The two sexes in a culture of confusion
TRENDING | Authors chart a way forward for Christian men and women
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Why do some people love to hate men? And why, at the same time, are so many girls suddenly identifying as boys?
As hostility and confusion grow between and within the sexes, two new books—The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles the Sexes (Baker Books 2023) by Nancy R. Pearcey and To Be a Woman: The Confusion Over Female Identity and How Christians Can Respond (B&H Books 2023) by Katie J. McCoy—tackle these questions, respectively.
As usual, Pearcey delivers a thorough look at the issue at hand (the last large chunk of her book is devoted to endnotes). She details the many ways Americans have mishandled gender, particularly zeroing in on the post–Industrial Revolution belief that men are brutes to be civilized by religious women. Pearcey argues that if women treat men as if they cannot rise to God’s calling—gentle fatherhood, faithful marriage—then women will get what they ordered: boys, not men. Still, she doesn’t let men off the hook for shirking responsibility.
Pearcey’s idea of the good life is informed by Colonial America, where, in her view, both men and women better fulfilled the entire call for humanity to be “fruitful and multiply” and “take dominion.” This book doesn’t take an overt stance on the complementarian/egalitarian debate. But in Pearcey’s vision for a healthy present-day society, the household returns to a place of productivity instead of consumerism, and both mother and father take an active role in raising children and generating income.
“No sex has a monopoly on any particular virtue,” Pearcey writes. “The problem with stereotypes is that they cut us in half—men get one half of the human character traits and women get the other half. But in redemption, God calls us to be whole persons.”
Pearcey makes a smart rhetorical stroke by opening with the story of her own abusive father who put on a religious face in public. She springs into data next, showing that committed Christian men tend to be faithful husbands and good fathers. This contrasts to the popular narrative—one derived from statistics of merely nominally Christian men, like Pearcey’s dad, who often turn out to be the most egregious abusers. Godly masculinity is the software, Pearcey argues. Our culture’s “Real Man” ideal—tough, macho, given to conquest of women—is the bug in that software.
But what is “masculine virtue”? Are qualities such as courage, strength, protectiveness, and provision mainly masculine traits? Though Pearcey would undoubtedly say they can characterize women too, the book struggles to avoid pigeonholing. The argument offered in McCoy’s book (see below) roots gender-specific personality trends more persuasively in brain science.
Pearcey does rightly explore that only men can be good husbands and fathers. We hear a lot about how women “want to have it all,” but Pearcey demonstrates that men do too—and that fatherhood is good for them. Many Christians will see their own families in Pearcey’s description of the Biblical husband and father. She also gives excellent Biblical counsel for how women can stand against masculinity that actually does grow toxic.
While Pearcey’s work shows us problems between the sexes, Katie J. McCoy’s looks into problems and confusion within the sexes.
McCoy’s slim book is an essential if emotionally hard read. The last decade has seen an astonishing uptick in young girls undergoing gender transition. “Historically, gender dysphoria nearly always afflicted boys and men,” McCoy notes. “But in the last decade, the data has radically shifted.” Now we face a surge in “late-onset gender dysphoria,” which occurs in adolescents and young adults—70 percent of whom are girls.
That surge has become a social contagion among girls as well as big business for medical providers. Instead of treating underlying issues leading to gender dysphoria, providers rush adolescents into a surgical solution for a psychological problem. Once a girl climbs on the “gender affirming care” conveyor belt with puberty blockers then cross-sex hormones, surgery is almost a foregone conclusion.
McCoy urges Christians to understand the terrible pain of gender dysphoria while pointing its victims to God’s good design for the sexes. We oppose gender ideology “not because we hate humanity but precisely the opposite. … Because we love God, we love what God loves—people.”
McCoy helpfully explores brain science, ethics, and the theological foundations for gender. “Trans ideologies,” she writes, “typically rest on gendered cultural expressions as proof of gender identity. The stereotypes become the substance. Christians who overemphasize gender roles can fall into the same error.” McCoy points out that God has called us to live a holistic life. What makes a man “more of a man” and a woman “more of a woman”? Nothing. God has made people men and women. They’re born that way.
Women don’t have to hate men or become men. Pearcey and McCoy call them instead to wholeness and healing—and back up their call with the facts.
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