my masculinity is mysterious to me.

As a man, I won’t pretend to know what women as an entire gender want in men as that assumption could only be crippling to the complexity of the sexes in the first place.  In fact, if someone ever tells you in simplistic fashion and with certainty “what women/men want” then I would venture to guess they are without a partner or perhaps the partner they have could benefit from a healthier dose of self-image.

We often view the world in terms of contrast and it can be a fun pastime to define that which is masculine and feminine in terms of opposing characteristics.  The ‘providing’ father versus the ‘nurturing’ mother’.  The boys in blue who smoke and chew, the girls in pink with accessories in sync.  Books are titled “His Needs, Her Needs” and “What Women Really Want”.  Married couples sit around the dinner table and laugh at each other’s quirks, perhaps a healthy coping mechanism for dealing with the mystery of gender (and marriage).

These fun exercises aside, an attempt to diagnose the whole needs or wants of the opposite sex can be risky or even perilous, not just because we investigate from the periphery but because oftentimes we can’t even speak to our own needs.  How am I to discern the needs and boundaries of femininity when my own masculinity would evolve to elude definition?  It’s not wrong to know what we want or need as men and women or at least acknowledge the presence of such things but discerning them never takes place in a vacuum.  Perhaps I am in a safer place to declare not what the opposite sex needs but rather who I am and to then let the opposite sex go with it.

I think this is healthier for a few reasons. Men, if you are always trying to figure out what a woman wants/needs then you will be tempted to provide an answer/solution/provision and thus possibly set up for failure.  Not because it’s a trap but because it’s impossible to explore an empty space and not want to fill it with something, a common masculine characteristic.  Sexual function and gender expression are uniquely and intricately connected, with vast implications but guys…stop trying to fill places that aren’t looking to be filled.  We don’t know every answer, we don’t have every solution and the satisfaction of feminine desires will never be met strictly in those terms.

So then I would first propose that celebrating the presence and mystery of gender differences will often fill the void in ways that we fail to imagine when simply isolating those differences in the first place.  A healthy respect of the opposite sex can ultimately flourish and defining needs won’t extend from a quagmire of contrast.  Is she different from you and is she expressing her needs in a way you don’t understand?  Absolutely but its okay because she is worth celebrating, not conquering.  Can’t wrap your mind around the way he thinks?  It’s okay because he’s still worth celebrating.

Knowing instead who we are and then what we need and want might be healthier still because it allows us to move beyond “needs that must be satisfied” to “needs that are satisfiable”.  This is a key difference because it moves us and our partners from a place of commodity to a place of companionship.  I can’t overemphasize this.  If all I ever do is view my partner in terms of their ability to satisfy my needs then I have handed them over to unrealistic expectations.

Gratification in relationships never comes just from what your partner has to offer but instead who your partner is.  What is feminine or masculine about you might compliment me, what is unique to your gender might magnify my own uniqueness but we are more than the sum of gender differences and subsequent contrasting needs.  Before you are a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, you are a person, the complexity of which is inestimable.

I don’t want to pretend to know what a woman wants because I don’t want to pretend to always know who I am.  My masculinity is mysterious to me and as soon as I feel like I fit some mold or even a stereotype, I find a difference.  I’m okay with this because I know I’m worth celebrating beyond my ability to meet a need.  Somehow this feels healthier.  Somehow this feels like needs will be met in ways that haven’t or couldn’t been met before.

I suppose I could have wrote here what my needs or wants are or even what I want in the opposite sex and we could compare notes but then again, we wouldn’t be celebrating each other very well at that point.  So I’ll let this rest and hope the thought remains with you that you indeed are worth celebrating.

 

why ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ is hurting woman: a response.

The following is a response I wrote to Karen Swallow Prior’s piece titled “Why ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Is Hurting Woman“.  It is not an exhaustive review of the books (which I have read) or the American version of the movie (which I have not seen).  Please read her original article to gain context in my post.  If you respond to this post, please do so respectfully and please distinguish between commenting on the books or movies (either Swedish or American versions). 

Karen,

After reading your article I’m confused.  In the same sentence you disclaim “This isn’t a film review and…I offer analysis based only on the film.”  From that, I can’t really discern what you’re driving at so I’ll try to figure it in this response.

Character study has rightly informed the way we see ourselves for as long as characters have been created.  It’s part of the beauty of literature, film and all media.  In your case, being introduced to a character through a Facebook status is a rather recent phenomenon however.  Facebook and Twitter have afforded us the privilege to form quick uninformed opinions about things for which we previously were forced to seriously chew on and investigate.  This is true in your owns words, “My immediate reaction, though I knew nothing at that point about the book or the character, was ‘uh oh'”.

My main critique of your article isn’t whether Lisbeth Salander should or shouldn’t be regarded as a heroine.  For the rest of the world that doesn’t read first-world evangelical posts like these, Lisbeth Salander is and will be regarded as a hero for better or for worse and in some cases should be.  While your (and mine) hero, the one “placed upon…a mere plank and crossbeam” is the greatest character study of all, his story has yet to be discovered by many a victim of sexual injustice and Salander will have to suffice for standing up against said injustice.

Don’t take me wrong, I’m not nihilistic or cynical enough to say if Stieg Larsson is all you’ve got, that’s all you’ll get.  However, I’m realistic enough to know that my definition of sexual injustice or my fight against gender prejudice can’t be informed by someone’s facebook status, clothing line or even David Fincher‘s Hollwood star-crossed vision of Larsson’s book.

