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Nancy Pearcey and The Toxic War on Masculinity (with Nancy Pearcey)


WORLD Radio - Nancy Pearcey and The Toxic War on Masculinity (with Nancy Pearcey)

We’re joined by Professor Nancy Pearcey to talk about discipling boys in a culture opposed to masculinity. Where did the idea of “toxic masculinity” come from? How do we promote a biblical picture of masculinity?

KELSEY REED: Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. At Concurrently, we approach the news through a discipleship perspective. We tackle the challenging topics in culture and current events as learners and fellow laborers with parents, educators, and mentors of kids and teens. We consider the whole person, promoting growth in knowledge, attitudes, and action in the world. I’m Kelsey Reed. I’m here with Jonathan Boes.


KELSEY: We welcome you to the conversation. In fact, we’d love to hear from you. Please send in your questions or comments by way of voice recording or email to

JONATHAN: As a podcast for parents and educators who are sorting through today’s culture, we hear no other topic more requested than this topic of gender. Whether it’s gender roles or gender identity, this subject pops up everywhere. Part of this discussion centers around the idea of masculinity, and, more specifically, this phrase “toxic masculinity.” Where did that idea come from? Is it a real thing? And what does it all mean for the way we disciple our kids? To help us tackle some of these tough questions, we are so glad to welcome Professor Nancy Pearcey to the podcast today.

KELSEY: Nancy Pearcey is the author of The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles the Sexes, as well as Love Thy Body, The Soul of Science, Saving Leonardo, Finding Truth, and Total Truth. She is professor and scholar in residence at Houston Christian University. She has been quoted in The New Yorker and Newsweek, highlighted as one of the five top women apologists by Christianity Today, and hailed in The Economist as “America's pre-eminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual.”

Nancy, we’re so glad to have you with us today to share with our listeners.

NANCY PEARCEY: And I’m so glad to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

KELSEY: Having read some of your previous work, I was anxious to get my hands on our office copy of The Toxic War on Masculinity. I finally had the opportunity and finished it yesterday. I believe wholeheartedly that your research and recommendations are vital to the family striving to live out the cultural and discipleship mandates in our day. Thank you so much for your contribution to discipleship. I want to start from the history of this pattern of masculinity and the war that ensued on it. Your research shows that criticisms of men began much earlier than most of us think. Where did the idea of “toxic masculinity” come from? And what cultural change do you trace it to?

NANCY: You know, thanks for asking, because I think this is one of the most common misconceptions. Certainly, it’s one I had. I just assumed that probably the notion of “toxic masculinity” came out of the 1960s Second Wave Feminism. And when I started researching, I found out it goes much further back. You have to go back to the Industrial Revolution, because before that, men worked alongside their wives and children all day on the family farm and family industry, the family business. And so, the cultural expectation on men focused much more on their caretaking role. In fact, the word “authority” had a very definite meaning back then. It meant you’re not supposed to look out for your own interest; you’re the one who has responsibility for the interest of the whole. So, there was a great emphasis on men not to treat authority, as you know, “I get to do whatever I want,” but that, “I have responsibility for my family.” And not only the family, but the language back then was you were also called to be a father of the community. You know, you’re supposed to bring that fathering role out into the church, the school, the civil society. And even secular historians will say things like, the definition of masculine virtue was, “duty to God and man.” It was very duty driven, service driven. So where did we lose that? The Industrial Revolution took work out of the home. And of course, men had to follow their work out of the home into factories and offices. And for the first time, men were not working with their family members, people they loved and had a moral bond with. Instead, they were working as individuals in competition with other men. And you could see how that might change their mindset. And in fact, in the literature of the day, people began to protest that men were losing their caretaking ethos—that they were becoming egocentric, self-seeking, greedy, acquisitive, ambitious—I’m using the language of the day— and even turning financial success into an idol. I thought that was fascinating. Several 19th century commentators would say men are turning their work into an idol, which they had not done before. Which is a clue to another thing that was happening, of course, was that American society was secularizing. And so, people were saying, “Men are not living out their Christian convictions so much anymore. They are really starting to define their identity by their work and their career success and advancement.” So that was when the language describing the male character first began to be negative. If we want to understand where it’s coming from, we need this broader view. And of course, it does also suggest how to fix it, which is: Can we connect fathers to their families again, and try to recreate the close connection between fathers with their children that they that they used to have?

