At the weekend, one of my daughters tipped me off about an article that had appeared at the start of last week on CNN’s website: William Bennett, an author, former US government official, and a CNN contributor, was discussing “Why men are in trouble.”
His argument claims that women have made great strides in terms of achievement over the past few decades and they are now outscoring men in areas such as educational attainment. At the same time he notes what he believes are troubling signs among men. There is an increasing disconnectedness from family, men have become less religious, and – one of his more provocative arguments – they are falling behind in terms of a maturity deficit.
Referring to the work of Hanna Rosin, he suggests that as the economy shifts “from backs to brains”, men are losing ground.
(Rosin – at great pains to distance herself from radical feminism – has also written for CNN about the shifting patterns).
Bennett claims that too many young men (18-34) are spending their time playing video games. Messages about what it means to be a man are confusing. Young men, he argues, need to get off their video games, get a job and get married. “It’s time for men to man up.”
As someone pointed out to me on Twitter, there are some issues with Bennett’s statistical arguments (the fact that there are more unemployed men now than 40 years ago may have as much to do with economics as with gender roles).
How should men respond to the changing role and success of women in society? The point is not to get into some kind of competition in an attempt to prove which is the stronger gender, but is it true that, as women have become better educated and higher achievers, many men have been reduced to a state of paralysed confusion with regard to their roles?
Of course there is a trend in Western society that wants to reduce gender to a matter of choice. We are moving far from any idea of distinct male and female roles.
Which leads Christians to the much-debated question of what the Bible has to say about gender roles.
A few years ago I was at a lunch for about a dozen people, including Bill Hybels, during a Willow Creek conference near Zurich, Switzerland. During the conversation Hybels said that Willow Creek had discovered that one of the biggest issues for people in their young adult ministry was confusion on gender roles. I couldn’t help think that there had to be a connection between this problem and the egalitarian position that Willow Creek had chosen to adopt in terms of gender roles in the life and leadership of the church. It’s hard to see how you can teach people that in Christ all distinctions of role are done away with while at the same time trying to help young adults understand issues of gender identity: it strikes me that it is hard to do both from the same people.
The answer is certainly not a return to some kind of caveman type relationship where the hunting husband grunts his way through life while his wife remains at home with many of her gifts and talents underused.
Many 21st century western women are well educated, highly talented people. Doors of opportunity have been opened to them. How will today’s generation of young men respond?