Toxic Masculinity & Our Use of Pronouns

by the Revd Canon Rosie Harper, Chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham

Rosie Haarper

Archbishop Justin has some gay friends. He knows them and likes them, and indeed he thinks their relationships are fabulous. So it’s not personal. There is however a way of treating gay people in the Church which has been normalised. There is a level of emotional, spiritual a and verbal abuse which is woven into the fabric of the institution. It  almost feels as if there is a fault line in human nature which cannot be changed. The latest flurry over “Living in Love and Faith” (aka the Teaching Document), we hear, is about the fact it is all happening on the condition that the status quo is upheld.

Well, I’m feeling the same about men!

I know some fabulous men. People I admire, respect and love as individuals. This week however, has left me thinking that gender wars are at the root of most of the evil in the world. I am experiencing a sort of despair. There has been a perfect storm.

I  really struggled with my reaction to the unfolding story in America around the appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Virtually everyone knows that Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth, but they still went ahead and appointed Kavanaugh.

In a way we are familiar with the politicalisation  of patriarchy in the Republican Party. What dug the knife in though was the role of the Conservative Christian lobby.

As an email I received from Faith America on October 7th usefully summarised:

‘Franklin Graham said attempted rape was “not relevant.

Jerry Falwell Jr. bussed hundreds of Liberty University students to Capitol Hill to rally in support of Kavanaugh as Christine Blasey Ford testified.

An official at Catholic University tweeted that one of Kavanaugh’s accusers should be treated as a “perp,” not a victim.

If you want to understand why Republicans are voting lockstep to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, look no further than the religious right.

For decades conservatives having been telling Christians to vote Republican because of sexual morality. It’s time to end the charade.’

There is a not a calm, measured way to react to this stuff. I’m sorry, but it makes me want to vomit.

In case you think it’s just Christians, The Times reported (8/10/2019) that Amazon has a scheme that supports the extremist Muslim cleric Haritha al Haddad who condones child marriage, FGM, and stoning people for adultery. He naturally believes that women should remain in the home and not have independence or complain when their husbands beat them.

Ironically in the same edition of the paper there is a report on research that shows that the quality and quantity of men’s sperm is falling so rapidly that were it to continue the future of the human race would be in doubt. Too many pies it seems!

Does it HAVE to be like this?

Is this actually what the story of Genesis is all about? Are we being given an insight into the root cause of so much of our cruelty and suffering?

What most women experience is that “toxic masculinity” has invaded our families , our workplaces, our schools, our politics  and our churches. Patriarchal ideologies are the norm. The Church has been horribly silent in the face of violence and abuse against women. We don’t talk about it even though in our congregations there will be many, some say 87% of women who have experienced some form of harassment, and one in 6 who have been the victim of rape or attempted rape.

Why? Why when our message is about love and transformation and healing, is the Church not the one place where things are different? The one place where we can model a way of justice and equality. It’s all in the bible after all.

Deep breath. But I’m going to say it……

It’s because “God is male”.

At the deepest level we have chosen to create an image of God which colludes with the toxicity of male dominance. So much religious language is violent. It is about heroic leadership, Kingship, subjection, dominance. It’s about who wins and who looses. It’s about punishment and reward. There are wars, physical and spiritual. Every level of oppressive patriarchy is right there in our holy text.

Of course I hear our feminist theologians. You don’t have to read it that way, but we do. Instead of turning the script on it’s head we use it to reinforce male dominance at every turn.

This is about so much more than making a few women bishops. This asks us all if there is a way in which Christianity can be so counter-cultural that inhabits a universe that is free form gender war at every level.

To even begin to make that happen we need to talk about pronouns.

While God goes on being caricatured as ‘he’ the conversation cannot even begin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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16 Responses to Toxic Masculinity & Our Use of Pronouns

  1. iveson47 says:

    When I see that the Episcopal Church is going to rewrite their prayer book to use inclusive language I’m glad I will have passed away by then.Give me traditional language and traditionalist theology.

    Like

    • kevinwscott says:

      Uhu? So God really is male then? So that makes me more like God than a woman can ever be?
      Glad I’ve got that straight now.

      Like

  2. Brenda Wallace says:

    Well written! Keep on fighting! But what a shame it has to be such a battle to overcome this innate sexism in our Christian faith – which is contrary to the teaching of Jesus, and indeed contrary to St. Paul, although many think otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gareth Lloyd says:

    Excellent piece Rosie, well argued and timely. Sadly, also very necessary (as your first comment shows!)
    Give me the radically untraditional theology and life of Jesus, full of grace and truth …

    Liked by 1 person

  4. David Payne says:

    In my confirmation class back in 1963 we were asked by our priest how could a girl who had been sexually abused by her father could pray the Lord’s Prayer? The answer given was that as God is she could rightly pray “Our Mother in Heaven…”

    I personally do not find this totally acceptable but if it is helpful to the individual, then I do not object.

    However, I accept that our understanding of God is constrained by our language and culture. God is neither male nor female and my, and others, understanding of the world and creation is far removed from that recorded in either the Hebrew or New Testament accounts.
    Imagery found in art and our churches and Cathedrals tends to support and promote a ‘traditional’ and historical portrayal of both God and Jesus which I find unhelpful.

    God is beyond definition, God is Spirit.

