Masculinity in a world where men behave badly.

The bad behaviour of some prominent men in our lives and times has made for depressing media headlines in recent weeks. It has been easy for these predators to operate in a world where ‘sleazy’ behaviour is tolerated and media, in general, portrays relationships as dispensible and responsibilities within relationships as so ‘last century’.

I’ve read many articles on how we as a society want to protect our daughters from abusive behaviour by the opposite sex, but perhaps we should also be concerned for our sons and the negative impact of the so-called ‘masculinity crisis’ in their developing relationships.

In no way do I condone men misappropriating power or position to demean women in the workplace, socially, or at home, though I agree that we must draw a clear distinction between sexual aggression/violence and inappropriate behaviour.

In every ancient culture, there are harrowing tales of how women were ‘used’ by men solely for sexual pleasure and the provision of offspring. In the Bible, we read in the ‘Old Testament’ book of Esther, how women were treated badly by narcissistic King Xerxes for his own ends and even King David was caught up in a very well documented scandal involving the abuse of Bathsheba.

 

 

 

On a recent trip to India, we were shown many palaces of ancient Indian maharajas. Their multiple wives would be hidden from society, existing only for the pleasure and whim of the monarch himself.

Closer to home, King Henry V111 of England thought it acceptable for him to commit adultery, but later beheaded the unfortunate Catherine Howard for the same sin at the tender age of nineteen.

It’s taken many centuries of sacrifice and bravery to change the position of women in society. Jesus himself was counter-cultural in this respect, as he chose to associate with women and to honour them in His ministry. Jesus released Mary from household tasks for the more important business of learning. Jesus publically defends the ‘woman taken in adultery’ and saved her from certain stoning to death.

In many developing countries, some young girls are still not allowed the privilege of a basic education, but here in Great Britain, women are pressing for equality within the upper echelons of politics and corporate society.

Perhaps we will soon reach a position where women will truly equal men in all areas of life, and we will all live happily ever after?

In reality, the battle for equality between men and women has become rather ugly.

Many marriages fail because husbands and wives have become competitive over needs, wants, childcare responsibilities, household tasks, finances, job progression, even tiredness on a regular evening.

The age of male chivalry has all but gone. After all, we are all equal. No-one deserves a seat on a bus over another unless of course they have a disability or are elderly.

Women have become judgemental of and competitive with other women in their parenting. I remember vividly, on one occasion, desperately trying to complete my morning shift as a hospital doctor in order to get away in time for a concert at my son’s nursery school. The concert was scheduled for 15 minutes after I was due to finish work and the nursery school was five minutes drive away. I slipped around the back of the gathered crowd a few minutes after the scheduled start only to realise the concert was almost over. All the other parents had gathered early for the pre-concert lunch and the teacher had taken the decision to start proceedings early to ‘save the children getting bored’. No apology was offered to me, and as I sank into a seat to greet my son, the disapproving eyes of the ‘stay at home mums’ followed without mercy. I was a different breed of woman, the ‘career sort’ and this was my comeuppance it seemed. Women in professional circles, however, can be equally competitive in how they spend ‘quality time’ with their offspring with ever extravagant holidays and weekend treats being the order of the day.

But, there is another ugliness, and perhaps a more concerning one.

Masculinity itself is under attack.

 

Young boys are consistently under-performing in early years and primary education. (Moss and Washbrook. Understanding the Gender Gap in Literacy and Language Development) Significant differences in literacy and attention skills at school entry are maintained throughout school years, as measured at age 11 SATS tests and GCSE/A level performance.

Perhaps not surprisingly, less young men are pursuing higher education.

Hillman and Robinson in their report Boys to Men: The underachievement of young men in higher education, suggests that there is a significant difference in the ratio of men to women entering higher education in the UK.

“By the main UCAS deadline of mid-January 2016, 343,930 women and 249,790 men had applied – a difference of 94,140.2 This difference between application rates from men and women is the highest on record.”

While this report acknowledges that there are many other pressing inequalities (social class and ethnicity) within the current UK education system and that addressing gender inequality should not detract from the additional evidence that men typically earn more than women after entering professional life, they conclude that:

‘The widening gap between men and women is acting to stall progress in reducing inequality overall.’ UCAS, End of Cycle report 2015, December 2015

We are beginning to see the ramifications of such gender inequality in our UK professional workforce. In many medical schools in the UK, women outnumber men.

