3 Ways That Patriarchy Harms Men | CBE International

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3 Ways That Patriarchy Harms Men

On October 05, 2015

It is undeniable that women are negatively impacted by patriarchy. I can go round after round on how patriarchy teaches women that they are peripheral and secondary in the grand story of God’s relationship with humanity. I can argue for days that gender roles and sexism limit and oppress women. I can write about femicide and gender-based violence, rape culture, female identity, female giftedness, mutuality in relationships, and the consequences of purity/modesty culture on women.

When I write about these topics, I can speak from my own experiences and the experiences of those who share my womanhood in other contexts. As a woman, I have carried a part of this burden. I’ve felt some of these wounds. I know this story. And because of that, I have often argued disproportionately for the negative impact of patriarchy on women, and have overlooked the way that men are held captive by this culture too.

While women, being in the subordinate position in this hierarchy, suffer the effects of patriarchy to a far greater degree, men too know its cost in humanity, in self-concept, and in relationship. It’s easy to think that because men have the power and privilege, that they truly have everything. But, I’ve come to recognize that patriarchy’s picture of manhood is woefully inaccurate—and men suffer as a result of that narrowness.

1. Patriarchy Defines Men by Their Sexuality

Men are conditioned to see themselves as primarily sexual—defined and driven by their sexuality. From the day they enter puberty, they are treated to analyses of male sexuality that use phrases like “men are more sexual than women,” “men only want one thing,” and "it's in your nature."They are trained to see themselves as a threat to idealized non-sexual, pure womanhood.

The church operates under the assumption that men are highly sexual, lack control, and will take advantage of women given the opportunity—“stumbling block” rhetoric supports this. I can’t image what it is like to be implicitly told that you have more in common with animals in the sexual arena than you do with humanity and with the opposite sex. I also can’t imagine learning self-control in a culture that tells me I am sexually aggressive at my core and by innate nature.

So, I’d like to offer a different picture of manhood.

Men are human beings. They struggle with sexual temptation, with lust, with self-control, just like women do. They are capable of tenderness, control, and gentleness. Men can be trusted. And despite cultural assumptions, not all men have high sex drives.

It’s time to reject a universal portrait of male sexuality. We do men a disservice when we emphasize sexuality as man’s primary trait. We allow men to abdicate responsibility for their sins by teaching them that their natures are the root cause of their lust. Further, we, as a culture, position men to only think of themselves as threats to women, and thus remove the possibility of healthy, appropriate, authentic male sexuality. If men believe that they truly cannot be trusted, they anchor their identities to a warped understanding of male sexuality and selfhood.

2. Patriarchy Structures Relationships around Hierarchy

Hierarchy does not foster healthy relationships. When men are given exclusive rule in a household and in the church, the door is opened to abuse. Just as tragic, the door is closed to mutuality and partnership.

When men are taught to view themselves as the leader, the superior, and the overseer of women (by whatever language deemed inoffensive at the time), they forfeit the chance to engage in relationship with a spiritual equal who is fully exercising her own gifts for the glory of God. What power is there in not one, but two people who are free to pursue God relentlessly, use their gifts, and sharpen each other in faith? And what strength is there in the partner who takes joy in the opportunities and giftedness of his wife?

We should ask ourselves what rewards might there be in a mutual relationship that are missing from a hierarchical marriage? The truth is, men benefit from mutuality, both relationally and personally. In mutuality, there is room for failure and there is room to be human in relationship. Marriages that are steeped in mutuality and equality allow for men to be weak when they need to be, to step aside when they’re not gifted, and to relate as a partner and not a superior.

I believe that men’s relationships and marriages will benefit from egalitarianism. If we talk only of power, then yes, the eradication of patriarchy is “bad” for men. So, let us move toward a more complex understanding of cultural change that is focused on the soul and on relationship. When we consider all that men stand to gain from equal and mutual relationships with women, it becomes clear that gender equality is liberating for women and men.

3. Patriarchy Costs Men in Humanity

It is costly to oppress others for obvious reasons. The soul is deeply affected by oppression and likewise, oppressors' souls are changed by the power they exercise over others. So, a discussion of a hierarchical system like patriarchy should consider the toll that power takes on the spiritual being. Just as our souls are naturally inspired by mercy, humility, kindness, and grace, so they are easily corrupted by power, hierarchy, and privilege.

It is not good for men to sit at the top of the gender hierarchy—at least, it is not good for their souls. Yes, men reap the benefits of power and privilege. It is their story that is told in history, it is their voice that is heard in church and in society, and it is their gifts that are exercised without restraint. And yet, just as it was not good for man to be alone, I truly believe it is not good for man to lead alone. Our ability to live in community, to love and relate to others, to show humility—this is part of our humanity. And we lose some of that when we love our power and privilege too well.

I don’t want this for men. I want it to be well with their souls, identities, and relationships.

There are some people who will never agree that egalitarianism is good for men. They are determined to believe that the loss of unearned power and privilege is an unjust thing. They are determined to see all egalitarians as the enemies of men and masculinity.

To them I say: I understand that you are determined. But so am I, and not just on my own behalf. I’m determined on your behalf too, because I believe that gender equality is both a Jesus-thing and something that will, with great pains, bear mercy and justice into this world.

I believe that patriarchy is heavy on the souls of men. And that breaks my heart, too. I want to see men liberated. I want all men to know relationship and selfhood outside of hierarchy and privilege. As your sister in Christ, I truly want to see you free.

This is a forum for conversation and learning. Please keep dialogue constructive and engage respectfully with those who have different perspectives.

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