KELSEY: And we will unpack so much of that further, since that is the main theme of our podcast here. But as we dig deeper into your research, one of the things that you talk about is the two scripts for masculinity—the “good man” and the “real man”—showing how one is more biblical, and the other, much more secular. How does secularization contribute to the negative script for masculinity?

NANCY: I put this “two scripts” at the front of the book, and it’s a product of a sociological study. Some people treat it like something I made up. I did not. They’ll say: “Why do you say the real man is this?” No, no, listen, this was a sociologist. He’s very well known, and so, he speaks all around the world. And he came up with this very ingenious experiment, where he would ask young men two questions. First, he would say, “What does it mean to be a good man? If you’re at a funeral, for example, and in the eulogy, somebody says he was a ‘good man’—what does that mean?” And all around the world, young men had no trouble answering that question. They would immediately start listing things like duty, honor, integrity, sacrifice, “do the right thing,” “look out for the little guy”—I like that one—be protective, be a provider, be responsible. And the sociologist would say, “Where’d you learn that?” And they would say, “I don’t know. It’s just in the air we breathe.” If they were in a Christian country, they would say, “It’s part of our Judeo-Christian heritage.” And then he would follow up with a second question, and he would say, “What does it mean to you if I say, ‘Man up. Be a real man!’?” And the young men themselves would say, “Oh, no, no, no, that’s completely different. That means be tough, never show weakness, win at all costs, suck it up, play through pain, be competitive, get rich, get laid” — I’m using their language. And so, the sociologist himself concluded, men do seem to be trapped between these two competing sets of expectations. On the one hand, they do intrinsically, inherently, universally, around the whole globe—they do know what it means to be a good man. And I thought that was incredibly encouraging, that men are made in God’s image and they do know what it means to be a good man. They do know that their unique masculine strengths were not given them to get whatever they want, but to serve and protect, provide for those that they love. But they also feel cultural expectations in many cultures to be “the real man,” which [is] a very different set of traits. And not that all of them are bad. I mean, we all want people who can hang tough in a crisis. But if it does get disconnected from the ideal of the good man, it can slide into traits that we now consider toxic, like entitlement, dominance, control, and misogyny, and so on. So I put this right at the front of the book, because, Kelsey, this has been the most controversial book I’ve written, which I did not expect. But I always do a lot of reading groups, to sort of rub off the rough edges. And when the participants would tell their family and friends they were going through a manuscript on masculinity, invariably, the first question was, “Whose side is she on?” You know that tone. Most men just assumed that a woman writing a book on masculinity would be a male-bashing feminist; and more progressive types assumed I was kind of a culture war, red pillar, defense of men. So, this study I put right at the beginning, and a lot of people felt like, “Okay, I get it now. You don’t have to be for or against masculinity wholesale, but for ‘the good man.’” And, we don’t always even have to explain that men know what that means. And we want to critique the more toxic traits that young men themselves call “the real man.” So it helps overcome that initial suspicion or hostility that many people brought to the book.

KELSEY: It makes all kinds of sense, because I hear those two scripts at war. And inevitably, when things are at war, they do damage. And so damage has been done to the idea, but also to men themselves. And we see that men are falling behind in education, employment, health, and even life-expectancy. And, of course, that sounds destructive, estranging to half of our society. So why are people ignoring the real problems that men are facing today?

NANCY: Yeah, I think that you’re right. The boys and men are falling behind. And I think it partly is because of the negative rhetoric. The boys are falling behind from the age of kindergarten. They don’t have as good fine motor control as girls, and so they can’t use a scissors as well. And all through high school, they’re falling behind in both grades and test scores. Today, the average numbers of students in college [are] 60% female, 40% male. More women than men are going to graduate school, going to professional schools like law and medicine. Then, when they’re out of school, men are falling behind in a large number of factors. So they’re more likely to commit suicide, to have mental illness, to be homeless, to be drug and alcohol addicted, to be in prison—more than 90% of prison inmates are male—and in unemployment. This was a bit of a shock, because it’s not showing up in the unemployment statistics since they stopped looking for work. So researchers had to dig deeper. And they tell us that male unemployment is now at Great Depression era levels—and we all remember what a crisis that was. And then as you said: life expectancy. Women’s has stayed the same, so it’s not a general trend; only male life expectancy has gone down. I read an article on the data in a magazine called The New Scientist, and their conclusion was the single greatest demographic factor now in early death is being male. So I think it is time for us to say, “Isn’t it time to have compassion on boys and men? Isn’t it time to maybe have some programs that are directed toward them?” You know, girls got ahead in education, not just on their own. There [were] huge amounts of money poured into it: 1972 Title IX, the 1994 Gender Equity Act—poured millions of dollars into equity workshops, curriculum, training workshops. And so everyone thought what we’ll do is we’ll bring girls up to where boys are. They had no expectation that girls would soar right past them, which is what happened. Girls, with all that support, they flew right past boys. So now, isn’t it, maybe, time to have some special programs to encourage and enable boys to do better to catch up with girls now?

