Rebuilding the social grammar of masculinity
To restore men’s confidence in what it means to be men, we must re-establish the kind of tacit cues that other cultures have taken for granted as shaping masculine (and feminine) expression.
In building a positive theology of manhood, a significant task is mapping the boundaries between men and women. This also naturally results in mapping the boundaries of effeminacy.
The Bible speaks of malakia (effeminacy or softness) as gross sin that excludes us from God’s kingdom:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10, LSB)
Paul speaks as if the nature of effeminacy is obvious. The fact that we have lost the ability to easily identify it in our culture—that we are, indeed, generally shocked or amused at the very idea that a man might be (or feel like) a malakos, a soft man—is a central problem. Paul says that malakoi will not inherit the kingdom of God. He treated being effeminate as something gross enough to prevent you entering the kingdom. Our culture, by contrast, treats the recognition or condemnation of effeminacy as something gross enough to prevent you entering polite society—as evidenced by the removal of effeminacy itself from most translations of 1 Corinthians 6:9.
Thus, when we raise this issue, most Christians immediately push back. They want to qualify. They want nuance. They start bemoaning what all enlightened 21st-century westerners “know:” that it’s just impossible to be sure what constitutes softness in men. Who is to say that a garment or a mannerism or a hobby is soft? We need to reason it through so carefully. We need to make very sure we can set clear boundaries and rigorously demonstrate them propositionally. We must be able to define softness in order to know it.
They do what every rational, Enlightenment-educated person does when seeking to understand something: scientific reductionism. They break it down into its component parts to measure and analyze.
This silk blouse is soft and effeminate, you say? How dare you sir—I have news for you! I have tested every thread of this blouse, and discovered that each one by weight is stronger than steel! Steel I say—is that soft?! And the buttons—pure ivory. What do you think of that then? From an elephant, no less. An African bull elephant. Tore up a tree with those tusks right before it was shot—by a man mind you, with a rifle and a mustache. So you see sir, we have found no softness or effeminacy here at all.
Right, but you didn’t find a blouse either.
Strangely, when it comes to other aesthetic matters that relate to sexual sin, modern Christians are quite confident in their powers of discernment without the need for careful definition or argument, and quite unconcerned about being too cautious about edge cases. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was famously unable to define pornography, yet claimed, “I know it when I see it.” Any modern Christian would agree—yet cannot know effeminacy when he sees it.
Subjective gender expression grows out of objective sexual nature
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