Christian books ask far more of women than they do of men.
We learned that pretty quickly when we read the top 15 bestselling Christian sex & marriage books for our upcoming book The Great Sex Rescue. But what they’re really doing is assuming that men can never be emotionally mature.
We’re in the middle of our emotional maturity series, and we’ve talked about what emotional maturity is; how God language can enable emotional immaturity; what to do if a spouse is stonewalling; and more. Today I want to run some quotes that we’ve got tucked away in a huge file from when we were reviewing books that show that evangelical authors have assumed that men cannot and will not get in touch with their emotions, and so the women will have to do that work for them.
And before I even get into this, I want to stress one important thing: women are not more innately mature than men, or more emotionally mature than men. Women are not better than men.
Yet so many books portray men as strong physically and very stoic, but completely out of touch emotionally, and needing women to fix things for them. This, I believe, contributes to men having a hard time talking about feelings and interacting with their wives on an emotional level, as we talked about in last week’s podcast.
If you expect that men can’t be emotional and can’t handle emotions, then it’s not too far a leap to say that this is the way that God made them, and that it’s actually manly to be unable to process emotions. And that, my friends, is a big problem.
When we were reading these books, we were mostly looking for what they said about sex, so we didn’t take a lot of notes on what they said about emotions. But here are just a few excerpts that we found illuminating:
Men Are Not Expected to Grow Up or Mature:
Think about how often you hear men referred to as “just boys at heart”, or “boys will be boys.” And yet women are rarely told that we can sin, be immature, or do stupid things because we’re just little girls at heart.
Men are just boys grown tall, and this man’s failure had shaken his manhood and accentuated the boy that lurks in the heart of every man.
“Sometimes we men do act like little boys. I’m not saying that’s good or admirable, but that’s the way we are. You’re married to a real man, not an ideal stoic–and if he is denied sexual fulfillment, it will affect him in more ways than a woman could possibly understand.”
Men Don’t Need Romance or Affection
So many books talk like only women need romance and affection, while only men need sex. The idea that a man won’t want affection or could take or leave affection is quite widespread in books (and I know I used to say similar things, too! It’s actually not true). But what do you think is the effect on boys being told their whole lives that real men don’t want or need affection? They’ll end up taking all their needs for affection and channeling them into sex.
A woman never loses the need to be romanced, whereas a man doesn’t even possess that need. His emotions are near the surface and easily ignited; hers are deep and burn slowly.
[H]is need for romantic love is either nonexistent or minimal. But he is married to a creature with an extraordinary need for romance.
Sex for him and affection for you is a two-way street. Just as he should minister to your spirit to have access to your body, so, too, you should minister to his body if you want to gain access to his spirit.
Have you ever wondered why guys push so hard against the sexual boundaries when dating? It’s not because they are godless pigs; it’s because they’re longing to express their hearts in their own innate language of love.
Men Don’t Really Need to Talk or Communicate
And not just that–they’re not capable of talking or communicating unless they first get sex. You can’t expect a man to talk with you if you don’t have sex with him.
Again, this says that men aren’t emotional beings at heart, and it discourages men from learning to communicate well.
We see this in so many books–in His Needs, Her Needs, sex is the first thing that the husband can’t do without, whereas affection (and really communication and having a relationship) are the first things that the wife can’t do without. Love & Respect similarly says that closeness (which includes talking and being emotionally connected) are things that she needs, but sexuality is what he needs. All the elements of feeling emotionally connected are considered feminine. All that he needs from her is friendship, but not necessarily sharing feelings or connecting emotionally (only spending time together).
This is such a common theme it’s hard to know what to quote, because for most books it would mean quoting whole chapters. But here are just two:
Husbands, particularly, can come under satanic attack when deprived of sexual release. Wives might be able to better understand this if they think about how they would feel if their husbands didn’t want to talk or listen to them.
Lack of sex is as emotionally serious to him as, say, his sudden silence would be to you, were he simply to stop communicating with you. It is just as wounding to him, just as much a legitimate grievance–and just as dangerous to your marriage.
The insinuation here is that men don’t actually need to communicate or feel emotionally close with their wives. They could take or leave talking–what they can’t take or leave is sex. But as we’ve talked at length about before, talking and sex are not equivalent. To say that a man can take or leave emotional connection is a huge problem.
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Men Sin Simply Because That’s How God Made Them
The majority of books that talk about men’s problem with lust phraise it in terms of “that’s just part of being a man.”
Again, imagine what this does to boys as they grow up in the Christian community. They’ll hear: “Real men lust. Real men struggle with porn. If I lust, I really can’t help it, because that’s the way God made me. That’s part of being a man.”
