Thursday, June 27, 2013

In Defense of Men

Over the last few months, I have heard and seen several things that have bothered me. Here are a few of them, the first five that come to mind:

  • On Facebook, I saw a male friend asking for recommendations for a new pediatric dentist. His reason for leaving his kids’ current dentist: He had not been allowed to make an appointment for his child, because “mothers should make appointments, not fathers.”

  • Also on Facebook, I’ve seen several memes regarding husbands, fathers, and men in general. I suppose they’re funny if you agree with the underlying premise that men are incapable dolts who have life easy … but if you don’t, they fall into the same category as jokes that make fun of people of different races, different religions, or different hair colors (I’m thinking blonde jokes)—you know, the ones that get you tarred and feathered for being offensive. Here are some examples:

Misandric Facebook Memes

  • Over Father’s Day weekend, I heard a chorus of well wishes for fathers … and also for single mothers, because they act as both father and mother to their children. Over Mother’s Day weekend, I heard not a word about fathers, single or otherwise.

  • In a conversation with a man who married, had a son, divorced, was a single father with custody (I believe), re-married, and now is happily married with multiple children, he expressed dread at the thought of watching the movie Courageous, widely acclaimed in Christian circles for its portrayal of husbands and fathers. His reason: when he was a single father, he experienced firsthand our society’s disdain for fathers and worship of mothers.  It was just as bad, if not worse, in the church as in society at large. I'm not sure that he mentioned the movie Fireproof, produced by the same church, but he could have, as it portrays pretty well the view that all problems in marriage are the husband's fault, regardless of the wife's behavior.

  • At church, I listened to a sermon on authority and how we should submit to proper authority whether we want to or not, because “there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1, ESV). The speaker talked about how we should submit to the government, whether we want to or not (Titus 3:1). The speaker talked about how we should submit to our supervisors at work, whether we want to or not (Ephesians 6:5-7). When it comes to submission within the family, however, there was no mention of wives submitting to husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24) or of children submitting to parents (Ephesians 6:1-3) except to lay the groundwork for talking about men’s obligation to love their wives as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25-28), which they are required to do perfectly enough that wives and children always will want to submit to them (???*).

I’m well aware that to the majority of people, only the first item in the list above is a problem. But do you see the pattern that I see? There is a general attitude of disrespect for men, and not just for specific men who have earned disrespect. Men seem to be disrespected unless and until they earn respect; meanwhile, it is assumed that women should be respected unless and until they prove otherwise, and they may well be considered deserving of respect even after they prove otherwise. This problem exists even in the place where I, for one, would have least expected it: the church. In fact, in my interactions with believers and non-believers, it seems that Christian women often show less respect for their husbands than do non-Christian women—but because they deliver their scathing criticisms with a joking smile, or in the guise of a prayer request, it’s perceived as perfectly acceptable. Christian men often do no better: they send “man up” messages that indicate that if only men were man enough, good enough, godly enough, then their wives would respect them. It’s the men’s fault, you see; if they aren’t respected, it’s because they haven’t earned it … but try treating a woman with disrespect until she earns something better. There’s a double standard here, and this one works in women’s favor.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this trend is that people don’t notice it. The speaker at church didn’t even seem to notice that he placed unattainable leadership burdens on men while removing obligations from women. People don’t think twice about the little girl wearing a t-shirt that proclaims “Girls rule; boys drool!” or “Anything boys can do, girls can do better!” But change the genders on those shirts, and you’d have widespread outrage. When it’s come up in conversation and I’ve stated that Alexa is not allowed to wear shirts with this type of statement on them, I can predict the reactions: Almost all women and many men—almost all men if there are women other than me in earshot—look at me as if I’m crazy. Why in the world wouldn’t I want Alexa to absorb such empowering messages? But when I’m the only woman around … often, the men simply say “Thank you.”