    Christianity has, and is being, abused, often for political purposes. Remember Jesus did not die as a Christian. He did not found a new religion. He wanted to reform and develop prevailing religous thought and apply it to everyday practical living.

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  5. Ian Tulloch says:

    So how do we deal with the feminine aspects of God ?
    “Our Mother who art in heaven” ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Payne says:

      Within holy scripture aspects of God can be determined as both masculine and feminine.

      Whether we describe ourselves as male or female we all, to various degrees, have traits of the opposite gender. God is neither male or female but genderless.

      We often refer to Mother Earth, but we know that our planet Is neither male or female.
      Some folk refer to their cars as ‘she’ but cars are genderless.

      So, if some folk find it helpful to refer to God as ‘Mother’ then let them. I’m sure God doesn’t worry how we refer to him/her/thy/it

      The traditional ‘Father’ reference to the Godhead can sometimes seem a bit distant and detached. In the modern liturgy of the Church in Wales the Lord’s Prayer petition translates as ‘Our Dad in Heaven” indicating a closer loving relationship.

      An inclusive, radical, and loving approach embraces and acknowledges all aspects and descriptions,and surpasses constraints of language in our corporate worship and personal relationship with the ‘oneness’ of God.

      Like

  6. Richard Lamey says:

    This is a challenging and thoughtful article let down by the aside about male infertility. You treat what is often a personal tragedy as something laughable, as if masculinity ties in only with the ability to make babies. I have spoken to enough couples who couldn’t conceive to know how painful and difficult this is. When a couple come to talk to you about their sadness, I hope you say more than “Your fault for eating too many pies.” (If nothing else it is often a deep sadness for women as well as men.)

    Like

    • Kirstin says:

      Isn’t it strange how a man picks up on a comment, backed up by the article referred to, and diverts the topic away from how women are treated to how men are being treated.
      I am sorry Richard, maybe you are not aware what you have just done, but you have done it.
      The way women are treated is a personal tragedy, the language used is deeply harmful, the way some men react when women speak out it destructive and extremely unhelpful to anyone, male or female.
      You are using the language of the person who blames the women’s clothing for being raped, the woman’s possibility of getting pregnant fot not getting a promotion, a women’s choice of words as a symbol of her being less than you, a man are.
      The article clearly says, did you read it, that bad diet is a factor in low sperm count. To suggest for one second Rosie might say that to an infertile couple is utterly outrageous.

      Like

  7. Pingback: Opinion – 10 October 2018 – Thinking Anglicans

  8. Esther says:

    Yes, yes, yes.
    Thank you Rosie. This gives me hope.

    Like

  9. Kirstin says:

    The language we use for God, including but not exclusive to male pronoun and masculine toxicity, is in my opinion the churches biggest millstone.

    Like

  10. Sylvia Earle says:

    Yesterday two 12 year old boys at Confirmation preparation asked me if God was male, female or gender neutral. They questioned the default use of ‘he’ . We had a discussion about reducing God to human terms and the historic assumptions equating power and authority with with masculinity.

    Like

  11. Ken says:

    Whether God is a he depends on what your religion is based on. The original Hebrew and Greek of the JudeoChristian bible uses a male pronoun to refer to God. If you disagree with the Bible, that is your well-deserved right. However, this argument does not really address how one group of people (male) treat another group of people (female). The Bible does not teach men to mistreat women. They figured that out on their own. In fact the Bible teaches respect and submission to each other (both sexes, both ways).
    It seems a better question in today’s society would be is there such thing as gender. If a person can be anywhere along the “gender” spectrum, including fluid, then the Bible is irrelevant. That means there is no absolutes. Therefore “I” can choose whatever “I” want to believe and do whether “you” like it or not.
    In the Bible, we are told of several incidents where the devil misquoted or twisted scripture to deceive someone and lead them into something God never intended. Why would that be any different today? The Bible teaches that every human being is responsible for their own actions. That means men are, and have always been, responsible for their actions. So are women.
    I believe there are two other culprits, different from what the author says. The first is “might makes right”. Most men tend to be physically stronger than women, and also seem to be better at intimidation. Their “might” has been used throughout history to make them “right”. That idea has always been a lie that’s used as truth.
    Then we have the hero Hugh Hefner who fathered the modern pornography problem. He used sexuality to make money. Hefner had sex with a teenager or early twenty-something every night for his entire long life, (even after he got married). Yet the world idolized him to the tune of several billions dollars. Not only has pornography overrun the globe, so has all versions of sexuality. And the more someone pays attention to something, the stronger it gets in their life.
    Are you sure you want to blame God for how humans act?

    Like

    • When scripture is translated into, say Basque or Turkish, is it being untrue to the Bible to simply use the gender-neutral third person pronoun those languages (and Chinese etc) have as normal, or should be be insisting that there is a ‘properly gendered’ version or gloss invented in order to convey the Bible’s original language more correctly?

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  12. Heather-Joy Garrett says:

    Good piece Rosie and one I am happy to support 100%. For what it is worth the one thing the church could do to start the necessary change is to stop ordaining men who refuse to accept women as priests. Let the old guard work their years out but do not consider them for promotion so they line manage anyone one who disagrees with them. The mixed messages start for me when the church continues to allow these men to be ordained. It is like a kick in the teeth every time and undermines equality.

    Like

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