Tuesday, May 10, 2022


Only those who share my congregation will get who I am talking about specifically that set off this rant, so I will risk it.  It is a cliche of men's ministry in evangelical circles, so I think it has general applicability. Pastors who address the people in Men's Ministry "Good morning, men." Please, just stop. You are making me crazy. Guys is used in similar but distinct contexts.  I think speakers before women's groups use ladies, you gals, women, and girls in subtly different contexts, and I will not comment about what is appropriate or offensive.  My guess is that the speakers who are successful have a fine intuitive sense, just like good female comedians, of when one term of address is better than another, and that they have an understanding that there are some women - those who are playing in hypercompetitive legal, academic, or political circles (T99 and bsking, please weigh in and work with me here.  I know most of those professional women also live in other contexts where they know exactly what I am talking about.) - who will be disdainful of any choice, because it does not apply where they have to be Alert to references on a different scale.  But they weren't her audience to begin with, so no loss. For the people paying to come hear them, those convention-speakers, I'll bet they know their audience and what they will respond to quite well. "Ladies, we have to understand that men..." Good on them.  They have to make a living and they help regular women carry on and get things done. I'm not sure people on TED- talks are as usefull, though they sound much cooler and smarter. (They aren't, actually.)

My experience suggests that the men who speak to men about men's issues are far less skilled at this. They may toggle between guys and men, or when they are dipping into scientific research (usually with little skill, quoting pop psych from the 1990s that has not replicated, but is retained because, like so many ideas, it would be so cool and illustrate my point so well if it were true), saying males, but it's just infuriating. Their generalisations about men and women apply to 40-80% of actual human beings, depending on the question at hand.  They aren't wrong, precisely, but their certainty that men/guys/males or women/gals/females are Always Like This is damaging, not because there is no value, but because they apply these categories reflexively on situations that are 60-40, 70-30, 80-20. (Oh did I use too much math there?  I think the gals who read this particular blog - like the one going for her MS in statistics or the one who keeps accounts for her largish charity, for example - will be able to keep up if they try really, really hard. Heh.)

It hit me today where this comes from.  It comes from working with young men - in Scouts, or in sports, or in basic training, or Christian high schools, or youth group, FCA, or Intervarsity, or whatever. It is based on what I now consider essentially a pose, that 14-20 y/o are adults.  I don't know what the female equivalent is, but I suspect it is alarmingly close. The image of Dave Mac getting the MEN up at soccer camp at 5AM to go run was this.  Keeping 12 y/o Boy Scouts on the trail hiking up Mt. Lafayette, you get a 10% boost on your Inspiration Quotient by calling them men. It's ludicrous.  It's not that women don't also use this - they make sure they get the Smart Girls on their pro-choice side by assuring the 9th-graders that no one should be interfering with their autonomy with the same dodge - but really, they do it much less. 

Thus, I have been irritated by the recent men's ministry postings that refer to us as MEN, like this is some important category that should boost our self-esteem. (Again, women, please weigh in on the equivalents.) I am 69 years old and have raised five boys to responsible adulthood: employed, very decent to the women they are are involved with, acknowledging error, and fixing stuff both physical and emotional around them.  It's rather insulting to keep harping on addressing me as a man, like I am some aspiring Eagle Scout who needs the reassurance, or an extremely talented but spoiled 20 y/o athlete/entertainer who a real adult is trying to focus on a goal.

Evangelicals do this a lot. What is the experience out there of other categories?


Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

I went to grad school with a recently-discharged Army Sargent who related that his boot camp training Sargent would always address the green recruits as "Mens." That's stuck with me to this day and I'll sometimes use it humorously in addressing an all-male group in training or a presentation. I get a silent chuckle even though the audience is obliviously to my reference of course. Gotta keep myself amused after all.

Thos. said...

Usually, I'm pretty sympathetic to your perspective on things, but (and I absolutely do not mean this in the rude or dismissive way it's usually said) this sounds like a personal problem to me.

For example, one reason that someone right address a group of men, with the term "Men“ is that he wants to convey that this isn't some generalized Christian-ish homily, but that he's trying to tailor his remarks to his specific audience - that he's spent time thinking about the people he's talking to, and (since it's impractical to address each listener by name) this form of address is one way to convey that he's really talking to you about something that he hopes is directly relevant to you in your personal circumstances.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Sure - or it's just automatic because that's what evangelical speakers do. It would be great if people did think things out that thoroughly. My experience of listening to evangelical speakers - my people, BTW - whether live, on the radio in the 80s and 90s, or in recording is that its mostly just speaking the jargon.

I might be convinced otherwise if there weren't so many, and nearly always paired with speaking in cliches.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

As to being a personal issue, I think it is now, yeah. But I claim it has been earned over the decades. A frequent reader who wrote to me privately also mentioned that these spiritual exercises often don't have a gender-specific content or application, and perhaps it's not good to encourage this sort of separateness of thinking.

RonF said...

I have been a Boy Scout leader for the last 30 years. I have never addressed a group of Scouts as "men". The main reason is that it just sounds false to me and I'm sure it would sound patronizing to them. When I address a group of them informally I say "guys". Formally I say "Scouts".

I've heard coaches say "Men!". I don't think the kids respond to that, frankly.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Music to my ears, Ron.

james said...

I took over a Bible study leadership from a fellow who addressed us as "gentlemen" most of the time and "boys" the rest. He'd been in politics and could read a room--I didn't think I could, and stuck with "gentlemen."

bs king said...

Ill have to ponder if there’s a true equivalent, but the first thing that springs to mind is the girl boss phenomena. A bunch of people have pushed back on that, and the pushback sound similar to what you’re saying. The idea seemed to be that by calling grown women girls and showing how powerful they are, you could highlight some sort of inspirational factor. Lotta marketing involved here too.