Before we left Cambodia, a friend wrote me a very sweet note expressing her friendship and her appreciation for me. At one point, after acknowledging that this nomadic life can be difficult for me, she wrote: “But you speak, always, so highly of your husband, I never hear you complain, and I really admire how much of a team player you are with Jeff and his career.” It struck me then … I also never heard her complain about her husband, despite the difficulties she was facing as they entered the life of overseas missionaries, and many of my other friends there didn't either. Some did, one badly enough that even Jeff, who rarely saw her, noticed and took offense on behalf of her henpecked husband. But most didn’t. And yet, having grown up in the United States, surrounded by the influences there, it doesn't seem normal to us for women to refrain from complaining about their husbands. We were enmeshed in a small, self-selected community in which most of the women treated their husbands respectfully, and yet it remained noteworthy. Over the course of our lives, it has been rare for a woman not to complain about her husband, to make a conscious decision to share his strengths and help cover over his difficulties, to support his career; it has been rare enough that it was noted, even in a subgroup where it's much more common. Those things aren’t an incredible level of respect—those are the bare minimum courtesies that we should give each other if we claim to have any respect for each other at all.

I used to think it was funny to hear and read stories of the stupid things men did. Now I think about the men themselves—do they think it’s funny? Would they share those stories themselves? If Jeff gave me stories like that about himself, I wouldn't share them. None of us deserve to have our dirty laundry aired in front of the world, to experience that humiliation of knowing that all our friends know about our poor decisions or our incompetence at certain tasks. Yet women share these stories about their husbands all the time, and the world cheers them on.**

I used to sympathize with women who had such large problems with their husbands that they regularly shared prayer requests—full of information about his failings—with anyone who would listen, sometimes with an entire Sunday school class or even an entire congregation. Now, I more often sympathize with their husbands. Please don’t misunderstand; I do believe that it can be appropriate at times to request prayer for difficulties involving a spouse, but those situations should be handled carefully and discreetly, with specific prayer requested only from a single good friend who can keep it quiet and who generally is supportive of the marriage and of both spouses, or only from a pastor or other church leader. I’m a fan of the unspoken prayer request if more prayer support is needed.

I guess what it comes down to, simply, is that men deserve respect too. Men are capable human beings too. Men and women on average have different strengths and weaknesses, with significant individual variation, but just as we women don’t want men to judge us by our weaknesses, we shouldn’t judge them by theirs. Just as we don’t want humiliating stories about us shared with the world, we shouldn’t share humiliating stories about them. Just as we don’t want men to make fun of us, to criticize us publicly, or to make disparaging remarks about women in general, we shouldn’t do those things to men either.

Our society as a whole is hard to change for the better. It’s hard for any one normal, everyday person to change the way men are portrayed in movies and TV shows. It’s hard for any one normal, everyday person to remove the misandric messages from t shirts, Facebook memes, and cartoons marketed toward young girls. It’s not only hard; it’s impossible for one normal, everyday person to change those things.

But it is possible for one normal, everyday person to change his or her own life and sphere of influence. It is possible, and even relatively easy, for one person to refuse to watch movies and TV shows that portray men as incompetent buffoons. It is possible to refuse to buy misandric t shirts, to refuse to share or like misandric Facebook memes, to refuse to allow children to watch misandric cartoons. And it is possible—and crucial—for one person to change the way he or she speaks about and to men in general and the specific men in his or her life.

I know I’ve talked mostly to and about Christians in this post, and I haven’t said half of what’s been swirling around in my head for the last several months. But, please … whether or not you’re a Christian, whether or not you believe that wives should submit to their husbands, whether or not you’re a feminist … please, think about the words you say, the actions you take, and the products you purchase. Do you really believe the often unspoken premise? 

Think of the men you know—are they really incompetent buffoons? If they aren’t, don’t watch that sitcom that portrays them that way, and don't share that misandric cartoon or joke.

Ladies, think of your husband—is he really such a fool? And if he is, do you really want to broadcast it, because how does it reflect on you that you chose to marry a fool? If he isn’t, or you don’t, then don’t post that Facebook status telling the world about the stupid thing he just did, and don't tell your friends about his failings. Protect his dignity; it’s your dignity, too.

