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Topic: Manhood

Studies in Controversy: Erick Erickson and Sexual Distinctiveness

May 31, 2013

By Owen Strachan


“I’m so used to liberals telling conservatives that they’re anti-science. But liberals who defend this and say it is not a bad thing are very anti-science. When you look at biology — when you look at the natural world — the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it’s not antithesis, or it’s not competing, it’s a complementary role. We’re lost the ability to have complementary relationships … and it’s tearing us apart.”

–Erick Erickson to Lou Dobbs, May 30, 2013

If you want to start an online fire today, there’s a simple recipe: suggest that men and women are distinct. Erick Erickson just did this. He elicited a strong reaction; see here and here, for example.

Actually, he said more than this, relating his comments to the animal world. While I find those remarks of interest, I’m not a scientist, and I’m not personally invested in the spread of complementarianism among the animal kingdom. I do take note, though, whenever someone in the broader culture dares to suggest, against all the forces of modern ideology, that men and women are complementary, and that men should be providers. Erickson bravely made both of these points in his interview with Lou Dobbs, and on these points I agree with him.

I can’t answer for what Erickson said in full; only he can and should do this. It is not my place to sort out all the particulars of his remarks. What I can speak to, though, are two of the basic points he raised: 1) men and women are complementary, and 2) men should provide for their families.

Complementarians, speaking from the perspective of Scripture, offer two major points to this discussion. First, men and women are both made in the image of God and share unity in this God-given identity (Gen. 1:26-27). We possess so much in common, biologically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, and of course above all theologically. The Lord made Eve from Adam’s rib, signifying just how interwoven men and women are and are to be (Gen. 2:21-22). Men and women are not from different planets. We are one race, one image-bearing body of humanity, and we glory in this unity.

Second, men and women are distinct. We are different from one another. Please know that I feel a complete and utter lack of defensiveness in typing this out. I’m coming from the most obvious angle one can. The bodies of men and women are different. We are not made in the same shape. Men cannot bear children. Men cannot nurse children. Even noting these basic realities will put me in the firing line. But that is of no concern. God has made men and women in this way, and he has done so for his glory. The distinctness of the sexes owes not to caveman-like oafs, but to the super-intelligence of Almighty God.

Let’s pause here. The Lord is so intelligent, so wise, so muscularly smart that it defies comprehension. Where we see his clear handiwork, we celebrate it. We don’t push against it, deny it, nuance it out of existence, or chalk it up to error. We marvel at it. We’re in a God-created world. It only makes sense to trace his hand here. One of the clearest elements of divine style we have the privilege to observe here is the distinctness of manhood and womanhood. We share fundamental unity, and we glory in this. But where we see God-made difference, we take great pleasure in it.

So Christians can never raise their children to choose their gender, or better, sex. We train our children to revel in their boyness, their girlness. We don’t feel pressure to constantly define our boys and girls as different; the two points I’ve made here each matter. But we do make clear to our kids that distinctiveness is not bad. It’s good. There is beauty in diversity, especially when it is grounded in unity, as the doctrine of the Holy Trinity shows in force.

All of the above is true irrespective of science, because God has made it so. Again, there’s no defensiveness here, no anger at those who disagree. This is the most common-sense conclusion possible. No matter what polls show, no matter what the latest study says, the Holy Scripture has handed down to us that men and women are distinct. Tentpole, meet ground.

Here we stand. We can remix no gender. (Sorry, Dr. Luther.)

With all that said, however, it’s worth noting that scientists across the spectrum of belief have noticed differences between the sexes. Here are a few points of note, among many we could note:

  • Different studies have shown that men, on average, have between 40%-50% more upper body strength than women.
  • Men on average have around 1000%-1100% more testosterone than women. Hence the need for physical competition, activity, and exercise. Hence the hair pulled out by long-suffering mothers of little boys.
  • Women on average have far more estrogen than men; this helps explain the general desire among women to be “nurturers.”
  • The womanly body, in general, stores fat longer than the manly body. Interestingly, this gives women an advantage in starvation situations (contra what we might think).
  • Women’s brains, in general, are much more active than men’s, with a massive recent study showing more activity among women in 112 of 128 brain “regions.”
  • Men’s brains are 8-10% larger than women’s. Neither this or the preceding statistic indicates dominant intelligence in one sex or the other.
  • Men’s brains, on average, produce more than 50% more serotonin than women’s.
  • Women have more activity in the hippocampus than men. This is the area of the brain that stores memories (this, and raw smarts, explains a good deal in my marriage!).
  • Men have been shown to excel in what is called “visiospatial processing”–getting out of the woods based on instinct, in other words. [Insert joke about stubborn man refusing to get directions.]

We could keep going. All these differences, of course, are in addition to basic and everyday realities like menstruation, height, weight, and so on. (For more in this vein, consult Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood and the books by Bill and Anne Moir, for starters.)

We’ve tackled a good bit already. We should note, though, that men are indeed called to be providers by God, as texts like Gen. 3:17-19, Prov. 31, 1 Tim. 5:14, and Titus 2:5 show. Men are not called to be “workers at home” as women are. If you want to write this off as first-century (and before it) male posturing, feel free; just be sure to explain away the rest of the New Testament’s teaching with it.

Because of this, no biblically sound man of God can adopt, as an ideal course, the “Dad Mom” model increasing in prominence today. Erickson is quite right to challenge this blueprint. If a man can physically work, and if he is able to keep employment, then it is his special, God-given call to devote his strength, his intellect, and his attention to providing for his family. In following this pattern, we’re responding directly to Scripture, and also to the worldview taught us in our bodies. Men are not made for childbearing, as we have pointed out. Our bodies do not give us this revelation, to use a Wendell Berry word. They tell us otherwise.

God has made men strong, in general, to provide. And he has not left us only with principles, but has supremely given us his Son, who laid down his life to make the provision of eternal life for his bride, the church. Internet controversies will wax and wane, but the image of the Son yielding his life for us will press successive generations of men into sacrificial service for those God has given them to lovingly lead.

Beyond this, it will endure forever.

(Cross-posted from Thoughtlife)

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