What do we mean when we use "masculine"?
Here's the most pertinent Webster's definition:
masculine n 1: a male person 2: a noun, pronoun, adjective, or inflectional form or class of the masculine gender 3: the masculine gender
All but useless. If masculine is only another word for "male," we don't really get far. And when applying the word to God, things get downright baffling, since God has no genitals nor any body to identify himself (yes, we'll stick with male pronouns for now) as male. I loved the last definition "the masculine gender" which is circular in the extreme. What is the masculine gender? Males. Are we done yet?
Nope. Let's try another couple definitions of "masculine" (I grabbed these following more or less at random from the web):
"[T]he dominant character type; biological masculinity refers to the male gender; psychological masculinity refers to the dominant character type; also used as a noun to refer to a masculine individual. synonyms: extroverted, dominant, assertive. analogs: feminine, introverted, submissive, yielding." [from Ninth Street]
So "masculine" equals "dominant." Hm. Andrea Dworkin, Oprah, Dorothy Day... masculine? I don't think any of them would especially want to be called "masculine," though all of them were / are dominating personalities. Extroverted... does that mean Soren Kierkegaard was feminine? Assertive. I picture in my head the old sky gods and earth goddesses, the former in all their phallic active glory and the latter in their supine and submissive compliance. No, I'm not a believer in these definitions. For one thing, they suggest imagery rather than actually defining much in the way of specifics.
It could be argued (and in fact seems sensible on some levels) to suggest that all males have some feminine in them and all females have some masculine in them. I often talk semi-seriously about my "feminine side." But is that formulation really helpful? We're still talking about something terribly difficult to define.
One more try at a definition:
"Having the qualities of a man; suitable to, or characteristic of, a man; virile; not feminine or effeminate; strong; robust. That lady, after her husbands death, held the reins with a masculine energy. (Hallam) "
Not much new here. Assumptions abound. "Having the qualities of a man" assumes there are qualities which only men have. Is that true? Virile. What a can of ugly that word opens. "Not feminine or effeminate" is unhelpful in that it attempts to define masculine by what it allegedly is not (without telling us what it, or its alleged opposite, is).
Here's where the post-structuralist stuff comes in. These folks suggest that language is often a mask for power, and whomever controls the definitions of language often ends up controlling said society / organization / family. So, if we can get people to believe that God is Masculine, and further can cause them to however subtly understand the feminine as something in opposition to (or at least a lack of) the masculine, we can create a society and/or Church where the "feminine" (women) are marginalized from leadership and even within themselves to view womankind as an inferior sex.
Right about now, someone is wondering if I'm suggesting some sort of androgyny here. Some of the post-structuralists do indeed deconstruct gender itself, ending up with either as many genders as their are human beings ("gender" being as individualized as a "roll your own" cigarette) or no genders at all -- androgyny. Neither I, nor any other Christians who find post-structural arguments compelling, would agree with that radical idea. As a Christian, I believe the Word when it says God made humankind "male and female." That's two genders by my count.
But -- at least in my present understanding -- what I am suggesting is that while "male" and "female" are useful terms, "masculine" and "feminine" are far more ambiguous terms. We often if not usually do not really know what we're talking about when we plug one of these terms into our reasoning processes, our theological constructions, or our personal and public relational worlds.
Just one for-instance, which actually is touched on by a few of the definitions above. Have you ever heard (or even yourself applied) the word "feminine" to a guy who was perhaps high-voiced, small, shy, "geeky"? How about a male who seems overtly immature (though if he is sufficiently good-looking, low-voiced, and famous, he might be still called "masculine")?
Conversely, a woman who has a low voice, is muscular or stocky, has a short haircut and doesn't wear make-up, may be pejoratively called "masculine." Yet in all of that, the term fails to clearly explain anything, other than the feelings of unease around and even rejection of the individual being so labeled.
I'm not saying some of us may truly be right about a person's immaturity, or at times (though less often than one might think) about their sexual orientation. But is describing either maturity or sexual orientation with terms less about facts than value judgements really helpful, much less the biblically loving way to interact with them? Even if a person (as I do) believes that homosexuality is not God's plan for us, what purpose is there in basically guessing if another guy is homosexual or not based on "unmasculine" manners or tone of voice? I, who have sinned this way myself, do not think it is right or loving.
