What The Hunger Games Taught Me (and the Church Should Have) about Men

I just read the entire Hunger Games trilogy in six days. After at least a year of intending to read them on my daughter’s recommendation, I finally took the time to pick them up, motivated by the approaching release of The Hunger Games movie later this month. Like many readers, I got hooked immediately and couldn’t stop reading. Fortunately, I traveled by myself over the weekend and had lots of airport time, airplane time, eating-by-myself-at-Panera time, and late-at-night-in-my-hotel-room-just-one-more-chapter-and-then-I’ll-go-to-sleep time. So I was able to get through them pretty quickly. Without that opportunity, I would not be functioning today. I would be reading and ignoring everything but the most basic personal hygiene–they’re that compelling.

So if you haven’t read these books, you should. And be aware that the rest of this blog post contains a very minor spoiler.

There were many things I loved about this story, including the realistic and multi-dimensional feminine strength of Katniss, the wounded female main character. But the most compelling element was the faithful, genuine, and sacrificial love Peeta–a major symbol of the presence of hope and purity and life itself–had for Katniss.

Why was Peeta’s love so compelling? Partly because he’s a wonderful character, partly because love is always compelling, and partly because I have issues. I have a hard time believing that men have the capacity to be genuinely loving.

I don’t have any of the traditional reasons for this hang-up. I wasn’t abused, sexually or otherwise. I’ve never been raped, I was not abandoned or cast off by my father (who is a good man). I experienced my share of sexual harassment in high school, and I’ve had my heart broken a few times, but I don’t hate men, fear them in general, or have “daddy issues.” In general, in fact, I have good relationships with men. I enjoy and respect them and see them as equals.

I’ve been married for 18 years to the most wonderful guy, who is both a good man and a great man. In fact, Peeta reminds me of him (which is another reason I love the Peeta character, of course). My husband, Trevor, is a counselor, a nurturer, and a loving person. But sometimes I still have trouble believing that he truly loves me regardless of what I can give him. My mind remains convinced of something I have heard repeatedly since I was young.

I have Christian speakers and teachers to thank for this hang-up. Famous teachers and preachers, whose voices entered my world through radio and books and magazines and sent me this message: Women are loving. Women are nurturing. Women love men and want to be loved in return. Men want to be respected and men want sex. And they’ll readily use women to get it. That’s the way men are “wired.” That’s the way God made them. So it’s up to women to be on their guard and to protect themselves from men so they can give their love to someone who will be kind to them.

This is how I interpreted that message: “God made men to be unfeeling, uncaring creatures whose sexual appetites control them and motivate them to begrudgingly behave lovingly toward women in order to get what they want: someone to have sex with them, cook for them, and clean for them. God made women to be victims of this, playing into men’s hands, motivated to cook, clean, and have sex with men just to get what they want: someone to behave lovingly toward them.” What a bleak view of our relationships!

I did find a man who is kind to me. I don’t engage in sex with him to try to win his love–I love him, and I love our relationship. But 18 years later, I still struggle to consistently believe that he loves me. Because guess what? I have heard this blanket message about men (from men) so often, I learned to view them all as callous and calculating. I can’t stop believing it just because I’m married. If it’s true of men in general, why wouldn’t it be true of married men who say “I love you” to their own wives and, presumably, don’t mean it? And if it’s true of men in general, why wouldn’t it be true of my own husband? Because of what I grew up believing about men, it’s hard for me to picture men loving women the way I know women can love men: selflessly, genuinely, and vulnerably. And by extension, I’ve had some trouble believing that Jesus–who was fully man–loves me for who I am.

For me, an Internet search revealed plenty of people presenting this message about men, the most notable Christian source in the writings of Dr. James Dobson. But I couldn’t find anyone citing a primary source for this claim or any kind of research that shows men are incapable of genuine, selfless love, or that they’re created to use women.

A look in my Bible brought me to Ephesians 5:25, where Paul instructs husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her.” And in 5:28-29, he says, “Husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church.” If men are “wired” to use women, how can God possibly expect this kind of sacrificial love from them? How can he expect them to love women not to satisfy their own bodies but just as much as they love their own bodies? To the point where they are willing to sacrifice their own bodies for the sake of their wives, just as Christ did for his bride, the church?

I know many men are selfish with their bodies. Many women are too. In our culture, men are given license to satisfy their desires for pleasure by using women, just as women are given license to seek pleasure in pampering themselves. This message carries way beyond Christian teachers–it’s everywhere. But this does not justify the presentation of is as God-ordained, universally true, or even acceptable.

I want to believe that men are capable of love. And because of what God’s Word seems to expect from them, I’m pretty sure they are. The problem is, I need to keep working to become convinced. And I need to see more examples besides Jesus and my own husband.

