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The Toxic War on Masculinity: Nancy Pearcey

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October 9, 2023 5:15 am

The Toxic War on Masculinity: Nancy Pearcey

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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October 9, 2023 5:15 am

Author and professor Nancy Pearcey knows her personal, searing path toward war on men. But on a broader level, she began to ask, how did the idea arise that masculinity is dangerous? She uncovers why the script for masculinity turned toxic—and how Christianity reconciles the war between the sexes, renovating manhood for good.

There's a sociologist who did a study, where he would ask young men, “What does it mean to be a good man?” They had no trouble answering that: “Integrity, honesty, sacrifice; to be a protector and be a provider; be generous,” and so on. Then, when he'd say, “But what does it mean to be a real man?” they would say, “Oh, no, no, no!—a real man; that's completely different.” -- Nancy Pearcey

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Hey, before we dive into today's episode... We have some exciting news! Do you even know what it is? Yes!

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Hope you'll join us. There's a sociologist who did a study that he would ask young men, what does it mean to be a good man? And they had no trouble answering that. Integrity, honesty, sacrifice, be a protector, be a provider, be generous, and so on. And then when he'd say, but what does it mean to be a real man?

Then they would say, no, no, no, no. A real man, that's completely different. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson.

You can find us at This is Family Life Today. So I've spent 33 seasons in an NFL locker room. I've never mentioned that on Family Life before, have I?

I don't think you have. But I was the Detroit Lions chaplain. I was around a lot of men, young men. And then I coached high school football for 13, I think, seasons. So I'm around a lot of high school men. And you've coached a lot of teams over the years of guys.

We had three boys, so you coached a lot of their teams as well. And then pastoring, you know, a church with thousands of men. One of the questions I would often ask, either a high school boy or an NFL player or just a guy in our church, tell me what a real man is. Tell me what a godly man is. What is a man?

I am not kidding. I don't think I ever got a clear answer. It was confusion. It was, well, maybe it's, there was never really any clarity. It was just, well, maybe it's, and then I look at especially high school boys and say, when do you become a man?

Had no idea. Like, when you get your driver's license, when you, nobody knew. And so, I think it's- Do you feel like you had a good answer for that?

I didn't when I was growing up. Yeah. As I became a husband, you know, I went on a journey basically to Scripture to say, what does God say a man is?

And a woman. And yeah, I think I had a clear answer. But I don't think our culture, and even in the church, I don't think we know. I think we're living in different days, even than when you were coaching and- What does that mean? I think that there's just a lot of different views now of what people would say a real man, and especially a man of God, is.

And it's not always looked at in a positive way. Yeah. And so, today it's gonna be really fun and interesting.

Yeah, we have a woman in the studio that's gonna talk to us about masculinity. We have Nancy Piercy back on Family Life Today. I don't know how many years it's been since you've been in here, but we are glad to have you back. Do you know how many years?

I think about four years. It was for my earlier book, Love Thy Body, and they came out in 2018. Yeah, and this book has just come out, The Toxic War on Masculinity, How Christianity Reconcils the Sexes. I would love to be a student in your class. You teach at Houston Baptist, and you have young men and women, college kids in there every day, and I'm just sitting there thinking, I would love to sit under your teaching. Me too. Our listeners, this is a treat. She's really wise, really thoughtful, and you've talked to a lot of people, you've read a lot, you've studied the scriptures a lot, and so I'm kind of excited that we get to talk about this topic, because I think there is a lot of confusion.

Nancy, do you think there is? Oh yes, and let me step in first and say our university is changing its name from Houston Baptist to Houston Christian. How long have you been teaching?

Ten years. I teach apologetics. Now let me ask you this, because I don't know a lot of this backstory.

What's the former agnostic? Oh, my personal story, which I do love to tell, by the way. I started using it now in all of my speaking, because I realized the older I get, the more thankful I am that God got hold of me.

And so I've been using my story a lot more. I was raised in a Christian home, but if you've ever been in an ethnic home, mine was Scandinavian. All Scandinavians are Lutheran, because it was a state church. In other words, they rely a lot on the ethnicity to hold you.

There's not a lot of strong personal commitment. And so when I was in high school, I started asking questions. Because you're a thinker.

I'm going to a public school. All my textbooks are secular, all my teachers are secular. And I just started asking, how do we know it's true?

That was it. How do we know Christianity is true? And nobody in my life could answer that.

None of the adults in my life could answer that. I talked to a Christian college professor, and I asked him point blank, why are you Christian? And he said, works for me. And I had a chance to talk to a seminary dean, and I thought I would get a more substantial answer from him. So you're really looking for answers.

I was asking a lot of questions. Yeah, I didn't just, you know, slide. You know, a lot of people sort of slide away from their Christian background. And no, when I gave up my Christian faith, I immediately realized that if there was no God, there's no meaning to life. There's no foundation for ethics.