KELSEY: A long-term strategy that you mention for preventing these [examples of] falling out of society—or even the toxic behavior that can come, I believe, with this falling out of education, out of employment, out of a flourishing life—that the long-term strategies relate to fathers investing deeply in their sons. But of course, media portrays fathers as incompetent idiots quite often, and which is just heartbreaking. Where did that negative image come from?

NANCY: Yeah, we all know that it’s out there, right? That fathers are regularly mocked and ridiculed in the media—the Homer Simpson stereotype. By the way, my son, one of my sons, loved the Berenstain Bears. If you’ve read those, you know, the father is always the bumbling idiot. They changed eventually, because there’s 50-some books in the series. But for a long time—my son that loved the stories—we always had to sort of say, “Now you realize, we don’t agree with this portrayal.” But people, they know it exists, but they don’t know where it came from. And once again, it is the Industrial Revolution. Because when fathers had to leave the home for work, they began to be out of touch with the family dynamics. The mom had to sort of step in and fill in where fathers used to be, and particularly with their sons. Sons used to be like apprentices in their father’s trade or craft And so, fathers began to be portrayed already in the 19th century, as irrelevant, out of touch, and incompetent as parents. I was shocked to see that. But I have to tell you, we’re so used to it today, we no longer realize how traumatic people experienced it at the time. When fathers left the home, they felt like their family had been gutted. In 1842, Parents Magazine had an article in which they said the greatest cause of domestic sorrow in our day is the father is gone. He’s out of the home. And here’s how they put it: “The father toils early and late and has no time to perform his duties to his children.” And, there was another—the president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (who was by the way, the most influential woman of the 18th century)—identified father absence as the most significant issue facing the family already back then. And here’s how she put it: “God is our Father. And yet the prototype of the divine is gone from home from Sunday to Sunday.” Remember: They didn’t have Saturdays off yet. So the father was gone from Sunday to Sunday. And you read the literature of the day—or even modern literature. The founder of the contemporary men’s movement is Robert Bly. His book Iron John was on The New York Times Best Seller list, I think, about 10 years. And, to his credit, he traces men’s problems today to the Industrial Revolution when they lost contact with their fathers. He calls it “industrial fatherlessness.” In other words, they were still technically in the home, but it was a form of fatherlessness because they were gone all day. And here’s his quote. He said, “The love bond, most damaged by the Industrial Revolution was the father-son bond.” And so, I do spend a whole chapter on fatherhood. And one psychiatrist today says—I love this quote: “We’re not going to have a better class of men until we have a better class of fathers.” That is the key. And the good news is (I like to give people good news too, to encourage them): There was a study done on how parents are successful in passing on their spiritual and religious commitments. It was 35-year longitudinal study. So it won all kinds of awards for being an outstanding study. And they found two surprising things: The first one is that in terms of passing on your religious commitments to your children, fathers matter more than mothers. My female students say, “Well, that’s not fair.” And I say, “Well, it’s a fact.” Mothers have an influence, of course. But in terms of sheer numbers, if the father is a committed Christian, the children are more likely to follow him. But the second thing they found out: It’s the quality of the relationship that counts. In other words, if the father is perceived as—he’s a pillar of the church, he’s a moral exemplar, if he’s got perfect theology—which we Presbyterians really care about—but if he’s perceived by the child as cold, distant, and authoritarian, the child will not follow him. He will not follow him. So it’s the quality of the relationship. And even secular studies are finding this. There was another study done specifically on the question of how to raise masculine sons, which we’re concerned about these days. And it, too, found the same thing. It said, the quality of the relationship is what counts. It doesn’t matter whether the father is more stereotypically masculine or not, whether he’s more macho, or whether he’s more gentle and soft spoken. What matters is the quality of the relationship. If there’s a warm, loving, close relationship, the son will grow up with a secure, stable, healthy concept of masculinity. So all the studies are pointing to the importance of the father in addressing this issue.