Reading The Hunger Games, Peeta’s character (who is also a Christ symbol, by the way, even dying and coming back to life at one point–oh, and bread of life, anyone? I will stay with you “always”?) provided a believable example for me, and it helped me break through a little more of my mental and emotional fog around this issue. My questions: Why don’t I see much of this in Christian media? Why don’t I see Christian men lifted up as examples of love, publicly exhibiting loving personas, and expressing admiring love for who their wives are as people (apart from what their wives do for them)? (And no, it doesn’t count for guys to stand up and say how much they love their “lovely brides,” reducing their wives to one-dimensional roles they played for about two hours, probably followed by great sex.) Why aren’t Christian men publicly given permission to love, need, and become emotionally intertwined with the women they’ve committed themselves to? Why do people keep saying men aren’t capable of the kind of love the Apostle Paul suggested they should be?

How many other girls and women are suffering from the same gender-stereotyping message about men’s capacity? How many men believe this themselves, suffering under confusion about the way God has made them? How many other marriages have been affected, as mine has, by the fundamental lack of trust this message engenders? How many women have settled for men who use them, believing this truly is all they can expect or hope for in a man, because of what some Christian guy said on the radio?

I’m glad The Hunger Games shows a strong example of a man with genuine and sacrificial love. I hope a lot of young women are convinced by this example that it is possible to find men who will love them. And I hope Christian men will stop telling them that they can’t.

56 Comments
  1. Stunning. In my opinion this is extremely profound. It struck me hard between the eyeballs. Helps me embrace some of my own distrust (and I have a bit more reason to distrust a male figure because of a tragic relationship with my father) of men! Wow. I’m going to have to come back to these thoughts.

    Right on about how men are characterized in the church and elsewhere! Right on.

  2. Outstanding stuff here, Amy! I’m sharing this with everyone I know, women and men included!

    As a man who definitely does not fit the church’s PR around how men are “wired,” I remain grateful and blessed by all the women in my life who have been willing to see thru the hype and engage the heart.

  3. Amy, this really resonated with me. I have the same kind of marriage yet struggled with the same kind of thinking. When I shared this post with my husband, he raised the point that the mentality you described is not unique to the church. It is a part of our culture–movies and tv shows teach us that men are after ONE THING, and that it’s “natural” and we need to accept it. I can’t help but wonder if the church has simply succumbed to this thinking, when we should instead be proclaiming a different vision altogether.

    • Amy says:

      Totally true, Sharon. I’ve found this kind of thinking all over the place. And the church should be telling men (and women) that they are made to be the people God calls them to be, not to succumb to the easy, self-serving stereotypes of our culture.

  4. Nancy says:

    I find your experience/impressions really, really sad. I probably heard all the same stuff you did, but didn’t come away with the same bleak impression of men’s capacity to love. I feel like I’m surrounded by examples and portrayals of men in the church who love their wives, and not because of what their wives do for them. I had a whole defense typed up, but then I realized that when it comes right down to it, it’s not about what authors or speakers mean to say or about whether there is any truth to their arguments. If women come away with the same impressions you did, then something is wrong with how things are being expressed. Food for thought for how we discuss things with our daughters when they are a little older. (And for the record, I like it when men refer to their wives as brides, because to me it expresses that they would choose them all over again, even knowing all that 13 or 18 or 60 years of marriage reveals about a person and all the change that has occurred in their wife since the day they got married. And I’m not defending my husband here, because he has never referred to me as his bride since the day we got married, if even then. But I will grant you that somehow we never hear husbands referred to as grooms!)

    • Tammy says:

      I have to agree. I’ve been in church all my life (dad’s is a preacher) and I never had a negative view of men or men’s roles. I don’t know where this author gets this. I’ve never doubted my husband loved me.

    • Heidi says:

      I agree Nancy. This is sad.
      I don’t recall hearing Dobson say anything like this over the years. I guess it is true, we hear what we want to hear.
      All people, men and women, are unique and stereotypes are not healthy for anyone.

  5. heather schopp says:

    amy, i can relate almost identically to much of what you wrote….for a time i think i did hate men, or at least very strongly resented them, and resented God along with them–why did He create them this way, and me this way, in a way that my needs can not possibly be met, in a way that will never make me feel fulfilled and safe? i prayed to Jesus–for some reason i did not resent Him, i saw Him as kind of all-gender-encompassing–but not to God. i suppose there were a number of reasons for this disillusion, there always are–but primarily the culprits were the messages the media was sending, as sharon mentioned, and sadly ideas the church taught, misinterpretations (they are that in my opinion) of scripture regarding men and women.
    think of what damage is done to young girls and boys as this message is delivered–girls assuming they will be mistreated and disrespected and will have to perform to keep a man, boys being programmed to think this is how they are expected to behave.
    you’ve sparked my interest in the series–thanks for sharing the books, and your struggle.

  6. Lesa says:

    brilliant. so true. so sad. did not tie that together but you are so right! Thanks.

  7. Caryn says:

    Great post, Amy. So insightful. Of course, now I’m wondering what’s wrong with me that I love Gale and Finnick….: ) But I was Team Peeta when it came to Katniss.