You say that Lisbeth Salander is hurting women yet you don’t provide any statistical or even anecdotal evidence of such.  Your credibility to make such claims stems from “watch[ing] [a] friend undergo self-injury, sexual victimization, sexual deviancy, drug addiction, institutionalization, and the occasional come-to-Jesus moment”?   I hate to break it to you but I have those friends too.  They are guys, fully masculine and fully devoted to a spiritual struggle that extends well past the publication of a swedish mystery novel.

Going back to my initial confusion at what you were driving at with this article…are you trying to rescue women from stereotypical chains that Hollywood places on them?  If so, I would contend that you are using this platform to perpetuate chains that are placed on men as well.  You write, “She has the smarts and independence men increasingly expect in a post-feminist world, makes a great work partner, stitches up a bullet hole with vodka and dental floss, rides a motorcycle, initiates sex (and does girls, too), makes breakfast the morning after, brings herself to orgasm while her partner lies back and thinks about work—all the while staying (largely) emotionally unattached. She’s essentially a breasted boy.”

So…that means all boys are just great work partners, stitch bullet holes with vodka and dental floss, ride motorcycles and initiate sex?  All boys bring ourselves to orgasm while staying emotionally unattached?  Karen, are you married, do you have a boyfriend or have a son?  Do you assign these stereotypical cliche’s to them as well?  Hopefully, the other men who are reading this post and sincerely following Christ the best way they know how won’t be offended by the same unjust prejudices that you herein propagate.  I’ll clue you in…not all men get off on these movies, their imagery and feel the need to beat their chest when movies like these are made.

I get it.  You went and watched a movie that has some seriously disturbing themes and you had an emotional response.  Did you apply the same Facebook-litmus test to last years sordid tale of female sexual deviancy, Black Swan?  Darn it, Hollywood why do you continue to define my view of all women as sexually repressed, catty, snobby, closet-ballerinas, jealous with low self-esteem.  Geez, those male directors and their need to compensate.

Well, hats off to the Stiegster for accomplishing his goals: awareness of sexual deviancy, injustice and *gasp* swedish culture.  It’s too bad he’s not around to chat with Darren Arrenovsky or the execs at MGM and Columbia.  All we have of Larsson are three books from which to derive a character that should and will be studied, admired and hated.  The joy of film is that it can be watched but the lasting beauty of literature is that it can be read, again and again.  From the pages of books we continue to peel back the “layers of our own facade”.  I’m so glad the Lord reveals our facade’s in more than one Book.

With Respect,
Jonathan Simmons

leadership mistake #1: treat everyone equally.

A few years ago, I was asked by my direct boss (the administrative pastor) if I wanted to go play golf with him and another pastor on staff.  ‘This should be fun’, I thought, ‘hanging out with two cool dudes on the golf course.’  I reported to this guy so why not enjoy the moment with our guards down.  It was a Thursday morning and while we would have typically been in the office, here was a chance to bond with two people I respected and wanted to know better.  It was a great time too.  I’m horrible at golf, by the way.  I plan on losing a dozen balls each round.  In any case, the morning sped by as we shot the breeze (literally), chased balls and compared war stories.  I finished the day back at the office and left thinking this had a been a great day.

The surprise came on Tuesday morning at staff meeting when we were told that time sheets now had to be filled out for the work week.  Not just when we came in and when we left (which wouldn’t make sense on a salary anyways) but literally keeping a journal of everything we did during the week.  These reports had to be filled out and turned in at the end of each week, no exceptions.  Come to find out, the senior pastor was livid when he found out that three of his employees were on the golf course.  Now, I’m not saying we could or couldn’t play golf.  To top it off, I still don’t know the true impetus and intention of being made to fill out those sheets.  What I can say is that we now bore the brunt of the decision my boss made.  In other words, a knee jerk reaction translated into a blanket policy.

You know those policies right?  The crazy far out ones where anyone new to the scene can’t figure out why in the world this particular policy exists.  I’ll give you a hint: it’s when you’re asked to behave a certain way to avoid the mistakes of another.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn from our mistakes.  I’m not saying policies don’t have a place in every organization.  What I am saying is that treating everyone equally is not the same as treating everyone fairly.

There is a difference between fair and equal.  In fact, I’ll go so far to say that equality has nothing do with grace.  Equality is simply treating everyone they exact same way.  When a child points out that something’s not fair, it’s because that child doesn’t have a grasp of what they do and don’t deserve and grace will never be about what you do or do not deserve.  Thank God I’m not treated according to what I deserve.  Equal treatment denotes a sense of privilege.  Fairness, on the other hand, denotes a sense of grace.  You see, had I been treated fairly based on the anecdote from above, I probably wouldn’t have had to fill out those time sheets because technically I was doing what had been asked of me by my superior.

Unfortunately in this context, the need to treat us all equally came more or less from a sense of insecurity.  When I’m able to interact with my team or followers based on who they are individually, it’s because I’m secure about who I am.  I’m secure enough to let that illusion of control go.

This weekend, there were several challenges in our weekend services.  For each challenge, there was a situation.  For each situation, there was a leadership opportunity.  I came into this weekend knowing full well that a leader does not and should not pretend to know all the answers.  A leader should, however, be fully prepared to treat each individual fairly, with love and grace.  The only reason, and I sincerely mean the ‘only’ reason, that I have even a glimpse of what grace means is because it has been extended to me. That glimpse is but a drop of the ocean that is His love.

I’m not interested in blanket policies based on knee jerk reactions.  I know that quality is my M.O. but it will never be at the risk of losing a friend or follower, especially to produce a temporary result.  If you truly knew me you would know how hard it is for me to write these things.  However, I’ve learned (and am learning) that I’m far too in love with the One who is gracious and far too in love with those He has extended grace to, to ever risk equality for fairness.  Thank you God for loving me fairly.