The Case for Post-Patriarchal Manhood:
Pursuing Good Masculinity in an Age of Pernicious Patriarchy and Progressive Misandry
A Crisis of Masculinity?
I know it is cliché to say that there is a crisis of masculinity … but I am going to tell you that there is a crisis of masculinity.
So what is the crisis?
Yes, patriarchy is indeed the problem.
My parents were dysfunctional and spasmodically abusive, so when I turned seventeen, I got the hell away from them. My grades were not good enough to get into university, left with few choices I joined the Army.
The Australian Army in the 1990s was just starting to tackle its misogyny problems, but rest assured, it was still misogynistic to the max.
In my earliest days of basic training, I heard an instructor say to a group of female recruits, “I don’t believe women should serve in the army. In fact, I wish women had tits on their back so at least they’d be fun to dance with.” All the men laughed, but I noticed that the women didn’t.
I remember a warrant officer who had a quote on his desk from Friedrich Nietzsche, “Man shall be trained for war, and woman for the recreation of the warrior: all else is folly.” Believe it or not, that actually sums up the attitude towards women held by the young and old men I knew back then.
Or else conversations included such unforgettable aphorisms as, “A woman is nothing more than a mattress to lie on while you masturbate.”
Even worse, one harrowing memory I have is the time when a storeman in the adjacent regiment took an assault rifle home from the armory and shot and killed his wife.
To provide some context, I was in the infantry, an exclusively male environment, a manufacturing machine of misogyny. It was like living and working in a boy’s locker room. Pornography was everywhere and I mean everywhere. Women were weirdly regarded as damsels in distress to be protected and simultaneously objects of sexual conquest to be used and dispensed with. As an impressionable 17-year-old, I was encouraged to adopt a work hard and play hard ethos. To be clear, “play hard,” meant drink as much as you can and have sex with as many women as you can. It was a culture that venerated behaviour for its aggression as much as its tawdriness.
For a while I tried to be the “hard man” that my peers venerated. The guy who could shoot like an assassin, walk 20km and carry heavy kit up a mountain, then hit the town, drink a carton of beer, and go home with the hottest girl in the pub. But I hated the hangovers and was not interested in girls with too much make-up and looking to milk a cashed-up Army boyfriend. Besides that, I didn’t want a string of random sexual encounters, I wanted a girlfriend, even a wife, and eventually a family.
It took some years for me to recognize and disavow my misogynistic indoctrination. Several things did that for me. Some adult maturity kicked in, I got religion, left the Army, found a great wife, had two wonderful daughters, met some great female colleagues in my professional life, and listened to the experiences of my female friends and students.
So yeah, I have no problem believing in workplace discrimination against women, high rates of sexual assault, and the pandemic of domestic violence. I’ve seen the misogynist beast up close and the monster is real as he is merciless.
“I’ve seen the misogynist beast up close and the monster is real as he is merciless.”"
To all my female friends, my name is Mike, and I am here to help with smashing the patriarchy, ending discrimination, forcing men to stop acting like animals, and preventing sexual and family violence.
But How Do You Make Bad Men Good?
If men are not supposed to act like wild animals, not give in to their sexual urges without consent, nor pursue manipulative power relationships with women, then what are they supposed to do?
Here is the other piece of the problem.
First, we are told that there is no single way of being male. There is no “real” or “authentic” masculinity. Masculinity is whatever you want it to be.
On the one hand, I get the non-prescriptive approach to masculinity. I am not a stereo-typical male. Yes, I was a paratrooper, but I also like musical theatre. Yes, I can do more chin-ups than most men twice my size and half my age, but I am less than useless looking under the hood of a car. I know the dangers of essentializing and lionizing masculine traits and mocking those boys or men who do not measure up to them. Also, the ideal image of masculinity can change with the times depending on media, economics, and cultural tropes.
But on the other hand, if there is no agreed metrics for good masculinity, it means being a Harvey Weinstein is a legitimate option. You might retort that Harvey Weinstein was a perverted sleaze bag, no complaint from me! But are his heinous deeds so bad because they are typical of men or because they go against some principle, creed, or moral code of manhood? Is Weinstein wicked for amplifying male traits or is he bad for failing to be a proper man? Either way, you can only call him a bad man if you also have a rough idea of what a good man is and should be.
My point is that if masculinity is a vacuum, then you can fill it with a Harvey Weinstein, a Matt Lauer, or a Ravi Zacharias and the only thing that can stop you is the fear of being exposed.
Second, masculinity is castigated as an original sin that can only be cleansed for by some bizarre ritual of woke theatre.
