity is at odds with the *natural* man, and I think that means more so than at odds with the natural woman. From ancient circumcision requirements to the modern priesthood, from the different way that God treated Cain v. Abel’s offerings, to the acceptance of both Martha and Mary’s offerings; to the distinct wordings of certain temple ordinances for men and women, I get the idea that men are simply farther from perfection than women are, and that some aspects of our perfection involve taking on some charcteristics that come more naturally to women.

    Jesus Christ is the perfected man. He does not put off masculinity, but he’s put off the corrupt, fallen, natural masculinity. No woman could have shown men this path, since she would not have the same starting point.

  23. 23.

    Hi, Doc. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    Both gender’s attributes are present in the Savior and his perfection lies in this fact.

    Thus, virtue lies in an androgyny of sorts–of culling what is good from both traditionally feminine and traditionally masculine virtues regardless of one’s own gender. (I think we’re in agreement here?) My argument is that it thus makes very little sense, then, to continue to refer to particular virtues as “feminine,” especially when Jesus serves as their exemplar.

    The meek may inherit the Earth but at some point women devalue themselves to the point that they may become an ophelia, which does no one any good. Likewise, hierarchy, lust for power, violence seem to be hazards of unchecked masculinity and lead to blood and horror on the Earth.

    I’m not sure how exactly to untangle all of this, so I’ll start by mentioning that I’m coming from the perspective that masculinity is socially constructed–masculinity is not an inherent set of behaviors men invariably adhere to. There are no doubt physical differences between men and women that result in particular tendencies, but these serve as fairly broad constraints within which each culture/subculture models it’s particular visions of masculinity. For example, Jewish men as a whole are disinclined toward displays of machismo–instead, they frequently exhibit characteristics that the dominant American culture identifies with femininity. I take this as evidence that masculinity is malleable.

    In the same way that I don’t see the value in gendering virtue, I fail to see the value in gendering vice–I think there’s enough of a range of behavior that both men and women manifest that it serves us well to speak against lust for power or deferral of personal responsibility in both genders.

    What I think the Savior was trying to do was teach us by exalting feminine virtues is teach us that often that which we do not value is what is in fact the most valuable from an eternal perspective.

    I like this (although I’m still not convinced it’s appropriate to identify these particular characteristics as feminine).

  24. 24.

    Matt, in the post I’m attempting to expose the problems in Otterson’s statement in a civil manner, and as a result I’m evidently veiling my argument in such a way that I’m sacrificing clarity! As far as I can tell, we’re in agreement; I’ll try to state the relevant part of my position more forthrightly:

    Not only do we selectively characterize Jesus when we identify his virtues/teachings as “feminine,” but we somewhat arbitrarily assign the label feminine to virtues that are not the property of one gender or the other. We should use Jesus’ “maleness” to critique the continual identification of these virtues as “feminine.”

    (I should add that this image of the meek-and-mild Jesus is not the only one that has been propogated in all cultures, although it seems to have some currency in Mormonism–see The Dream of the Rood, for example, for a portrait of Christ as unconquerable warrior.)

  25. 25.

    Thanks for your response. There is no doubt that to some extent masculinity and femininity are cultural constructs. It is evident in the manner that different cultures define these roles. However, it seems undeniable to me that biological nature, as well as nurture are at work here.

    Jesus may be an exemplar of many “feminine” virtues, but perhaps this is simply due to a lack of a female counterpart to the savior. Perhaps he has a mate or knew the divine feminine and was teaching what he learned therefrom her. Perhaps he only did what he had seen his father or his mother do?

    I may be some kind of naive idealist, but it really resonates with me that both genders are incomplete without the other, that we need each other somehow. The creation story and the doctrine of eternal marriage both seem to confirm this view. However, seeing as how there are wide ranges of male and female behavior on a spectrum in our society, maybe we are fine finding a mate who compliments our strengths and weaknesses whatever they may be.

    In saying men and women need eachother, I think it is implicit that they need to gain eachother’s attributes to become perfect. Hence I agree, we all need to look to the Savior as our example. The problem I fear is that by doing away entirely with labels, how easy is it to take the next step and deny the need for the opposite gender in our life entirely.

  26. 26.

    Christianity is at odds with the *natural* man, and I think that means more so than at odds with the natural woman.

    This accords well with what the Church teaches, as illustrated by Lynnette’s post on the natural woman: it would seem that women are naturally Godlike who, when they sin, spurn the behavior that comes so naturally to them, where men are naturally base who, when they sin, embrace the behavior that comes naturally to them. (!!)

    I’m just not sure this is a useful model. To some degree, it’s demonstrated through circular reasoning–we already know women are naturally sweet, for example, so we identify rudeness in women as unnatural. But why? If we already knew women were naturally coarse, we would identify tenderness as unnatural.