KELSEY: It’s hard to argue with the data. And I really appreciate the way that you’ve traced the lines carefully through history. And listener: For the richness of this research, you really do need to seek out this book and traipse through this very well-written [book]. The portion of it that is not the study guide is only about 270 pages long, so it’s also accessible in length. And you’re tracing it to the history to the technological change that occurred with the Industrial Revolution. Well, of course, here we are on the cusp of—or maybe right in the middle of—technological change that has changed work, changed the home. And we’ve recently been reading Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Anxious Generation. And he goes deep into this technological change and speaks of the need, again, to reengage boys in education and community and work. I’d love to hear you talk a little bit about how to reengage boys in today’s world, where technological changes, the tech of our world is very enticing. What do we offer them? What shifts do we need to make in our thinking? And maybe even what has been faulty in our thinking about raising boys?

NANCY: Well, you mentioned technology. So let me give you one more stat on fathers, since they’re so central. During the pandemic, it turned out to be a real game changer, because, you know, a lot of men did end up working from home. And this study is not in the book; it’s that recent. So, Harvard University did a study. And their finding was this—by the way, reported in The New York Times, which I thought was also really good that they would be willing to report this—that finding was during the pandemic, 68% of fathers said they got closer to their children, and they don’t want to lose that. So, I thought, “Men, you have to realize you actually like being fathers!” And I’m not averse to pointing to the data that shows that as well. Because fathers are being interviewed and surveyed in ways that they weren’t before. For example, we always knew that women, when they become mothers, their oxytocin rises. And oxytocin is called the bonding hormone because it helps give you a sense of attachment to this baby who’s going to be very demanding—it’s great to have that little biochemical boost. But what they’ve now found, they never thought this before (by the way, it’s been a commonplace assumption in sociology that women are naturally mothers, but fatherhood is a cultural invention that has to be imposed on men)—well, what they’re finding now is that man’s oxytocin goes up as well. First of all, it goes up through all nine months of his wife’s pregnancy. Apparently, nobody thought to test the man’s blood. But when they did—they have to be living together, by the way—but if they’re living together, his oxytocin rises all the way through the wife’s pregnancy. And then at birth, it shows a spike as well. But it’s inspired by the tactile sense. So, he has [to be] actually holding, cuddling, playing with his baby. And while he’s doing that the baby’s oxytocin is rising as well. So there’s a symbiotic relationship happening between fathers and sons. In fact, some people have actually, some psychologists have called this “the dad brain,” that there’s a nest of neurons that don’t get activated unless a man becomes a father. So becoming a father literally causes your brain to grow. So, I bring this up in answer to your question, because I really do think that’s the answer, even to the problem of technology with boys. You know, Jonathan Haidt has done a good job on showing, you know, he focused on girls first, because girls had that spike in 2013 when they all went on social media. And so, there’s been a huge spike in depression among girls, and so people were not paying attention to boys. Well, when Jonathan Haidt turned to boys—and just as a resource, the reason he did is because he read Richard Reeves book. Richard Reeves was at the Brookings Institution, and he’s written the most recent book—again, it’s not in my book, because it’s that recent. And it’s called Of Boys and Men. So, if listeners are interested, it’s a very recent book. And what’s significant about his book is: It’s the first one that sort of made its way out of the conservative ghetto. All the other books—there’s been a host of books on the boy crisis. In