When I wrote an article for The Frisky about my journey into sexual experience and losing my virginity, I knew that it would garner some criticism. But I don’t think any amount of research could have prepared me for the level of vitriol I provoked from one group in particular: Christian masculinists, who apparently spend much of their time online lambasting modern men and women for not adhering to biblically based gender roles. As blatantly sexist as their views are, though, their arguments are often eerily similar to those espoused by mainstream conservative evangelicals.
“Slutting Made Her a Better Christian,” read the title of one post on a popular personal blog linking to my piece. Another site declared me a “false prophet” and warned that I was a “wolf in the pen.” Still more commenters showed up in my Twitter mentions, informing me that because I’d broken a “blood covenant,” another blood sacrifice—presumably my own—would be necessary to atone for my deeds. In their eyes, I was a “slut,” a “whore,” and a “temple prostitute,” as well as a “liar,” and a “deceived, wicked jezebel,” all for having the gall to fool around with someone on a loveseat before I was married to them.
These were just a few of the responses I received from Christian masculinists, part of the loosely amalgamated corner of the Internet known by its own denizens as the “manosphere.” The manosphere consists of several groups, the most visible of which are “men’s rights activists,” or MRAs. Though they overlap in complicated and variegated fashions, they have one thing in common: a disillusionment with women in general, and by extension, feminism.
In this regard, Christian masculinists are no exception. Members of their community, which seems to have formed in the comments sections of several popular blogs, believe that feminism has destroyed the church and that modern Christian men too willingly submit to female leadership. Many of these users post as anonymously as they can manage in this day and age, but references made to various preferences and ideologues indicate that there is a strong probability that most of them are white, straight, and cisgender. Several prominent masculinist bloggers are single men in their late 20s, angry with the fact that they have not yet found a partner; still more, however, are fathers who are either divorced or struggling with existing marriages.
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Evidently in response to these personal woes, masculinists have fused manosphere rhetoric with what they see as “biblical” gender roles to envision a hierarchical, patriarchal ideal world. As far as many are concerned, society’s problems—which include war, famine, pestilence, high divorce rates, and anything else they find objectionable—are the result of people walking away from God’s plan for their lives, in which men are leaders and women are followers.
Therefore, much like the rest of the manosphere, they believe the “feminization” of men is largely to blame for what they regard as civilization’s collapse. In a 42-page blog post called “The Misandry Bubble,” published on the Futurist blog and regarded as a manifesto by many in the movement, a user who goes by “The Fifth Horseman” writes:
[The devaluing of men leads to] the normalization of single motherhood (obviously with taxpayer subsidies), despite the reality that most single mothers are not victims, but merely women who rode a carousel of men with reckless abandon. This, in turn, leads to fatherless young men growing up being told that natural male behavior is wrong, and feminization is normal. It also leads to women being deceived outright about the realities of the sexual market, where media attempts to normalize single motherhood … rather than portrayed as the undesirable conditions they are [sic].
While the majority of the manosphere relies on evolutionary psychology to justify humans’ allegedly “natural” gender roles, Christian masculinists believe that women are obligated by the Bible to fulfill these responsibilities.
So in order to prevent certain doom, humans must adhere to a few specific theological tenets. Christians, women in particular, should remain virgins until marriage. Women have a duty to follow their husband’s direction and to defer to him in all decisions. A woman’s main priority is to be the caretaker of the home. Gender is immutable and deterministic: If you are assigned female at birth, you must live with this burden of motherhood and servanthood. These decrees, though especially important for Christians, are not restricted to churchgoers alone.
When women do not conform to such expectations, masculinists claim, they’re defying God’s will and prompting societal downfall. Therefore, women who take charge of their own bodies and fight for the independence to be seen as fully functioning human beings must have been taken in by “politically correct” feminist culture.
As one commenter on my post on The Frisky put it [emphasis original]:
The problem is the fact that we have a feminist culture and a feminist legal system that encourages that particular bad trait among women, and then rewards women when they succumb to it. Sadly, the churches, which ought to stand firm against this nonsense in the culture, is failing at the task of even policing it in their own pews.
Essentially, because modern feminism discourages automatic submission to men, women have begun to expect to be treated with respect and authority. Using this logic, Christian masculinists largely interpret sex-positivity—including having sex before marriage—as symbolic of female agency as a whole. And in turn, they see this as a path to sin. For example, another commenter wrote in response to my article:
Women’s entitlement mentality [toward sex] is insatiable, and no doubt related to their rejection of all authority in their lives, including God’s authority. Women want it all, they want it now; amoral, with no conception of consequences of actions, cause and effect. This is why I still find it difficult to believe that women love to submit to the ‘Alpha’ man; if they do, it has nothing to do with their respect for, and need of authority. Women do not even realize they need authority/discipline in their lives.
“Alpha,” which refers to a ranking system of men by Greek letters, is a term common to the manosphere. Like in mythologized wolf packs, alphas are the top dogs: the most desirable of all men. Betas, meanwhile, have to fight for scraps of female attention. Most masculinists don’t consider themselves alphas; they think of themselves as betas. But if society were in its right positioning, they suggest, women wouldn’t go after the physically attractive, sexually appealing alphas, because they would see the value of beta men. These beta men would then become “alphas” based on their desirability.
Women who do not “save” themselves for betas and who do not readily concede to men, then, must be disparaged as liars and harpies before being cast aside as devilish temptresses. As such, even their supposed repentance and redemption is nearly always viewed with suspicion.
