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.
© 2012 Amy Simpson.