Have We Castrated Christian Fiction?

The other day–for no apparent reason–I researched the functions of the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex. Okay, my research wasn’t entirely random, but sprang from an article I’d read, which theorized that behavioral traits are related to the right or left dominance of the amygdala and the OFC. Already aware that behavioral traits don’t necessarily have gender associations, I asked myself, “But aren’t male and female amygdalas different and, if so, how does this relate to personality and the differences between male and female thought processes?”

Due to this admittedly small project I embarked on [which should actually be as big as the sky, but I was at work that day], I ran across this timeless statement by Nobel Prize-winning author VS Naipaul: ‘[VS Naipaul] felt that women writers were “quite different”. He said: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me.”

The author, who was born in Trinidad, said this was because of women’s “sentimentality, the narrow view of the world”. “And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too,” he said’ (read more at this UK Guardian article).

I also stumbled, yet again, on the Gender Genie, which is an online tool used to determine author gender. The Gender Genie is notoriously bad at guessing gender, most likely owing to the simplicity of the algorithm. Its approach is one of by-the-number uses of male versus female words. In regards to my own writing, my nonfiction nearly always merits a male rating, while my fiction is split. I’m not alone in this–just try throwing in excerpts from famous authors, and you will realize that spotting author gender is far more complex than counting male versus female words [for example, J. K. Rowling is decidedly male. I’ll bet you wouldn’t have guessed that by looking at her pretty face].

And then I remembered Patrick Todoroff’s latest blog post Targets and Intentions, in which he defines his reading audience as male, and his writing as masculine. I know what he means by masculine fiction and, yet, at the same time, I don’t have a clue. For example, I enjoyed his book Running Black, not for the action scenes–which, for me, I can take or leave–but for the ideas. I read speculative fiction to explore ideas, such as man-becoming-machine through the use of nanobots.

Conversely, I know what feminine literature is–but how can I define it?

What is the true differential between male and female literature if language clue words aren’t the key to recognition? Why can I almost always spot author gender? What is my brain detecting? For a start, let’s put aside the notion that men and women are exactly alike. You can cast aside gender stereotypes–I don’t mind. But, please, for the sake of argument, let’s admit that men and women are different. I’m not exactly the most “feminine woman” according to gender stereotypes. I’m withdrawn and unfriendly, relationship avoidant, not a natural nurturer; I don’t have a clue what to do with my hair, my fashion sense is completely lacking, and I don’t have curves. And I’m sort of “autistic” as far as emotions go.

However, I’ve been married for nearly nineteen years, and I now know without doubt that I must be female [yes, bearing four children with little to no trouble has convinced me. And aside from that, I don’t get my husband’s mind AT ALL]. In addition, I’m reasonably certain my writing sounds feminine. And why is that, I’d like to know?

In this online PDF, I discovered a fascinating study on this very topic: Gender, Genre, and Writing Style in Formal Written Texts. This quote begins to get at the heart of the difference between male and female writing: “Thus, one main locus of difference between men’s and women’s writing is the way the people, objects, collectives and institutions are presented. In particular, since we will see that it is specifically pronouns that refer to animate “things” that are used with greater frequency in female-authored documents, our results are consistent with earlier findings that
men talk more about objects, while women talk more about relationships (Aries & Johnson 1983; Tannen 1990)” (a link to the full text).

I think the researchers may be on to something. Again, to connect myself with my gender, I have to admit that I write about relationships because I don’t understand people, and I’m desperately attempting to crack their codes. So even as an outlier among my gender [at least I feel that way], I’m still focused on what makes people tick. Yes, I know, I’m not the voice of collective womanhood. I’m simply connecting my experiences with this research, seeing if the pieces match.

Although I haven’t come to any hard and fast conclusions, except to generally concede that men are more object-oriented and prefer action, as well as being more aggressive than women, my overly active imagination suddenly wondered if this is the problem with Christian fiction and why authors such as Mike Duran are perpetually critiquing the Christian publishing market. Read this article of his as an example: The Christian Fiction Market Reflects a Dangerous Worldview Shift. Perhaps his real gripe has nothing to do with a focus on materialism over spirituality, but a focus on the complexity and nuance of relationships over the revelation of spirituality in real, objective terms.

