Manly and Womanly Saints

A decade or so ago, I was asked to bring the prayer for the graduates of the two seminaries my sons attended. Near the end, I prayed “that the men gathered here today would be manly, and the women womanly.” I think it was gratifying to some hearers, puzzling to others, and downright disturbing to yet others. Was I stereotyping stupidly or endorsing “toxic” masculinity and femininity?

Both seminaries were decidedly complementarian and congenial toward the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which honors both men and women as equal in value and dignity, but says their assignments under God are not identical (cf. the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message, limiting the pastorate to men). But the question remains: “Are these biblical role assignments arbitrary or are they grounded in more than organizational prerequisites? What, if any, are the metaphysical bases for demarcated tasks?”

A prima facie case for a momentous, natural distinction can be built from such passages as Gen 1:27 (male & female creation), Dt 22:5 (God vs. cross-dressing), Prov 31 (description of a virtuous woman), Mt 5:9 (God addressed as “Father”), and 1 Cor 11 (contrasting hair styles). Of course, Mt 23:37 (Jesus’s hen-like passion) and Gal 3:28 (neither male nor female in Christ) are deployed to undercut this case. (The CBMW and CBE booths at ETS fill out the arguments.)

In my paper, I will argue that the preponderance of biblical witness commends a “manliness”/”womanliness” distinction, and that it is important to Evangelical witness in a world that’s losing its way over what Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield calls “gender nihilism” (a la Simone Beauvoir) in his book, Manliness (Yale). He concludes, “Women should be free to enter on careers but not compelled—yet they should also be expected to be women. And men should be expected, not merely free, to be manly.” (He argues that masculinity manifests itself in a willingness to sacrifice yourself to protect women.)

My prayer implied a gender essentialism, a version of which John Gray pushed in his best- seller, Women are from Venus; Men from Mars (Harper, 1992): “Not only do men and women communicate differently, but they think, feel, perceive, react, respond, love, need, and appreciate differently.” Of course, some argue that men, indeed, have a distinct nature, but that it’s baleful. (See, for instance, Emory anthropologist Melvin Konner’s Wall Street Journal column, “A Better World, Run by Women.”)

To sort things out, I’ll review the deliverances of a range of writers, “sacred” and “secular,” including C. S. Lewis, who wrote, “I can’t bear a ‘man’s man’ and a ‘woman’s woman’”; Doug Wilson who, in Future Men, called young boys “thunder puppies”; and Peggy Orenstein, whose Cinderella Ate My Daughter deplores the “girlie-girl” culture.

The issues are very much before us, not only among Evangelicals but in the world abroad. As for this paper, I propose to stick by my prayer, but with due explication and nuance.

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