In Search of Male Role Models

During the Christmas and New Years season, I end up reflecting more than normal about some of the choices I make in my life.  In celebrating with family and reflecting on the birth of Christ, I’m reminded of many of the relational blessings in my life.  Although I’m not one to make New Year’s Resolutions, in starting a new year (and new semester), I’m often challenged to be more intentional in the choices I make.  It’s also a good time for me to reflect together with my husband about where we want our life to be headed, and what directions we feel will help us live most in line with God’s passions and vision.

With the end of the semester also comes the grading of tests and papers, where I ask students to reflect on how their gender (and other’s gendered assumptions) has impacted their own trajectories.  I am immersed in the literature on challenges faced by evangelical women (as women), so many of the responses from my female students are often not surprising.  As a woman myself, I also relate personally to many of their experiences. I am reminded that there are few models of strong women providing leadership in evangelical institutions.  The project I’m currently working on alongside Janel Curry at Gordon College and the Center for Social Research at Calvin College is focused on understanding some of the structural, cultural, and theological factors at play.

In her book Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles (NYU Press, 2003), Julie Ingersoll finds that for the married women who do succeed in being in positions of power in the evangelical world, having the support of their husbands is incredibly important. For myself, I’m incredibly thankful to work together as part of a team with my husband, as we jointly think about what it means to live faithfully.  (I do not think all people need to be married, and agree with the arguments made by Christine Colon and Bonnie Field in Singled Out: Why Celibacy Must Be Reinvented in Today’s Church (Brazos Press, 2010)) that the church needs to find more ways to support and encourage single people.)

As I’m mentioned in previous posts (Why We Should Support Men and Egalitarian Men and Working Fathers), the problem of women’s underrepresentation in leadership and decision-making roles is not just about women.  Men who are committed to more egalitarian relationships face many of the same work/life challenges; they also face challenges and pay-gaps in the job market. As I read some of the reflections from my male students, I’m struck by the fact that they also lack a plethora of strong role models to follow.  That is, for those men committed to living in egalitarian relationships in their pursuit of Christ, it can also be hard to find good examples to emulate. We need more examples and role models of strong men, working alongside strong women.

I want to highlight three of those models – strong men, working together alongside strong women – that have been influential in my own life.  They are models that my husband and I look to together of the type of people we want to be like.  Catherine and Andy Crouch, Ruth and James Padilla DeBorst, and Sandra and Paul Joireman.  Each of these couples has also traveled extensively as part of their vocation, be it spending time abroad or traveling regularly for speaking engagements.  For each of these six individuals, his or her career accomplishments alone make him or her a person I would seek guidance from. Yet it is through watching them do the dishes, answer their child’s question, lead worship, teach a Bible study, provide mentoring, and live in community, that they challenge me in my own journey.

I first met the Crouches as an undergraduate at Harvard, where I was part of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  Andy was working as a staff worked with IV (and serving as the editor of re:generation quarterly). Catherine was a post-doctoral student in the physics department at Harvard.  Today, Andy is a senior editor at Christianity Today, and a popular author/speaker. (Andy has written a great piece on the need for churches to better deal with scientists, which to me exemplifies some of the ways the two of them live in mission together). Catherine is a tenured professor at Swarthmore. They invested deeply in the lives of the students at Harvard; they’ve prioritized their children in their decisions. I was able to witness the way they co-parented young children at a critical juncture in their careers. They’ve been committed to specific religious bodies, and the lives of their children, and institutional structures within the church.

A few years later, while I was in El Salvador with World Relief, I had the privilege to meet Ruth and Jim Padilla DeBorst. They were working with the Christian Reformed World Missions. They began the Seeds of New Creation network in EL Salvador. Ruth has served as the general secretary of the FTL (Latin American Theological Fraternity), spoke at the last Lausanne Congress and currently works for World Vision. Jim provides leadership to the Centre for Interdisciplinary Theological Studies (CETI), has worked in development for over 20 years, and teaches and researches on international development. Jim and Ruth have six kids in their family, and currently live in Casa Adobe in Costa Rica, where they are invested deeply in the local community of Heredia. They are leaders in the global and local church, committed to ideas of integral mission. They frequently are asked to speak at conferences around the world. Yet in their quest, they have supported each other and their children. They are one of the best examples of a couple who provide global leadership through their local commitments.

