Related to my recent look at Rollo Tomassi’s book on the red pill and religion, it’s worth asking again why men would turn to the manosphere instead of to the church. Rollo is not some minor, obscure figure. His first book has 3,697 ratings on Amazon - way more than even Tim Keller’s The Reason for God. His live streams draw tens of thousands of viewers.
I previously examined the teachings of the “tradcon” (traditionalist conservative) type conservative Christians, showing that they are no friend of the American man. A recent article from Willis Renuart in the Public Discourse provides yet more verification of what I said in that Theopolis piece.
As is typical of tradcons, Renuart wants to affirm gender differences and retain some (but by no means all) traditional standards of behavior, but in ways that reach essentially feminists conclusions. Like the Christian complementarians, his view could be summarized as “tradcons are the real feminists.”
We see this in a number of typical ways: his anchoring of his in marriage in an act humiliation, his assertion of the moral superiority of women, his assignment of total blame for family and social problems to men, and his affirmation of a feminist conception of roles for women in society.
Humiliated By His Wife
The article starts with Renuart recounting a story of how his wife (then girlfriend) publicly humiliated him in a bar.
Thirty years ago, when I first started dating my wife, we went to a loud, garish bar with another couple. Within the first few minutes, my eyes, of their own accord, observed the progress of an attractive woman as she walked past us. My then-girlfriend noticed my indiscretion and stormed off to the other end of the bar. I will never forget what happened next. She calmly ordered a drink and glanced about the room. Within moments, she was gaily talking to numerous suitors while I stewed. About fifteen minutes later, when her drink was finished, she sashayed back to us, with her head held up triumphantly. This moment stuck with me because it drove home an important insight: in the competition for mates, women have more value than men. By contrast, after I had been appropriately chastised, my wife apparently never thought about the incident again.
I find it interesting how often these tradcon types have some sort of defining incident that establishes their wife’s superiority in the marriage, using that to anchor their teachings on the subject.
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For example, in their marriage book Tim and Kathy Keller tell the story of the “godly tantrum” in which she smashed some of her wedding china with a hammer to force him to do what she wanted.
This “I was a bad boy and my wife put me in my place” motif isn’t universal, but it’s not uncommon. It’s one you should keep an eye out for in the future. The key is that it establishes the frame of the marriage as one in which the wife is the boss or in a superior position.
The Moral Superior of Women
Renuart points out that sex differences rooted in reproduction lead to an asymmetric mating environment for men and women:
The investment women make and the bodily burden they bear in the reproduction of the species give them a superior position in the romantic marketplace, which confers a dignity that civilized societies expand upon. Civility in any society depends on the degree to which men and women respect the dignity of women. When the superior position of women is not recognized, both sexes pay a high price.
This is the “sperm is cheap, eggs are expensive” type argument employed by the manosphere. Women are vulnerable and dependent during parts of their pregnancy and early childhood, partly for biological reasons and partly because in human culture women have tended to be the sex that invest more heavily in childcare. Men by contrast can “fire and forget.”
This is true so far as it goes. Even the red pill community acknowledges this (though they draw different conclusions from it).
But for Renuart this biology leads to a moral claim about the superiority of women. He describes a woman’s position in the dating market as “superior” and imbuing them with “dignity.” This is similar to Glenn Stanton’s claims that, “Civilization arises and endures because women have expectations of themselves and of those around them…Man and woman are not equal. He owes what he is to her.”
Note that Renuart uses the term “dignity” several times, exclusively applied to women, not men. In fact, he explicitly argues that, “Young men do not possess the natural dignity that was once bestowed upon women.”
This is dehumanizing language about men and is offensive. All men and women are equally created in the image of God, and their dignity derives from that. Renuart would likely never dare suggest one group of people had more dignity than another in any other context (and would likely be cancelled pronto if he did).
I’ve previously cited British academic Callum Brown, who examined the Evangelical literature of the 19th century, nothing a shift around 1800 in which piety came to be seen as a female characteristic, with men undergoing a “demonization” to be seen as the principal threat to family sanctity.
We see Renuart operates in this same mode of thinking. He writes:
Our present lack of civility can be explained by a general failure of our society to recognize women’s dignity.
