Traditional Men Via Men Who Wouldn’t Fare Well

One thing that kind of still nags at me about Professional Busybody David Fowler is that his organization is all about “real” family values–basically male-lead married Christian households arranged out of a mixture of love and duty. Here’s what I don’t get. And I’m not trying to be snarky. I genuinely don’t get it. If I were a father and my daughter came home and said “Daddy, I think David Fowler’s going to ask me to marry him.” and I bought into this family values crap, I couldn’t give my blessing to that marriage. When Fowler came to ask me for my daughter’s hand, I’d have to tell him no.

Now, I admit, there may be some cultural differences which need to be accounted for, but hell, even in a fully realized Christian theocratic patriarchy, there’d be some cultural differences. But here’s the thing. If I were a Christian head-of-householder patriarch, my definitions of manly behavior–of behavior fitting of the person who I was handing my beloved daughter over to and saying, yes, submit to him–would not include gossiping or sneaking around, even in furtherance of causes I believed in. I would take someone sneaking around and sticking his nose into other people’s business as a sign of weakness. Depending on the kind of patriarch I might be, and let’s assume I’d be pretty hardcore, I’d see it as womanly.

A man who can’t face the people he disagrees with and who is constantly in his neighbors’ business would, to me, read at the least as someone who is not yet mature enough to have a wife. And maybe someone who’s not spending enough time in manly pursuits.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this, probably more than in healthy, but I don’t think I’m wrong. I think that most of the men who sit around and push for a “return” to a time when men were men would not actually fair that well. They wouldn’t read as “manly.” Maybe with Trace Adkins as the exception.

Otherwise, if you are indeed secure in yourself and what you need to be happy in the world, you make the arrangements you need to make with your loved ones and you get on with it. If you want to be the head of your household, you make sure any potential spouses know that and you find someone who’s like “Yeah, that’s what I want in a spouse, too.” If you want an egalitarian household where you switch who even gets called the husband every other week, find, search that out. Whatever. It’s all good.

I believe we are going through a real upheaval in what it means to be a man, and I don’t envy men who find their ideas about what being a man means challenged not only from all sides, but internally, from what they want for their sons.

But I don’t know if it’s just that I have really cool friends–I do, of course–or what, but I don’t really know anyone who’s like “You must do and be this certain way, B., for the sake of my manhood.” Not literally, not even metaphorically. Whatever upheavals they’re feeling, it doesn’t require me to pretend to be smaller or weaker or needier than I am for their benefit.

And, color me silly, but I find that really manly (heck, I find it a nice trait in everyone)–to be strong enough in yourself to let me be strong enough in mine.

I just don’t experience how David Fowler goes through the world as being very secure or as him being very strong. And I feel like I can’t be alone in noticing this, so I’m still baffled as to how he has so much power in this state. Can it really be the specter of He-Man Jesus which skulks behind David Fowler giving him an aura of masculinity he otherwise wouldn’t have?

But again, if Fowler got his way and everyone was a good Christian according to his definition, that threat would be gone. No one would think Fowler had some inside track on what Jesus wants, because everyone would be on the same track.

I don’t know. The whole thing is weird.

And I wonder if I just have kind of sexist notions of what manliness is that I’m unfairly projecting onto that asshat. But I don’t think so. I think that, if your whole public shtick is about returning Tennessee, if not the nation, to a time when men ruled, you’d better demonstrate traits that would make people think it was a good idea for men like you to be in charge.

And I’m just not seeing it. Even if I were a Christianist asshole, I’d find him off-putting (though for different reasons). He’s just a terrible advertisement for the way of life he’s advocating.

13 thoughts on “Traditional Men Via Men Who Wouldn’t Fare Well

  1. I can think of a few reasons why a patriarch would choose to overlook a man like Fowler’s flaws.

    Tribalism: deep down you don’t like him, but what are you going to do, go with some liberal hippie dude? He’s your guy, he has some prestige, and Christianity is especially big on not challenging anyone with authority.

    Pragmatism: if he’s got money, well, he’ll take care of your daughter. Also maybe she’ll help him get better! And ya’ll can both pray for him to get better. Surely the Lord will provide.

    Pride: My daughter married a semifamous conservative dude! I must be an awesome patriarch! She also did not get knocked up first, or become a feminist! I am justified in my lifestyle.

    Deep down, I think the tribalism is the main one, though.