  8. Angie says:

    Great article.

    I, too, have noticed in recent years a lot of chatter from within the Christian sub-culture (speakers, preacher, programs) about supposed “hard-wiring” that just does not ring true in my 24 years of marriage and other general experience. Your questions at the end are provocative.

  9. Cheryl says:

    I’m so proud of your boldness to say what goes against a lot of people’s opinions. As I read “The Hunger Games,” I kept waiting for the other side of Peeta to come out. It never did. I was so impressed that a secular novel would give such an honorable portrayal, so I’m so glad you focused on that. I’m also glad that you reminded me to teach my daughters that there are amazing Christian young men like their father, who will value them above their own selfishness, and not to settle for anyone who does not!

  10. Dan Jr. says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, I loved your post. I posted on something very similar. > http://danwhitejr.blogspot.com/2012/03/hunger-games-masculinity.html

  11. Jeff Strong says:

    Hi Amy,

    I was saddened as I progressed through your article. Heartbroken that you’ve had such little exposure to men who are (slowly but surely) being transformed in Christ. Forget Dobson! I’d strongly recommend you pick up Richard Rohr’s Quest for the Grail and Adam’s Return (and I think he has some CD’s on Understanding the Spiritual Journey of Men and Women). These have provided me with some of the best explanations of masculine spirituality I’ve come across, and are very helpful for understanding the unique expression of brokenness (and redemption) that are part of the spiritually maturing male journey in Christ.

  12. Chrystal says:

    Thanks for the very interesting perspective. I grew up in an evangelical church tradition (pastor father) and heard the same kind of teaching regarding men and women over and over. I agree with one of the other commentors that the church is not alone in presenting this picture of men and their relationship with women. Our North American culture is filled with similar images and expectations. I believe it’s another example of the church being influenced by the surrounding culture rather than being an influence on culture. Thank you for challenging these ideas and the encouragement to teach young men and women the truth of who God created us to be in relation to one another.

  13. sam says:

    Amy, just had to write and say YES I’ve been trying to talk to people about Peeta (or pita? hello!) being the bread of life for days!! Thanks for recognizing it and writing about it. He is a total Christ figure. I couldn’t figure out why his love for Katniss seemed so other-wordly; then I realized, it’s because it is not of this world. It is Jesus. I blogged about it here http://www.celebritygospel.com/2012/03/gospel-in-hunger-games.html.

  14. Kathy says:

    WOW! Thank you SO much for this. You articulated my life experience and my mind’s default setting. Fortunately, I have a husband who really loves me, and I feel it. I am also working to encourage friends in the church to learn to not be afraid, but trust cross-gender friendships, which, like in the area of romance/marraige has been wrongly taught and where unbiblical Freudian assumptions prevail. Sigh. There are so many things that Christians need to un-learn–bogus teachings that have been accepted as normative and truthful when they are not.

  15. Dan Brennan says:

    Amy, Grrrreat post! Very articulate! Spot on in the message category. I think this so deeply applies to male-female friendship beyond marriage. If I may put in a plug for the conference, When Jesus Met Mary: Exploring Friendship Between Men and Women in Chicago on April 27-28. We think a new conversation is needed between Christian men and women.

  16. This is great. I think you have pinpointed a major root issue in distance between men and women.

    I pray your post is part of a real love revolution between men and women – not only men and woman married to each other, but all men and women.

    Blessings.

  17. I will add that it is the responsibility of women to unravel the lies they believe about men and to dare to love everyone as Jesus compels us, even to love men thus. I’m not sure how we can accomplish this except to ask the Holy Spirit for help and renew our minds by simply honoring people even above the inclinations or expectations we’re used to. If we left ourselves “fall in love” with every person in front of us, this will affect our perception of men as well.

  18. Patti says:

    wow! i haven’t read the series, but our church did a marriage series recently and talked about ephesians in depth. it was pretty eye opening to me regarding how the man should treat his wife, and i think this is part of the reason why

  19. Dan says:

    Amy, I don’t know where you are reading that all men want is sex and that is all that is on their minds. Can you please show me where these authors have stated this about ALL men.
    Why didn’t you use Ephesians 5:26-27? This shows that love that Paul is talking about in Jesus Christ. This shows an action on behalf of Jesus to the church. This is the model of the Christian man not the man still marred in sin.
    I am sorry but men are different then women. Men act differently, think differently and behave differently. This is why Paul told women to submit to their husbands and men to love their wives. This shows that love is shown differently between the genders. Remember that this is to people who are Christians. Now these natures can show themselves in people who are not saved in different ways. There are men who will feed their sexual desires with sexual conquests of women and there are women who will feed their needs with manipulating men into situations. Now see that my statement is not a blanket statement.
    “Because of what I grew up believing about men, it’s hard for me to picture men loving women the way I know women can love men: selflessly, genuinely, and vulnerably.” That is a truly bold statement and how do you know that the way that a women loves is “selflessly, genuinely, and vulnerably” is the truly the way we are called to love people? That is making a judgment call saying that the way that women love is better then the way that men love. What you want is the way you love to be reciprocated in the same way you give it. So, anyone who cannot do this to your satisfaction is wrong? Is the main issue that you cannot believe that God would have made men and women differently?