Maybe the truth is that Christian fiction has been castrated and can’t tolerate masculinity.

Hear me out for a moment–I, unlike VS Naipaul, am not belittling feminine literature. Using femininity as an insult is as reductive as criminalizing masculinity. But could we create balance in this, please? Can we bring the men back into the fold? Or is Christian fiction too far gone for that?

****Because I’m obviously a terrible communicator, I’m editing in my actual conclusion. Highlighting the psychology and complexity of relationships through literature is both spiritual and intelligent, but it appears to be a feminine trope. I doubt anybody would argue with the claim that Christian fiction is largely composed of this model. So why are we afraid of a masculine model [perhaps because men don’t buy fiction, she said in a very small, feminine voice]?

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30 comments

  1. Judging by the gender ratio at the ACFW conference I attended a couple years ago, we have a long way to go. The publishing houses’ fear of spec fic has to play into that somehow (i.e. lack of men reading “Christian” fiction), but which came first, chicken, egg, I dunno.

    1. A case could be made for men, in general, not buying a lot of fiction, and that may be even more so in the Christian marketplace. I could do a poll, but my traffic’s not high enough to obtain a valid result.

  2. Churches are full of women and feminized men. THEY have run masculinity off in favor of namby-pamby feel-good-ism. Why should the publishing houses be any different?

  3. Pretty much, sorry to say…At least the culture expressed amongst men on a typical Sunday morning seems to be; as though we are all “emasculated”. It is very disheartening.(I work in an almost exclusively male-dominated industry, so I know the difference.)

    1. So are you saying that the church has purposely feminized men, or do men just act more feminine when they’re in mixed company? I think this an important distinction to make. Do men act differently when they’re around women and children?

  4. To some degree, yes, but I have conversations in groups of men only and it is much the same. I think part of our current model of christian-ness involves a certain amount of stifling a naturally male world view as though it were somehow more “worldly” than the feminine construct.

      1. Men are naturally aggressive, but this is discouraged in the church environment. This favors a female construct of interaction that neutralizes the male’s normal pattern of behavior.

        Every good ‘masculine’ work of fiction highlights masculine aggression in the face of a struggle; this pattern plays out over and over in the Bible, and yet we do not see this side of men in the church…WTF??!?

  5. Surely men are more faceted than the aggression in a struggle. A Christian man of wisdom should know when to be aggressive and when to exhibit God’s loving nature. Or, should the masculine aggression in a struggle continue on as if “good” can never triumph over “evil”? The church should not be the typical ground for aggressive conflict, unless we have ignored the reasons we go there.

    And, if a woman is always feminine, how can she truly, personally, triumph in the face of a struggle. For me, femininity has a place, but if nothing else is displayed, it seems a sign of weakness.

    Our Godly foundation is firm and strong. If we dwell there, we will be loving and kind, and full of wisdom and strength. Contradiction? Not if we branch from the root of our foundation. If our branches grow each day in Christ, should we be knarley and crooked only, or should we grow sweet fruit?

    1. I have to respectfully disagree with the position that you are taking (and no, we don’t have to agree). But what you are saying perfectly illustrates my point that masculinity does not currently have a home in the Church or in many Christian’s way of thinking.

      Christian men apparently know when to exhibit “God’s loving nature” but are condemned when they exhibit God’s masculine aggression.

      I don’t know how to solve this problem, but simple recognize that it exists.

  6. What if women were roundly condemned by the church for exhibiting instinctual female behaviors such as nurturing or defense of the innocent or spiritual discernment?

    I think this problem deserves a closer look.

  7. God created testosterone, and I suspect, by reading the great heroes of the faith, that He expects us (men) to use it.

  8. I think Maximus in Gladiator portrays an ideal balance of masculine and feminine. He’s a vicious warrior, but a tender father and husband. When he’s vicious, it’s against evil. It’s not aggression for aggression’s sake.

