Nancy Pearcey Explains The Toxic War on Masculinity plus a Review

Nancy Pearcey Explains The Toxic War on Masculinity plus a Review

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Featured Guests | Professor Nancy Pearcey

Nancy Pearcey’s latest book is The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles the Sexes.

Her earlier books include Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and SexualityThe Soul of ScienceSaving LeonardoFinding Truth, and two ECPA Gold Medallion Award Winners: How Now Shall We Live (coauthored with Harold Fickett and Chuck Colson) and Total Truth.

Her books have been translated into 19 languages. She is professor and scholar in residence at Houston Christian University. A former agnostic, Pearcey has spoken at universities such as Princeton, Stanford, USC, and Dartmouth.

She has been quoted in The New Yorker and Newsweek, highlighted as one of the five top women apologists by Christianity Today, and hailed in The Economist as “America’s pre-eminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual.”

Summary – Nancy Pearcey Explains The Toxic War on Masculinity

In this episode of Dare to Think, Kerry Baldwin interviews Professor Nancy Pearcey about her book, The Toxic War on Masculinity. This book is not intended to take sides in cultural-religious debates between Complementarianism and Egalitarianism. Instead, Pearcey examines a socio-historical perspective of the phenomenon known as “toxic masculinity” and whether Christianity or secularism is responsible for it.

Pearcey finds a number of surprising examples throughout history, and also today from prominent sociological and psychological marriage researchers. Pearcey’s book is more of an academic apologetic written for educated layman, instead of a popular piece.

Join me, Kerry Baldwin, with Nancy Pearcey, as we Dare to Think about the Toxic War on Masculinity

Main Points of Discussion

00:00 Introduction
01:20 What is the main problem the book is trying to solve?
04:47 What has been the cause for controversy surrounding the book?
09:01 The “Good” man versus “Real” man scripts
12:13 The “Andrew Tate” phenomenon of masculinity & classical Christian schools
14:09 How Christian men are absorbing the secular (“real man”) script
15:02 Research for Christian men splits into two different groups: devout versus nominal
17:22 Brad Wilcox on Christian marriages
19:57 Nominal Christian men marriage and divorce stats
21:47 Percentage of nominal to devout Christian men is 50/50
23:24 Fatherless boyhood: a problem of no-fault divorce or Industrialization?
25:23 How did we lose involved fathers?
27:50 Is there a way to flex the workplace so fathers are no longer absent from the family?
29:02 The impact of fatherlessness hits boys harder than girls
30:24 The impact of father substitutes
31:44 How the 1950s model of the household can’t possibly be the Biblical ideal
33:28 Closing

Resource Links

Follow Nancy Pearcey on Social Media

Visit Nancy Pearcey’s Website and purchase her book! (Preferred by author)

Or on Amazon (Affiliate Support for Dare to Think Podcast)

Review of  The Toxic War on Masculinity


Mere Liberty

Professor Nancy Pearcey writes a scholarly apologetic for the issues Christian men face, and offers a defense for Christianity, specifically saving faith and devotion to Christ, is the solution.

This solution is presented despite charges from various corners of the non-Christian and liberal Christian worlds that such adherence is the direct cause for oppression within the marriage and family life.

The book is divided into three parts. The first focuses on providing empirical data that bifurcates devout Christian men from nominal Christian (in-name-only) men.

This bifurcation demonstrates that while there is a marked problem with men who claim the name, Christian, those who are devout have the have lowest incidence of problems in their marriage and the highest happiness among their wives.

This bifurcation also seems to align to with what sociologists have defined as the good man vs real man “scripts.” That is, a conflict in societal messaging to men about the nature of masculinity.

The second part is dedicated to investigating, exploring, and explaining how the idea of masculinity turned toxic. Pearcey explores a number of themes of masculinity beginning at the founding of America and up to modern day.

This is a historical and sociological survey of dynamics between married men and women. It is not intended to be a defense of or an attack on various socio-political-economic views including, but not limited to, the Complementarianism-Egalitarianism debate, the Socialism-Capitalism debate, or the like.

The third part is dedicated to explaining what happens when Christian men absorb the secular (toxic) idea of masculinity.

By this part of the book, Pearcey has taken great pains to explain that, masculinity as such is not inherently toxic, but that it becomes toxic when divorcing the meaning of masculinity from historic Protestant Christian orthodoxy, the concept of the Imago Dei, and the Good Man script.

Review of The Toxic War on Masculinity

Professor Pearcey brought a great deal of clarity to a topic mired in deep pain and reactionary responses. One major difficulty with exploring this topic from a more academic (socio-historical) perspective, is avoiding the cultural-religious war that has so consumed men and women both still in the church, as well as those who’ve left the church over it.