  20. Sarah says:

    I think I know what you mean. I remember being told always how crazy men were about sex– even by the church and my Christian guy friends. Now, I’m married to a man who doesn’t want sex as often as he “should” (based on my learning of men) and I get insecure that he doesn’t want ME.
    And I HATE this idea that men want respect and women want love. To me, they are the same thing. You can’t have one without the other. Or the idea that women are somehow super nurturing and men are super powerful or whatever. I think this desire to find the “roles” for men and women has led us to pigeonhole people into smaller characters than are really given to them by God. Why do we need to do that?
    Thanks for writing this.
    BTW: don’t you love the way books can spur such epiphanies?

  21. marcie says:

    And the church makes a women feel dirty and that it is ours and our daughters fault if a man looks at her. There is so much shame…… I have been married thirty years and I still struggle with this.

  22. sparklepower says:

    Wow. Wow. Wow. To the few men on here that I see differing from the author, I don’t judge you perhaps your experience is vastly different. But I must say, that repeatedly, obsessively over and over this author’s experience of church attitudes about wives and women has been my struggle, my pain and frustration since I was a teen.

    When I was a teen I struggled mightily with who the church was telling me I was supposed to be, because it did not conform at all to who the Lord was making me. I didn’t realize that at the time, I just thought I was a crazy rebel, a person who was bad at being a girl, which God in his infinite wisdom for some reason chose to make me. And I did not at all care for any of the ways that the church said boys were supposed to behave toward me as I found most of them either patronizing, controlling, abusive or marginalizing.

    The church would say out of one corner of our mouth how sacrificial and loving Jesus was. And out of the other corner of its mouth that husbands were to be like Jesus, but for women that meant having no real hopes or dreams of your own, merely fitting in as a wife and mother into your husband’s plans.

    The conclusion I sadly came to (even as the Lord sought and saved me) was that God must not like women very much.

    This was confirmed further when I married a guy from a mainline denomination with a very traditional background. He fell in love with me because I am vibrant, strong, intelligent, and passionate about life. I’m not a woman who spends her time in the kitchen etc doing traditional things. These were things he loved about me. As soon as we were married, however, the script he had been taught about women came full force. He was resentful and tried to force me to become the “good” type of wife he had heard about his whole life. He thought I was a “bad” wife, even though I was just being myself. Unfortunately we were also surrounded by a traditional culture and church that reinforced these prejudices of his. Whenever we had problems I would be given a book by some well meaning person at church that would tell me that I as the wife could solve all of our problems by just “submitting” more, and just understand my husband’s nature was to be the way he was. If there was a problem with his nature it is because I was supposedly not playing my role as the dutiful wife enough.

    There was some pretty severe emotional and psychological abuse present in the relationship. When the verbal turned to threats to hurt me physically, I finally got up the courage to leave him. Actually it took the Lord pushing me out of the relationship, as I was convinced to leave this person would make God angry with me. God himself had to reach down to extricate me from this relationship. I didn’t feel that what he was doing was right, because I hated the way he treated me. But I was somehow convinced through the doctrine and brainwashing of the church that God overlooked, or even condoned as necessary, or just was not terribly concerned with my mistreatment, and the mistreatment of so many Christian wives. It was “just the way things are” and a godly woman’s role was to learn how to deal, and develop a sickly sweet “spirit” that basically meant that anything strong and good about you as a person had died and replaced itself with a sham of a person who was good at serving other people.

    So much of how I felt about manhood and men has been slowly and painfully undone, much to my joy. I have finally come to the conclusion that God loves women and wants them to be happy in their relationships.

    These teachings are also why I have had a hard time dating in the church. I have tons of non Christian guys interested in me, who think I would make a fine match. Other than our spiritual noncompatibility, they would be fine matches. They respect and support strong women. But in the church, most men have been brainwashed to think of strong women(let alone feminists!) with dreams and goals of their own, fully capable of matching wits and strength of character, as a threat to their “headship”.

    A book that the Lord used to help me to finally break free of any lingering doubts on my role was “10 Lies the Church Tells Women”. It is a book that explodes a lot of myths and misinterpretations of the Bible that have held women back in churches.

    I am currently looking forward to a relationship that I know the Lord is bringing into my life. I know it will be a relationship in which I will be cherished for myself and I will be respected and loved as an equal, rather than an accessory or an appliance. The Lord has spoken to my heart on this. I know that he is bringing a vibrant, spirit worshipping man into my life, and I have a sneaking suspicion that he will come from some non traditional background, as that seems to be what it takes to appreciate who I am. My last dating interest was a guy whose mom was a corporate lawyer and his dad was a stay at home dad. He saw zero contradiction between my femininity and my forthrightness, boldness, strongly held opinions, my educational and career accomplishments, my goals and ambitions, my athleticism, and my unwillingness to settle for second best.