  2. I think it’s interesting that you say we’re going through an upheaval in what it means to be a man. Most people think the gender that is seeing the most change right now is the feminine one. But society changed for women 30 or 40 years or more ago. Things are beginning to settle down for us now. We now equal men in most of academia and many career fields. In some fields we outstrip men and leave them in the dust.

    And men are just now beginning to come to terms with the new world order. They’re trying to come to terms with dating and even marrying women who make more money than they do and have more security in the job market. They’re trying to come to terms with what it means to be a father now when many fathers don’t live in the same households with their children.

    It’s a Brave New World. And the reactionary movements afoot right now to turn the clock back on women’s rights (anti-abortion legislation comes to mind), are the desperate last dying gasp of the patriarchy. They are desperately trying to change everything back to the way it used to be, but barring a zombie apocalypse, women will never revert to their former dependent and subjugated state. We are in for a few rough years, don’t get me wrong, but ultimately women will gain equal rights with men, because we control the means of reproduction. We need to start using that to further our cause rather than allowing them to use it to put us in a corner.

  3. I know that I’m going to risk getting on your Bad side. But !!!!!, What for it. I like David Fowler. I never agree with him on hardly anything, however when he was in the Legislature his voting record on the environment was pretty good for a right winger, and he and I sponsored some Green Bills together.

    He is a true believer in what he does based on his ( Narrow Minded, I think ) Religious beliefs, He believes in the Literal word of the Bible and thats all he cares about. He has never let any group influence his beliefs. With most Republicans today afraid of the Tea Party or the Christian right, it is somewhat refreshing to see someone stand up for what they ( Even if their wrong ) believe in.

    He is courteous and Nice and real easy to talk to, most Republican legislators don’t like him, they find him to self righteous and he makes them uneasy.

    He is a Different Animal and Politically Dangerous, and you and I would be opposed to his beliefs about 98% of the time, but he is interesting and if you ever get the chance to talk to him or interview him you should

  4. emjb,

    “… and Christianity is especially big on not challenging anyone with authority.”

    I think you are projecting a convenient assumption on to a subject, Christianity, that is so diverse as to be impossible to characterize so broadly. “Render unto Caesar…” is not the doctrine of an authoritarian religion. The Reformation is a tribute to anti-authoritarianism. We Presbyterians are part of the ‘Reformed Tradition,’ something so ingrained that off-shoot churches are a major factor in the development of Christianity.

    On a personal level, reread Representative Turner’s comments on Senator Fowler. Note that he says “… it is somewhat refreshing to see someone stand up for what they ( Even if their wrong ) believe in.”

    “He has never let any group influence his beliefs.”

    Hardly the behavior of someone who does not challenge things.

  5. I think the biggest indicator of manliness as it’s perceived right now is confidence. You can come by confidence internally, or externally. And internal confidence is pretty rare so most men need some outside validation in order to feel confident. And if your wife and kids are deferential to you because you’re the patriarch… well there is your validation. So his supporters are looking attempting to get that external validation.

  6. Mike, I have a feeling Fowler wears cotton-poly blends and enjoys a cheeseburger every now and again, so let’s not put a whole lot of stock in his take on Biblical literalness. He believes the Bible literally when it suits him and disregards the parts that would keep him from eating shrimp.

    But more importantly, you know I adore you, but I’ve been through some shit. If you ever see me making nice with a guy I KNOW thinks he has a right to decide what goes in my vagina against my will, you can assume I’m either acting under duress–and thus need rescuing–or I’ve gone senile.

  7. Mr. Rogers – I appreciate your comments. Meaning, I agree with them.

    Aunt B. – ever since we started talking about these issues nearly two decades ago, I have always disagreed with your belief that since a man and a woman don’t metaphorically rotate the title of husband weekly or with the phases of the moon, women are therefore “smaller or weaker” than men. You are comparing apples to oranges. Men and women will never, ever be “equal” if you are talking about those kinds of adjectives.

    Real men (and yes, I include myself in that group) do not consider women any of those things. In fact, most real men relaize that we are better off with women than without, and I for one can say that I would not be the man I am without my wife. Real men appreciate and respect the true strength and brilliance of women, and many realize that strength does not have to be raw muscle power, height, or mass.

    Needy? Geez, I think we all know how needy men can be. Submit? What does that really mean? My better half is a professional musician and stay-at-home mom (when she is not performing in the RI orchestra, that is.) It pains me to think that she has somehow “submitted” to me just because she is not out working 9 to 5 somewhere – caring for our 3 children is her primary concern, and she can’t understand people who question that.

