A couple days ago I decided to go through Leslie Ludy’s Answering the Guy Questions. I’ve read it a few times, but not since I kissed legalism goodbye. I’ve been going through it and taking notes about how the ideas affected me as a teen, and what I notice now as an adult. It’s been educational. And I’m only partway through chapter one.
Leslie begins the book by describing “Counterfeit Manhood”. She talks about the dismal state of modern masculinity, which I find especially interesting in light of the current discussion about toxic masculinity.
She starts the book with a discussion of her seventh grade experience. “Boys were loud and obnoxious, insensitive and crude.” She then goes on to talk about guys who “treated every girl like a piece of meat to either lustfully consume or carelessly discard.” Her high school experience was even worse. Most of the guys she knew actively viewed pornography. Her youth pastor constantly asked the girls if they had boyfriends, and flirted with the attractive girls. She constantly overheard guys lustfully describe girls’ bodies, and when she finally called a guy out on it, he told her that’s just the way guys are.
All of this is utterly foreign to my high school experience. I was home schooled and the guys that I interacted with were decent people who respected the girls and women in their life. Some were obnoxious, selfish and arrogant, but they never treated women like meat.
What Leslie talks about is far removed from what I know. “Like most girls my age, I reasoned that being treated like a sex object was better than being disregarded by guys and spending the rest of my life alone. So I began catering to the masculine perversion all around me by dressing seductively to gain male approval, laughing carelessly when guys touched or grabbed me sexually in the school halls, and giving away my heart, emotions and almost all of my physical purity to one casual, meaningless fling after another. Like most other girls my age, giving in to the dismal state of modern masculinity left me heartbroken, wounded and plagued with debilitating insecurity.”
I was horrified when I read that. And then something clicked in my mind. This isn’t a description of modern masculinity. This is a description of sexual harassment and toxic masculinity.
Just to be sure I did a quick google search. I ended up at the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s page about identifying sexual harassment . Certain points fit Leslie’s story all too well.
- invading personal space
- unnecessary physical contact, including unwanted touching, etc.
- derogatory language and/or comments toward women (or men, depending on the circumstances), sex-specific derogatory names
- gender-related comment about a person’s physical characteristics or mannerisms
- displaying or circulating pornography, sexual pictures or cartoons, sexually explicit graffiti, or other sexual images (including online)
- sexual jokes, including circulating written sexual jokes (e.g. by e-mail)
- bragging about sexual prowess
- questions or discussions about sexual activities
- requiring an employee to dress in a sexualized or gender-specific way (ok, she wasn’t required to dress a certain way by an employer, but there was definitely a cultural pressure to “dress seductively”)
I’m horrified and sad that her school was like this. Yes, I’m probably naive, because people will say that’s just what high school is like. But that’s not what it should be like.
What disturbs me most about this chapter is that Leslie calls all this “modern masculinity” and “counterfeit manhood”. She perpetuates the lie that nearly all guys, and especially non-Christian guys, are like this. She takes the blame for not standing up and having high morals, and not encouraging guys to do better. She doesn’t call out sexual harassment for what it is: An unhealthy and unacceptable way for guys to interact with women, regardless of whether the’re Christian.
Thankfully in college I never experienced what she described. If I had, I probably would have believed that unwanted touching or sexual comments were my fault for interacting with a non-Christian guy. Because after all, what else would I expect from a modern man?
This leads to greater problems later in the book. One premise of Answering the Guy Questions is that we can inspire men to valiant manhood by being princesses of purity. We can make guys behave better by following God’s Plan™ for femininity. Thus the responsibility for men to change is put on women’s shoulders. Which is ridiculous. We can’t manipulate guys into changing their hearts.
What we can do is call unacceptable behaviour by its true name. Let’s not pretend that leering, catcalling, unwanted advances and inappropriate touching is just “the way modern guys are”. No. It’s sexual harassment, and it’s wrong.