The Crisis of Masculinity
Actress Emma Thompson, 58, recently spoke out about movie producer, and alleged woman-hunting predator, Harvey Weinstein, saying he is just the tip of the iceberg of a Hollywood epidemic. Men abusing their power to force sexual advances on less-powerful females is, she says, our cultural “crisis of masculinity.”
How many other vultures prowl the hotels of Hollywood?
“Many,” said Thompson. “Maybe not to that degree. Do they have to all be as bad as him to make it count? Does it only count if you really have done it to loads and loads of women? Or does it count to do it to one woman once?
“This is a part of our world — a woman’s world — since time immemorial.”
The flood of recent news leaves us with questions. Will the Weinstein scandal soon explode into a Catholic-Church-level scandal for Hollywood? How far will the reverberations sound? How many powerful Hollywood elites will be exposed and implicated? And how did Weinstein, long scolded for his unwanted sexual advances, find a celebrated home in liberal politics for this long?
What the last year has made clear is that sinful men with influence and authority often take advantage of women who lack it — and it’s a problem for the most powerful elites on the right, and now clearly a problem for the most powerful elites on the left. It is a crisis of masculinity for all.
And, as Thompson said, it has been around since time immemorial.
David and Bathsheba
The story of a high-power movie producer inviting an aspiring actress to his hotel room, at some point stepping into the bathroom, emerging in a robe, asking for a massage (or worse), should make us uncomfortable. But the storyline is not new.
In its most infamous version, we read of the predation of King David and his misuse of his authority, and his abuse of a woman (2 Samuel 11:1–12:23).
Standing on his rooftop perch, looking down over the city under his control, David beheld a bathing woman. What he saw in the nakedness of Bathsheba was not a woman at the end of a long day partaking of a relaxing bubble bath as part of her daily convenience or soothing comfort. Like any other devoted Jewish woman, Bathsheba likely bathed once a month, a ceremonial necessity, an act of faith fitted to her very specific biological cycle (see 2 Samuel 11:4).
Most fundamentally, what David beheld was Bathsheba’s act of holy obedience to God’s command, an essential part of her faith and purity, as it was part of the restoration of her sexual availability to her husband — a husband currently away to fight the king’s war.
David turns this very private moment of Bathsheba’s self-touch into a moment for lustful curiosity and a fantasy leading to his own self-gratification.
It’s the kind of story that should make us all very uncomfortable.
We know where the shameful story heads next — from the lustful sight, to an abuse of his kingly authority to call her to his palace, then his bed, and then all the fallout: the pregnancy, the murder of her husband, the death of the resulting child, and the family turmoil that would haunt David’s own house as a result — one sin compounded by the next sin compounded by the next sin, all leading to a cascade of consequences.
What makes this entire tragedy more vivid are the detailed accounts we are given of David’s brokenness and repentance after he was “outed” for his evil. Using a proverb of a predation, the prophet Nathan opens David’s eyes to see himself as the selfish thief of an unlawful pleasure (2 Samuel 12:1–15). The moment is as greedy and invasive as can be imagined, the prototypical sin of a man that echoes in the predacious role played by the Weinsteins of Hollywood and the conservative talkshow hosts of New York City.
On top of it all, we get a full Psalm from David debriefing his confession on his face before the God he has wronged. There David confesses that his sin is “ever before me.” He has sinned against a woman, sinned against her husband, sinned against his army, and sinned against his kingdom. And yet, all that is far and away surpassed by his offense against God. David confesses in prayer, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:3–4).
David’s lustful gaze at Bathsheba was a sin against God because, among other reasons, he was taking advantage of her in her obedience to God. She was following God. She was living in a moment when obedience called for self-care. And it was in this moment that David saw his opportunity to capitalize on for his own self-gratification.
David was blinded from his lust from seeing a woman as a God-honoring woman. His failure of masculinity (in fact, his failure as ruler) was in failing to protect her obedience to God. And this is at the heart of our crisis of masculinity today: men whose self-centeredness cannot appreciate the holy beauty of a woman’s act of obedience to God’s call over her life. Whether it is an actress God has called and gifted to act, or a female gifted by God to sing and perform on stage, or a woman working under the authority of a powerful male boss, every woman must be protected for her obedience to God’s design for her life.
Whether it’s Roman Catholic priests, powerful television hosts, Hollywood directors, male authorities in female gymnastics, or any other positions of male power, there remains a crisis of masculinity — a crisis of knowing that true masculinity is self-giving for the sake of the benefit and flourishing of women.
We are called to teach our boys that the girls in their schools are living their lives before God, and likely called to be wives of other men. We are to keep telling married men that your wife is not your possession, but God’s, to be protected and guarded as she fulfills her faithful obedience to her God.
This crisis of masculinity is an old tale — an old tragedy — since time immemorial. It plagues the left and the right. And all of us men would be hopelessly caught in this sin, had it not been for another King, one greater than David, who could meet a vulnerable woman at a remote well, not to take advantage of her, but to give her eternal joy.
In him we can still hope for the resurgence of the glorious masculinity God intended — men not bent on taking, but giving. Men not fixed on self-gratification, but ready to sacrifice self for her good.
Tony Reinke (@tonyreinke) is senior writer for Desiring God and author of 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. He hosts the Ask Pastor John podcast and lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and three children.
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