Posting as part of the Patheos Book Club discussion.
As the mother of two boys who never watch television and only rarely see movies, it seems clear to me that the urge to fight and to defend is pretty much inborn in most males. Oh, I’ve tried to encourage their nurturing nature; they’ve had baby dolls and toy strollers, but they played with these for a mere fraction of the time spent with toy vehicles and various improvised weapons. More than once I’ve caught them lashing baby dolls to chairs for interrogation sessions. They didn’t learn this from movies. It’s just in there, somehow.
David Murrow’s discussion of men–and what they need from their wives–in his What Your Husband Isn’t Telling You relies heavily on evolutionary psychology to explain the male of the species, although he posits God’s design, rather than the long process of evolution, as key to the formation of the male psyche. Once I heard a similar argument from a homeschool lecturer on why boys ‘need’ to play with toy weapons: because “God made them to be protectors.” Need I mention that a certain Seattle-based megachurch pastor relies heavily on this view of masculinity?
Reading Murrow’s book, I was reminded, however improbably, of Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English’s excellent book, For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women and their earlier pamphlet, Witches, Midwives, and Nurses: A History of Women Healers. In these books, the authors show how, in pre-industrial societies, women were (and in places in this world, are) at least as much “providers” as men are: responsible for gardening and small scale farming, for fiber and textile production, and for many other things. In industrial societies, what a woman’s ‘place’ should be was less clear.
Murrow sees men’s troubles as stemming largely from their being displaced from their “natural” roles as provider and protector; attributing a large portion of the blame to women’s rights and equality in the workplace, to the “feminizing” of culture (including church culture) and asserting that men are happier when their wives cook for them, keep themselves in shape, and don’t “outshine” them in prayer, among other things. Okay…
I get Murrow’s points: men are different from women, and there are many aspects of life that work better for a female brain than a male one. School, for example–especially in the early grades–is an institutional environment largely shaped by women, and as such tends to favor the way girls and women prefer to learn and interact. Boys would probably do better, for example, in classrooms that allowed them to move as they learn–to bounce a ball as they review math facts, say, or to actually manipulate materials with their hands as the physical or chemical properties are narrated to them.
But what always bothers me about the discussion of men as they are “created” (or evolved) to behave is the assumption that what is ‘natural’ is what men and women are bound to perform, to ‘live into,’ as the church-jargon sometimes has it. Sure, it’s “natural” to compete for the healthiest, most fertile women. It’s “natural” to feel aggression, to want to hunt and fight and protect and defend. We can acknowledge that while also acknowledging that none of us is bound to the baser expressions of our natures–especially when we consider that Jesus did the most unnatural thing imaginable, and let himself be killed, which is hardly a good way to pass on one’s genes.
Then again, maybe, in God’s strange economy, it is.