Gender Wars (part 1)

This is a note I posted on Facebook some months ago. It sparked some good conversation, so I post it here. ~ Sarah

A chiseled-faced young man stands in the center of a basement room that is heavy with testosterone and sweat. The others around him wear suits by day, as they wander purposelessly among their cubicles. Tonight they have stripped to their undershirts, and they are alive.

Tyler Durden opens his mouth:

Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. [Blast] it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy [junk] we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very [teed] off.

I cannot recommend the book or movie The Fight Club to the casual consumer, since they are full of some remarkably foul language and imagery, but that one scene plows to the roots of an ill that is choking the life out of many Western young men.

They have no wars.

On a homestead on the great midwestern prairies in the 19th century, there was little time to talk about men’s and women’s roles. The man, being much the strongest, did the lion’s share of work uprooting stumps and plowing fields from dawn to dusk. The woman also worked long days, turning produce and animal products into food and clothing for her family. Both jobs were absolutely crucial, and the division of labor made sense on the earthiest level.

By 1890, the American frontier had reached the Pacific coast, and lawmakers followed in its passing. Thus the lore of the cowboy movie, the genre in which the solitary figure steps into chaos and works justice, only to pass on into the sunset. This wild man cannot live in the domestication that follows—symbolic of the overall movement of the society of the time.

World wars in the early and mid-20th century focused generations of men at the same time as they tore them apart. But afterwards, a restlessness started to settle in. While the men had gone to war, the women had gone to work, and the women saw no pragmatic reason to put everything back the way it had been. A man’s strength was not as necessary for factory work. And the products made by the factories eliminated much of the heavy home labor that had made a woman’s presence there so crucial to a family’s survival.

Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq have drawn some men since, but it is not the same. The ones that go do not receive a hero’s laud on return. They are often ignored entirely and left to nurse their wounds in solitude.

In the domesticated American culture of the 21st century, on first appearances, I can see little that would tickle the imagination of a man. Even if he has been granted the now-rare gift of visualizing manhood in the life of a strong father, men today do not feel the weight of the plow on their shoulders, and theirs alone.

Of course, the initial look is deceptive. Outside our shores, powerful enemies who would love to destroy us are gathering their forces. Men need to be ready; their time may well come, to the horror and sorrow of us all.

But meanwhile, in the case of peacetime, what now? How to live in the pragmatic everyday?

In the need to maintain godly male leadership in the family and in the church, I believe that some elements of Christian culture have overreacted. They mix components of 1950s America, Victorian-era England, and the era of Romantic chivalry into a law-based stricture that defines exactly how they think men and women should be. Boys hunt. Girls sew. Even though, in our Western day and age, we technically need neither hunting nor sewing in our daily lives.

The truth is that a spiritual war wages all around us. It is a war in which love has already conquered death, but in which each and every Christian must strive by grace to image that victory every single day. In this spiritual realm, just like on the prairies of the 19th century, both men and women face a real struggle for survival, side by side.

Right now, while we are fussing over whether God wants little boys or little girls to take out the trash, we live among millions—billions—of people in our generation who do not know Jesus Christ. Since Jesus has not defined in His holy Scripture exactly how a husband and wife’s leadership and submission will look in their relationship, anything we add on to His Word will not reveal Christ to the world around us. Carefully whitewashing the outside of our relationships will only distract us from what God actually cares about.

God cares that the Goth kids hanging out on the street corner are enslaved to Wicca and cutting themselves to let out the pain of their abusive or neglectful families. God cares that Korean women who flee a Communist tyrant find only lives of near-slavery in China. God cares that small boys are kidnapped and forced to kill other small boys in Africa as the pawns of cruel men. God cares very, very much that husbands and wives who claim His name will declare His holy covenant in their marriage null and void.

When we see how God sees, there are more than enough wars to enliven both men and women in our generation.

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