Concilium 2020-2. « Masculinities: Theological and Religious Challenges »
Edited by: Susan Abraham, Geraldo de Mori and Stefanie Knauss
Full translations of this edition are available in the following languages:
English: Masculinities: Theological and Religious Challenges
Español: Masculinidades: desafíos teológicos y religiosos
Deutsch: Maskulinitäten – Theologische und religiöse Augaben
Italiano: Maschilità plurali: sfide religiose e riflessioni teologiche
Português: Masculinidade: desafios teológicos e religiosos
In the political moment of today, it is important to reflect on masculinities, drawing on the particular resources of theology: strongmen dominate the political stage in a number of countries, East, West and South; the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements have given voice to the silenced victims of sexual abuse, perpetrated primarily by men; industrial and financial corporations are, to an overwhelming degree, managed by men who thus control financial, environmental and social resources. Traditional gender roles still shape men’s lives to a considerable degree: about a third of young fathers take paternal leave where it is possible, but the rate has remained equal or even dropped in recent years, and overall, men still spend less time with care work or chores. And yet we also begin to see a wider range of socially accepted expressions of masculinity. For individuals negotiating their gendered subjectivity, the self-centered aggressive alpha-male is an available model just as the emotionally integrated man, the straight guy who is after uncomplicated hook-ups as well as the gay man who lives in a monogamous relationship, as well as every other combination of traits that are a part of an individual’s performance of gender. Ezra Chitando’s article on sexualities and masculinities in the African context exemplifies this plurality of formative discourses, in his case African traditions, Christianity and Islam. In addition, while western notions of masculinity dominate the imaginary on a global scale, they are, of course, not the only models available regionally or locally, as Angélica Otazú shows in her analysis of the gender system of the Guarani, an indigenous people in the Río de la Plata region.
This picture shows that discourses about masculinity are multiple and contradictory, and even an idealized image of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ (Raewyn Connell) is hard to define unambigously in a given social context – hence the plural ‘masculinities’ in this issue’s title. In addition, each hegemonic ideal of masculinity also contains internal incoherences and contradictions: the gun-toting he-male might seem like the ultimate expression of masculine supremacy, yet as Connell argues in this volume, if a man needs a gun to defend his position of masculine power, he does not actually have legitimacy.
Masculinity studies show that reference to an easy binary of men and women is not helpful, even if often difficult to escape: even supposedly less toxic ideals of masculinity can ultimately reinforce problematic essentialist stereotypes shaped by patriarchal hierarchies if, say, emotionality remains identified with femininity even if integrated into masculine identity, rendering a man more feminine (or even ‘effeminate’) rather than simply being taken as one of the many elements that can make up a version of masculinity. The continued struggle against the easy assumptions of binary essentialism is visible also in the contributions in this volume, even if the authors agree on the formative impact of social discourses on masculinities.
The critical study of masculinities thus has to take into account that notions of gender circulate and interrelate in complex arrangements of power and larger social systems of domination (patriarchy, white supremacy, colonialism, heteronormativity and others). This affects individuals who experience their masculine identity in terms of power or powerlessness amidst these ‘interlocking systems of domination’, as Vincent Lloyd writes in his analysis of the autobiography of Black gang leader Stanley Tookie Williams in which he traces his struggles over masculinity and fatherhood in a racist system. But it also shapes social and political dynamics: writing from the situation of postcoloniality, Shyam Pakhare discusses the way in which notions of ‘muscular masculinity’, personified in the western Christian colonizer, sustained colonial power in India, and the role that Gandhi’s recourse to alternative models of masculinity based in Hinduism played in Indian independence. In a more contemporary setting, Nicholas Denysenko traces the ways in which religious discourses of masculine superiority and feminine (or feminized masculine) subordination are interwoven with the politics of the Putin government to legitimate and stabilize Russian imperialism.