    I suppose there are those who would like to calculate every sin ever committed in the hope of demonstrating that men are indeed better than women, or women than men, but I think this sort of attitude pits us needlessly against each other. (After all, we’re not racing each other into heaven.)

    It’s also worth reminding ourselves that other cultures have believed or continue to believe things vastly different from this model, a fact which should give us pause regarding its applicability. For much of ancient and medieval European history it has been women who have been identified as naturally lustful and prone to misbehavior, where men have been regarded as naturally upright.

    (Just one example of this attitude–our friend Jesus ben Sirach, apparent author of the book of Ecclesiasticus, declares: “All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman: let the portion of a sinner fall upon her.” Women, it seems, can out-sin men without even trying!)

    How have different people reached such completely opposite conclusions on this matter?

    (A) Men and women have suffered a dramatic genetic reversal, such that wicked behavior, formerly so tempting to women, became tempting to men in the last hundred years or so, and vice versa.


    (B) Different cultures’ presuppositions have drastically influenced their observations.

    I suspect B.

    I also think it’s worth asking the question: was Christ actually “feminine” according to the gender standards of his own culture?

  27. 27.

    Hello to everybody. This is my first post on this site. I’ve been reading for a few months, but just now had the time and initiative to comment.

    This is a great discussion. I can’t offer anything about the culture at Jesus’ time (but I suspect B as well), nor can I really add anything helpful to what is said about gender in our modern times. I do have some thoughts on a sub-part of this conversation regarding gender of the Godhead from my graduate studies in early British literature, and I hope you’ll forgive the side remarks. In my reading, I noticed that Anglo Saxon versions of religious stories (the “Dream of the Rood” is a famous one) really masculinize the Savior as a hero and champion. I noticed a shift that took place in medieval times, and Matt B. has already mentioned Julian of Norwich’s feminization of “Jesus as Mother.” In the English Renaissance, there was an interesting shift with emerging Protestantism that removed the previous status of the Virgin Mary as someone that we could pray to, someone’s whose “feminine virtues” (sorry, I can’t help but use that phrase), are uniqely suited to intercede on our behalf. I think that having had the option to pray to a woman, it would have been hard for me personally to shift to only having the option to pray to a man, who I imagine would have more difficulty relating to my personal experiences. It demonstrates my weakness in faith, I suppose, but I’m glad that was a switch I was never called upon to make.

    I guess what I wonder is this: how does (or how would) having a more feminine member of the godhead change the way you feel about God? How would it be different if there were a female we could pray to or have our prayers answered by? I’m NOT trying to be apostate here. I’m just trying to see how this conversation might fit into the larger historical and universally Christian context.

  28. 28.

    Hi, Alisa–glad you came out of hiding to comment! The religious shift that occurred during the Renaissance sounds very interesting (my understanding is that women’s status took a nose-dive then in general?), and you ask very good questions. It makes sense to think that emphasizing Jesus’ compassion and meekness (even as it poses problems for the web of conflicting claims we advance about gender) make him seem more approachable.

    In some ways perhaps worshiping male Gods exclusively probably leads us to characterize them in androgynous ways, since there’s no accessible counterpart to which we can assign stereotypically “feminine” characteristics. One unintended result may be that Heavenly Father (and even Jesus), manifesting characteristics of a father and a mother, seems almost to have edged Heavenly Mother into an “ultra-feminine” corner. I wonder–if we had information about Heavenly Mother as well, would our portrait of Heavenly Father withdraw into traditional masculinity? It’s a disturbing thought.

  29. 29.

    I don’t think it’s as disturbing as it is evidence that both genders need eachother to become perfect, affirming the doctrine of eternal marriage, but then I am a product of my cultural milieu.

  30. 30.

    I also like to think both genders need each other.

    But I’m not exactly sure what you’re arguing, so maybe you can elaborate? You’re saying that it would helpful to have information about Heavenly Mother, because then our portrait of Heavenly Father would be less androgynous (and thus seemingly self-sufficient), and it would be more readily apparent that both genders need each other?

  31. 31.

    I guess the real trick is knowing what is essentially masculine or feminine as these are biological and cultural constructs, but yes, I would at least be less bothered by withdrawing Heavenly Father to traditional masculinity, if knowing more about Heavenly mother reclaimed some of those feminine virtues precisely for the explanation you give.

    Ultimately, the beauty of the whole thing is that they are one, United in every way possible. Perhaps we would not need to define which virtue belongs to whom precisely because of it is this unification that is indeed part of what makes them perfect.

  32. 32.

    Wonderful post. Thanks.

    There are examples of Christian masculinity in the U.S. as well, such as the Father-Daughter purity balls, where both pledge to guard the daughter’s virtue,

    Ok, that’s alarms me to no end. A father pledging to guard his daughter’s virtue smacks waaaaay too much of ownership for me. But then I don’t feel well today. Guarding her virginity could speak to protecting her from rape, but “virtue”? That seems to concern use of her free will.