On a tangential note, I had a boss who always used to address us as “comrades”. He was former military and rather conservative so I was curious why he went with that. When I asked him why, he said that he did it one day rather at random because it struck him as funny, but no one reacted or even seemed to notice. He decided to keep doing it until someone said something, and apparently I was the first one who had. The ER was a whacky place.

Texan99 said...

The only time this kind of thing comes up in my own life is when I watch old war movies, where it was quite natural for the officer to address his troops as "Men." Such a thing would be fraught today. "The men and women of our armed forces" rolls naturally off nearly everyone's tongue now. I easily accept "Guys" as inclusive of women; "guys and gals" is not required. I'm not crazy about "Gentlemen . . . oh, and LADIES." No need to telegraph the fact that your normal starting point is to assume that a group of any importance to you consists of men, and you've just now noticed that some women crept in while you weren't paying attention.

When people intend to address only the men or only the women, again, I usually have no problem with it. Comedians often do this to great effect; they are deliberately playing around with stereotypes.

Law firms typically don't have bosses, per se--more like people with greater or lesser influence depending on the context, or temporary heads of ad hoc teams--so I don't really have much "girl boss" experience. Women tend to be collaborative in these situations, so you don't get the "OK, Men" drill sergeant vibe. If a team happened to be all-female, it wouldn't be surprising to be addressed by some jocular term such as "chickies." But we had to fight so hard to insist that performance be evaluated on the basis of competence and results rather than looks or stereotypes that we were unlikely, even in a temporarily all-female group, to turn down help from any men who were both available and known to be good at their jobs.

Professionally I was always alert to the need to assert equality, because there was a real tendency to revert to "Honey, bring us some coffee" mode in some circles if you didn't stomp on the occasional toe to get them to cut it out. Otherwise the only time I typically notice this kind of thing is when people egregiously expose a habit of thinking that I sometimes summarize as "men and their women, cattle, and other possessions." In other words, the real people important to any kind of policy or plan are men; the women are just kind of standing around in the corners waiting to see what the men do. Such a thing isn't relevant if you have a rational reason to have gathered all the men or all the women separately.

I usually avoid gatherings organized on that basis, however, not so much because I object to them philosophically as because I'm likely to be on the statistical tail and not in synch with whatever common attribute the organizers are aiming at. That is, I'm in danger of being bored in either the all-men or all-women group, because they tend to sort themselves, in both cases, along lines I'm indifferent to. As a stereotypical example, for instance, I just don't care about football or fishing, any more than I care about cosmetics or diets. If there's a group activity I'm interested in, it's likely to be so hard to find co-enthusiasts that I can't afford to exclude any human category.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Love those summaries. A lot in there. I knew I could count on you.

Texan99 said...

This subject is making me think of two things: the recent fad of separating groups racially, supposedly in service of anti-racist principles, and a funny routine Paula Poundstone used to do about airline pilots' habit of addressing one half or the other of the plane, depending on which side had a view of something interesting. She turned it into a riff on artificially dividing up social groups, and ended by hissing, "People on the left side of the plane: we HATE the people on the right side of the plane. They ruin EVERYTHING."

It often makes sense to hold specialized meetings, including men-only and women-only groups, even if they're usually not to my taste. What makes my antennae go up is splitting people into groups for weird reasons. "Blacks-only" parties hosted by universities definitely give me hives, no matter what new theory is posited about safe spaces. Sorting out university applications according to SAT scores, not so much a problem. You can argue about whether it's the best sorting device available, but it's at least a criterion that is rationally connected to a legitimate goal. Sorting sports into men-only and women-only makes some sense to me, though I'm so uninterested in the idea of opportunities for women in sports, per se, that I'd be OK with height/weight categories along the lines of boxing divisions. I'm completely OK with extending invitations to lactation-assistance classes only to women--in the sense of that newly discredited word that only a biologist apparently is capable of comprehending. (And not just any biologist, but one trained before the Crazy Years.)

Now, if it's law enforcement, military service, fire department hiring, or something of that sort, all I really want to see is some attention to the question of whether gender is so determinative that it makes sense to exclude women outright from even attempting to qualify. I'm prepared to accept some inefficiency in the weeding-out process in service of the idea that everyone should be free to give it a shot. Then the only trick is not to write the requirements in terms of XX v. XY chromosomes, which begs the question, but instead to think honestly about the jobs' purported minimum standards for every single member of the team. Not so many years ago, an awful lot of people thought it was clear as day that no woman was qualified to practice medicine or law, though bench-pressing one's weight enters only slightly into such a career. It was also clear to a distressing number of people that no Jew belonged in an elite university. Don't even let them try! Awful things will happen!

If it's college admission or federal hiring, I don't want to waste any more time on arguments that Jews or Asians need not apply. That doesn't mean I'd have a problem with setting up a double-blind medical trial focused solely on finding disparate results according to Jewish or Asian DNA--or men vs. women, for that matter.

Texan99 said...

I remember watching "National Velvet" when I was so young I didn't immediately get the point about how the racing officials discovered that Elizabeth Taylor was a girl only when she was injured and had to be examined by a doctor. Up to then, I'd just been wondering what the big deal was. She could either perform well as a jockey or she couldn't. Why not let her try? Surely of all sports role, being a jockey is one in which size is a disadvantage, and strength is not obviously the determinative advantage.

These days, of course, we'd veer to the completely opposite side and be likely to insist that races be shut down unless the organizers could prove that 50% of winning jockeys were female. Commercial sports, however, are still so interested in turning a profit that we don't quite see that nonsense taking over, whether in horseracing or in football or basketball.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

"National Velvet" is an example providing great contrast. I'm sure I will reuse it at some point.