All the rage nowadays among fundamentalist Christians is an emphasis on "manhood," masculinity, and manliness, which they of course think is next to godliness. From Mark Driscoll to a plethora of lesser-known wannabes, everybody's telling American males to man up.
This is none too surprising. Changing attitudes about sex and gender have almost always incurred backlash, and Driscoll et al. are really just following traditionalist (albeit modified) ideologies on these scores in the face of changing attitudes, and they are then rationalizing them with convenient Bible verses (while ignoring or explaining away the inconvenient ones).
So it was with little shock, yet persistent awe, that I learned about the new talked-about book "Date Your Wife" by Justin Buzzard. I have not read this book. But from what I read of his recent treatment running down some of its particulars, I'm guessing I wouldn't make it through very many chapters without the unique nausea that only outdated, belligerent sexism can promote.
Buzzard here responds to an e-mail querying how many times a healthy married couple should have sex a week. He then quotes his wife as saying that three times a week is not nearly frequent enough for a healthy marriage, but rather every other day would be better, and hey, it doesn't have to be romantic sex anyway, because "quickies are an ace in our pockets." Buzzard then responds with a stock sit-com deadpan: "Man, I love my wife" (laugh track). Because, you see, she thinks they should have sex a lot. And really, that's what any man really wants. Lots of sex. All the time.
Indeed, Mrs. Buzzard even suggests that if a wife doesn't perform her concubinage duties for her husband often enough, he might deplete his "sex tank" and go looking for a filler-up elsewhere (I'm not making this up -- go to the link above and see for yourself). She concludes, "We definitely don't want to send them out into this sex crazed world with their sex tanks on low. Satan is prowling."
That's right: Jesus may have abstained from food and drink when he triumphed over Satan for 40 days in the wilderness, but he must have had a full sex tank.
Note that Buzzard's wife says nothing of whether she herself wants to have sex that often; rather, the impetus for that much sex is apparently the worry that without it, Buzzard would be on the prowl to get it elsewhere. So in short, we have a wife who feels the need, irrespective of her own desires, to service her husband (even using a gas-station metaphor to that end), and a husband who apparently needs said servicing almost daily because without it, he'll cheat on her.
This is what passes for marital guidance in today's evangelical circles?
Buzzard himself concludes his advice by issuing the old The Man Is Always Wrong stereotype, telling husbands that they are the problems in their marriages. Not their wives. Them.
Of course, this is all predicated on the ancient paterfamilias model, which is quite literally the one late epistle writers in the New Testament are referencing when they issue edicts as to how men should relate to their wives, children, and slaves. Conservative Christians, ignoring the parts about slavery, nonetheless import this model from the ancient world, patriarchy and all, to support their ideologies about "manhood." Nevermind the fact that Paul wrote in Galatians 3:28 that there is "no male and female" and that Jesus in Matthew 19:12 literally tells his followers that some people cut off their manhood for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Ignoring the real gender ambiguities in the Gospels and in Paul, patriarchal Christians instead focus on the letters of 1 Timothy, 1 Peter, Colossians, and Ephesians, many if not most of which are pseudepigraphic in the first place. But even here, folks like Buzzard will suggest that "biblical manhood" is not about ordering one's wife around, giving a modern spin on the ancient, authoritarian patriarchy that is clear in a straightforward reading of the epistles' language.
Thus while propping up a traditionalist gender ideology by calling it "biblical," the end result is highly selective and barely "biblical" at all, eschewing moments of ambiguity in the New Testament while embracing moments of traditional patriarchy, but softening them for modern sensibilities.
Indeed, the notion that Christianity offers a blueprint for manliness and marriage would have been shocking news to some of the earliest Christians, who prided themselves instead on virginity and the pursuit of the androgynous prototype of humankind prior God's creation of two genders. This is perhaps behind Paul's creedal "there is no male or female," as well as perhaps some of the more androgynous early images of Christ, such as that on the Arian Baptistery in Ravenna, Italy, pictured above.
But of course, all of this is immaterial to sexist ideologues. As with most of their beliefs, the ideologies come first, and "biblical" rationalizations second.
So we're not likely to see the end of silly, reactionary attempts to reinforce old gender hierarchies, even while masked behind supposedly hip and frank talk about sex. People should make themselves aware that behind these "open" and "honest" discussions about sex and marriage lurk the very same chauvinism and patriarchy that have always been there. Suggesting you need a full "sex tank" to keep away Satan is really just evangelical-speak for the old "boys will be boys" -- the notion that men are "naturally" sexual animals and that good wives perform their marital duties best when they make servicing their husbands their primary goals.
God help us.