The competitive nature of men means that they are not easily raised to become gentlemen. However, recognizing differences between the sexes does not mean inappropriate behavior should be excused because “boys will be boys.” Societies rightly suppress the more brutish behavior of men through various traditions and rules, such as laws against polygamy and laws requiring alimony and child support.
Government and nonprofits respond to the failure of men by giving assistance to poor women raising children without fathers, further isolating poor men.
Not that in his telling, all of the blame for divorce and single motherhood in society lies with men. He treats punitive measures like alimony as fully justified in this light.
As I’ve pointed out before with regards to pastors, Renuart doesn’t mention that the vast majority of divorces - around 70% - are filed by women.
He would surely riposte that these women were probably justified in divorcing their husbands due to abuse, adultery, or some such.
Undoubtedly men do bad things - and not just a few them. Some men do abandon their families. Some are abusive.
But can it really be the case that women are never or rarely at fault in divorce? Anybody who reaches a certain age in life has undoubtedly seen many divorces in which the wife dumps the husband without any sort of biblical or good cause. Look around at those divorces you know of personally and see what conclusions you can draw from those. While the evidence is not definitive, there’s good reason to believe that most female initiated divorces are not base on any sort of biblical grounds, and that many of them are opportunistic.
Regardless, it’s telling in and of itself that he neglects to provide probably the most fundamental statistic that exists on family breakdown.
Also, last I checked it takes two to tango. The idea that single motherhood resulting from out of wedlock births are somehow exclusively men’s fault is ludicrous.
And I’ll again highlight his approval of using child support and alimony as punitive measures against men (and only men in his telling).
If you are man whose wife dumps you for no good reason, people like Renuart will be cheering if she gets custody of the kids and you get whacked with a huge alimony bill.
Again, there’s nothing unique about his perspective. This is the norm among Christian conservatives. They almost never assign any blame to women for anything. In this their views align with secular feminism.
For all his appeals for men to behave in a traditional manner towards women, he does not expect women to do so. He instead embraces a feminist conception of gender equalism that frees women from their previous roles in the prior system.
Many feminists complain that men put women on a pedestal in order to restrict their freedom. Perhaps, a better analogy would be a conductor’s podium that allows women to set boundaries and the framework for more personal interactions. The freedom and even safety of women depend on men’s yielding a certain deference that is based on a clear-eyed appreciation of the differences between the sexes.
We want our daughters to have the same opportunities as our sons, but that is not possible unless women are first treated with the respect that only comes from recognizing the differences between the sexes.
However, the civility we have lost can be renewed. It is still possible to respect the differences between the sexes while preserving the opportunities of women.
Here Renuart comes close to acknowledging the truth. Traditionally the sex differences he highlights were seen by societies as justifying a range of restrictions on female behavior.
He does not propose retaining those, instead explicitly calling for the “same opportunities” for men and women. He actually reinterprets historical roles in manner that further empowers women (the “conductor’s podium,” i.e., the place of authority).
This is why I said tradcons try to argue that they are the real feminists. They affirm gender differences but reinterpret them in a way that is oriented towards some kind of female empowerment. The “servant leader” concept is similar.
In the tradcon world, there are two sets of rules. There’s a new set of rules for women, who are freed from many of the constraints in the old rules. But there’s an old set of rules that men are supposed to continue living up to.
Put all these together and, while I hate to say it, tradcon type conservatives are de facto enemies of men. Men are treated as having less human dignity than women, and are assigned all the blame for family breakdown and out of wedlock births. At the same time, they are told to continue living as if it were the 1950s while women are allowed to have a more 21st century mindset on career and other matters.
Please don’t think there’s something particularly bad about Renuart. Quite the opposite. Everything he wrote is a standard issue Boomercon talking point. He’s not an evil guy. He’s just deluded. I don’t blame these folks for believing the conventional wisdom of their world, but I do think they should have awakened to the truth by now. Things that might have seemed believable in the 1980s are well past their sell by date.
But whatever the motives of his heart may be, the things he advocates makes him functionally an enemy of you and your family.
No wonder young men are now looking elsewhere for people who seem to have more accurate diagnoses of society and who, whatever else their sins and faults, seem to at least be actual advocates for the men who follow them.