fact, one was called The Boy Crisis. You know, The Trouble with Boys, Why Boys Fail—there’s been a host of books, but somehow, it’s been coded as a conservative issue. And so, liberals have not picked up on it. So, the significance of Richard Reeves’ book, primarily, is that it brought it into the liberal world. But now it’s acceptable to acknowledge that we need to help boys. And he’s even started his own institution called [The American Institute for] Boys and Men. So, Jonathan Haidt said it was Richard Reeves’ book that made him go back to the data and say, “Well, what’s been happening to boys all this time?” You know, girls’ increase in depression has been dramatic. But what about boys? And he said, “Okay, boys, it’s been equally large increase in depression, but it happened more slowly and over a longer period of time. Because boys started getting drawn in when it was video games. And it was girls were not really drawn in until social media.” So, boys, I mean, I still remember when video games were starting because I had two sons. And, you know, one year, there’s no such thing as video games. And the next you know, there’s Mario Brothers, and sports games, and a whole host of video games. And already—I mean it was when my oldest son was junior high—and already the boys were addicted. I mean, immediately, they were addicted. Immediately, parents were having to put time limits, they had to set the timer, we had to set the timer and say, “You each get 30 minutes. That’s it.” So that’s—Jonathan Haidt points out that boys have been lured away from the real world, into the virtual world for a longer period of time. And their rate of depression has actually increased more than girls, it was just not as noticeable. And so, what he says is boys are being drawn in by more and more complex video games, pornography, of course. And it’s a place where they can achieve in ways that they often can’t in the real world. You know, they can conquer enemies, they can parachute into a jungle, and fight to the death—the virtual death. And you know, they have these challenges. And of course, pornography is also…[reality] sucks, so why bother with the real thing? So again, though, I think the key is the parent-child relationship, but especially the father-child relationship. It turns out that the father-son relationship is protective. That’s how psychologists put it. It’s protective against a whole host of social pathologies in boys. And we already know that if a man is out of the home entirely, boys are much more prone to mental illness and addiction and suicide. The suicide rate, oh, I just looked it up: I think it’s four times what girls is, for boys still, not only for men. They’re much more likely to end up behind bars. I used to work for Prison Fellowship, which is an international Christian prison ministry. So, we knew firsthand that the vast majority of people sitting behind bars were from fatherless homes, especially violent crimes. I don’t remember the numbers anymore. But it was like 75 to 85%—somewhere in that range—of violent criminals [are] coming from fatherless homes. It’s just endemic. Oh, and I should tell you, the other thing I found out in reading this book is that 40% of children in America today are growing up apart from their natural fathers. And some of them have, you know, good stepfathers or whatever. But it is the highest rate of single parenthood in the world. What does seem to be the highest step? So American children are growing up with a very tenuous relationship with their fathers. And one other question I get is, “Well, how do we—what do we do about these fatherless kids then?” And the book that I mentioned earlier, the 35-year longitudinal study, they did include some non-fathers to see how does that work, especially grandparents. And they said father substitutes can have a huge impact: grandparents, uncles, teachers, coaches—coaches are probably the most common father substitute for young boys. Of course, church youth group leaders and so on. They did find that father substitutes can have a huge impact. And that means, it’s something that all of us can contribute to solving, you know, there’s a place each one of us can plug in, and have an impact on the fatherless boys growing up. And then, you know, adopting negative views of masculinity.