    Do I think all men are chauvanists? Far from it! One of the reasons I am such a strong woman is because my dad is a Christian man who treats my mom like a jewel, and he is a significant reason I am such an outgoing and strong woman. Also, I do not knock traditional roles per se, as my parents are very traditional. My mom has not had a job since she married, and has been a very traditional and feminine stay at home mom. But it is the abuse of these concepts and roles that I have an issue with. I feel that they are preventing more men from becoming like my dad, a gentle but strong man who demonstrates Christ’s love for his family.

    I loved this post.

  23. Too many profound insights to pick just one but this one has always made me feel creepy when I hear men say it

    “no, it doesn’t count for guys to stand up and say how much they love their “lovely brides,” reducing their wives to one-dimensional roles they played for about two hours, probably followed by great sex.)”

    Freud has infiltrated the church. Mark Driscoll is the latest (sick) iteration of his project. Thank you for calling us to be followers of Jesus

  24. Devon says:

    Your article pinpointed for me some unexamined assumptions I have about masculinity. I too have a wonderful, godly father, an affectionate brother, good and healthy friendships with men, but I’m still surprised to find that they are genuinely fond of me despite my plainness. I never had traced it to these teaching before, but it makes sense that even in the face of overwhelming life experiences with men loving as Christ loved, I still assume baser motives. Thank you a hundred times for this article!

  25. EstaAnn Ammerman says:

    So very painful for so many. I still believe many women have a difficult time believing in Jesus’ Goodness because He is a man. It doesn’t really make sense. Right? It can’t be true if HE is a Man/God of Christianity. May Yeshua bless all the abused, battered, belittled, raped, abandoned or cheated on women of this world. Only the Love of Yeshua from a personal experience would overcome this type of mind control. Men may be able to bring Yeshua’s Love to a man of Islam, but just forget about a woman from Islam. You will need a sister in the Lord to help them with that one. Many of their own sister’s in the Lord can’t even comprehend their sincerity. May God bless women especially those who do not even have sons or brothers to show them that Jesus’ love could possibly be true.

  26. Kyle says:

    All great points, but missing a big part of the book(s).

    SPOILER ALERT!!!

    Did Peeta truly love Katniss? He certainly admired her, but it’s pretty clear that, in the first book, a big part of what he says is an act. He hides some of it, and some of it is true, but Peeta is always teh one more willing to put on a show and play the game to stay alive and to win. He always knew he had no chance of winning without Katniss.

    None of that should take away from the conversation, of course, but I just thought I’d point that out.

    • sam says:

      But doesn’t he want to stay alive simply to protect Katniss?

    • Ursie says:

      Kyle, I read the book as Peeta TRULY loving Katniss. It was Katniss that acted as if she loved him in order to survive. His love was real; hers was acting. Although, at the end of the first Hunger Games, she loved him enough to not want to kill him–but that isn’t exactly “true love”. Most of us don’t want to kill anyone, including our enemies.

  27. Laura says:

    I have grown up in the church and have never heard this message. Men love sex, for sure, but that doesn’t mean they disrespect women or love them less. While there may be a good relationship model, what about the whole kids killing kids thing? Are we sending mixed messages by glorifying these books, yet ranting about the violence in the world? Is it worth it?

    • Tammy says:

      There is violence in these books, but it’s not glorified. When the “good guys” are fighting, they hate it. They don’t like at all what they’ve been forced into.

      In response to the article, I am saddened that you DO have valid points. Meaning that you’re certainly not the only one who has come away with this view. I am encouraged that you have gone to scripture to find the truth in Christ alone instead of accepting what the world is telling you… Christian or non alike. That’s what we should all be doing!

  28. Byron Borger says:

    Amy,

    Thank you so much for this truly touching piece and for your honest ruminations. I’m grateful for your honest critique of some parts of the evangelical culture. Good work!

    I wanted to just echo one thing, and then ask a question.

    Firstly, you are really on to something here– even some of those evangelical churches that don’t have an overly sexist or harsh view of gender roles confuse matters by teaching about sexuality in this dumb way—he wants respect, she wants love. (As a male, I’ve always been frustrated with that teaching and the books that say that; I don’t want love? Really? And my wife doesn’t want respect? That just seems unwarranted Biblically and not at all the experience of most normal couples I know. Kudos to the writer above who said these two things are intertwined, anyway!) So, I think you are right, our worldviews, our assumptions, and psyches are shaped by these sorts of bleak claims. From Wild at Heart to well intended sex ed books for teens, to stuff on Focus on the Family, there is this accusation that God made guys “that way” and women must watch out, or, worse, play into it in some spiritualized way, to get a decent relationship with a man who may not have the natural inclination to be nurturing. I don’t think there is evidence that that is true and, as Mary Stewart Van Leuween says in “Gender and Grace” even if there are some reliable gender difference of this sort, it is helpful to ask if this is normative—that is, the way God wants it, or maybe a result of the fall. (The curse does seem to imply some dysfunctions between the sexes, but, of course, we shouldn’t emulate that!) That is, our tendencies might be distortions of how we were meant to be, and in Christ, we should move towards newer better models. Sorry to ramble, but your insights were so important, and how these teachings have left their mark on you—unable to really trust your husband’s love!—was tragic. Thanks for sharing.