It has become intractable; to the point that either side refuses to “cede ground” to the “other side” for fear their own side will lose the war. In other words, if one side seriously considers any point made by the other side, even to dispute it or improve their own argument, that mere act of consideration is viewed as “ceding ground.”

And like the causalities of violent wars, our children are suffering the consequences. There were several parts of the book that I think are worth review by anyone who believes men and women need not be at war with one another:

“Good man” vs “Real man” scripts

In the very first chapter, Pearcey sets the stage for understanding the rest of her book: the “good man” vs “real man” scripts. She cites a study by Sociologist Michael Kimmel where Kimmel asked West Point cadets two questions: what does it mean to be a good man? and what does it mean to be a real man?

The descriptions that follow are familiar to those who’ve followed this Complementarian/Egalitarian debate for several years. The good man is a noble, loving, protecting, self-sacrificing, chivalrous while the real man is hyper-machismo, competitive, invulnerable, wealthy, has high sexual prowess, etc.

Pearcey points out that every culture across the world, intuitively knows what constitutes a good man – though Western cultures attribute it to Christian values. Pearcey also points out, that while many of the “real man” characteristics are not necessarily bad in themselves, when they decouple from the “good man” characteristics, we see problems of abuse.

“Ideally, the Good Man should also be the “Real” man. But in today’s secular culture, the two have become decoupled. My goal in this book is to ask how the two scripts were split apart. We will be effective in countering the secular script for men only if we understand where it came from and how it developed.”

It is for this reason, as well as studies Pearcey cites showing no corollary between marital happiness and the husband’s view of gender roles, that the book speaks above the “in-house” debates between Complementarians and Egalitarians, instead of getting stuck in the mire of them.

While Pearcey avoids the debate, I intend to provide some implications this book has for those in-house debates.

Devout versus nominal Christian men

Pearcey’s research found a very important distinction; that of devout versus nominal Christian men. According to Pearcey, these two groups (a 1:1 ratio in population) are defined by researchers primarily by their weekly, regular attendance at church. Devout men attend regularly, and nominals attend sporadically.

She says,

“many nominal men hang around the fringes of the Christian world just enough to hear the language of headship and submission but not enough to learn the biblical meaning of those terms – like skimming the news headlines without reading the actual stories.

They cherry-pick verses from the Bible and read them through a grid of male superiority and entitlement that they have absorbed from the secular guy code for the “Real” Man. Then they manipulate Scripture to justify their abusive behavior.

As a result, any statistic that blends together both [devout] and nominal Christian men will be misleading.”

If I’m taking Pearcey’s description above, I know of many “devout” men, who attend church weekly, and even hold the office of pastor or elder in their church, who fit the “nominal” description.

If you’re reading this book, and have been the victim of an abusive “Christian” husband, you might be inclined to stop reading and even chuck the book as failing to understand the problem that #churchtoo survivors keep trying to point out: that the men they were abused by were other “devout” in terms of dedication to their cause.

Pearcey is not unaware of this! Though you won’t necessarily understand that point until you get to chapter 13, where she states,

“Although committed, churchgoing Protestant family men are the least violent of any group in America, that rate is not zero. Combine them with nominal Protestant men, who are the most violent of all groups in America, and clearly the church has a responsibility to address the issue.

If we hope to offer the world a viable solution to toxic behavior in men, we must demonstrate that Christianity has the power to address it within our own ranks.”

Add further Pearcey’s introduction, where she describes her own abusive “Christian” father and we can see Pearcey is not deaf to the cries of those abused by the church. On the contrary, she’s keenly aware of it and her book doesn’t deserve the vitriolic condemnation from anti-abuse proponents. They clearly have not read her book and are mere reactionaries to sound bites taken out of context.

This distinction between devout and nominal men, I expect could be its own book. But it’s a distinction that offers both hope and a warning; hope that Christianity is the antidote to abuse, but a warning that the prevalence and consequences of nominals, and by extension false doctrine on authority and submission, must be dealt with by God-fearing men.

Pearcey’s primary point is that holding to historic Protestant Christian orthodoxy (a view to the true Gospel of Christ), is an antidote to this toxic war, not a venom for men.

Industrialization (not no-fault divorce) created fatherless boys

Twitter has been on fire lately with calls to repeal no-fault divorce laws because they appear to be the cause of fatherlessness. Many divorce lawyers, religious leaders, social advocacy groups, not to mention Red-Pill/MGTOW groups, marketing their ideas and services to men, make this their prominent point.

