In an article entitled “Common Good Men” (Touchstone), Nancy Pearcey asks, “How can Christians create a balanced view that stands against the outright male-bashing that is so common, yet also holds men responsible to a higher standard? ” She decides to “dig into the history of the idea that masculinity is toxic.”  

Throughout much of human history, people lived on family farms and in peasant villages.  Family and industry were not separate activities.  Fathers were “as comfortable in the kitchen as women, for they had responsibility for provisioning and managing the home.”  Both fathers and mothers were responsible to sacrifice individual interest for the common good.  But men began to surrender their traditional paternal role as the industrial revolution took them out of the home and into the factory.  And “rhetoric around masculinity began to focus on traits” such as ambition and self-assertiveness.  

The individual replaced the household as the basic unit of society, with fewer moral obligations.  Increasing numbers of men grew up as “mushroom men” emerging and growing up without many social obligations.  Pearcey asks, “If there was no common good, then a man’s duty could no longer be defined as responsibility for protecting the common good.”  Men could now pursue self-interest rather than to “be servants of one another” (Gal. 5:13). 

Removed from the private sphere, men lost an “active religious sense” of values meant for the private sphere. “The male character was redefined as coarse, pragmatic, and morally insensitive,” notes Pearsey.  Religious values became part of the private sphere, cultivated by the women in the home.  “Men were being told that they were naturally crude and brutish – and that they needed to learn virtue from their wives.” Women were now considered morally superior to men.  As Anthony Rotundo writes, “women took men’s place as the custodians of communal virtue.”  Masculinity was being “de-moralized.”

The church failed to stand against the demoralization of men, but rather started to appeal more and more to women – and became increasingly feminized.  Women became the custodians of virtue.  Men attended church less, often being described as morally hardened and spiritually insensitive.  “If men are repeatedly told they are naturally less religious,” Pearcey observes, “eventually they will begin to believe the cultural narrative.”

Women’s attempts to “tame men” began to focus more on public vices such as drunkenness and prostitution. Rotunbo saw this as “a plan for female government of male passions.”  “It gave men the freedom to be aggressive, greedy, ambitious, competitive, and self-interested, then it left women with the duty of curbing this behavior.”  

One can begin to see the emerging roots of toxic masculinity: “Men are inherently coarse and immoral – virtue is a womanly trait, imposed upon men only through great difficulty.”  The idea of being less spiritual and virtuous was insulting to men.  “When virtue is defined as a feminine quality instead of a human quality, then requiring men to be virtuous is seen as the imposition of a feminine standard.”

Concern developed over the “overcivilized” man becoming soft and effeminate.  Mothers filling the gap left by missing fathers created a “boy culture” in which boys became wild and rambunctious.  Attention was given to the wild, untamed masculine nature of men.  Now “manhood was redefined as crude and combative, governed by the biological instincts for lust and power.”  Churches began to teach about “Muscular Christianity.”  

Pearcey suggests a biblical view of God as servant leader, featuring gentleness, love and compassion as masculine virtues.  Many young believers learn just enough about headship and submission, but not enough about responsibility and sacrifice.  Rightly understood and practiced, “Christians have a practical answer to resolving the war between men and women… We should be bold about bringing it into the public square as a solution to the charge of toxic masculinity.”