It's undeniable that women are negatively impacted by patriarchy. I can go round after round on how patriarchy teaches women that they're peripheral and secondary in the grand human story. 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 speak from my own experiences as a woman. I've carried a part of this burden (though not the same burden as my sisters of color). I’ve born the wounds. I know this story all too well. And because of that, I have more to say about the negative impact of patriarchy on women. But I've often overlooked the way that men are held captive by patriarchy 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. 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 and expectation of manhood is toxic. Men suffer as a result of that narrowness. Here are three examples of how patriarchy harms men.
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 speeches on male sexuality that use phrases like “men are more sexual than women,” “men only want one thing,” and "it's in your nature."
Men are trained to see themselves as threats to women.
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 idea.
I can’t image what it's like to be implicitly told that you have more in common with animals than you do with humana and women. I also can’t imagine learning self-control in a culture that tells me it's almost impossible.
Men are human beings. They struggle with sexual temptation, with lust, with self-control—just like women do. They're 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 toxic ideology 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.
We also remove the possibility of healthy, appropriate, authentic male sexuality. Because if men believe that they truly cannot be trusted, they internalize a warped understanding of male sexuality and selfhood.
2. Patriarchy Structures Relationships around Hierarchy
Hierarchy does not foster healthy relationships. When men rule the home and church alone, 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, they forfeit a mutual 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 together? To use their gifts to edify each other? To sharpen each other in faith?
And what strength and honor is there in the husband who takes joy in the opportunities and giftedness of his wife?
What rewards might there be in a mutual relationship that are missing from a hierarchical marriage?
Men benefit from mutuality, both relationally and personally. With mutuality, there's room for failure and there's room to be human and vulnerable. Marriages 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.
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. But 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
Patriarchy takes a massive toll on men's souls. It's not good for men to sit at the top of the gender hierarchy. At least, it's not good for their souls.
Yes, men reap the benefits of power and privilege. It's their story that's told in history, their voice that's heard in church and in society, and it's their gifts that are exercised without restraint.
And yet, just as it was not good for man to be alone, I truly believe it's not good for man to lead alone. Our ability to live in community, to love and relate to others, to show humility are core parts of our humanity. And we lose some of that when we love our power and privilege too well.
I don’t want that for men. I want it to be well with their souls and relationships.
There are some people who will never agree that egalitarianism is good for men. They're determined to believe that the loss of unearned power and privilege is an unjust thing. They're determined to see all egalitarians as the enemies of men and masculinity.
To them I say: I understand that you 're 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 outside of hierarchy and privilege. As your sister in Christ, I truly want to see you free.