What contribution can religious and theological analysis then make in this situation? How can a theological perspective on historical and contemporary constructions of masculinities contribute to creating relationships on the micro- and macro-level that allow individuals to flourish in a context of equality and justice? Can Galatians 3.28 be a guide as we negotiate theologically the discourses of masculinities in our societies, with its vision of ultimate unity in the body of Christ, when social distinctions of gender, ethnicity and status no longer play a role? Or does it simply render invisible – and thus reinforces – existing social inequality? In his foundational contribution, Herbert Anderson proposes a broad theological framework to challenge toxic masculinity in the patriarchal system, a framework that includes both changes in the structure of the church, our language about God, the need to appreciate multiplicity and interdependence and to accept vulnerability and humility.
As the contributions in this volume show, theology is called to engage ideals of masculinity with an (at least) two-fold intention: on the one hand, the self-critical reflection on the ways in which Christianity has supported the creation and reinforcement of notions of masculinity that uphold hierarchical structures from which (some) men benefit at the expense of subordinate ‘others’, both men and women. On the other hand, theologies can contribute creative resources for imagining ways of performing masculinities that foster equality, visions of hope and healing for individuals and groups. The question of power comes then to the fore, again, both with regard to the implication of religion in political power relationships (as Denysenko shows) and with regard to the specific situation of the Catholic Church in which a particular form of masculinity has formed to stabilize power relations within the Church. Theresia Heimerl situates clerical masculinity – which over time has become characterized primarily by abstention from the practice of heterosexuality – in its historical and theological context, whereas Julie Rubio and Leonardo Boff focus on the intersection between masculinity, sexuality and power in the current sexual abuse crisis in the Church. While Boff proposes, on the background of his psychosexual analysis, the abolishment of celibacy as a way to heal the deformations of clerical masculinity, Heimerl and Rubio suggest that broader transformations both on the structural and theoretical level are needed.
The subversive possibilities of Christianity are highlighted in Manuel Villalobos Mendoza’s contribution: his analysis of the masculinity of the young man in Mark who witnesses Jesus’ arrest shows that the young man is depicted as not living up to Greco-Roman masculinity, and yet he is accepted as a part of Jesus’ movement, thus challenging and subverting the hegemonic ideals of Mark’s context – and maybe in our times, as well. Otazú’s discussion of Guarani masculinity and religion also provides alternative ways of imagining masculinity in terms of interconnectedness, with others and the cosmos. Lloyd, Anderson and Connell point towards the resources available in religious traditions for the development of plural masculinities that can in their own way contribute to the flourishing of the individual and social relationships rather than upholding systems of domination.
Yet, as the contributions in this issue show, for this to be achieved, social systems and their expectations on individual gender performance need to change alongside changes on the individual level. Theological reflections, as offered here, can provide both critical and creative resources to do so.
The Forum of this issue includes a brief report by Felipe Maia on the Pan-Amazon Synod held in Rome in October 2019, addressing some of its main issues in the context of the opposition the synod has faced by Brazilian ‘strongman’, President Bolsanaro. The second contribution by Benoît Vermander illustrates the situation of the Catholic Church in China and some of the fears and opportunities that the recent accord signed by the Chinese government and the Vatican might create.
 Javier Cerrato and Eva Cifre, ‘Gender Inequality in Household Chores and Work-Family Conflict’, Frontiers in Psychology 9.1330 (2018), [doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01330]; for parental leave policies and data in the US, see United States Department of Labor, ‘Paternity Leave: Why Parental Leave for Fathers Is So Important for Working Families’.
 See Raewyn Connell and James W. Messerschmidt, ‘Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept’, Gender and Society, 19.6 (2005), 829–859.
Table of contents
1. Masculinity Studies: Current Questions, New Directions
2. Masculinity between Religion, Politics and Culture
3. Masculinities and/in the Catholic Church
4. Theological forum
Raewyn Connell – « Men, masculinity, God: Can social science help with the theological problem? » : This paper introduces research on men and masculinities. Old questions took a new form in the wake of the women’s liberation and gay liberation movements. A world-wide field of social-science research has developed, rapidly finding practical applications. Conceptual debates emerged, especially around the concept of hegemonic masculinity. Studies in the postcolonial world are increasingly important and point to plurality and instability in gender orders. We need to relate these to the contradictions over privilege and exclusion in religious traditions.