    I don’t know many men who could live up to this ideal…at least not on a battlefield, but I think most men in some way can embody a balanced combination of both, and this is the kind of man (I would argue) most women dream of marrying.

    I have a lion sculpture on my desk at work to remind myself God is the lion and the lamb. Not just the lamb. I was too much of a lamb in my interactions with gentlemen folk here and it got me in trouble because I let my boundaries be pushed too far in order to be a “loving Christian.” But, sometimes you have to be the lion and roar at satan to back the hell off.

  9. Women are often “condemned by the church for exhibiting instinctual female behaviors such as nurturing or defense of the innocent or spiritual discernment,” if they move into any position of power that shows strength. It scares some people.

    I viewed photos of the outer regions posted by Hubble yesterday. The power that I saw there was magnificent and put me in perfect awe. Some photos reminded me of the wheels mentioned in Revelation. The Maker of this world is truly powerful, and yet cares for our most intimate concerns. The Lamb and Lion mentioned earlier is a perfect thought for balance.

    The church, the body of God, has become weak in many ways. I think it is because we do not, and cannot, fully understand God’s power and love. We are always getting in the way of things by making man’s ideas more great than God’s ideas.

    We can only march with successful strength when we get instructions from our “Gladiator God.” The walls of Jericho are an example of control and success. This story has always been a curious picture in my mind. Almost like a joke on man.

    God created us exactly as He intended, testosterone and nurturing, and all the rest. Men and women should be as in His image.

    Since our world has been overrun by the grand ideas of man, it may be time once again to seek the intentions of the image maker before marching. Who does He want us to be? What are His greatest concerns for this generation that we live in? When and how does He want to use us? What is His intended path for us?

    Sounds so easy, yet is so complex.

  10. I don’t know if we’ve castrated Christian Fiction so much as we’ve assembled a marketplace for Christian Retail Products that is decidedly feminine.

    Men aren’t as souvenir-minded (generally) as women. So when they like something they aren’t going to go as way off into accesorising for it. And much of Christian retail is about Accessorising Your Faith.

    Since Christian Fiction has been ghettoised to Christian Retail Outlets, it has increasingly followed that trend.

  11. As for the other branch of the conversation–is church feminised–I’d say the answer is a resounding “yes”, but not necessarily for the reasons others bring up the most.

    Any place that is assembled along our 20th Century American Learning Models is feminized. Schools, churches and day camps are designed around the learning styles which are more typically female in nature. Sitting still, paying attention to lectures, quietly listening without interacting…all of these are tailored to Female Learning Styles. (There are hundreds of tests backing me up on this.)

    Boys–who turn into men–learn better with interactive methods like creative play and Socratic dialog.

    Since the majority of teachers are women, this has been a self-compounding problem in the school system. Churches used to be better blended, until the sex-scandles started erupting 25 years ago. Now most people are reluctant to have male teachers in Sunday Schools, and the feminised learning process has crept into the church as well. A comparison of Sunday School lessons from 1970 against Sunday School lessons of 2010 is startling. The 1970s lesson includes a lot of questions, moving around the room, acting out the various characters’ parts in the Bible story.

    The 2010 lesson involves everyone sitting still and watching a pre-packagaed video.

    1. “Any place that is assembled along our 20th Century American Learning Models is feminized.”

      Yes, this is true. And it seems a shame, to be honest. Now that I have my first son, after three daughters, I don’t think I want to attempt to force him to sit and learn phonics next year (kindergarten). It just seems kind of absurd when he has so much energy and intensity that can be directed in another way. Of course, I’ve never been big on kindergarten. It’s a waste of time for both sexes, in my opinion.

  12. On a completely unrelated note, in my experience of church-hopping in mainline evangelical denominations, “worship leaders” are especially feminized.

    So many limp-wristed, effete, touchey-feeley, simpering types, that it has left me wondering: Where did the inspired writer of the Psalms go?

