I’ve been going it alone as a parent for the past week, while my husband helps his eldest son move from Seattle to Washington, D.C. The boys and I have survived, mostly on weeks-old parade candy and a Slurpee now and then. In a moment of weakness, I even bought them $1 Nerf guns at a garage sale, and have regretted it ever since: I hate guns of any kind, hate that they are played with as toys when they have caused so much real damage. I made my kids listen to a lecture about guns yesterday before I let them play, thereby destroying the fun of whatever game they’d set up. (I was also appalled by this Christian justification for a woman carrying a gun while she runs. I don’t pack a handgun, even though I run in remote areas, as the writer does. I do pack my feminist pit bull, Nellie, which seems a far safer and saner alternative to carrying heat on the run.)
Anyway, I miss having my husband around, because of all the stuff he does to make my life easier, like loading and unloading the dishwasher and keeping the boys quiet when I want to take my afternoon nap. And while Ron’s been away, I’ve also read a good bit about biblical manhood, trying to wrap my mind around what defines manhood, what makes it biblical, and why so many churches these days are concerned about the “feminizing” of Christianity and the need to make churches manly again.
While I was trying to find a definition of biblical manhood, I stumbled across a GQ article from earlier this year that listed the manliest cities in America. I knew I was on to something: the key to my comprehending manhood might reside in my understanding of just what makes a city manly. What I found in the article is that Louisville, KY, is the most manly city in our country, and what makes it manly is its horse racing, its bourbon, and its baseball. (But wait—is there even a professional league team in Louisville? Don’t they just make those bats?).
Another survey ranked Louisville far lower in its manly quotient: 31st, in fact. The Mars Company, maker of candy bars and Combos, the pizza pretzel snack, completed its study of manliness and found that in 2012, Nashville was the most manly city in America, because of its NASCAR fans, its many hunters and fishers, and its BBQ tradition. Portland, the metropolitan area nearest my small town, ranked 47th out of 50th for manliness, beating only those girly cities of San Francisco (too many gays, I presume), Los Angeles (where, I suppose, men getting makeovers and pedicures knocked them down to 49th place), and New York City (hello, femmy theatre). Really, I wasn’t that surprised about Portland’s ranking. Hipsters who wear skinny jeans, drink microbrews, and sport gage earrings are definitely not manly.
So how do these surveys decide on what’s manly and what’s not? According to one article, the criteria for manliness include whether there are professional sports teams in the city, as well as NASCAR and drag strips, horse racing venues, and monster truck events. They also analyzed the “manly lifestyle” of each city, including whether the guys drove US-made cars or foreign vehicles, whether there were woodworkers and home improvement communities, and whether the populace rode motorcycles or fix-geared bikes (the latter, definitely not manly). And oh, it was important to measure salty snack consumption in each city, because manly men eat a lot of snacks in the “salty snack/cracker” retail category, like–I presume–Combos pretzels. Once again, Portland loses: I mean, eating Pan Asian Mexican fusion food from a cart isn’t very manly now, is it?
When you think about it, defining a city as manly because of its snack consumption, its US-made car drivers, or even its interest in hunting seems downright silly. I think of the men in my life, who mostly drive foreign cars and who probably wouldn’t know NASCAR from whatever that other car racing circuit is, and can’t imagine telling them that because they don’t fit these criteria, they are somehow lacking an essential quality those folks down in Nashville have. That because my husband avoids most salty snacks (except for those surely more feminine pretzel sticks), and because he prefers loading and emptying the dishwasher, he is somehow less manly than the jeep-driven’, pork rind eatin’ hunter living on the next block.
But isn’t that exactly what proponents of biblical manhood do? Derive a number of criteria about what makes a man, drawn from their interpretation of a few hand-picked biblical verses, and argue that these criteria are an essential part of being born male? So that real men are outspoken leaders in the church and home, and avoid passivity at any cost. Real men are aggressive in getting what they want, pursuing their goals and God with the same fervor. Real men are physically strong, and enjoy cage fighting and tribal rituals. Real men are warriors. Real men eat salty snacks. (Heck, even the bread at the last supper was probably tater skins in disguise.)
We’ve spent the last year writing about the messages Christian popular culture sends women about who or what they are supposed to be. The messages sent to Christian men are equally problematic, as they can limit men from pursuing the gifts they’ve been given—especially if those gifts aren’t necessarily those defined by the biblical manhood movement as something a “real man” should be doing. It seems that following God should allow us the freedom, both as men and as women, to become all that God meant for us to be. Following some definition of manliness, culled from a narrow interpretation of the Bible, seems almost as silly as following a definition created by a company trying to sell its salty snacks.