Herbert Anderson – « A theology for reimagining masculinities » : The new era of more fluid, expansive, non-binary understandings of being human presents a challenge to Christian theology’s reluctance to address the enduring primacy of masculine images of God to maintain gender hierarchies subordinating women. The present global crisis, evidenced by ‘strongman’ politics, sex trafficking, and sexual harassment of women by high-profile men, is the consequence of toxic masculinity that persists in patriarchal systems. This essay proposes a theological framework for reimagining masculinity that challenges patriarchy, encourages humility in language about God, invites men to grieve their losses and embraces human and divine vulnerability as a necessary corrective to hegemonic masculinity.
Manuel Villalobos Mendoza – « Masculinity undone: Reading Mark 14.51–52 from el otro lado » : What did it mean to be manly or masculine in the New Testament world? To be a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ had little to do with biology in Greco-Roman culture. A man must perform and demonstrate his masculinity always, in order to be deemed as a ‘real man’ (verus vir). Thus, it is unusual that Mark 14.51–52 presents a young man whose masculinity is at odds with social norms during Jesus’s arrest. His youthfulness as well as his luxurious linen garment (sindōn) reveals his identity as effeminatus. Moreover, his naked body and running away cowardly in the middle of the night, demonstrate his inability to prove his masculinity.
Ezra Chitando – « Masculinities, religion, and sexualities » : Religion continues to be a significant factor in the shaping and performance of masculinities and sexualities in different parts of the world. This article explores how religion influences masculinities and sexualities in general, utilizing some examples from the African context. While highlighting that masculinities occur in the plural, it also underscores the contestations around sexualities. The article probes how religion influences straight, gay and celibate sexualities. It also draws attention to strategic areas that could facilitate the emergence of more liberative masculinities and sexualities.
Vincent Lloyd – « Masculinity, race, fatherhood » : The harms caused by toxic forms of masculinity appear different in marginalized communities where gender is used as a tool of marginalization. This poses a particular challenge in the case of Black Americans, where both gender and kinship relations were stripped in slavery and pathologized during slavery’s afterlives, making masculinity and fatherhood together particularly vexed issues. Efforts to ‘redeem’ masculinity, from this perspective, often sound much like white supremacist efforts to manage Black masculinity. The autobiography of executed gang leader Stanley Tookie Williams provides a particularly fruitful site for reflecting on the possibilities and limitations of redeeming Black manhood, given Williams’s interest in spiritual disciplines.
Nicholas Denysenko – « Orthodox Ideology and Masculinity in Putin’s Russia » : In post-Soviet Russia, President Vladimir Putin has drawn from Orthodox ideology to promote and enact patriarchal constructions of masculinity. This article examines the hegemony of masculinity in the structures and practices of the Orthodox Church and argues that Putin’s regime uses Orthodox teachings to defend its use of brutal force in domestic and foreign policies. The strategy of bellicose masculinity exposes the joint agenda of Church and state in Russia: to identify Russia as a safe space from the imaginary threat posed by the prospect of openness to Europe and the West.
Shyam Pakhare – « Transcending gender: Colonialism, Gandhi and religion » : Gandhi was a deeply religious person. His political, social and economic thoughts sprang from spirituality, in the backdrop of colonialism. Gandhi had experienced the transformative influence of religion on people and understood the ability of religion ‘to make men out of straw’. In the colonial context, Hindu men were derided as ‘mild’ by the British, establishing a hegemony of imperialist British masculinity. Gandhi made Indians feel proud about the gentleness of their nature. He aspired to transcend gender binaries. Gandhi appealed to the conscience of the Colonial masters through satyagraha. It was not a war but a conversation. There was no victor and no vanquished. It was a collective journey towards truth.