It’s an easy thing to blame, of course! No-fault divorce laws were a result of Second Wave Feminism and Feminism is seen as the arch enemy of masculinity. While certain variants of feminism certainly do present themselves as man’s arch enemy, Pearcey helpfully points out that fatherlessness was a problem way before Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.

The fatherlessness epidemic began with Industrialization, when, for the first time in history, men’s work left the home. Pearcey details the history of, and cry against, fatherlessness resulting from industrialization. The caricature of the 1950s nuclear family already had a father who was absent from family for five to six days out of the week.

Pearcey didn’t intend this, but this explanation makes so much more sense than what’s being offered by the #tradlife trend. It blows wide open (in my view) Complementarianism for being built upon an unnatural, antibiblical stereotype, that is so shortsighted it only considered the immediate context of Second Wave Feminism, rather than the wider context of non-reductive reality.

That is also not to say that “no-fault” divorce is a societal good to be upheld. But, neither is the system it was purported to be resolving.

Pearcey is also not making the case that the solution of Industrialization is to return to Agrarian societies. Rather, she is interested in seeing the economy revolutionized in a way that respects the value of fathers regularly involved with their kids.

One facet Pearcey doesn’t bring up, which I think is worth exploring, is the other invention of the Industrial Revolution: industrialized public schooling. I’m sure it was easy to make the case, that fathers didn’t need to be at home with their kids, because their kids would be in (compulsory) school.

The idea of female inferiority is Darwinist, not Christian

I hear this most often in the form of arguments against women’s ordination. Women can’t be ordained because they’re “easily deceived,” or otherwise inferior intellectually, emotionally, physically, spiritually, sexually, … I’ve heard it all. (And mostly from Complementarians and Patriarchalists).

Pearcey discusses Darwinian influence on the culture in chapter 9. She speaks mostly to the ideas Darwin spread about the animalistic tendencies of man, and that men should live down to them. Additionally, Pearcey points out that Darwin promoted this idea (which we can trace back to Roman Pagans) that women are in all ways inferior to men.

“[Darwin] was convinced that males are superior to females – that man attains ‘a higher eminence, in whatever he takes up, than can woman’. He concluded that ‘the average mental power in an must be above that of woman.

… Darwin wrote, women at home nurturing the young ones are out of reach of natural selection; thus they (women) have evolved more slowly and their mental powers lower … women have ‘greater tenderness and less selfishness’ than men, and even greater ‘powers of intuition, and rapid perception’. But he dismissed these traits as ‘characteristic of the lower races, and therefore of a past and lower state of civilization.”

If Egalitarians get anything right, it’s their view that God does not hold a view that woman is inferior to man, nor is that supported by Scripture. This notwithstanding ESV translators who adopted a misogynistic interpretation of Genesis 3:16, produced only in the 1970s (and ironically) from Susan Foh.

“Conservative Protestant gender ideology” is not synonymous with either Complementarianism or Biblical Patriarchy

One thing to consider while reading this book: “Conservative Protestant gender ideology” is not synonymous with either Complementarianism or Biblical Patriarchy. Despite great effort on the part of these groups to prove it is, they don’t account for how ideas develop over time and what constitutes genuine authority on the matter.

It’s very easy to mistake the general complementarity of the sexes with Complementarianism; I’ve seen numerous times where some will say, “I’m complementarian,” but then have no idea about Complementarianism. But neither Complementarian nor Complementarianism are shorthand for “conservative Protestant gender ideology.”

Pearcey points out that in Colonial America (just prior to the Industrial Revolution) Puritan men were much more active in the home (even as “housefathers”) because their work was in the home. Cultivating the home by the dual-rule of husband and wife, was the traditional endeavor! It was not that propagated by the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) which is caricature of the 1950s housewife.

To be clear, Complementarianism is an ideology, an -ism, formulated, developed, and articulated by CBMW following the Danvers Statement in 1987. It is not how conservative Protestants (from 1517 onward) viewed the dynamics of men and women, and hardly that of the ancient church.

While CBMW and Patriarchalists has made their best efforts to codify their errors as the definitive Christian anthropology of the sexes, they would have to hold to historic Protestant orthodoxy to do that. (They do not!)

Recommended: The Toxic War on Masculinity

I strongly recommend Pearcey’s book. It’s well-researched and sheds substantial light on very real problems in the church that are getting dragged down into the weeds of a culture war.

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Kerry Baldwin
B.A. Philosophy, Arizona State University. My writing focuses on libertarian philosophy and reformed theology and aimed at the educated layperson. I am a confessionally Reformed Christian orthodox Presbyterian in the tradition of J. Gresham Machen (1881 – 1937)

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