    King David: Warrior-Poet, Philosopher King. He killed a bear with his own hands and played the harp to soothe Saul. He wrote timeless poetry of worship. He sinned big and he repented big; a “man after God’s own Heart”.

    As I have been saying, we have only to go back to the sacred text of the Christian faith to reveal what a shallow, feminized form of spirituality we currently possess.

    1. I have known a fair number of worship leaders in my life as a Christian, but I’ve never met the “limp wristed” variety you are talking about. Maybe I’ve not been to enough of the right kind of churches. Be that as it may. As for King David, he was being anything but manly when he had his Bathsheba fling. Yes, he killed a bear, but he was not a bear hunter. He was a shepherd doing what he had to do. That is part of being a man.
      There were many parts of David’s life where he was anything BUT manly. He refused to discipline his children as witnessed by the story of Absolom, Absolom’s sister, and half brother. He lost 3 children, and almost lost his kingdom as a result. Likewise, with Bathsheba, David conspired to have her husband murdered through someone else.

      The real man in this story was the prophet who confronted David with his crime.

      David, was a man after God’s heart because he repented, not because he sinned big. King Saul would have blamed George Bush and made excuses. King Ahab would have sought to kill the messenger. According to God’s law, David should have been put to death.

      Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. (Psalm 19)

      Far too many people who call themselves Christians put their Christianity on like it’s makeup.
      The Gospel of John says “By this all men will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another”
      The King James translation uses the word “charity” in 1st Corinthians 13 to translate the word love. Its a good choice. Charity implies forbearance., or as James’ epistle states: “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
      When more Christians start becoming the people of love and charity as commanded by Christ, then true masculinity and true femininity will be restored to the church.

      Psalm 51:
      51 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
      2 Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
      3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
      4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
      5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
      6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
      7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
      8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
      9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
      10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
      11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
      12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
      13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
      14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
      15 O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
      16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering.
      17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
      18 Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
      19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar.

      1. @Leon: Nowhere in my comments did I suggest that King David’s adulterous affair which lead to murder was exemplary behavior. I did however draw a corollary between the grossness of his sin and the depth of his repentance. As to “a man after God’s own heart”, those are God’s words, not mine.

        I am sorry then that we apparently cannot agree that King David is a good Biblical example of a man who acted like a man, and yet wrote poetry of worship to God. That was my simple point.

        It is of little importance though because the Bible is so full of the servants of God acting like the men that they were created to be. I think of Moses who went up against Pharoah, Gideon, who went up against the Philistines, or the Apostle Paul who was arrested, assaulted, left for dead, and eventually killed because he wouldn’t be silenced.

        I am sorry, but I do not see these men’s godly example reflected at large in the church.

        BTW, David wrote Psalm 51, so perhaps you make my point for me (or allow him to make it) 🙂

        1. I DID state that David was a man after God’s own heart, but not because he sinned big. As for Moses, Gideon, and Paul, they were able to do what they did because they placed the law of God in their hearts which is exactly what is missing among many people who call themselves Christians. You can tell it by applying “By this all men will know you are my disciples if you have love for one another” and see how we measure up….

          ***admin note: I just changed this to Leon’s comment (I assume he wrote this), but he accidentally used my acct because I left it open on his computer!

          1. @Leon: Just so I have this straight: Please clarify. You are either stating that:

            a) The church, as currently constituted, is NOT exhibiting the effects of the feminization of men, or

            b)It IS feminized, but that is the way in which Christian men should behave as members of the body of Christ.

            You seem to be contrasting masculinity with Christian love and charity. I do not believe that these two are contradictory or mutually exclusive, as in the case you seem to be making.

            Why is it that when I state that the church is feminized, and suggest that the church needs to “man-up”, I get all these well-meaning admonitions that showing any kind of masculinity goes against the Word of God? I honestly ask, “How can this be?”, “How have we come to this?”

            In the end this makes my case better than I have been expressing it myself.

            The Church right now is 61% female; I would suggest that it is actually more than that.

            1. I stated neither “a” nor “b”. Neither did I contrast masculinity with Christian love and charity. What I did say was “When more Christians start becoming the people of love and charity as commanded by Christ, then true masculinity and true femininity will be restored to the church.”