Angélica Otazú – « La masculinidad en la tradición religiosa guaraní » : Este texto aborda la idea de masculinidad en la tradición religiosa indígena, particularmente, de los guaraní, condición inferida de algunas manifestaciones y expresiones culturales, como la asignación de los roles en las actividades cotidianas y la característica de la lengua guaraní. Se analiza los estudios realizados sobre la cultura guaraní y los testimonios recopilados en algunas comunidades nativas. Se establece las principales características referentes a la masculinidad, haciendo la salvedad de que la perspectiva de la práctica ancestral es incierta, por la precaria situación socio-económica en la que se encuentran los actores en cuestión.
Theresia Heimerl – « Wesentlich andere Männer? Klerikale Männlichkeiten » : Klerikale Männlichkeit ist in der öffentlichen Wahrnehmung als ‘andere’ Männlichkeit präsent, was sich auch in der medialen Inszenierung zeigt. Dieser Beitrag geht der historischen Entstehung und Entwicklung klerikaler Männlichkeit von der christlichen Antike bis in die Gegenwart nach. In einem zweiten Teil wird die systematisch-theologische Begründung der ‘Andersartigkeit’ klerikaler Männlichkeit analysiert. Basis hierfür sind die Dokumente des II. Vaticanums. Abschließend fragt der Beitrag, welche Auswirkungen die besondere Definition klerikaler Männlichkeit hat und ob diese unter den Bedingungen der Gegenwart noch Bestand haben kann.
Julie Hanlo Rubio – « Masculinity and sexual abuse in the Church » : The sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church which was reignited in the summer of 2017 has rightly led to calls for lament, justice for victims, self-examination, and structural change. Many theories about root causes have been advanced, but most are not supported by the social science on sexual abuse. Given that men are the primary perpetrators of abuse of both adults and children, the most significant root cause could be masculinity. This essay uses contemporary research on gender as a lens through which to read analyses of clergy sexual abuse and cover-up. I argue that because the clergy sexual abuse is gendered at every level, transformation requires attention to problematic conceptions and performances of masculinity.
Leonardo Boff – « Masculinidades clericais e o paradigma da relacionalidade » : Há uma masculinidade tipicamente clerical, consequência da lei do celibato exigido para os que servem à comunidade. O poder sagrado dos ministros foi usado, por alguns, como forma de cometimento de abusos sexuais a menores, a pedofilia. Não há uma educação adequada nos seminários para a integração da sexualidade sem a presença do feminino. Este fato demandaria uma discussão séria sobre a sexualidade humana, ainda não feita pela Igreja institucional, com temor de que se coloque em questão a lei do celibato. Este é funcional para uma Igreja, cujo corpo de direção é constituído somente por homens celibatários e cujo eixo estruturador é a potestas sacra e não a communio. Tal tipo de organização de Igreja torna difícil a integração do masculino e do feminino nos celibatários.
Felipe Maia – « The Pan-Amazon Synod » : The Pan-Amazon Synod concluded on October 27, 2019 with a call for a renewed Roman Catholic presence in Amazonia, the recognition of the need for an ‘integral ecological conversion’, the importance of developing indigenous theologies and inculturated liturgies, and the call for the recognition of women into the permanent diaconate of the Church. This essay details some of the discussion topics addressed by the Synod and locates these conversations in the context of the turbulent Brazilian political scenario, where the Synod has been attacked by political authorities.
Benoît Vermander – « Le Vatican, la Chine, et le futur de l’Église catholique chinoise » : En septembre 2018, le Saint Siège signait un accord provisoire avec le gouvernement chinois portant sur le processus de désignation des évêques. Cette contribution situe cet accord dans son contexte historique, évalue son application un peu plus d’un an après la signature, et esquisse quelques perspectives. Elle met en lumière le caractère positif, et même nécessaire, de l’accord trouvé, tout en soulignant qu’il intervient dans un contexte de durcissement de la politique religieuse chinoise. Le dialogue et la confiance ont été rétablis, mais la route à suivre reste étroite et risquée.