And if men can’t help but lust, then who is responsible for keeping men pure from lust? Women, of course! They have to be super modest and they have to have a lot of sex with their husbands, because their husbands can’t stop this on their own. So women were made to be mediating forces on these men who would sin if weren’t for women.
Remember, our habits [our lusts] are rooted in our maleness. We understand them. Women don’t.
Even apart from our stopping short of God’s standards, we find another reason for the prevalence of sexual sin among men. We got there naturally–simply by being male.
Our male eyes give us the ability to sin just about any time we want.
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Then, to top it all off, women are told that our job is to keep men feeling good about themselves.
I’m all for affirming and supporting your husband (as I talked about last week), but it goes further than that. So many Christian resources tell us that it’s our job to bolster his ego, as if it’s vitally important that he feels good about himself.
But that’s never supposed to be our job in the Christian life. Our job is to point people to Jesus. Our job is to encourage and to spur one another on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:26)! It is not to tell someone they are wonderful no matter what. We’re supposed to be iron sharpening iron.
Too often, this is couched in language of “respect” and “submission”
Because women are supposed to make men feel good about themselves, it also becomes very important that we never criticize, or to do so may be labeled disrespectful.
(For more on the problems with unconditional respect, and an incident in Love & Respect where she is labeled disrespectful for simply have a legitimate grievance, see my post on Why Unconditional Respect Can’t Work).
What is the cumulative effect of all of this on our emotional maturity?
Men are told that they are not emotional beings. In fact, REAL men are sexual, not emotional. And they’re told that they don’t need affection and they don’t need conversation or connection. So what do men do with their legitimate, God-given needs for these things? Often they all get channelled into sex instead because that’s “safe”. That’s “manly”.
And then women are similarly made to stay immature because we’re told that we must have no boundaries.
First of all, we’re told that we’re responsible for things that we are not responsible for. Because men can’t help but lust; because young men can’t help but push past sexual boundaries; women have to be the gatekeepers and stop men from sinning. We need to stay vigilant to make sure we don’t go too far before we’re married (so we’re responsible for his sin and ours), and we must dress modestly to ensure that men don’t sin.
(By the way, I’m not against women dressing with respect. It’s just that the modesty message must be completely divorced from the lust message. As soon as you say, “men are responsible for lust, but women must also dress modestly,” then you don’t really mean that men are responsible for lust. You’re giving a caveat. So by all means, we can talk about what clothes are good to wear. But this should never, ever be about preventing lust. And I’ve got another way of talking about modesty and the stumbling block idea here).
But then second, we’re told that not only are we responsible for the things that are actually men’s responsibility; we’re told that we can’t verbalize and communicate things that ARE our responsibility. So if we have negative feelings or issues, we should think twice and perhaps not say it at all, because to express discontent may be being disrespectful. Again, a perfect example of this is the wet towel incident in Love & Respect. She was simply asking for something eminently reasonable, but she was labeled disrespectful anyway.
Just because men, in general, may not be as in touch with their emotions does not mean that this is God-given.
Yes, we know that men are less emotionally mature than women (although it’s not as stark and bleak as many of these books make it sound. it’s a marginal difference, not a huge, gaping chasm). And just because men may say they don’t need emotional connection does not mean that they don’t.
These books have looked at what men say, and then pronounced that this is the way God must have made it! But we live in a fallen world with fallen relationships. Just as women need to get more in touch with the sexuality that God made in us, so men need to get more in touch with their emotions. We’re created for intimacy on all levels, and to say that women were created for it one way and men another does such a disservice, and leads to very unhealthy relationships.
Women can also be emotionally immature, by the way. It’s just that Christian literature tends to point women towards more responsibility, not less, while pointing men towards less responsibility, rather than more. If you are reading a Christian book that asks far more of women than it does of men, you need to ask, “Is this an emotionally healthy book? Does this encourage emotional maturity?”
And then we need to start rejecting those that don’t. We simply must change the conversation in the evangelical community so that our books and resources point to more emotional health, not less.
And that will only happen when we focus less on gender, and focus more on wholeness in Christ.
What do you think? Have you found that Christian resources present a stereotype? If so, what should we do about it?
Posts in the Emotional Maturity Series:
- Four Markers of Emotional Maturity
- Do We Use God Language to Avoid Maturity?
- 2 Keys to Handling Stonewalling Behavior
- 6 Ways to Grow in Emotional Maturity
- A Book List to Help with Emotional Maturity
- What Does Emotional Maturity Look Like (Podcast)
- When Christian Resources Perpetuate Your Spouse's Immaturity
- What if Emotional Maturity is a Skill Guys Can Learn?
- How Anger is Like an Iceberg
- What is Real Masculinity?
And check out 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage--my book that covers emotional maturity. Plus there's a FREE group study you can take with it!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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