The Thinking 

The Hypocrisy of Christian Men’s Rights

July 9, 2012


A BELATED comment has been added to the recent thread on men’s rights. Jesse Powell responds to a reader who defends the idea of a Christian men’s rights movement. Mr. Powell writes:

Is the very idea of a “Christian MRA” an oxymoron? I tend to think so. It’s like being a Christian narcissist. Is there any such thing as a Christian narcissist? Somehow I’m thinking that narcissism doesn’t mix with “obeying God” very easily. The main claim to legitimacy of the Christian MRAs is that they are attacking the feminist heresies within the Christian Church. This might well be true but anybody within the church can attack feminist heresies, you don’t have to be an “MRA” to attack feminist heresies. The whole point of being an MRA is to advocate for “men’s rights”; I don’t see how such a fixation or agenda fits with Christianity that after all has an overall message to teach that has already been thoroughly worked out and developed over hundreds of years. Why not be a Christian defending the doctrine against manipulative feminist interpretations and arguments, why be a “Christian MRA” instead?

MRAs are notoriously manipulative and they put great effort into making their arguments sound reasonable but as soon as you shove male responsibility into an MRA’s face they become hysterical and full of rage. I somehow suspect that “Christian MRAs” talk a hell of a lot about wifely obedience but not about much else. They probably don’t emphasize much that “Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church.” I also suspect that they put very little focus on how to create a good environment to raise children in and put a lot of focus on the power struggle between men and women decrying all the different power strategies that women use in a marital context. I suspect that the orientation of “male narcissism” fits with Christian MRAs just like it fits with MRAs in general.

There appears to be a whole network of “Christian MRA” blogs.

                                                    — Comments —

A reader writes:

Jesse Powell’s idea of unconditional support for chivalry is wrong-headed.

Under the chivalric code of the medieval ages, you would search in vain for a knight who would provide for and protect a woman while being the recipient of degrading treatment from her. That would be absurd and humiliating.

In Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio refuses to provide for his misbehaving wife Katharina: he will not allow her to eat.

“Chivalry is an immutable and fundamental part of the ethical man’s identity and purpose.”

Chivalry is a behaviour, one which is not appropriate in all circumstances. Look at how Jesus dealt with the transgressors in the Temple. Self-respect should be a non-negotiable part of a man’s identity.

Society’s unique combination of feminism and technocracy allows women to thumb their noses at men by giving them provision and protection apart from men.

Laura writes:

Yes, of course, the ideal of chivalry does not imply acquiescence to everything women want. Has it ever meant that?

I assume Mr. Powell means that even though there is now general approval of outrageous injustices against men in the name of feminism, the general rule of men protecting and providing for women is not invalid.

Mr Powell writes:

First of all, when I refer to “chivalry” I am referring to the commonly understood meaning of that word today; I am not referring to anything in the Middle Ages or any “chivalric codes” that may have been developed in the distant past. Also I mean for the concept of “chivalry” to be specifically applied to how men treat women. “Chivalry” is not synonymous with “civility” and it is not a general concept of the strong protecting the weak; it is specific to how men should treat and regard women (in how I’m using the term). Chivalry translates as “men have a duty to provide for and protect women.”

Men’s chivalry is based on men acting on the behalf of women in a guardian type of relationship. The purpose of male chivalry is not female approval but men’s honor. Men impose the chivalrous obligation upon other men; women are not the ones who determine what chivalry consists of or what the chivalrous duty entails.

The reason why I always insist that the chivalrous duty is valid regardless of the cultural or legal circumstances of a society at any point in time is because chivalry is indeed a fundamental ethic and principle that is valid and important at all times in all circumstances.

There are certain constants regarding what is right, the relationship between men and women, and how a society is organized. Women always need to be provided for and protected by men. This is true because women bear and raise children, an activity that needs to be done in a sheltered environment; men being the ones who provide the needed shelter. Men are always the ones who provide the social organization and rules for a society. Men are always more powerful than women as a collective; this is because of the intrinsic strengths men have regarding the ability to work together as a team, abstract thinking and depersonalization, and the willingness to face danger and sacrifice themselves for the benefit of the larger whole.

Men and women are intrinsically different from each other and these differences are what produce the appropriate moral behavior of men and the appropriate moral behavior of women and in addition the appropriate model of interaction and interdependency between men and women. Chivalry is a core part of the appropriate interaction between men and women; it is a core part of the appropriate male role.

The intrinsic characteristics of men and women and the resulting social rules that are the byproducts of the intrinsic differences between men and women are true and present at all times in all societies under all circumstances; they are constant and immutable. Chivalry is part of the constellation of ethical virtues of this nature; it is something that is always necessary regardless of the circumstances.

The pathologies a society may experience do not invalidate what are the fundamental moral rules of life; chivalry being one of these fundamental moral rules of life. This is because life has an underlying structure and nature regardless of what pathologies are happening on the surface. The foundations of life are always present; this is why the moral obligations that are derivative of these foundations of life must always be obeyed.

For a Christian perspective I recommend this short video of Doug Wilson talking about Inescapable Headship. Just as Doug Wilson explains “Inescapable Headship” I would say that at the same time there is also “Inescapable Chivalry:”

Question: Doug, you’ve written in your book on reforming marriage, you’ve talked about the nature of headship and authority in the home, and I think the phrase that you use is that there’s Inescapable Leadership in that if you understand the indicative nature of what’s being said about man being the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church. Talk a little bit about that, and then how does that transfer over into the realm of the pastor and the church?

