Neat Little Boxes

So, a friend of mine, who blogs about Christian mysticism, recently read the book Wild at Heart and found it a bit lacking. He wasn’t thrilled with the way the author describes a man as:

a warrior who is wounded, yet often does not realize it beyond a fear of being uncovered as a fake in feelings of inadequacy. Drawing heavily from cherry picking the warrior imagery passages found within the Bible, Eldredge argues that to try to tame a man who is wild at heart is to emasculate him by trying to make him feminine.

He notes that reading this description, which he couldn’t really relate to, left him questioning his own identity, until he realized that it’s not that simple.

That right there is the huge problem with gender essentialism. It tries to shove people into neat little boxes, and people are more complex than that.

Gender essentialism often has religious roots, but it seems to come from the secular side too. For every book or sermon about “Christian manhood” or “Christian womanhood,” there’s some evo-psych article telling us that women are naturally suited for housework or men are more rational or what-have-you.

But it’s BS no matter where it comes from. People are, first and foremost, individuals, and there’s more variation between individuals than between the sexes as a whole. (Even before you consider that biological sex isn’t a simple dichotomy.)

I haven’t read Wild at Heart (and I’m not likely to, it’s not written for me, and my books-to-read list is a mile long), so I won’t say much about the way it seems to cast women as the bad guys–wanting to tame and feminize those free, proud warrior men–and to describe “masculine” as innately superior to “feminine.” Okay, maybe a little. I’ll note that it gives women the short end of the stick and move on.

What I find more interesting is this book, and the review of it, as an example of how gender essentialism hurts men and women both. There’s a disconnect that occurs when society and culture tries to shove you into a box where you don’t fit, telling you that this is “how you” are, regardless of the fact that you, as an individual, probably already know what you’re like better than anyone.

From a Christian standpoint, why can’t we accept that God made everybody unique? I mean, look at the variety of the natural world, on our planet and in the whole flipping universe–deserts, oceans, 15,000 different species of butterfly, supernovas and white dwarfs, cold planets and hot planets. And all the colors of flowers, of animals, of people. You think maybe God likes variety? Just a bit?

I know, dealing with people as individuals is hard. Sweeping generalizations simplify things, they make it easier. But they’re also a crutch. Like the way people often *just can’t deal* with not knowing the gender of a baby. Does it really matter? Does the kid care, at this point, whether you call them “him” or “her” or put them in a pink onesie or a blue onesie? As long as they get fed, changed, and snuggled, I’m thinking not. But it throws people for such a loop to not know someone’s gender because we assume that it’s this all-encompassing, all-defining thing. Maybe it’s not, at least not inherently, not until a culture makes it that way.

Note: Link has been fixed. (He separated his book review posts into their own blog, rather than keeping them on the mysticism one.)

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