Raewyn Connell – «Men, masculinity, God »

Raewyn Connell – « Men, masculinity, God: Can social science help with the theological problem? »

1. Introduction

In a piece written late in life, the Irish poet W.B.Yeats had his imaginary hermit-philosopher Ribh denouncing St Patrick in these words:

An abstract Greek absurdity has crazed the man –
Recall that masculine Trinity.[1]

Ribh demands a story of passion involving ‘man, woman, child’ – for a hermit, he’s wonderfully heteronormative! – but he has put his finger on a sore point. Where are the women in this theology? Why is Godhead only masculine? And what does it mean to represent God as masculine, anyway?

In severely practical terms, most religious institutions prioritize men. The Catholic church simply excludes women from the priesthood, and therefore from becoming bishops or popes. Most Protestant churches excluded women from the ministry until quite recently, and there is still much resistance to change.

In all major divisions of Islam, the clerics or religious scholars (ulama) are men. Though some Islamic feminist groups do exist, the globally ascendant Salafi current of Sunni Islam, financed by the oil wealth of the Saudis, is notably male-supremacist. Even Buddhism as an organized practice is dominated by men. Some of its classic texts are simply abusive of women.

So the marginalization of women is not an accident. The ceremonial and organizational practices that prioritize men are widely legitimated by blurring religious authority with masculinity.

It’s worthwhile, then, to consider what research on men and masculinity tells us, that might be useful in rethinking religion and its gender politics.

[1] ‘Ribh Denounces Patrick’, in W.B. Yeats, Collected Poems, London: Macmillan, 1950, p. 328.