KELSEY: It’s a very hopeful view, to recognize that there are practical things that we can engage right now. You’re raising the topic of mentoring for me. It is something that we need to return to often. Explore: “Where is there opportunity for me to engage in, or to encourage my spouse or my brother, the men in my life, to engage in an expression of mentoring to the young men around them and to the young women around them?” Obviously, we’ve already heard from you what a profound effect that male mentors have on all children. So, listener: The question [is], “Where can we encourage and exercise mentoring?” It’s a very missional prospect. It’s a very rich concept of going out and fulfilling this discipleship mandate, which is one of those key mandates of scripture. Let’s dig a little bit more into some practical steps that fathers can take to be more involved with their sons and their daughters. And with this view in mind that we’re also talking about mentors here in the absence of natural fathers. What practical steps could men take in this realm of mentoring the next generation?

NANCY: I’ll start with the mentor question, because one of the things I write about in my book, as I say, I would love to see churches very intentionally start programs to fatherless boys. I think it’s a mission field that we have not really focused on. And it’s crucial. But what practical steps can they take? Well, first of all being there. And that’s not easy. It’s interesting that on surveys (where they’re anonymous) men report just as much family work conflict that women do. It’s just that they won’t say it because they’re more afraid of being judged in the workplace as not being fully committed. But even that is becoming more acceptable. Another survey that I looked at found that 70% of men said that, if they had a choice, they would choose flexible work hours, even if it meant earning less. And so, it’s become more acceptable for them to say that. And by the way, a totally different study of women found the same number: 70% of women said they would rather have their husbands home more with some kind of flexible hours, even if it meant taking a pay cut. Then I read a survey of Millennials, and Millennials are all in. They would love to have something that’s much more balanced, like fathers want more time with their kids. And of course, many women would like to have more time to develop their other gifts, and talents and abilities. You know, they both kind of want half-and-half as the ideal, although that is not available to most couples these days. But that’s what Millennials are asking for, which I think is good. It is almost like a recreation of the pre-industrial era. You know, can we bring some of this work back home again? And here’s the good side of technology: You can! You can bring a lot of this work home. There was a survey done by Redbook Magazine, which is a women’s magazine. And it found that two thirds of women who are home with children already bring in an income, already contribute to their family’s income. They are primarily home, they’re primarily mothers; but on the side, they are doing work that brings in an income. So of course, I interviewed several of these women for my book as well. Pew Research found about the same number, by the way, they do very, very large studies. And they found about two thirds of women prefer to be either at home, just at home, or at home with a part-time job. The feminists have been typically saying, “Women are clamoring for daycare, and the state should pay for it.” No, women are not. In terms of the sheer numbers, most of them actually want to raise their own children. Why bother having kids if you don’t raise them? And so, at this point, it’s largely anecdotal, so let me give you one: One of my graduate students, her husband is an IT professional. And during the pandemic, he came home to work from home. And because he was home, he was able to be more involved in the family’s homeschooling. He decided he would be the one to make lunch for the family every day. Since he was there, he could take the kids to soccer practice and choir practice. So I interviewed him, of course, and he said, “I’m never going back to 40 hours in a cubicle. Our family’s so much more balanced now.” In fact, he picked up so many of the family responsibilities that his wife was able to start a part-time business, and the whole family benefited from the added income. And then the final kicker is, when I interviewed the husband, he said, “The time that I used to spend commuting to work, I now spend praying with my wife.” And I thought, okay, that’s—where we are right now is getting inspired by individual stories of men who’ve made it work. I have quite a few of them in the book. So don’t think of it as just sort of a history book—when you mentioned the history of fatherhood—it’s got lots of anecdotes and stories as well, especially this chapter. Stories of men who found ways to flex their jobs, have flexible hours, or part-time remote work. Oh, and you know, what we have to do is we also have to convince the corporate world that this is going to work. And so I do have quotes from CEOs as well. One in particular, for example, said, we were always a little bit hesitant about remote work; we just didn’t think people would do the work. And here’s a direct quote, he said, and this was Zillow—it was a CEO of Zillow—and he said, “The pandemic has completely exploded that fear” (the fear that they wouldn’t work). He said, “We have seen no drop in productivity.” And then there was an article in The Atlantic which sold more copies than any other issue in the entire history of the magazine. And it was written by a woman, but she was saying she has herself left the State Department and [she] went back to a less prestigious job teaching at Princeton University. But she had much more flexible hours in the university. And as The Washington Post put it, one of her sons was “toying with juvenile delinquency.” So she knew she had to she had to be home more. So she wrote this article, and she said, “In my experience, if you have an issue with your family, take care of it. Take the time off from work that you need, because in my experience, people who have strong family relationships make better workers. You give men and women, fathers and mothers, time to be better parents, they make better workers.” Now, they may not come in on Saturday, or stay till 9pm. But the time they do put in a job, they’re more productive and more focused. And she said, they make better workers. So obviously, that hit a nerve, because it sold more copies than any other issue of the entire magazine. People want to know. And by the way, people want to know how they can flex the workplace and have more time at home. And it was immediately followed by a host of copycat articles in Newsweek and other places saying, “Well, men want to be home more too,” because as a woman, she had written primarily about women. Anyway, so men are also wanting to have more time with their children. And the old adage about, well, “quality matters more than quantity,” you need a certain quantity to get quality, as any real parent knows. You can’t try to pack quality into an hour before bedtime. So the main strategy, really is, “How can we bring more flexibility to the workplace?” so fathers have the chance to simply have more time with their children.

