At the dawn of the 19th century when the church embraced a worldview that portrayed women as embodying holiness and men as embodying sin. That is, the church increasingly came to have both an extremely negative view of masculinity and men and to uphold women and femininity as, in their natural state, exemplars, and bearers of virtue.
This is perhaps best illustrated by Callum Brown’s 2009 book The Death of Christian Britain. Brown is a professor of history at the University of Strathclyde. His book is about the decline of Christianity in the UK but is also applicable to America to which Britain was culturally linked. Before getting to Brown himself, it’s worth citing an endorsement of his work from no less than Charles Taylor, the Canadian philosopher whose mammoth A Secular Age was a landmark and highly influential work. Taylor endorses Brown’s take on the sexes in A Secular Age, saying:
Callum Brown here even speaks of a “demonization” of male qualities, and a “feminization of piety.”…. As Callum Brown has shown for the evangelical case, the ethical stance was predicated on the idea of women as wanting a stable family life, which was constantly endangered by male temptation, to drink, to gambling, to infidelity. And we see similar ideas propounded on the Catholic side…. We connect up here with a profound development, evidence across the confessional divide over the two or three centuries, which as been called the “feminization” of Christianity, about which Callum Brown speaks in his interesting recent book. It obviously has something to do with the close symbiosis established between Christian faith and the ethic of “family values” and disciplined work, which has downgraded if not been directed against military and combative modes of life, as well as forms of male sociability: drinking, gambling, sport, which took them outside the arenas of both work and home.
It’s particularly notable to see Taylor cite Brown in this regard given that these two men have radically different and incompatible takes on secularization.
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As Taylor says, Callum Brown documents, through an extensive review of Christian literature, that around 1800 Christianity shifted from viewing piety as a primarily male mode of life to a primarily female one. Men and masculinity came to be perceived as acute threats to holiness. (Brown’s secularization thesis is that the merger of femininity with Christianity was so complete that when women ceased to unify their Christian and feminine identities around 1960, Christianity suffered a sudden and catastrophic collapse).
Some excerpts from Brown’s book:
After 1800, the religiosity of women was paramount to the evangelical scheme for moral revolution. They were regarded as having special qualities which placed them at the fulcrum of family sanctity.
Though the female evangelical narrative structure might vary in these ways, there were uniform characteristics. First, women’s conversions were usually taken for granted; the issue was their ability to choose a godly husband or reform an ungodly one. Second, women’s spiritual destiny was virtually never portrayed as a battle with temptation or real sin; fallen women did not appear as central characters, and none of the usual temptations like drink or gambling ever seemed to be an issue with them. The problem is the man, sometimes the father, but more commonly the boyfriend, fiancé, or husband, who is a drinker, a gambler, keeps the ‘bad company’ of ‘rough lads’ and is commonly a womanizer. The man is the agency of the virtuous woman’s downfall; he does not make her bad, but does make her suffer and poor. She is not always portrayed as having undergone a major conversion experience, but to have emerged from childhood into a disciplined and natural ‘goodness.’
The British Weekly series reflected the view that at the heart of urban society, the problems of social order, crime, immorality, and irreligion were interconnected products of male weakness. This weakness was intrinsically rooted in maleness, a heathen ‘other’ located at sites of temptation.
In evangelical stories about piety, women appeared throughout as good but not always converted; men, by contrast, almost always appeared as in a perilous sinful state until near the end. Men were the problem, given manifold temptations: drink (nearly always), gambling (increasingly after 1890), and ‘rough’ in overall cultural terms. They lived dissipated lives which caused suffering and ruination to mothers, wives, and children. Nowhere did evangelical literature have such a powerful influence in the public domain, including in ‘secular’ fiction, as in its demonization of men. [emphasis added]
A large proportion of evangelical stories of men centered on the destruction of families by male evils.
In the evangelical and temperance movements, women were both the moral guardians and the moral victims of fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons.
This is pretty clear, but to summarize simply: the church came to see women as naturally good and men as naturally evil and the source of most problems in the world. Again, I stress that these observations from Brown are based on an extensive examination of evangelical literature itself – not from secular or anti-Christian sources.
Is it any wonder the church skewed so heavily female?
This post is an excerpt from Masculinist Newsletter #3