Friday, 2 August 2013

"Ladies' Man..."

This is another exhortation to think about how the language we use reinforces worldly views of gender versus Scriptural views; a bit of a companion post to my earlier post, "Ladies..."

Ok, well, let's start with some frank, if perhaps somewhat biased, opinions: I think my son is an absolute looker. I mean, he looks like his Daddy, and his Daddy is a babe, so how could he not be, but something about his fluffy blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and miles-long dark eyelashes seem to move other people to agree with me. People are always stopping us in the grocery store and such to tell him what lovely eyes he has. And hey, my mama-heart likes seeing my son praised, although I know his outward appearance is superficial and will in no way determine whether he is a man after God's heart-- which is what really matters. But it's nice to see my son making a favourable impression.


There's something a lot of people (unfortunately, some of them believers) tend to say to him that really troubles me; something along the lines of, "You're going to be quite the ladies' man, aren't you?" or "The girls will just love you." Lest you think I've just misplaced my sense of humour over what people obviously intend as a lighthearted remark, let me unpack why this troubles me.

If this was an isolated cultural incident, maybe it could be shrugged off as 'no big deal' or 'just a joke'. But it's not; far from it. One of the most common ways our culture warps God's ideal of masculinity is by promoting the ladies' man as a paragon of manliness. If you need convincing that this is a culturally-prevalent attitude, check out two places where cultural norms are not usually challenged: superhero movies and TV commercials. Watch an Axe commercial*. Or a beer commercial, or a shaving commercial, or pretty well any commercial that airs during a sporting event. Picture Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark's glamorous millionaire lifestyle, traveling everywhere with a girl on either arm. Alternately, think of Steve Rogers (Captain America) prior to his enhancement: as a runty, unhealthy (i.e. not very masculine) guy, he can't get one girl interested in him, while his handsome, broad-shouldered friend can easily pick up two. The message is clear, and it is everywhere: if you're really manly, you can get lots of girls to sleep with you-- and you'll want to.

Is this what people are thinking when they compliment my son by predicting he'll be sexually appealing lots of women? I hope not-- I hope they're just not thinking at all, not realising that they're predicting my one-year-old will be sexually appealing to lots of women (because if they are thinking in that language, that's thoroughly creepy). But the fact that it's unthinking doesn't change the fact that they're planting those seeds in his mind, adding their weight to a cultural barrage that would push my son into thinking uncommitted, unchecked sleeping around is glamourous and desirable.

Now think of Christ. Think of his singleminded, self-sacrificing pursuit of his one Bride. Think of the sober, committed man of God called to lead the churches and how his faithfulness to his wife is among the first qualifications given in 1 Timothy 3. Think of Proverbs 5, pleadingly praising the blessedness of enjoying one committed relationship and using words like "scattered" "folly" and "led astray" in relation to this "ladies' man" ideal our culture promotes. Do we really believe that following God's statutes is a delight and "riches", as Psalm 119 puts it? Then let us not use the language of rebellious ignorance to God's way in our praise of little children!

What I would love is if people instead said, "You're going to make one woman very happy."** That's a goal I would like him to have. Here's the thing: there is absolutely nothing wrong-- indeed, there's plenty right-- with a godly man who chooses not to pursue any romantic relationship at all until he finds a woman who not only attracts him with her beauty, but also impresses him with her character, nothing wrong with waiting for God's timing, and most of all, nothing wrong with being a guy who just never really interests most girls he meets, until he meets the one woman whom God intended for him, who can see parts of him that others couldn't, and who will appreciate him as a whole man, body, mind, and spirit-- not just a hottie good for a one-night stand.***

I would like to talk at a later point about another harmful cultural warping of masculinity/femininity, in which purity is seen as a more feminine virtue, but for now I think I'll leave you with this plea: next time you bend down to a little boy's level and let him know you think he's great, can you take a second and check that that encouragement will help him think of Christlikeness as more desirable than being liked by lots of women?

*I was going to link an Axe commercial but they are just too offensive, especially coming from the same company who owns Dove and purports to be promoting respect for women and their natural beauty. Basically, picture dozens of stick-thin but busty girls in the tiniest bikinis possible, fighting and racing each other to get to one man. Tagline, "Spray more, get more." Phallic symbol duly included.)
** Or, even better, left his future sex appeal off the table entirely?
***This works the same way for girls, by the way. I wish there was a way to reassure all the single girls I know that it doesn't matter two straws if there's no one interested in them right now. I was never the object of much male attention before I caught Steven's eye, and darned if I can think of one way that has made our love the less sweet or our marriage the less wonderfully fulfilling.

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