    My question, I guess, is this: why do you think you fell for that stuff? Some folks posted, above, that they heard these things but it didn’t quite erode their sense of worth or make them mistrust men. Others say they never heard this kind of approach. My wife and I own a bookstore and we sometimes worry that these sorts of books—Love & Respect, say–cause more harm then the good they claim to have for some couples and we routinely remind people to get various opinions and wise counsel about these attitudes. Some seem to take these stereotypes with a grain of salt. For others it is poisonous. So I guess I’m eager to hear more about your development, unfair as it may be to ask in public: was your church experience more toxic than usual? Did you hear these messages repeatedly, consistently, and taught as an iron-clad The Way That It Is? Most authors and teachers note that the attributes you mention are general tendencies, not essential to every male. How did you miss that, I wonder? To doubt your husbands true love—and then to have this aha moment through The Hunger Games—makes for a moving essay, but it just doesn’t make full sense to me. You are a smart woman, a good writer, a serious thinker. Yet you were so hurt by these dumb ideas that now—hooray!—you see through. Not all men are selfish sex fiends, after all.

    I don’t mean to say I don’t believe you, and, as I have said, I believe these teachings and books are hurtful. But, really? You couldn’t see through that silliness based on the good men you knew? That is my question. Your dad was a good guy. Some youth pastor or preacher or author or radio guy said he’s just power hungry for sex. Why didn’t you naturally say, “Well, not all men are that way. I know my dad, or my good male friends or my husband, and they aren’t that way.” How can we help ordinary people trust their instincts and not fall for shoddy teaching from the Christian Booksellers Association or the radio talk shows when they make these simplistic pronouncements?

    Any thoughts from your own journey on how to help us all be more discerning, how to learn to say no to toxic teaching before it is so harmful? Sometimes I think telling people to “take it with a grain of salt” is adequate. Sometimes I think we need to push back, as you have here, saying “no” to the hurtful stereotypes. How can we help people learn nuance and to avoid generalizations and caricatures, even on this “how we are wired” stuff?

    (Part of the answer, I think, is to make sure church folks are exposed to a wider range of opinion within the broader body of Christ. I can hardly believe it when I hear that some Christians haven’t heard that there are other sincere believers who hold different views on, say, science or sexuality or political issues, then the one they heard in their own church. Reading widely and listening to other voices is so important, so people realize that the evangelical gurus don’t always have final word.)

    In other words, keep writing on this—we need all the help we can get. Thank you.

    • Amy says:

      Byron, I can’t speak to my experience as compared with others’; I can speak only to my own. Perhaps it helps to say that I consistently heard these messages when I was not a “smart woman.” I was a smart girl–a young girl, hearing Christian radio piped into my home literally all day. While I was a smart kid and serious thinker, I didn’t have the mental equipment to sort good, sensible information from stereotypes. I didn’t have much reason to question what I heard from Christians, and if I had, I wasn’t really encouraged to do so. I continued to hear these messages as a teenager and a young woman, and they were completely in line with what our surrounding culture communicates to girls–so my perceptions were reinforced on a daily basis by popular culture.

      Let me also clarify that this Hunger Games moment was not a first-time breakthrough for me. I have been growing through this process for many years, and yes, I have seen through the silliness based on good men I’ve known. I have recognized that the struggle is in my own thinking–which has slowly been healing over time. Peeta’s example in the Hunger Games was just that–an example. And ultimately what I would like to see is real-life Christian men lifted up as examples of love.

    • Jennifer says:

      Byron,

      One answer to your question is one that played out very clearly in my life. You don’t have to believe a certain message intellectually for it’s repetition to impact you. Whether you call it the subconscious or the heart, in my experience we believe many things at a level the rational mind doesn’t quite touch. And our culture (secular and evangelical) has in my experience encouraged a split between the head and the heart which some are more vulnerable to than others.