This is true for me, true for you. There's no purpose for life. We're just on a rock flying through empty space. I realized there's not even a foundation for knowledge in the sense that if all I've has my puny brain and the fast scope of time and space, what makes me think I could have some kind of universal, absolute truth? Ridiculous. At 16, it struck me that that was ridiculous. So I became a relativist and a skeptic and a determinist.

I absorbed all of these secular isms. And so by the time I was in college, I went back to Europe. We lived in Europe when I was a child, and I'd really loved it. So I saved my money all through high school from playing in the local symphony, by the way. That was my job.

So that I could go back to Europe. And when I was in Europe the second time, that's when I sort of stumbled across LABRI, the Ministry of Francis Schaeffer, which is an apologetics ministry. That's what he was known for. The term cultural apologetics was coined to describe what he did, because he didn't just deal with abstract arguments, you know, in the logical ether.

You know, he looked at ideas as they percolate down through a culture, through art, literature, music, and so on. That's right up your alley. That spoke to me. Yeah, I would not have been drawn in by any other form of apologetics. At first I left.

I was at LABRI twice, because the first time it was so attractive. I'd never seen such an attractive form of Christianity. Not only was it intellectually engaging, but culturally, you know, the arts. On top of all that, this was 1971, and everyone there was hippies. But that was a serious consideration in the sense that at that time nobody was reaching across that cultural divide and reaching out to these disaffected young people. So I thought, who are these Christians?

You know, they can even talk to hippies. Wow. But because it was so appealing, I was afraid I might be drawn in emotionally. And you didn't want that. I didn't want to do that, because Christianity let me down once already. So I wasn't gonna go back lightly. So I stayed a month and studied, left LABRI, went home. But because of LABRI, I discovered there was such a thing as apologetics. So I discovered C.S.

Lewis, you know, not only Schaeffer, but Lewis, Chesterton, and so on. And so just through my own reading, I eventually decided, okay, I am intellectually convinced it's true. Now where do I find Christians?

Because I wasn't in a church or anything. So well, I knew some back at LABRI. A year and a half later, I went back to LABRI, and that's where I really got grounded in understanding Christian worldview and unapologetics and so on. So it's shaped all my writing since then. Everything I do, everything I do is like I want to help young people who are having the same questions that I had when I was at age. What a great story. Thanks for sharing that. Yeah, well, let's talk about the toxic war on masculinity, and you begin it with a story of your dad.

So I'm guessing this has a foundation of why you want to study this, because it's full. I can't wait to get into the content, but tell us about your dad, I guess. Yeah, my father was physically abusive. Did you have any siblings?

Yes, there's six kids in the family. And where did you fall in line? So I was third. And this was going on with all your siblings? Well, except the last one. I used to work for Prison Fellowship, you know.

Wow, yeah. And one thing we knew was even violent people mellow over time. You know, even violent criminals mellow over time. So my dad did mellow by the sixth kid. The sixth kid is the only one who doesn't have a memory of being beaten.

But the rest of us do. Yeah. What about your mom? No, not that he was, he was pretty verbally abusive to her. He didn't respect her at all. And we didn't either. I mean, we took our cues from him, right?

You do. He treats her like, you know, a dishrag. So we did as well. And then she never stood up for us. This is our complaint with our mom, right? That she never stood up for us. But looking back as an adult, I don't blame her.

I wouldn't stand up to that guy either. He was probably scary. He was probably a scary dad. It was very scary. Yeah.

Fear. I mean, when I became a Christian, you know, and started going through all the emotional healing of this. Let me give you the emotional healing side.

Yeah. In my book, Toxic War on Masculinity, I do talk about when the healing started because I had one person say, I opened your book and I read your story and I thought, oh no, this is gonna be some angry feminist. And then I got to the end and I realized, oh no, it's a story of healing. At LaBrie was a psychiatric social worker who agreed to be on staff because she realized that a lot of people's problems with Christianity were not just intellectual.

Right. So the apologetics wasn't the only thing, but it also is often emotional, especially, you know, conflict with your parents and so on. And her name was Sheila Bird when we called her Birdie. And the interesting thing is she saw my dad. So the reason I ended up at LaBrie was because my father was trying to keep this short, but my father was teaching in Turkey at the Middle East Technical University and it was right before the military coup and there was a lot of violence happening, you know, especially against Westerners, car bombings and package bombings. And so they told my dad, you need to get out.

It's too dangerous. So he's driving across Europe to catch the cheap Luxembourg flights and a Christian friend told him, if you're driving through Switzerland, you've got to stop at this place called LaBrie. And so he writes to me in German. I was in Germany.

And he writes to me and says, come on down and see us. People will sometimes ask me, why would you go to a Christian ministry if you were not a Christian? Well, I didn't go to a Christian ministry. I went to see my parents because I wasn't going to see them again.

