Is masculinity toxic? Or is there a toxic war on masculinity?

To answer that question, the Daily Citizen spoke with Nancy Pearcey, Professor of Apologetics and Scholar-in-Residence at Houston Christian University.

Professor Pearcey is the author of an important book, The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles the Sexes. She has been described by The Economist as “America’s pre-eminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual.”

The Roots of “Toxic Masculinity”

According to Professor Pearcey, the idea of “toxic masculinity” goes back much further than most people would expect – in fact, it goes back to the Industrial Revolution which began around 1750.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, “men and women worked side by side – on the family farm, family business or family industry,” Prof. Pearcey told us. “Husband and wife didn’t necessarily do identical jobs, but they were sharing in the economic support of the home.”

“Work was not a matter of the father’s job, it was the family industry,” Prof. Pearcey writes in her book. “Work was imbued with a clear moral and spiritual purpose: A man’s goal was to love, serve, and support his family.”

However, after the Industrial Revolution, “work – and therefore working fathers – were taken out of the home,” Professor Pearcey told us.

“This change … had enormous social ramifications,” she writes. “The absence of the husband/father broke up the little commonwealth of the household. Family industries collapsed. The integration of life and labor was lost.”

Therefore, “the social script for men began to change.” She adds:

To survive in the new commercialized workplace, it seemed necessary for men to become more ambitious and self-assertive, to look out for number one. People began to protest that men were growing self-interested, ego-driven, and acquisitive…

Instead of defining work as a means to fulfill the cultural mandate, many men began to treat work as a means to get ahead financially and achieve career success. Many of the traits that today are labeled toxic began to be attributed to men with ever-greater frequency after the Industrial Revolution.

So, the idea of “toxic masculinity” is not a recent cultural phenomenon – the roots of it go back several centuries.

The Feminist Encouragement of “Toxic Masculinity”

The onset of the feminist movement coincided with the Industrial Revolution. Ironically, early feminist writers sided with men and their retreat from an active family life.

Why did these writers and feminists contend this?

“Their answer was wrong, but they were speaking out of some genuine needs,” Prof. Pearcey told us. “It’s not normal for women not to have an economic contribution. That started only after the Industrial Revolution – it’s very recent compared to the whole of human history.”

“But there’s no doubt that feminism as a movement generally has denigrated marriage, family and motherhood,” Prof. Pearcey added.

Professor Pearcey provided three examples of this:

  • In The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan sympathized with male “resentment” against their wives who she described as “passive, dependent, childlike,” whose behavior, she thought, excused male adultery. She commiserated with “the growing aversion and hostility that men have for the feminine millstones hanging around their necks” and described female homemakers as “parasites.”
  • In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir, complained that marriage turned women into “leeches,” “praying mantises,” and a “dead weight” on their husbands.
  • Jessie Bernard said that a wife “became for all intents and purposes a parasite, with little to do except indulge or pamper herself.”

Two Competing Scripts for Masculinity

These massive social changes led to the rise of “toxic masculinity” – and to what Professor Pearcey calls the “two competing masculine scripts” within our culture.

Prof. Pearcey cited the work of sociologist Michael Kimmel, who asked cadets at West Point two questions:

  1. “What does it mean to be a good man?”
  2. “What does it mean to man up and be a real man?”

To that first question, they would immediately answer with a list of descriptions: “Honor, duty, integrity, sacrifice, do the right thing, look out for the little guy, be responsible.”

But in response to the second question, they gave a remarkably different answer: “Be tough, never show weakness, win at all costs, suck it up, be competitive, get rich, get laid.”

“This shows us that men do know what it means to be a good man,” Prof. Pearcey told us, “Because men are made in God’s image.”

“However, they also feel this competing script with very different traits – which aren’t all bad – but disconnected from the moral ideal of the good man, men can slide into the traits that are called ‘toxic.’”

As part of the solution, Prof. Pearcey said, we should ask, “Is there a way we can tap into that innate, inherent, universal knowledge of what it means to be a good man? Can we encourage that? Can we support that? Can we affirm that? That way, we would have a positive way to approach these issues.”

How Christian Fathers Can Be Part of the Solution

In our interview with Professor Pearcey, she made a critical point that is often rejected by many mainstream narratives and entertainment programs today. Contrary to common allegations of “patriarchal behavior,” committed Christian fathers are actually the most engaged and loving husbands and fathers. The sociological research affirms this fact again and again.

Citing various studies, Prof. Pearcey said that committed, church-going Christian men:

  • Spend about 3.5 more hours per week with their children compared to secular fathers.
  • Are the most likely to be warm and affectionate and engage in one-on-one conversations with their children.
  • Are 30 to 50% less likely to divorce than their secular peers.

With these facts in mind, it should be no surprise that “fully 73% of wives who hold conservative gender values and attend religious services regularly with their husbands have high-quality marriages.”

As an important distinction, Professor Pearcey noted that while committed Christian men are the most engaged and loving husbands and fathers, nominal Christian men generally score even worse than secular men.

  • Nominal Christian men divorce at a 20% higher rate than secular couples.
  • Committed Christian men have the lowest rate of domestic violence of any group (2.8%) compared to 7.2% of nominal Christian men (which is even higher than secular couples).

“To understand where the negative stereotypes come from, this is it,” Professor Pearcey shared.

“We must encourage the men who are doing well – those who may feel beaten down by a culture that is hostile to masculinity. But we must also reach out to nominal Christian men with effective discipleship programs.”

While our culture may see masculinity as inherently “toxic,” this isn’t true.

Instead, authentic Christianity provides an answer for how men can use their God-given masculine traits to protect, provide for and take care of their families. This is “how Christianity reconciles the sexes.”

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25, ESV).

You can purchase a copy of The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles the SexesYou’ll learn how to challenge politically correct ideology and bring an evidence-based message of healing into the public square.

You can connect with Prof. Pearcey by visiting her website. You can also follow her on X.

Additionally, you can listen to Prof. Pearcey’s recent appearance on Focus on the Family’s Boundless podcast with host Lisa Anderson.

To speak with a family help specialist or request resources, please call us at 1-800-A-FAMILY (232-6459).

Related articles and resources:

The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles the Sexes

Boundless: Toxic Masculinity: Episode 842

Counseling Consultation & Referrals

Family Resources

Thriving in Your Role as Dad

Fatherhood: How to be the Dad Your Family Needs

The Power of Fathers

The Significance of a Father’s Influence

Resources: Dads