              I don’t think the church is what I would call feminized either, at least not the kind of female I find attractive. It is wimpy. It is wimpy because it is play acting to be something it is not.

              The only reason I responded at all was because of the statement: “He sinned big and he repented big; a ‘man after God’s own Heart’.”, and “On a completely unrelated note, in my experience of church-hopping in mainline evangelical denominations, ‘worship leaders’ are especially feminized.

              So many limp-wristed, effete, touchey-feeley, simpering types,…..” which is a rather all encompassing statement, and does not match my experience.

              The masculinity and femininity that the world holds up is, at best, a corrupted view….

  13. @Leon:

    Leon stated: “I stated neither “a” nor “b”.”

    Leon stated: “I don’t think the church is what I would call feminized.”

    Uh, that would be posit “a”: a) The church, as currently constituted, is NOT exhibiting the effects of the feminization of men.

    Dude, make up your mind! You obviously don’t think the Church is feminized. Just say it.

    And yet the fact remains that men are leaving/have left the church in droves.

    A man I know hasn’t gone to one of these churches for possibly years…and when he did go he hated the sappy, maudlin tone and spent his time drawing as a diversion, and, yes, even mocking what he saw there…

    Men, not just this man, are having a hard time surviving in this atmosphere.

    I don’t know what to do about it; I’m just very, frustrated.

    1. You have missed my whole point, and are reading between the lines.

      I try to do what God tells me. We have church here every Monday night, and sometimes at the gallery when the need arises. None of this would have happened had we stayed with a Sunday morning church.

      It has been a long time since the business of the church has been really accomplished in most congregations on Sunday morning. That would require that the people sitting in the pews or fold up chairs would have to do something. It is much more comfortable to hire a priest to do for you what you should be doing for yourself and your neighbor. This is exactly why the church is weak. Still, in most congregations you will find there are men and women of God.

      Is being passive and weak necessarily feminine, or is it just a pathetic side of fallen man?

      If the church is feminized, its because too many people are putting their Christianity on like makeup. Furthermore, it is none of my business to be sitting in judgement on the different congregations. That belongs to God. It’s my business to do what I’m told by Father God.

      There are churches that are hot, there are churches that are cold, there are churches that are lukewarm. You can assign the gender to them as you see fit.

      1. #agree 🙂

        I will let the definitions of masculinity/femininity exist in the mind of each person.

        When I say “feminization”, I do not use that term interchangeably with “effeminate” or even come close to inferring “homosexuality”.

        “Castrated” was the term the author of this blog employed to discuss what is happening to the world of Christian fiction. I see the same trend in the Church, and in the culture at large. Perhaps “emasculation” would be a better term. Perhaps “neutralization” would work equally as well.

        Suffice to say, our young men are growing up in many cases without father figures and fathers are absent from the church (to a large degree).

        The more recently coined term “metrosexual” probably comes fairly close to the way in which the culture creators (socialized education, Madison Ave., and Hollywood) are conceiving of the new masculinity which is non-threatening on every level. Do we want a non-threatening society, reality, God, father, husband, boss, etc.?? I think in many cases this is exactly what we are now after. A man who cannot lift a shovel for fear of breaking a perfectly filed nail (yes, that is a Hollywood-induced stereotype, I know, but he is completely innoffensive).

        Why are boys seemingly punished in school for being boys? Why is the public education system failing them? (look at drop-out rates)

        (90% of the “diagnoses” of ADD & ADHD are boys who end up being drugged on Ritalin. We have prohibitions against playing tag, cops & robbers, drawing pictures of guns, etc., etc.)

        Are we letting our next generation of boys down; not ensuring that they will develop into mature men, capable of being godly husbands and fathers, capable of working hard to support a family? What is our (and here I mean men: fathers and grandfathers) expectation for what they will become?? Could they dig a ditch or defend the homestead?

        Has all of this ambiguity bled into the church? Or is it just a phantom of my deluded mind?

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