They were going back to the States. So I went to LaBrie to see my parents not to go to a Christian ministry. Interesting. Let me ask you at that time, what were your thoughts about your dad, your father? Oh, I totally suppressed it.

This was interesting. I had so suppressed it because I thought my childhood was so unhappy that I'm going to start my life over. So you just buried it. I totally buried it. I thought, I'm going to recreate myself from scratch.

I thought you could do that. This is why it's so important that God let me be at a place where there was a psychiatric social worker. And not only that, but at LaBrie, you know, Francis Schaeffer used to have Saturday night discussions. So my family, my parents and a couple of siblings were there. And Birdie saw my father. And she told me when I went to see her, she said, I looked at your father and I thought, here's the man who suppresses everyone around him. She could see it.

And in hindsight, I might not have even talked about it. I had suppressed it so carefully that she knew to ask. She knew to ask about my family, about my father. She also noticed, by the way, that our family was totally disconnected. There was no coherence.

There were no emotional bonds, you know, among anyone in our family. Were you surprised when she said that to you? Well, not entirely, because if you looked at my dad, I would agree with her. So it was obvious. Yes, yes, I think it was. I had these steely blue eyes that looked like I'm a concentration camp guard. Well, what did the healing look like? So Birdie, she had to persuade me, you cannot just walk away from your past.

You do have to work through this stuff with your father. And my sister, by the way, who was also not a Christian, also stayed with me at La Brie at that time. My older sister, she had not suppressed it.

She was a little older. We sat on the side of the Alps, because La Brie is in the Swiss Alps, and she would say, do you remember when dad used to do this? Do you remember when dad used to do that? And I'm like, of course I do. But I had so suppressed it that I wasn't consciously thinking of it anymore.

But of course I do. So that was helpful, too. Between my sister and Birdie, you know, we went back through my past and, well, basically it's the healing power is love, you know, experiencing love from Birdie that I'd never experienced before. Being able to talk openly about these things, what I expected to be rejected, right? You don't talk to people about your deepest pain, you know, you don't expect people to keep loving and accepting you on that level.

But she did. So that was it. When I left La Brie, my model of God was Birdie, and she would ask her gentle probing questions. And so I would I would hear God, you know, asking these gentle probing questions, getting deeper and deeper. And so the emotional healing really started at La Brie and learning to experience God's love. Because God's love is the ultimate healing power, you know, to have such a transformative relationship with God. God's love actually changes you.

It's so beautiful. And I'm wondering, so often they'll say your view of God is many times tainted by your view of your father. Good or bad. Right. And did you have that experience? Oh yeah, but Birdie solved that in a lot of ways.

Really? Having one person step in and be different. That's so encouraging. Yeah, it made a big difference. Now, as you think back on that and in regards to, you know, what you're writing now about masculinity, was your view of masculinity defined by your dad?

Well, so as you can imagine, I came a raving feminist. Because of your dad, you think? Yeah, I think so. Do you think he was toxic? I put quotations around that word.

Well, his behavior in a home was definitely toxic. Yeah. So I did become very much of a feminist. I was always reading some feminist book. I read all the major groundbreaking feminists from Betty Friedan, you know, to Simone de Beauvoir and Kate Millet.

I read them all. Because? Because whenever they talked about how horrible men were, I thought, oh yeah. You agree? Yeah, definitely. So it affected my view of men, even though the healing in my relationship with God was very real.

Make sure you got that part. Yeah. But my view of men was very tainted, definitely. And I thought every feminist book I read, I thought was better than last one.

Really? I always had a feminist book on my bedside. Always. Let me ask you, you've been married for, have you been married 50 years?

Almost. Yeah. And so how did that affect your marriage? Did you view your husband in a negative kind of way?

You would think it would, but I don't think so. Because, um, can I do the Myers-Briggs thing? Yeah. Because I'm an INFP. I'm a very strong F. Feeler. Introverted. Feeler. Intuitive. Feeler.

Perceiver. I'm very relational. Yeah. I'm very relational.

Yeah. So I have very deep personal relationships. Which was helpful for your marriage. Well, it's interesting, you know, as you talk about your background, as I read through the toxic war of masculinity, and again, I mean, it's, there's so much in there. I don't even know where to start. There's so many things that you walk through, even the history of masculinity and our culture. I put the book down thinking you are very pro-man, very pro-masculinity.

Yes. And here in that background, I'm like, wow, this has been quite a journey. A transformation. You end up, at the end of the book, going, men are good.

You know what I mean? Not, it's not a book ripping on men. It's a, here's the journey of men I've gone through, and here's what really masculinity looks like. In a beautiful way. As a man, I'm like, yeah, this is, I want to hand this to everybody and say this is a godly perspective on manhood, but the journey that you went on is very interesting.