  29. Sam says:

    We blame the church for a lot. How did the church’s constant and always misguided message overcome the overwhelming evidence to the contrary that you’ve admittedly received through your life experiences (father, husband etc)? Too many Mother’s Day/Father’s Day Hallmark Holiday sermons? Did you buy into something without thinking it through for yourself and comparing it to what you saw around you? Was the gender-role biased overlay just to easy to appropriate for yourself even though the men in your life so obviously didn’t fit the ‘stereotype’ being presented by ‘ the church’? Remember, what you propose to be the church’s ‘message’ about men is also a pretty awesome stereotype. Set up a straw man and knock him down, eh? Sorry, not buying it. My problems are always someone else’s fault. In this case it’s the church. All of the people logging support and affirmation also took all their life cues from ‘the church’, right? Church is an easy target here. Too easy. I have to learn to try on a bit of the blame for myself and make the humble admission that perhaps ‘I’ am more at fault here than I’d like to admit. My parents may have presented a gender role orientation that I’m not comfortable with. My husband has evidenced some behaviors that play into the ‘church’ stereotypical man. I wasn’t willing to accept the truth of his altruistic love of me because I don’t believe in myself, perhaps?

    • Jennifer says:

      Are we responsible for (possibly foolish) decisions we make as children? Yes, I personally believe we are. But are churches and their leaders responsible for the heavy burdens they place on young children who have not developed to the point of sophisticated discernment and trust them? YES!

  30. Jenean says:

    Excellent post! However, I digress on one point. I do not feel this is a christian message. I feel this is a cultural message that has infiltrated the church. So, on that one point I disagree! However, to the rest I say kudos!!

  31. Ursie says:

    I think that parents have a tendancy to teach daughters that they have to fight off/ avoid others who will make bad things happen to them. This is out of our concern for perverts/ rapists/ date rape type situations. Whereas, we tend to teach boys to stop themselves to stay out of trouble. In reality, we ALL need to stop ourselves from doing things that are wrong. Most often WE are the cause of our bad outcomes–females as well as males–but, as a result of the particular vulnerability we realize in females, we tend to focus too much on that outside attack aspect. It makes females over-concerned with attack from without and under-concerned with our own behavior that we need to control.

    IN FACT, men are more likely than women to be harmed by others (attacked by violence) over their lifetimes. Unfortunately, most often these attacks are perpetrated by males–so BOTH men and women have to be aware of the danger of being attacked by men. However, we need to stop talking about ALL men being predatory. BAD men are predatory (and so are bad women!)

    I think it is our American, Protestant, Puritan tendancies to label thinking about sex as bad which causes the main problem here. Men DO think about sex more often then women, statistically. And men know that they do–and they feel bad about it (but should they?) This is the hardwired part we are talking about–men are hardwired to think about sex more often than females. But this is natural. If men control their actions, then they are not being bad.

    In other cultures, the belief is that WOMEN act out sexually more than men, causing the trouble. A knee-jerk response from Americans would deny this. Yet, if you open your eyes and LOOK around, our society is saturated with females acting out sexually–in the way they dress and flirt–much more so than men. Could this be part of the lack of our teaching girls that they need to control their own actions? I don’t mean that women need to dress in frumpy, long-sleeved prairie girl clothes, but the hooker shoes/ push-up bras/ bra straps and camisoles hanging out/ padded butts/ glued-on pants and extremely short skirts is extreme lack of self-control!

    Guilt isn’t the answer, for men or women! The answer is acting with thought and responsibility for one’s own actions. We must be aware that there are predators–BAD men and women out there. But we also must be aware that we need to control our OWN desires and actions, and examine them regularly.

    A balance is what is needed. We need to teach the balance. There are selfish men and selfish women out there. We should avoid them (or bring them to Christ and walk alongside them as they grow.) But we should also examine our own motives and actions and act with love toward those around us. Then, as we grow, we know that both men and women can love–REALLY LOVE others.

    I agree with the author–the emphasis is too heavy in the Christian church on avoiding these men who are thinking about sex too much. Instead, focus on ourselves and our own behavior and motivations more. We also need to hear more about good examples of men who protect their wives and families with their lives. It happens frequently, and we need to celebrate it more.

  32. Dan Brennan says:

    Amy,

    I want to affirm your courage in sharing your story. I think part of the picture here, is how evangelicals have sexualized men and love. I would dialogue with my brother and friend, Byron, and ask him to fill in the bigger and deeper picture on evangelicals sexualizing men. In my book, *Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions* I argue that in many evangelical communities there are only 2 distinct narratives: 1) a danger story, and 2) a romantic story.

    Let’s be clear about this. The danger story is so predominate in sexualizing men. I have heard many inside stories from women who have been told since they were young teenagers in youth ministry that they were responsible for men’s sexual purity. Embedded in the danger story is the pop Freud (not biblical) notion that *every man* (regardless of his intent and character) *at any moment* is capable of falling into sexual sin and best falling into irresistible lust and at worst, seducing and coming onto a woman. The danger story includes men’s inability to control their lusts and their problems with pornography. The danger story includes Christian *celebrity* preachers who have fallen into sexual sin. At every point, the danger story is filled with Freudian assumptions about sex getting in the way (*When Harry Met Sally*) and men being unable to resist lust. I could point to myriads of books, tapes, and blogs which reinforce this danger story everyday. So, when communities indoctrinate men and women this way, I want to counter Byron, and say, how could she not? It takes a strong individual to stand against Freud inserted as biblical authority.