I will admit it, this point is slightly more controversial. But several authors have written about the war on boys, proved I think by schools forcing pre-pubescent boys to apologize for their maleness, French author Pauline Harmange writing a book that is literally titled I Hate Men, and feminist Polly Dunning confessed to feeling sick after learning that a boy was growing inside of her. Misandry is real.
If that were not bad enough, we have also invented virtue signalling rituals that men can do to prove that they are not part of the patriarchy. Asking men to paint their nails, wear a skirt to work or school, use the latest feminist hashtags, or put pronouns on one’s social media bio. All these woke acts are kind of like magical amulets that supposedly cast a protective spell over men to restrain the devious potential of their XY chromosomes and their toxic testosterone.
Yet such symbolic acts are useless without addressing the underlying issues of character formation and ethical orientation. If you want to know if a man is an anti-patriarchal feminist, don’t bother looking at his social media account, his likes and shares, it’s all “kayfabe,” just a performance. Instead, ask the women around him. It is how a man lives that shows what he truly believes about women.
“If you want to know if a man is an anti-patriarchal feminist, don’t bother looking at his social media account, his likes and shares, it’s all ‘kayfabe,’ just a performance.”
Masculinity often gets treated as the gender studies version of original sin, a sin that requires ritualized atonement, public confession, and a regular infusion of virtue signaling to continually mortify the fallen male flesh. I’m sure these gimmicks and hashtags provide great optics for progressive HR departments, but when it comes to destroying a pernicious patriarchy, they are about as effective as throwing fairy floss against an angry bear.
Recapping the Problem
To recap: men, by nature and nurture, are prone to domination and violence against women, it is a socially systemic and evil epidemic of patriarchy and violence. Yet the solution given around us is to make masculinity a blank slate that can mean whatever you want it to mean or else masculinity is treated as some kind of demonic possession that one must be ritually delivered from by liturgies of virtue signaling.
We live in a world where men are asked if they are:
(A) Harvey Weinstein, the incarnation and epitome of male privilege and evil.
(B) A feminist ally who acknowledges and repudiates male privilege, who agrees to be ritually cleansed of masculinity, and consents to be culturally castrated to propitiate the outrage caused by patriarchy.
The crisis of masculinity is that those seem to be the only two options before us, and one can hardly blame men for asking if there is an option (C).
The Pursuit of Virtuous Mimetic Masculinity
Let us assume for a moment that many men, perhaps most, genuinely do not want to be sexual predators or domestic violence perpetrators. Where do they learn how to be responsibly male in a world that says that there is no single way to be male and where maleness is regarded as intrinsically wicked?
For my mind, this is precisely where Canadian philosopher Jordan Peterson fits in. I suspect that part of the reason why Peterson has been so popular is that Peterson offers a template for masculinity that is genuinely attractive. Peterson’s version of masculinity has creedal content, he really believes things; he espouses relatable virtues like compassion and friendship; and he takes no crap from the emasculating antics of misandric progressives.
To be clear, I’m not one of Peterson’s acolytes, but rather than opine Peterson’s influence and book sales, you need to understand that humans are innately mimetic. We tend to imitate what we admire and amplify traits that we find admirable. In the case of men, they want to know how to be a boy, an adolescent, an adult, a father, a human being, and an upright citizen. Providing something like that is why, I believe, Peterson’s platform has drawn so much attention.
If I may be permitted to pontificate from that infallible podium of “lived experience,” I believe men want a mentor, they want a teacher, they want to find someone to compare themselves to, and to learn from. Men ask themselves, “Should I be like James Bond?” A handsome rogue, thuggish, promiscuous, borderline alcoholic, stoic, and courageous. Or, “Should I be like Jesus?” Mysterious, compassionate, religious, wise, ascetic, and self-giving? All the more so in a world with Harvey Weinstein’s and Bill Cosby’s, with absent fathers or abusive fathers.
In many ways, negotiating manhood is a constant quest for the ideal to aspire to, an example to imitate, a mentor to mold oneself after.
A Tentative Solution to the Masculinity Crisis
My thesis is simple. Patriarchy is vicious and violent. I have seen the evil that men do. But I do not believe that the cure to patriarchy, violence, and misogyny is to define maleness so broadly as to be meaningless, nor to scapegoat maleness as the dark vice behind all of humanity’s ills, nor an endless performance of virtue devoid of actual substance.
We need a culture of masculinity that is virtuous, relatable, desirable, and imitable. Men who have stated convictions and visibly model for others how to be men without patriarchy, without violence, and without misogyny.