Oh, thank you so much. I'm glad that's what comes through, because I certainly did try to make it positive toward men, even when I dealt with some of the difficulties that men have in our culture, and even when I dealt, at the end, with abusive marriages and so on, and I tried to always keep that positive. So I'm glad that that's what's coming through, because, you know, men don't respond well to being accused of being toxic. And who would?

So here's what I found really effective. There's a sociologist who did a study, and he ends up saying, you know, there's, in our culture, there's two competing scripts for manhood. He's a very well-known sociologist, so he speaks around the world, in countries around the world, and so he began to use that as his testing ground, and he would ask young men, what does it mean to be a good man? You know, if you're at a funeral and the eulogy somebody says, he was a good man, what does that mean?

And they had no trouble answering that. Everyone around the world said, well, integrity, honesty, sacrifice, how about the little guy? I kind of like that one.

How about the little guy? Be a protector, be a provider, be generous, and so on. This is worldwide.

Worldwide. And by the way, he would say, where did you learn that? You know, integrity, sacrifice.

And they would say, well, it's just in the air we breathe, and if in the Western countries they would say, it's our Judeo- Christian heritage. And then when he'd say, but what does it mean to be a real man? Then they would say, no, no, no, no, a real man, that's completely different.

Be tough, be strong, never show weakness, win at all costs, suck it up, be competitive, get rich. The real tension, I think, today is not between men and women so much as within men's own head, between these two competing scripts. As our culture has become more secular, the good man ideal is fading, you know, is losing its hold in men's hearts.

And what's left is more the real man, which is what people mean when they say toxic. They mean those, the real man, you know, entitlement, power over, dominance, and so on. Is that why you wanted to write about it and study it? No, no, that was one of the sociologists who I read when I was involved in it.

That's not what I first got started. Now, you know, when I first got started, I will tell you, well, there's two reasons. One is, I did have to ask, where is this coming from? Because the hostility against men is so extreme today. Even in mainstream publications, I read a Washington Post article titled, Why Can't We Hate Men? What? This is not some fringe feminist publication.

It's the Washington Post. Why Can't We Hate Men? Or you can buy t-shirts that say, so many men, so little ammunition. Ooh, we're out of time for day one, but this is setting us up for tomorrow. Yeah, I mean, you just set something up and I'll end with this.

That's a cliffhanger right there. At the church I helped lead for 30 years, we had a men's retreat. And guess what we called it? We called it Man Up.

And it's really interesting. We probably did that for seven, eight, ten years and a couple thousand men would come away to this camp. And my youngest son came on our staff and one of his first years there, he said, Dad, that's a really bad name for a men's retreat. And it's interesting because you just sort of articulated what he tried to say to me. And I looked at him like, what are you talking about? Nike uses that phrase, Man Up. It's like, let's go away and let's man up and be men. And he goes, that is what is killing us as men. We're being told to man up. And we think that means be toxic and macho and don't cry and don't.

He goes, that is not going to reach my generation. We are repelling against that. A man shouldn't man up. In fact, a man can't man up. A man should lay down his life.

Yeah. And he was trying to get at, we are nothing without Christ. And you're like saying, man up and you can do this about Jesus. We should be saying, no, I need Jesus.

It should be something more tender and sensitive. At first Nancy looked at him like, what are you talking about? Then as I thought about it, like, he is exactly right. And it's what you just read. That's the wrong phrase.

And that's something my generation, and you know this generation a little bit, we've grown up with that is the, that's the vision and it's the wrong vision. You get into that in the book. In fact, tomorrow we have to talk about, okay, if that's not the right vision, what is? And I can't wait for our listeners to hear the section in your book about men that go to church. That was inspiring to me.

And that's tomorrow. I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Anne Wilson talking with Nancy Piercy on Family Life Today. Nancy has written an incredible book called The Toxic War on Masculinity, How Christianity Reconcils the Sexes. Sometimes I wonder, how did the idea arise that masculinity is dangerous and destructive?

Well, in her book, Nancy Piercy leads you on a fascinating excursion through American history to discover why the scripts for masculinity turned toxic all of a sudden and how to fix it. So this book is, as I said, amazing. And it's going to be our gift to you when you call and partner with us financially. So you can go online to or give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. And you can feel free to drop us something in the mail if you'd like.

Our address is Family Life, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, Florida, 32832. You know, there are a lot of negative perceptions of men, as we've been talking about today, in the media and characterizations on television and movies and stuff like that. And there's a lot of alarming statements that are made by famous men or other famous individuals about men. Well, how do we come around to redeeming that negative stereotype? Well, David and Wilson are going to be back tomorrow with Nancy Piercy to talk about just that. We hope you'll join us. On behalf of David and Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a donor-supported production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-24 23:06:40 / 2023-10-24 23:17:45 / 11

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