‘The number of women joining UK medical schools continues to outnumber men – our figures show that in 2012, 55% of medical students were female. However, the growth in the number of female medical students is slowing, from a peak of 61% in 2003. The overall increase in women joining the profession means that in just a few years, there will be more female than male doctors on the medical register’

GMC website, November 2017.

Researchers and UK education policymakers, fearing a backlash from the feminist movement, have chosen not to make specific provisions within education to address gender inequality, claiming that channelling most resources to schools operating in areas of highest social deprivation and disadvantage (Sharples, Slavin, Chambers, & Sharp, 2011), will allow earlier and better quality literacy-focused interventions and in turn, will have the best impact on the “learning, motivation, involvement and attainment of underperforming boys and girls” (DCSF, 2009).

In Australia, there have been similar trends in gender inequality within education and, interestingly, their policy discussions appear to have resulted in a more direct approach to tackling this problem with recommendations that schools need to make specific changes within curriculum and assessments towards those that favour boys.

In recent years, GCSE and A levels courses and exams have seen controversial changes designed to tackle the problem of ‘grade inflation’ (results improving year on year). Both these courses are now taught in a linear fashion with less coursework and tougher exams at the end. Boys have benefited indirectly from these changes with male students scoring more A* and A grades than female students for the first time since 2000, according to figures published by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ 2017).

UK policymakers have dismissed claims that changes to the school curriculum and exams could be beneficial, pointing instead to other potential influences on girls improved performance: better opportunities in the labour market for women; the increasing necessity of a double waged household; and the increased number of courses and places available within higher education. (Arnot, David, & Weiner, 1999; Machin & McNally, 2005). They justify their lack of direct intervention to address gender inequality quoting a systematic review by Sharples et al 2011 who concluded that “high-quality pedagogy, defined without reference to gender, has the most impact”.

No consideration appears to have been given to the work of David Whitebread, University of Cambridge (Faculty of Education) who, along with others, spearheaded the “Too Much Too Soon” campaign in 2013. They put forward strong research evidence which supported a later start to formal education. Whitebread argues for the importance of playful learning before formal schooling citing neuroscientific studies which demonstrate that playful activity leads to synaptic growth, especially in the frontal cortex with resulting cognitive benefits in problem-solving, memory, language and judgement. In addition, Whitebread points out that:

“Studies have compared groups of children in New Zealand who started formal literacy lessons at ages 5 and 7. Their results show that the early introduction of formal learning approaches to literacy does not improve children’s reading development, and may be damaging. By the age of 11, there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups, but the children who started at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later.”

That we, as adults, have allowed competition between genders to influence life chances for children is morally unacceptable. Boys and girls have different educational needs and we need an educational system which recognises and responds to these without bias.

Parenting boys is a different art to parenting girls.

God never intended men and women to compete for equality. He made them different.

This very conflict between genders was pronounced by God after Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden:

To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;

in pain you shall bring forth children.

Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,

but he shall rule over you.”

Genesis 3, 16. ESV.

It’s a deadly curse, but God never intended men and women relate to each other like this.

God made men and women as equals in the dignity of His image (Genesis 1,26). He instituted marriage at the beginning of time as recorded in Genesis, but only with the coming of Christ in the New Testament do we fully realise that all along, marriage was not simply a ‘good idea’, but a vision of God’s ultimate plan for Christ and His church.
Many Christians hold tenaciously to a biblical view of marriage, not because they want to offend others who hold secular views of marriage, but that for them marriage is made holy by God himself, The sacredness of Christ’s relationship with the church is what they defend.
It’s only when I understand marriage as a picture of the sacred that I can grasp the meaning of the rather archaic language used by St Paul in Ephesians to describe marriage:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.

Ephesians 5, 22-29.

God gives men and women different roles within marriage, but the context is one of deep sacrificial love and respect. The high ideal of mirroring a relationship with Christ and the church is no playground for competition, point scoring, selfish interest or abuse.
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It’s a model of male-female relationship which engenders respect, protects both genders from abuse and which is self-sacrificial.
Every marriage existing today which mirrors these values teaches young men and women self-worth, respect for each other, boundaries, and the true meaning of love.

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