Doug Wilson: It’s interesting that Paul for example doesn’t tell husbands to be the head of their wives; they are the head of the wife. “The husband is the head of the wife” he says. The command is to love your wives. Husbands can love their wives or not. When a man disobeys he is unloving, when a man is obedient he is loving. But a man can’t disobey in such a way as to not be the head. He’s inescapably the head, so if he abdicates or if he runs away, if he runs off with another woman, the empty seat at the dinner table in that family is dominating that whole family, it becomes that family’s story. His headship, his abdication, his infidelity, are all examples of twisted or bent headship but it’s headship, it’s really influential, it has a huge impact on his wife, on the kids, and so forth. So he can’t opt out, he can’t shrink away and say “Well, I’m going to be a nullity in this family, I’m going to be inconsequential.” He can’t do that. He can say “I will not love, I will not praise, I will not sacrifice.” He can be disobedient, but he can’t be disobedient to the point of ceasing to be the man, ceasing to be the husband, ceasing to be the father.

A reader writes:

Regarding your discussion of chivalry, Henry James has an interesting passage:

“… still, it worked an appreciable revolution in his view of his case, and made him ask himself what amount of consideration he should (from the most refined Southern point of view), owe Miss Chancellor in the event of his deciding to go after Verena Tarrant in earnest. He was not slow to decide that he owed her none. Chivalry had to do with one’s relations with people one hated, not with those one loved. He didn’t hate poor Miss Olive, though she might make him yet; and even if he did, any chivalry was all moonshine which should require him to give up the girl he adored in order that his third cousin should see he could be gallant. Chivalry was forbearance and generosity with regard to the weak; and there was nothing weak about Miss Olive, she was a fighting woman, and she would fight him to the death, giving him not an inch of odds. He felt that she was fighting there all day long, in her cottage-fortress; her resistance was in the air he breathed…”

The Bostonians, Chapter 38.

The very image of Southern gentility, Basil Ransom concludes he owes no gallantry to an enemy sworn to the destruction of the civilization he holds dear, to the capture of the woman he desires for a cause he abhors. To give a bit of background for your readers, Basil Ransom is a charming, steadfast traditionalist, most notably in his opposition to feminism.

Jesse Powell is claiming the mantle of traditionalism in his endorsement of undiscriminating chivalry. Basil Ransom would seem to disagree, and I with him.

I hope to write more on this but for now, I see it thus: The proper exercise of the chivalry imagined by Powell requires a certain context mostly absent from the modern West. Many of your readers would agree that some societies may currently lack the qualities needed to make democracy an appropriate form of governance. I see chivalry in the same fashion – that most modern Western women are not constituted so as to make chivalry an appropriate course of action.

And perhaps it is through no fault of their own. Regardless, as a man, one wouldn’t extend his kindness repeatedly where it wasn’t appreciated, and I fail to see why an exception should be made when men relate to women.

Laura writes:

The reader above has misrepresented, or perhaps misunderstood, both Mr. Powell’s words and the actions and thoughts of Henry James’s character.

First, to repeat, Mr. Powell did not say men owe women “kindness,” although clearly he does think kindness is important. He did not say men should concede to all the desires and wishes of women. He said men have the duty to provide for and protect women. Men are naturally, whether they wish it or not, in a position of authority vis-a-vis women. Part of providing for and protecting others, part of possessing authority, is not consenting to all the wishes of those who are provided for and protected.

Basil Ransom is an excellent example of the sort of chivalry Mr. Powell endorses. Basil does insist on superficial kindness to women everywhere and at all times. He is always deferential in his manners, even when acutely critical of a woman’s actions and even when inwardly he rejects her. He is consummately aware of his innate authority as a man.

The reader above missed one of Ransom’s most important statements in the passage cited:

Chivalry had to do with one’s relations with people one hated, not with those one loved. [emphasis added]

This is utterly contrary to the men’s rights idea that chivalry is dead because some women have behaved badly. Chivalry as a code of manners protects a man’s honor. A man can always be honorable even when dealing with his enemies. And chivalry guards his behavior when he is in relations with those he despises.

Olive is too pathetic, however, to hate, and he intends to cut off their relations entirely.  Olive wishes to block his pursuit of Verena for selfish reasons and does not have the best interests of Verena at heart. Although Basil does not hate Olive, he owes her nothing but the superficial gallantry he has always extended to her. He will not accede to her desires even though she is his cousin.

I think I can speak for Mr. Powell and say that when he refers to chivalry he does not mean that a man must concede to people like Olive Chancellor when they have designs against him. There are good women and bad women. A man is bound to protect them all, but he is not bound to be led by women or to encourage bad women in their projects to destroy others.

Ransom succeeds. He wins Verena. Why? Well, because Henry James adores him. Ransom is the walking embodiment of Southern chivalry and its innate authority. At the same time, he is a sworn enemy of all the forces in the modern world which seek to make geldings of men.

Mary writes:

Jesse Powell wrote: “The pathologies a society may experience do not invalidate what are the fundamental moral rules of life; chivalry being one of these fundamental moral rules of life.”

Feminism, being one of those pathologies a society may experience, is an artificial and transient construct. By reacting to feminism as if it were instead women’s normal and permanent state the MRA’s only serve to confirm it, to legitimize it, and probably to perpetuate it since they increase rather than resolve conflict between the sexes. They seem unaware of this, and consequently are also unaware that by this reaction, they not only don’t help matters but have created a new societal pathology of their own- the MRM.

Only by adhering to a life based on fundamental moral rules will men retain their natural authority. Men’s natural authority is balanced by chivalry; without it, it is authority run amok. MRA’s need to stop talking and start living lives of true masculinity and quiet, confident authority balanced by chivalry and true Christian charity. They underestimate the attraction of the truly masculine man – they are deeply attractive to women – and they underestimate the number of women looking for such a man.

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