But, to get back to the God-thing... what do we then mean by "masculine" or "feminine"?
Honestly, I do not know. And, as I noted in my previous installments, I do want to believe that God is both masculine and feminine, yet am slowly moving toward the idea that He is neither. Not convinced yet, but finding the terms themselves so problematic that I'm not sure they're worth anything.
One of my very best friends of thirty years -- a woman, mind you -- disagrees with me on this issue. Yet I think her problem with me is that I am as of yet unfocused on the difference between male/female and masculine/feminine. Her fear is that I think there are no intrinisic differences between men and women at all, other than the obvious physical ones. And my trust in her discernment about both the Word and me over the years causes me to pause and take stock of her unease.
Have I gone too far here? Is an egalitarian-based corrective needed for Jonny? Gee, I'd love to be set back on the straight and narrow if in fact someone else has sorted more of this out than my feeble bulb has been able to do so far.
A personal note... (as in my "feminine side" kicks in with a vengeance?)
Here's my biggest fear of, and beef with, the masculine/feminine nexus reflected in the world and Church. See how much you resonate with the following statements, which (I suggest) are all rooted in the idea of "God is masculine."
* God is a Conquerer God, coming against sinners and an unrighteous world much as an invading male's body comes against his unwilling victim's body. Get it? Divine Rape does not turn me on.
* God is fascinated by order, "roles," pyramiding submission schemes. (The God of Love seems radically missing from such configurations, which at time take on a downright fascist fascination in absolute lines, divisions, symmetrical numbers and grids, and the extensive use of black and white.)
* God as condescending male father figure. Oh, he is my Father. I know this perhaps more than many reading this, at least if they've not experienced the agony of abandonment and divorce and familial break-up. He is certainly my Father, and I his child, but this parental role needs no condescention and frankly needs no maleness/masculinity. If there is any place where masculine and feminine (providing they exist) converge, it is in the roles of Father/Mother. A good father nurtures; a good mother protects. Parental love is fierce and gentle, selfless and (to the child) sometimes unyielding. But the condescending white male figure we often find superimposed upon the Blessed Divine Parent is unworthy of us.
* Christian Men are to lead, Christian women are to follow. (Some days, that makes me want to cry; other days it makes me burst into uncontrollable laughter.)
* Wives submit to husbands, and husbands "lovingly lead." (Uh, yeah. Nice abuse of Ephesians 5. Didja forget verse 21? And if only wives are to submit, are only husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church?)
* A strong [as in "masculine"?!] military is vitally important to a Christian America. (Think I made that up? It -- minus my bracketed bit -- was part of the Moral Majority's original blueprint for America. It's worked out so well, hasn't it?)
* A female is even physically created to recieve and submit, and a man is created to penetrate and dominate (lovingly, the Christians would add).
* Gender "roles" are biblical. (One of these days, I'm gonna go off on "roles" and why I think they're downright satanic... )
* Women missionaries should not preach or teach (Southern Baptists' current stance)
* Women's domain is properly the home and child-rearing (What amount to Home Economics degrees for women only are as of this year offered at the Southern Baptists' foremost Seminary.)
If we look at one another as male and female, called together in God (whether he be both "masculine and feminine" in his being or neither masculine nor feminine, being rather Infinitely Mystery in that regard) we perhaps can live truly under Scripture and truly in an intersubmitted, interrelated, trusting and transparently egalitarian community. I live in an inner-city Chicago community (Jesus People USA) struggling to be egalitarian and also to be true to our common calling in Jesus Christ. We fail often in both categories. But even the failures are, in many ways, often blessings drawing us closer to Him and also closer to the truth about our absolute need of Him -- and of one another.
If you've gotten nothing else from my bumbling, I hope you get that. And I apologize for some ranting here -- I do gets mesef woiked up.
tag: Christian Right, Christians for Biblical Equality, complementarian, egalitarian, feminism, gender essentialism, gender roles, is god masculine