Okay, well, that’s not going to happen, but..
The good news is that it all gets better, kids. With time. With Age. The women I know, in my generation–those who are happily married and even just those who have come to terms with the wonder of working and living on this beautiful orb–don’t measure existence with that narrow little peevish gauge called “feminism.” Likewise, I don’t know any confident men in the “he man, women-haters club.” Life is too short to meet our maker shouting, “I was true to my private parts!”
That’s not some unisex celebration either; I think truly happy people celebrate the differences between the sexes. The queerish middle is no solution. While this notion would never pass peer review with the bearded eunuchs at Wilfrid Laurier University, reasonable people will not embrace a future of ever-expanding pronouns and girly men. Similarly, the terms “bitch” and “Jezebel” are employed for a reason. Reasonable people understand why Hillary lost.
But the war between the sexes is ancient and real, and I’ve listened to enough troubled young feminist-leaning Christian women to think it might be useful to try to understand their beef. If you’re still reading, past “girly men” and “bitch,” it’s important for us all to understand why the Donald Trumps of the world rub some of these women the wrong way, and this is coming from a Donald Trump fan.
I think the first issue has something to do with the basic human need for liberty. We don’t like to be sent to our rooms. As a young parent, trying to discipline my children, I came to remember how awfully constricting childhood could be. My mother dragged me to rest homes, where she took care of old people. I had no choice in the matter. She purchased the food. She bought my clothes. She left me in the nursery with some dorky, mean kids.
Now my mother was as loving and as supportive as they come. She was just doing her job, and yet, as a child, you have to follow along; you have to stare at the wall and try to fall asleep while the older people are downstairs having cocktails and listening to the music.
I can almost hear a Mommy blogger out there asking the question, “is he comparing wives to children?” Only in this respect: we’re all obliged to embrace submission on some level, and it’s never easy. It’s the hardest balancing act of our lives. Most of the time you obey, and some of the time you actually load a musket and fire at the king’s soldiers. There are limits to all authority and simply knowing that obedience is never absolute constitutes a liberation all its own. Consider President Trump’s first year in office: it’s a pretty thick scrapbook of push-back, some of it a tribute to our system of checks and balances, and most of it peevish and inappropriate rebellion.
That’s where feminism deserves a reminder. Just because you loathe the swaggering, male confidence of that SWAT team leader next door, doesn’t mean we leave the crack house at the end of the block to fester and burn. Somebody has to clear it out. Disliking authority is one thing; claiming it shouldn’t exist is anarchy.
When my wife and I became parents, we made the decision that sending our children to public school was, at the very best, a risky proposition. If we didn’t want our values more or less systematically denigrated on a daily basis, we had to take some control of their education. Looking back, I think our decision was wise. But in the process of exploring the Christian home school movement, and, in our case, attempting to portray 18th century life, we were exposed to a lot of truth, and some spectacular error. It’s truly depressing to make an inventory of the failed experiments: Bill Gothard, The Duggar Family, Doug Phillips, R.C. Sproul Jr. In many cases, the hyper-modesty, hyper-patriarchy movement veiled some real misogyny. Some men used their Biblical role as leader of their homes to prop up personal insecurities. (In a few cases, it was a war between a little Caesar and a flaming shrew.) For all of the spectacularly public failures, there were examples closer to home as well. Divorce, alcoholism, pornography, and even gender confusion can make the “City on a Hill” look pretty silly. I refer to this next example a lot, but its emblematic: one Baptist man scolded me for having a beer at a colonial living history event, even as he was conducting an internet affair and cheating on his wife.
Unfortunately, these stories can become the pretext for falling into feminism and progressive politics on the rebound, which, obviously, is just trading one demon for another. No one ever said empire building would be easy, but it must proceed, even as it learns its lessons: authority has its limits and legalism needs to be crushed in its tracks.
I’m convinced, on some level, men and women envy each other’s goodies and privileges. I noted an example earlier this week: some of the women who enjoyed dating older men when they were young, have visceral contempt for men dating younger women, later in life. I have a good friend in his forties who, I believe, wants to find a woman in her twenties. I know some very strong older women who are not threatened by this, but the animosity I think this stirs in others would be hilarious if it were not so brutal. How would a man hope to have children, ladies, if he made the mistake of not marrying young? Is that sort of resentment really fair? And no, please don’t pull the Woody Allen card. We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about the utterly natural reality of older men, within reason, dating younger women. It appears to be part of the natural order, and yet it fires some sort of ancient female rage. Take the Katharine Hepburn approach ladies: fall in love with the universe; don’t go to war against it.
My mother’s complaints were good-natured on this front: “Why is it the men all end up looking more distinguished and the women end up looking just… old?” Science and fitness seem to be helping on this front, ladies. Some of my female friends in their fifties look like they’re in their thirties. My wife looks hot in her jazzercise gear. If we don’t all mess this up by starting a hot battle between the sexes, life will continue getting better for all of us.
The resentment goes the other way as well. I can remember, as a little boy, harboring resentment when I heard the words, “let her go first; she’s a little girl.” I can remember thinking: “why?” The western, Christian impulse to cherish and protect women, even in this age of hair-in-the-pits feminism has some odd artifacts. No one laments body-shaming Chris Christie, but no one can discuss a woman’s looks, or her clothing, or they run the risk of being thought a misogynist in a way that wouldn’t apply to a woman making the same observations about a man. I think we’re at a crossroads. We either continue to see women as “ladies,” or we descend to a vulgar egalitarianism.
I’m convinced that men and women will never understand each other’s sexuality. Male desire is seen, by women, as indiscriminate and irritating most of the time, necessary some of the time, and wholly subordinate to “love” in a way that makes it a step child. For every thousand sermons on love, there will be maybe one (or more likely none) on the raw beautiful power of good sex for good sex’s sake. That’s why pornography and sex robots will likely be on the rise until the church rediscovers the actual Song of Solomon and not the Hallmark version. (The devil is laughing his head off at this: “I pulled off a good one with false holiness, didn’t I, Wormwood??”)
Likewise, I think some men allow themselves to become embittered by this battle and these misunderstandings. (“Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.”) We can’t understand the version of sex that requires your body to house another human being in its most vulnerable state for nine months, the sort of love that swells your breasts and thickens your feet and leaves you clinically depressed. Sex can be a romp for women, but it can also be a lifelong emotional voyage. I’m convinced, as men, we can laud motherhood as poets, but we can’t completely understand the sort of love that left my own mother weeping thirty years after the death of her daughter. I love my children, but my wife is on the phone with them three dozen times a day.
The Good News
I go back to the good news. As a man whose children are almost out of the house, as a man who has come to truly enjoy the intelligence and charm of hundreds of women, as a man whose best friend, by far, remains his wife, I can tell you the battle ends well, if we show each other a little grace.