    Ok, threadjack over.

  33. 33.

    Your insight concerning the serpent is a fascinating one. I would love to hear more about it. I have always felt that the oppression of women has been the work of Satan and NOT of God. Perhaps we could continue this conversation on a seperate entry?

    As for Kiskilili’s comment this is a great one and tough. So much of our society is built upon gender construction. Eg. Having a penis means being strong and playing the provider/leader role. Having a vagina means being submissive and playing the nurture/mother role. If Christ did both, and He is our example, where does this gender construcion come in? How can this be backed up by the scriptures. Furthermore, how can a document like “The Proclamation on the Family” assign women the “nurturing” role and men the “provider” role when it’s obvious that Christ did both, and He was a man? I have a lot of questions concerning that document.
    Also, and this might be a little off topic, but I would like to get peoples opinions on this.
    What about homosexuality?
    I have many a friend who has told me quite bluntly that they would prefer to have female sexual partners but that they act to “gay” to ever have a girlfriend. So it seems they have to choose between who they are and their sexual orientation. To be feminine AND heterosexual is simply not a category our society, and for that matter, the church, has allotted. It is documents like the Proclamation that seem to further these stereotypes and push more feminine men and more masculine women to the fringes and away from the gospel. This doesn’t sound like the inclusive love that Christ preached. Thoughts?

  34. 34.

    [...] Zelophehad’s Daughters: Christian Masculinity [...]

  35. 35.

    Unfortunately too many people especially males, equate masculinity with egotistical machoism. True masculinity is gentle , kind , considerate, loving, self sacrificing, not putting ones self above others, patient, charitable to others, etc. Christ embodied all the above masculine qualities and more without being feminine. You see God expects both men and women to embody these qualities of character as they are universal to the good of human nature in both genders. So yes Jesus can say that females also embody all of his character qualities and yet they remain female. Unfortunately males would rather remain selfish and macho, have you ever seen an egotistical male who wasn’t selfish, self centered, unkind etc., because I’ve seen many like this who are macho but not manly or having true masculinity.

  36. 36.

    Kiskilili, I have seen many men who have embodied the above stated qualities which macho men may try and regard as not manly and yet these males remain gentle and kind etc. yet strong and manly, not effeminate like a lot of gays come off to be. Perez Hilton is a self pronounced gay, yet did he embody the kind, gentle, patient, charitable qualities towards Carrie Prejean that macho men seem to wrongly hold as gay and effeminate or female characteristics? No he showed himself to be an egotistical, uncharitable, unkind, selfish, self centered, ungentle and disparaging person, instead of honoring her honest opinion, thereby showing that he likewise is a bigot, and that he has no true masculinity either. The female gender as a whole, but not individually, has much more of the Christlike qualities down to a finer art than the male gender. As I said in my previous blog these character qualities are from Christ and are universal to both male and female nature for the good and the peace of humankind. Both genders are expected by Christ to embody them in their souls in their respective gender spheres, which will neither detract from their masculinity or femininity regardless of the gender they are of.

  37. 37.

    Kiskilili, just one more blog on this subject, (sorry for the above double blog as I didn’t think it had gone through on the first submit).

    Make a mental and emotional picture here, I am sure that at some point in your life you have come across men who were kind and gentle and yet looked and acted strong and manly.

    How did they make you feel about yourself as a person and about them?

    Now picture any egotistical macho male you may have had the chance to meet and how they acted and made you feel as a person and about them?

    Now picture a gay effeminate male and how they acted and looked and made you feel about yourself as a person and about them?

    Now who of the three is the manly, masculine male and who would you prefer to associate with when associating with the male gender?

    I leave this with you because only you can decide the quality of character of the male you prefer to associate with.

  38. 38.

    Okay. I’ll take the gay men. There’s nothing remotely appealing to me about a “manly” man.

  39. 39.

    Ok Kiskilili, your choice, however I think you need to look up manly in the dictionary- it means masculine, strong , courageous, but if you want your effeminate gay man then go for it.

  40. 40.

    What makes you so sure straight men are courageous and gay men aren’t?

    I dislike the term “effeminate.” I don’t see how showing emotion or compassion is a sign of weakness.

  41. 41.

    N G Laing, a clear majority of the gay men that I’ve known well are definitely masculine, strong in both the physical and emotional senses, and courageous in ways that straight men in America are rarely given the opportunity to be. (Not that many of us are ever in a position to be disowned by our parents for honesty.) You might want to check your assumptions.

  42. 42.

    [...] a large extent, Christian virtues are coded as feminine. Where does that leave men in a Church also insisting gender is an essential aspect of eternal [...]

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