First: Remember that poem about cheese? It’s in a chapbook! Download it here for free.
Second: there’s a long, unedited theological commentary ahead. If you don’t care, skip to the last three paragraphs or so and you’ll get the relevant info without the rant.
Recent debates on Evangelical Twitter have been forcing me to critically evaluate my theological stance on manhood and womanhood. At the moment the most accurate description for where I fall is “soft complementarian,” meaning that while God equally loves men and women, the role of church eldership is reserved for men and, when mutual agreement in marriage can’t be reached, wives are asked to submit to their husbands. Both of these support the painting God wants Christians to paint in marriage where the man represents Christ and his sacrificial love and the woman represents the Church and her joyful submission.
There are physical and Biblical reasons for this. Physically, women are just weaker than men, a fact that I see played out in our gym all the time; even average men can outlift the strongest women. And women have the reproductive organs (including a built-in tendency to retain fat) to sustain a baby’s life within her. Together, these present some uniqueness in role, though equality in intellectual and emotional capabilities.
Spiritually, this gets more complex. Suffice it to say I’ve spent plenty of time wrestling with a lot of rough passages in the New Testament, and so far male headship in the home and church for the sake of the picture is the pattern I see. But it’s worth noting that I’ve been wrestling with the translations of a few passages: I recently saw an interesting article that argued that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 was Paul answering a question about a specific woman who was likely arguing that women were superior because Artemis (to whom, the author said, women prayed for safe childbirth) was born before Apollo. In other words, Paul says “I do not permit THAT woman to have authority over a man because her theological argument is about idols, and tell her not to worry about praying to Artemis for a safe pregnancy.” It’s been too long since I studied Greek and Roman culture for me to make any cultural comments, but I can confirm that “woman” there is singular… and that it follows some instructions to women in plural, and as an editor if they were both commands to all women then I’d have changed them both to plural in the original Greek.
The same author also argued that 1 Corinthians 14:33-38 was actually Paul quoting a common saying (basically “like churches everywhere, women should be silent… for it is shameful for a woman to speak”), and the word translated “Or” was actually a common indicator in a punctuationless writing system to mark the end of a quote as well as a sarcastic interjection like “Hah,” and the following lines were Paul poking fun at it: “Or do you really think the Gospel was given to [men] only?” Again, I don’t know how I feel about this… but it’s worth noting that in verse 34 Paul cites “the Law” as a reason for women to keep silent… but I can think of no other cases where Paul cites “the Law” as something we need to obey. Quite the contrary, in fact. So that feels like a contextual clue that would persist through translations that Paul was, in fact, eyerolling at that particular quote.
Again, I don’t know how trustworthy either of those translations is; at worst, though, I think the “keep silent” commands are less about women not speaking and more about keeping order during the service.
So what does this theological rant have to do with a sonnet called “Manly”? I’m glad you asked!
See, there are plenty of people who take these and other passages much more literally than me. The more conservative side of complementarianism tends to view a woman’s primary role as a mother and a man’s primary role as the authority/provider. The former is reasonable biologically and statistically, though many churches preach that women are failing their callings if they are not married and at least trying for kids, which flies right in the face of Paul telling men and women that singleness is an important option for the good of the church in 1 Corinthians 7 (particularly vs. 32-34). As for a man’s role, much of what I see hypercomplementarians and patriarchists spewing out is extrabiblical and cultural nonsense. For instance, I’ve heard pastors preach that 1 Timothy 5:8 means that a man is to be the breadwinner for his home, when clearly the proceeding verses say that families are supposed to care for their related widows and orphans, rather than shunting them off to the church’s care lists. It does NOT mean that the man has to be the one earning the sole, or even majority of, the family’s income.
From there things get worse. A few months ago some theologian wrote and shared a list of 100 things a godly man should do, of which maybe 7 had to do with actual godliness and of which none were exclusive to men (read theology books! Memorize scripture!). The rest included distinct cultural yokes. I don’t remember all of them, but they included things like “Learn to drive a stick-shift” and “Keep a well-groomed beard” and “Never let a woman pay when you’re on a date.” And there are so many other burdens that culture adds in general. “Don’t cry.” “Be a physically strong protector.” “Don’t care about fashion, but at the same time be well groomed with polished shoes.” “Don’t let yourself learn theology from a woman after you hit 18 years old.” In the end, all of these are just yokes placed by men onto the shoulders of men for the sake of conforming men into a specific type of man… and that type of man does not resemble Jesus Christ very much. It does not free either men or women to pursue their Spirit-empowered gifts. And it limits what men can enjoy. Craftsmanship, not art. Hunting, not cooking. Computer programming, not crocheting. Beef, not quinoa. In other words, the world wants men to be Esau, not Jacob. But Jacob is the one God chose.
That, finally, 1000 words in, brings us to today’s sonnet. I don’t remember the exact context, but it would have been probably around Fall of 2003, when spiritually I was more embedded in conservative contexts than I am now. One of the male leaders in my Intervarsity chapter was, heaven forbid, writing a poem—an almost exclusively “girly” thing to do in my circle at the time. So I wrote this one about it.
Fortunately, since then, I’ve encountered many men who have a much more Christlike reflection of love and gentleness. And some of them have even written poems about cheese.
Some editorial comments: I made some key revisions, including the Spock line. I also switched some words to be intentional about “guys” and “girls” here; I think the stereotypes are signs of immaturity.
Originally written circa 2003. #122.
I never would have thought that I would see
A guy like you even attempt to write
A poem. Girls may have that tendency,
But guys, society says, like to fight.
Society has written you a role.
Art is okay, and music isn’t bad
As long as you try not to bare your soul—
As long as you don’t cry when you feel sad—
The pressures on a man must be intense.
Don’t dare show any weaknesses—just strengths.
They’re taught, like Spock, to lead with logic; hence
Most guys avoid emotions at great lengths.
We’ve liberated women—made them strong—
Next liberate the men to write their song.