Therefore, rather than seeking the transmutation of maleness into femaleness or the absolution of maleness by woke rituals, we should celebrate men who exercise character, actions, and virtues that are irreducibly and irrefutably good, good for themselves and good for women.
I know full well that this is a risky move!
I am reminded of the saying of Robert Murray M’Cheyne, that “the best of men are men at best.” There is always a danger in putting any man on a pedestal, whether politicians, soldiers, celebrities, or athletes, because they can let you down or even betray you. But, as I said, mimesis is inevitable, especially for men. If we don’t deliberately provide men with positive examples to follow, then they will be left with bad ones to emulate.
I also know the danger of someone saying, “This is how to be a real man,” because it essentializes male traits and offers paradigms that are themselves potentially patriarchal constructions in a new garb. But the problem with denying a prescriptive mode of masculinity is that it simply creates a vacuum or else leaves us with non-gender specific platitudes that do not speak into the particular varieties of male experience.
I retain my point that a non-patriarchal and non-misogynist masculinity requires ideational content and exemplary actors.
To crush patriarchy we need …
Men who live somewhere between Jesus and James Bond, no stranger to courage, but are foreigners in a land of misogyny.
Men who demonstrate through their convictions and actions that women are invaluable collaborators in the quest for human flourishing.
Men who show that women are worthy of admiration, imitation, and celebration, not a weaker sex to be protected, but partners in all things.
“Men who show that women are worthy of admiration, imitation, and celebration, not a weaker sex to be protected, but partners in all things.”
Men who believe that the biological differences between men and women and their varied cultural expression is a gift that enhances the human condition and offers us a richer experience of human life.
Men who believe something about manhood, not to the point that is constructs a ridiculous stereotype, but is relatable to men across the whole spectrum of male experience.
Men who authentically live out what they believe, who can offer us a pattern of manhood that commands our attention, deserves our respect, and is incandescently imitable.
Men and Women in a Post-Patriarchal Church
Speaking into a church context, to become a post-patriarchal community of faith, we must ensure that churches are not a boys club where the arrogant and abusive are protected by a praetorian guard of malevolent masculinity. Instead, the churches should be communities where men and women enjoy the equality and mutuality given in the gospel (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11; 1 Cor 7:4; Eph 5:21).
“Speaking into a church context, to become a post-patriarchal community of faith, we must ensure that churches are not a boys club where the arrogant and abusive are protected by a praetorian guard of malevolent masculinity.”
Churches where there is accountability and transparency in leadership, best achieved I think by the inclusion of women in all levels of leadership. Where men and women partner together to pursue the imitation of Christ, even as they discern in the precincts of their own conscience how it specifically applies to them as men and women.
Churches where there is neither patriarchy nor identitarianism, neither misogyny nor misandry, where spiritual gifts do not come in pink or blue, where men are free to be strong, creative, and empathetic and women are free to be nurturers, defenders, and leaders. Where men can describe themselves with maternal imagery like Paul did (Gal 4.19; 1 Thess 2.7-8) and where women can think of themselves as warriors like Deborah (Judges 4–5).
Churches where men fear becoming perpetrators of domestic violence more than listening to a woman behind the pulpit. Where women feel safe, seen, respected, and valued. A church where men have female role models and heroes in the faith. Where men are outraged at the prospect of a women having to make a complaint about abuse by a male elder to a board comprised exclusively of male elders (or deacons, or bishops, or pastors).
For men, post-patriarchy is not an exercise in ritual self-hatred or metaphorical emasculation. Let us remember that masculinity, maleness, manhood, or whatever you want to call it, is not a bad thing to be cured by androgyne metamorphosis. No, God created us as male, and it was good, but our maleness is fallen and vulnerable to multiple perversions, so we need to be redeemed and transformed, not out of our masculinity but within our masculinity. We need the redemption and sanctification of our masculinity in Christ Jesus, and to pursue – just like our sisters in the faith do too – conformity into the image of the Son (Rom 8:28).
Finally, to riff off Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer, to be a good church, a tov church, we need good men, tov men. That begins with tearing down the idols of patriarchy and pursuing instead a christoformed version of ourselves as men. A church where men want to give their parents, peers, friends, sons and daughters an example of masculinity that is pro-women in every Christian sense. A church where the men try to imitate Jesus rather than James Bond, John Wayne, or James Dobson.
Rev. Dr. Michael F. Bird is Academic Dean at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia. He is the author of over thirty books in the fields of Christian thought and early Christianity. He can be followed @mbird12 and through michaelfbird.substack.com.