KELSEY: We recently had Dr. Gene Veith on Concurrently speaking of vocation to us, and I’m hearing the myriad, the massive spectrum of vocations that are replicated in this conversation. And how we are intended—as image-bearers of the Lord, who is relational, the character and nature of His being is relational—that we are made for relational work, as well as being made for cultural work, the two mandates that we talk about in scripture: the mandate of creating and shaping, and having dominion over the world, that cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28. But it goes hand in hand with the discipleship mandate of Matthew. And what it means for us to be whole persons means engaging all of those vocations. And learning to do so increasingly. It is a process, as we learn the flexibility, as we exercise these different eras of technology. How do we engage more fully as whole persons in the time that’s given to us? So I appreciate the categories that you’ve been giving us for it. There is actually one other thing that I’d like to point to for listeners, that you do a phenomenal job also of recognizing that there is a toxic form of masculinity. You share some more of your story. You make sure that your thinking is complete. And so, thank you also for the chapter that dives deeply into what a toxic expression of masculinity does look like in the home. I would hazard a guess it is as you mentioned, with this situation of dabbling with juvenile delinquency, that the delinquency of maleness—the toxic version of masculinity—comes when things are not right, when there is not the opportunity to explore the fullness of who “he” was meant to be in Christ.

NANCY: I’m an apologist at heart, right? So my first goal, the reason I wrote the book, because I did want to say, “Why does the secular world get its view of masculinity so wrong?” You know, I wanted to analyze and critique the secular world, and so through the history, I was able to show how America went from a primarily Christian society—the early—the colonial age was largely Christian—and several stepping stones where it became more and more secular. And the one I like to focus on is the rise of Darwinian evolution. And most people are surprised by that, because they [say], “What, wait, that’s a scientific theory.” But it had a huge impact on concepts of masculinity because Social Darwinists immediately began saying things like, “The men who came out on top in the struggle for survival were ruthless, brutal, savage, barbarian, and predatory.” That this is their true nature, right? Instead of urging men to live up to the image of God in them, they urge men to live down to “the beast within,” as they put it. And so when you say culture has negative views of masculinity, this is one of the key sources of that. And by the way, it’s still around: the Social Darwinists. They have a new name. Now they’re called “evolutionary psychologists.” But it’s the same message. There was a best-selling book called The Moral Animal. And the author said, “The human male is a possessive, oppressive, flesh-obsessed pig. Giving a man a book on how to have a better marriage is like giving a Viking a book on how not to pillage.” I thought, “What?! How do you get away with that kind of language?” And then there was another book called Men and Marriage, which was recently reissued, and he says the same thing. He says, “Men are by nature addiction-prone, irresponsible, and predatory.” He says, “The deepest yearning is not for wife and family. It’s for the motorbike and the open road—the male group escape to a primal mode of immediate and predatory gratification.” And I thought, “Well, you really think this is how God created men?” This is an image that a lot of even Christian men sometimes pick up on. If they’re not well taught in a Christian understanding of, biblical understanding of male headship in the home, and so on, they will often take language like headship and infuse secular meaning into it, and so that’s how even in Christian circles we sometimes get abuse and violence in the home. And so, since that does exist, I do have to, like you said, I have two chapters on abuse, even in Christian homes. And I’m glad you mentioned—so this comes out of my own story. I did grow up in a very abusive home. My father was severely physically abusive. His favorite was the knuckle punch, the knuckle fist, where you extend the middle finger slightly to causes a sharper stab of pain. He wouldn’t say, “Do this or I’ll spank you.” He’d say, “Do this or I’ll beat you.” I mean, he was quite open about it. So as you can imagine, this book did not come easily to me. A Christian psychologist interviewed me and he said, “Well, at least we know, you’re not speaking from an ivory tower. You’re speaking from the trenches.” I didn’t have a loving, warm, secure childhood where it’s easy for me to say, “Oh yeah, masculinity is good.” No, I did not. And, you’ll probably appreciate this. When I grew up, I ricocheted off into extreme feminism. And I read every feminist book out there, and always had a feminist book on my bedside table for many, many years. And so then I became a Christian, and had to sort of rethink this all from scratch. So this book very much is, you know, an expression of my own struggles to come to a truly biblical, healthy view of masculinity.

KELSEY: And we’re so thankful for the way that it contributes to the conversation.