    Question to Vvixen – what is “ultimately women will gain equal rights with men”? Doesn’t the 14th amendment cover that? What isn’t equal right now? This is not a snarky comment, this is a real question.

  8. Cracker, I think the slight disconnect here is that Fowler (and therefore I) has a specific religious component to his beliefs about what a man should be and the proper roles of women and men. Rest assured that just because you think the whole idea of “submission” is strange and doesn’t apply to how men and women might go together, that’s a term that hangs very heavy in the air here. You can’t talk about Fowler’s ideas about traditional families without understanding how his ideas about Christian submission come into it.

    And I think you’ve probably misunderstood me a lot if you think I’m advocating that everyone should be forced to switch gender roles. I’m saying, if that’s your thing, if that’s what makes you happy and you can find someone else who would be made happy by that, it’s not my business and certainly not the state’s.

    Everyone should be able to do what they want with their lives as long as everyone they’re doing it with is consenting and legally capable of giving consent. Even if I think it’s gross. Even if you think it’s gross. Even if David Fowler thinks it’s gross. Even if God Almighty thinks it’s gross.

    But a more important point is probably this: people who have “traditional” ideas about gender roles who aren’t Fowler’s brand of Christian have as much to lose from him having as much power as he does in our state as people who don’t.

  9. “Tribalism: deep down you don’t like him, but what are you going to do, go with some liberal hippie dude?”

    You know. Like that Jesus fellow. ;-)

    Personally, I’m all for being a true believer, so long as what you believe doesn’t require the subjugation or marginalization of an entire group of law-abiding, tax-paying citizens. If a policy of marginalization or subjugation results from your reading of the Gospel message, then you aren’t a true believer. You’re illiterate.

  10. Aunt B.,

    “Everyone should be able to do what they want with their lives as long as everyone they’re doing it with is consenting and legally capable of giving consent.”

    That is a lovely sentiment which most people would, I think, heartily support. The problem comes when someone decides that a particular act has consequences for others not involved are somehow negatively impacted.

    For example, the legal attack on private clubs that discriminate against various groups not included in the membership has been that not being allowed to be members hurts the excluded groups or specific members of the excluded groups.

    Similarly one line of attack against abortion is that it has a damaging impact on the moral nature of the larger society that outweighs the costs to individuals denied abortions. {Please don’t criticize me for making the argument. It isn’t mine and I am simply citing it because it is applicable to this debate, not to the abortion debate.}

    My point is only that your admirable position can quickly be undermined by a desire to use government to prevent people from leading their lives the way they want to. It is a curious aspect of the American zeal for Moral Virtue run amok. For every abolitionist or women’s rights or similar positive effort coming out of American Character, there is a prohibition movement or similar excess,.

  11. If you were a Dominionist Christian head-of-householder type then you would have a much different feeling toward your daughter than you appear to realize. Your daughter would be viewed as the bearer of original sin whom God has called to cook, clean, bear children, and bow to the will of her Godly husband because her nature is one of evil and sin and if she isn’t sequestered away she can lead her husband, her family, and indeed the entire community down a rabbit hole of vice.

    It all comes down to men being unable to control their penises and blaming women for it.

  12. This right here:

    I think that, if your whole public shtick is about returning Tennessee, if not the nation, to a time when men ruled, you’d better demonstrate traits that would make people think it was a good idea for men like you to be in charge.

    I’d like to add this: if the ‘way of life’ you advocate is the natural order of things, and it’s better for everyone who adopts it, then why do you have to try and force it on people? Why do you even need to exert peer pressure? Your living example (assuming you’re spending your time and energy setting one, as B. suggests) should be enough, should it not?

    This is where organized religion loses me: at the point where it gets involved in trying to influence public policy. If the Holy Ghost or Spirit or whatever the fuck your god uses doesn’t have enough mojo, then maybe you need to change gods instead of trying to force yours on me.

  13. I think that most of the men who sit around and push for a “return” to a time when men were men would not actually fair that well. They wouldn’t read as “manly.”

    I think this is related to, or at least similar to, the phenomena whereby homophobes (particularly of the christianist variety) so often turn out to be closet cases. They seem to cling desperately to these dogmatic notions of masculinity (or heteronormativity), and become the most vocal proponents of these ideas, precisely because of their insecurity about their masculinity or heterosexuality.

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