To understand the range of issues masculinists crusade against as evident departures from God, it is useful to examine one of the most popular personal blogs in the ‘sphere. The writer of the blog in question, who goes by the pseudonym “Dalrock,” claims in his bio that he is a “happily married father in a post-feminist world.” Numerous other blogs continuously cite his work, indicating that he is as close as this loose collective gets to having a leader. In addition to using his platform to rail against marriage counseling, divorce rates, and the feminist influence in “choice addiction” (his term), Dalrock discusses how “understanding women better has only increased my empathy for them.” He supports such a statement by arguing that his wife feels “more loved” since he began his journey into the Christian masculinism.
And yet, his empathy and love for women takes the form of regularly calling them “sluts” and “whores” and talking about all the ways in which they, as a gender, are built to be deceptive and must thus be ruled by men. He advises his audience, too, to act in what he deems to be a correct fashion, and to avoid behavior that might be construed as “weak”:
Also keep in mind that if you truly love your wife you will want to understand how to make her feel loved. If you are selfishly hung up on retaining a childish fantasy about women, you can’t understand her well enough to understand what she craves from you. That she is much more likely to be craving decisive leadership from you than fawning footrubs shouldn’t be a problem unless you are in a very unhealthy mental place as a man.
These kinds of assertions often prompt praise among Dalrock’s readers: Numerous commenters chime in with their own stories (if married) and fantasies (if unmarried) of how women supposedly react to strength and shows of power.
One would think that such a view of women would be checked simply by the idea that identifying as Christian means that we are part of a Body, with one God. Moreover, the Bible explicitly calls Christian brothers to respect their sisters. That seems to be hugely overruled, however, by masculinists’ so-called distress that sisters aren’t doing the same for their brothers.
As extreme as Christian masculinists’ views may seem in terms of bald-faced misogyny, though, the things they write could probably be found on most theologically conservative bookshelves. Indeed, after months of reading their work as part of my ongoing research into Christian visions of femininity and masculinity, I’ve found that the masculinists’ ideas about men and women line up quite neatly with ongoing discussions of purity, virginity, and womanhood within the evangelical church.
Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll, for example—currently disgraced by financial scandal—built his once-thriving empire on the message that men today are being feminized and that they have forgotten what it means to be masculine. Evangelical conservative thought leaders Denny Burk, John Piper, Albert Mohler, Douglas Wilson, and Owen Strachan have all, at one time or another, lamented the failure of modern men and women to fulfill their respective biblical roles as dominant providers and submissive nurturers. The increase in marrying ages, the falling procreation rates for young couples, and the higher rates of cohabitation and divorce are all causes for concern among theologically conservative evangelicals, just as they are cause for concern amongst Christian masculinists.
Even the justifications for many of these stances are oddly alike in nature. For instance, Christian masculinists frequently refer to the “alpha widow.” The term refers to slutty (read: any woman who has sex outside of marriage) women who do get married to the aforementioned “beta males.” If they are an “alpha widow,” they will forever be haunted by the alphas they’d bedded in the past. They are “widowed” by their previous sexual experiences, thus making it impossible for the average beta male to satisfy her as a lover. Since most of these men consider themselves beta males, they take a woman enjoying herself with an alpha as a personal affront. Masculinists point to this sort of phenomenon as the reason for many divorces and marital dissatisfaction—women are sluts who are left forever unable to be satisfied when they do marry.
This argument, naturally, comes coupled with arguments about how women are liars, failures, and forever duped by the promises of feminism. Again, though, its foundation is consistent with popular conservative narratives. One of the many reasons to save yourself for marriage, given in Christian relationship books like And the Bride Wore White or Captivating, is that past loves will be a point of juxtaposition for future relationships. Purity culture warns people off of premarital sex for fear of comparisons down the line; the manosphere takes it just one step further, using those hypothetical comparisons as a reason to condemn women.
In the same vein, many of the societal “solutions” floated by masculinists are also popular within mainstream conservative circles. One Christian masculinist from Canada, who calls himself “The Free Northerner,” explains that prioritizing purity at all costs is to the detriment of marriage—so men and women should just head to the altar already. “People should not be waiting until their late 20s or 30s to get married and suffer under some perverse form of purity. They should be getting married young and having good, natural, enjoyable sex with their spouses while young,” he writes on his blog.
Similarly, in 2009, one of the top Christian-focused magazines in the business, Christianity Today, had a cover story by (discredited) researcher Mark Regnerus called “The Case for Early Marriage.” Regnerus makes many of the same arguments we find Christian masculinists making—early marriage preserves purity, creates ample opportunities for children, and allows man and woman to grow together rather than coming together as established independent adults. In reality, this advice is sociologically a bad idea, as early age of marriage is a major factor in higher divorce rates.
Indeed, it seems the Christian masculinist movement of 2014 is covering many of the same topics as conservative Christians. The only real difference is that you won’t catch evangelical leaders calling a woman a slut in public, although some express deep vitriol in private, as testimonies from former church members explain.
Conservative Christians need to confront the extremes to which their movement has been taken and the things that are being said in the name of their God. Conservative Christianity and the Christian manosphere have different intentions—supporters of the former ostensibly just want to put the world back on track, while those of the latter are using their theology to fuel explicit hate for women. But their conclusions are all too often identical: the condemnation of women who make their own choices, who own themselves, and who refuse to be taken as merely a body fulfilling a role. Both result in the treatment of women as objects, as interchangeable cogs in the machinery of a social and religious narrative. One is just more honest about it.