NANCY: So one of the things that’s most surprising about my book is that I also give sociological data showing that Christian men actually test out in surveys as the most loving and engaged husbands and fathers. And again, I put this at the front of the book. I used to have it at the end, right? You give the problem and then you give the solution, and people got too discouraged. So I put the solution at the front. And I sort of stumbled over this because this information is not out there yet. I had to go digging in academic journals to find this. But people tend to say that evangelical men are exhibit A of toxic masculinity—that any notion of male headship in the home is going to turn men into overbearing, controlling patriarchs, tyrants. So the sociologists were listening to these accusations and saying, “But where’s your evidence? You’re making these charges, but where’s your data?” And so they went out and did the studies. And I quote about a dozen different studies that are out there. And they did find that evangelical Christian men who are truly committed and attend church regularly test out as the most loving and engaged husbands and fathers. They do interview the wives separately, and the wives report the highest level of happiness with the way their husbands treat them. They report the highest level of involvement with their children: 3.5 hours more per week than secular fathers. Evangelical couples have the lowest rate of divorce: 35% lower than secular couples. And they actually have the lowest rate of domestic abuse and violence of any group in America. So the sociologist who did the largest study was Brad Wilcox. He’s at the University of Virginia. And to give you a sense of his stature, he gets published in places like The New York Times. So let me give you a quote that sort of summarizes this, and it is from The New York Times. He said, direct quote, “It turns out that the happiest of all wives in America are religious conservatives, fully 73% of women who hold conservative gender values and attend church regularly with their husbands have high quality marriages.” And so, this is not a pep talk from some religious leader. This is solid empirical research. This is—these are evidence-based findings, and we really need to get them out into the church. Like I said, they’re not out there yet. It’s in the academic literature. And of course, we need to be bold about bringing it out into the public domain, as well, to help counter the secular narratives about Christian men. I really would like the take-home point to be bringing it into the churches and encouraging Christian men. Because many of them—they feel beaten down by the negative messages as well. One of my graduate students worked—she was the head of the women’s ministry in a very large Baptist church here in Houston. And she said, “On Mother’s Day, we hand out roses and tell the women they’re wonderful; on Father’s Day, we scold the men and tell them to do better.” And so my book says, “Stop the scolding, bring this positive data out, and encourage Christian men.” No wonder our churches also, just like our universities, our churches are mostly female. And it’s the same percentage. By the way, the average American Christian congregation is 60%, female and 40% male. And Houston Christian University where I work, when I started here 12 years ago, it was actually 70/30 — 70% female. And to attract more men, we started a football team, and we started an engineering school for the STEM subjects. And now we’re closer to the average of 60/40. But we’re seeing it everywhere, including Christian churches, that there’s far more females than males. And we do need to bring out these social science studies to encourage Christian men.

JONATHAN: Last, but not least, how can people connect with you? And how can they purchase a copy of The Toxic War on Masculinity?

NANCY: Yeah, thank you. So my publisher very generously redesigned my website. It’s fun and colorful now, and Pearcey is p-e-a-r-c-e-y, So you can come over, you can browse my other books, and you can leave a comment—I hope you do. I really enjoy hearing comments from readers. So, And, of course, the book is available on Amazon as everything is. Or if you prefer—just about anywhere that you buy books, you can get The Toxic War on Masculinity and remember, it’s the toxic war. I have had so many people say “toxic masculinity.” You know, this is a deliberate, you know, double entendre, so to speak. It’s The Toxic War on Masculinity.

JONATHAN: Thank you so much. And so, every episode we like to end with scripture, and today talking about this subject of masculinity and fatherhood, our minds went to David, a man after God’s own heart. And in his story, we see this tension of “the good man” and “the real man”: the heights of his achievements and his love of God, but also the times he failed and gave in to a more toxic nature. And so, David’s own words from Psalm 144 verses 12-15:

May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown,
our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace;
may our granaries be full, providing all kinds of produce;
may our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields;
may our cattle be heavy with young, suffering no mishap or failure in bearing;
may there be no cry of distress in our streets!
Blessed are the people to whom such blessings fall!
Blessed are the people whose God is the LORD!

This Psalm talks about a renewal, a blessing for our families, for our children, for our work. He has equipped you for the work.


Show Notes

We’re joined by Professor Nancy Pearcey to talk about discipling boys in a culture opposed to masculinity. Where did the idea of “toxic masculinity” come from? How do we promote a biblical picture of masculinity?

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Today’s episode is sponsored by Sam Allberry’s God’s Go-Togethers.

Author Sam Allberry has a new book for kids called God’s Go-Togethers. This colorful book features siblings Lila and Ethan as they visit the beach and discover that God not only made the sand and sea to go together, but He made men and women to go together, too. God’s Go-Togethers offers a thoughtful look at the biblical design for people and provides a helpful foundation for explaining why God made men and women as a special pair to complement each other in marriage and beyond. Learn more at

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