Pastors, think of the men in your congregation—are they really doing such a terrible job as husbands and fathers that they need you to heap more condemnation on them (even if it is in the form of “encouragement and tips on how to do better”) than they already get from society and maybe even from their wives? If they aren’t doing such a horrible job, then maybe you could try telling them what they’re doing right, the same way you tell women what they’re doing right, and maybe you could help both men and women by telling both men and women what they could do better.

Think about your words and your actions. Think about the beliefs that underlie them. And if those underlying beliefs are ones that you wouldn’t openly admit that you hold, then reconsider those words and those actions that flow from them. If you wouldn’t stand on a street corner and announce that your husband is an idiot, that all men are imbeciles, or that men are worth less than the paychecks they bring in, then please, don’t announce it in less direct ways either.

*The speaker seemed to think that this idea—that wives and children always will want to submit to a husband and father who is a good leader—flows directly from the instructions to men in Ephesians 5:25-28. I’m not sure where he came up with that fallacy. Ephesians instructs men to love their wives as Christ loves the church; Christ is to be their example. But when you look at the example of Christ and the church, you see that despite Christ’s perfection—which extends to His role as leader; He’s the perfect leader—we as Christians do not always want to submit to His will, even though His will always is the best thing for us and even though we are commanded to submit. If Christ’s perfect leadership isn’t good enough to make us always want to submit to Him, then it’s pretty clear that the quality of the leadership isn’t the problem—we just don’t want to submit, period. Wives are commanded to submit to their husbands, with no escape clause in case he isn’t a good leader; that’s why I advise women to be very careful whom they marry and to be sure that they’re willing to submit to their future husbands before they become wives. (I know that many of my readers, Christian or not, do not believe in wifely submission. If you are not a Christian, I fully expect you to disregard this advice, even though a Captain-First Officer model of marriage also works very well for non-religious couples. If you are a Christian and do not believe in wifely submission, or believe in a pretense of it in which the wife is required to submit only when the husband is leading her where she wants to go, then ... I'm at a loss, as the Bible is very clear and explicit in this command.)

**I'm not a complete killjoy; I do recognize that there are some hilarious stories that the men themselves are willing to share, and of course I don't object to the men sharing them, or to their wives sharing them with the husband's approval.


  1. Wonderful post. Absolutely wonderful. You'll feel this even more strongly if you ever have a boy -- seeing these comments through the lens of what your son is hearing, seeing, learning is expected of him really puts a spin on things.

    Thanks for saying something that needs to be said.

    1. Thanks, Reader. These thoughts have been swirling around in my head for months, and every example I see just makes me more and more angry at what we've become as a society. Being overseas, I don't see the worst of it ... which probably makes it have more of an impact when I do see it. The sermon this past Sunday was the last straw--though it didn't help that it came within two weeks of three of the other four events I listed at the beginning of the post!

  2. This is a good reminder. Regarding sons, I think it is important for my son to see my example as a wife (and my daughter). I think sometimes women just use each other to air frustrations and it turns into husband slamming. As with any poor behavior, we all need to practice more discipline. Especially when it comes to safeguarding our most important earthly relationship.

    1. You are right, April, that in our role as parents, it's so important to model the behaviors and attitudes we want our kids to emulate. And even though I don't have a son of my own who is directly affected by these messages, in some ways having a daughter makes it just as hard. After all, I'm counting on the parents of some boy somewhere in the world to raise him to resist these messages and become the man he was created to be, the man who will be a good husband for my daughter. I think in some ways it would be easier to see the effects as they happen and be able to work to counteract them ... of course, you parents of boys are relying on parents of some girl somewhere in the world to raise her to resist the messages and not become a harridan and instead become the woman she was created to be, the woman who will be a good wife for your son. Sometimes I'm tempted to collect the names of boys being raised by parents I trust, so I can make sure Alexa meets them when she's old enough to start considering marriage ... just joking ... mostly ;)

  3. I completely agree. This kind of husband-bashing, "sharing" about his weaknesses or sin, downplaying his strengths, etc., really grates on me in any setting, but especially when coming from Christian women. It's always so refreshing to hear the opposite. Thanks for speaking up.


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