    Furthermore there is in many evangelical communities, a strong message alongside the danger story: traditional masculinity means that for men experiencing emotional closeness means sex. This is not biblical. But this is a major, major issue as Lisa McMinn points out in her book, *Sexuality and Holy Longing.* She points out because of this, “men’s ability to develop close friendships with either women or men is often hindered.” Indeed, validating Amy’s sense of things, McMinn states that, “The Church’s goal of moving men toward sexually healthy and authentic lives is met when men can relate to women as partners rather than sexual objects.”

    In many evangelical communities there is no third story. There is a danger story. And there is a men experience closeness through romantic story. There is no deep, rich, third story.

  33. EstaAnn Ammerman says:

    Dearest Brother in Christ, Bryon, The pure in heart see God in every man. Yet although, I saw, I no longer can see my Beloved in man. For to tell me that I can be anything I dream to be when just a child in school, to grow to see the truthful lie of this world alone is disheartening. Called to be a Priest by God himself in the Roman Catholic Church, only to hear man say I am not worthy was enough to taint HIS IMAGE IN THEM. Although, unlike the Evangelical Community that I just met four years ago, I did not “FALL” as you say for that stuff Thatstuff was not there in “laity” life. I was hit in the head with it when call “to serve.” Fiesty was I to John Paul Razingter. Actually told him when he held out his ring for me to kiss, “You should wash my feet.” I was so bitter. But, Bryon, my dearest Brother, none of this was experiences in the Presyb. Church USA that I experienced for a couple of years. Just didn’t agree with their theology. Moving on to lead takes me to an ex-evangelical community in transition to TRUTH and SPIRIT. Here mix with TRUTH comes baggage that hit me in the head with a brick At this age, I can catch bricks. Don’t “fall for that stuff, just because you have not experienced it.” It’s so really so very real. Will you be the one that teaches me how to trust men? Or, Will you let me lead you for Him?

  34. Great post. There are so many mixed messages out there. On the one hand, we communicate all men want is sex, while on another hand we offer romanticized images of love that do not reflect reality well in other ways. What’s a girl to do when someone she loves doesn’t fit any of the stereotypes? Peeta offers an alternative image of love, but will such characters serve as a necessary corrective to harmful stereotypes or merely set up a new stereotype that is equally limiting to the variety of expressions of love and devotion that both men and women are capable of?

  35. Ryan says:

    Hi Amy. Thanks for your authenticity and insight. While I wasn’t as crazy about the film as you were, I resonated with your broader point. It seems to me that for all our talk in church about gender roles, we have very little clarity about what’s God’s design, what’s God’s will and what’s cultural influence. We need more discussions like this articulating the subtle messages we’ve been given. Thx

  36. Erin says:

    Amy, I loved this post and I agree that the church has been serving up this Men are from Mars cultural garbage instead of challenging us all to love as Christ loved.

    However, I think Suzanne Collins would be perturbed and would completely disagree with your assessment of Peeta as a Christ-figure. There is intentionally absolutely no spirituality or religiosity in this trilogy (nor in her other works, the Gregor the Overlander series.) Peeta does not redeem Katniss; she redeems herself.

  37. “I know many men are selfish with their bodies. Many women are too. In our culture, men are given license to satisfy their desires for pleasure by using women, just as women are given license to seek pleasure in pampering themselves.”

    Thanks to the feminist movement, women use and abuse men constantly now. We never see it in the media because it gets turned around as “he started it.” And then there are the women that marry men to get them pregnant and then run off with the children and 80% of the man’s paycheck for selfish reasons. Why does no one stand up for the man and if someone does, why can a good father not win in court?

    This is what I have to guard my boys against. We pulled them out of public school due to the mental violence against boys (there were other reasons, but this was the big one). Girls are taught to hate boys, belittle them, and are being taught they live in a “rape culture.” Have you seen the bulletin boards at your local college lately?

    Thank you very much for writing this article that you are on the path to accepting men more. We need more women like you to support our sons that are growing into men in a society that is very anti-men on every level. :)

  38. I don’t know if it’s that we don’t believe men are capable of genuine love, it’s that we understand that it’s largely unnatural for them. If it weren’t so, God wouldn’t have had to instruct them to do it, just the same as he wouldn’t have had to instruct us to submit. We know men can love this way. Where we doubt is how much and how often they actually do love this way. Because it’s unnatural, and an act of obedience to God, the men know that the natural world as far as their peers are concerned, will not put up with anything like this. That is why they do not showcase it if and when they actually accomplish it, IMHO.

  39. J says:

    One of the great examples of a man who loves his wife

    A man I admire and look up to

    http://www.joniandfriends.org/store/product/joni-ken-untold-love-story/

© 2012 Amy Simpson.