Most recently, we’ve been able to be part of Lombard Mennonite Church as we live in Wheaton, where we’ve been inspired by the example of Paul and Sandra Joireman.  Sandra was a political science professor at Wheaton College, but is currently the Weinstein Chair of International Studies at the University of Richmond. She is also the current chair of the Board of Directors of Bread for the World.  Paul works as an Advanced Developer at VG Bioinformatics.  He previously worked at Fermilab, and has been a chemistry professor at various universities.  They are deeply invested in the community of our small church, from children’s ministries to adult education. They have two children, who they have parented together (sometimes from different countries).  We’ve seen them deal with some of the same questions we ask regarding dual career households, and their advice and example has been especially important to us in this life stage.

As a woman, I’m really thankful for the different models that Catherine, Ruth, and Sandra have been, usually in ways they do not even know.  It’s the ordinary way that they live their lives. As a woman, I also really appreciate Andy, Jim, and Paul. None of them are leaders in the feminist movement (to my knowledge). But they support strong women, and encourage them to succeed. They are committed to their families, sometimes at personal cost to their career.  They invest in building community with their spouses.

Given the gendered norms and inequalities that still exist in the evangelical world, we should recognize that it’s not just women struggling to find strong role models, but also men as well.  I realize that some reading this post may not want egalitarian role models, but for men and women who do, they have to be intentional about those to whom they look to for wisdom. I want to especially encourage young men committed to greater gender equality and shared partnership with women to look for strong male models such as those mentioned; to look for mentors who not only pursue Christ in their vocations, but alongside commitments to church community, and who encourage their partners to exercise their full potential.

 

Why David Petraeus Cheated

Yet again the media is alive with speculation about why men in positions of power cheat on their spouses, often at great risk to their careers—indeed, greater risk than men a generation or two ago when cheating seldom became the scandal it does today. Why is this so, given the fact that we’re further than ever from having clear public norms around acceptable sexual behavior? Indeed, it’s odd that the more marriage becomes de-institutionalized in America, the more publicly problematic extramarital dalliances have become. It would seem to be exactly the opposite of what one would expect.

A colleague and friend asserted that one key reason for the rise in sex scandals is because talking about sex has become easier, and hence more public. For sure. (This blog would be technologically and socially impossible 50 years ago.) When a Kennedy or Eisenhower bent the far-clearer rules around marriage, they did so in an era that did not speak of sexuality publicly without trepidation. Their dalliances weren’t winked at. They were just not thought to be publicly discussable. In this way, it’s a little bit like the problem I noted in a previous blog, about when Joe Paterno came under fire. He was a member of a generation that didn’t like to talk about sex, of any sort. And young adults today—indeed, pretty much anyone under 60—just plain don’t understand that.

But on to Petraeus. While journalists and experts will rack their brain for some new explanation of why men in power take risks that women in power do not, I think it’s a n0-brainer. It points out very old, very stable notions about the sexual exchange itself. Men are the demand side, and women are the supply side. Women could demand sex (and some do), but they’re apt to be remarkably successful when they do. Men can only hope for sex.

David Petraeus didn’t cheat because Ms. Broadwell was so stunningly beautiful that he couldn’t resist her advances. (I don’t frankly know whose idea the affair was.) Certainly this is true of Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s mistress. It’s not about beauty. It’s about sexual availability and men’s excess sexual desire. My favorite social psychologist, Roy Baumeister, one of the few realists writing in a domain—the study of sexual behavior—dominated by idealists, observes:

A man in love may feel sexual desire for a specific, particular woman, but most men also have plenty of free-floating sexual interest in other women, all women, any woman, at least in the broad set of “reasonably attractive” ones (e.g., the top 90% of women in their twenties, etc.).

This is the elephant in the corner that is inexplicably unacknowledged. Most men who stray do so because they like sex. Perhaps “like” is not a powerful enough word to describe it.

Women don’t work the same way. I’m so tired of hearing from people that they do. But it’s just not true. Men are far less discriminating then women.

Baumeister continues:

Before we condemn men as hopeless sinners, however—and I suspect many men regard themselves as such, at least when they reflect on their attempts to come to terms with the inner sexual beast—we might feel a moment of sympathy for their unrewarded successes….He doesn’t get any credit for all the times he stifles his desires, despite all the struggle and sacrifice that they cost him. Daily he wrestles with the beast, and mostly he keeps it controlled….Mostly he succeeds in restraining himself. Out of every thousand times he has to deny himself and stop himself from acting on his feelings, once or twice he slips up, and these can be enough to shame him….(indeed) could ruin him, costing him his career, his marriage, his happiness, even his freedom.

Interesting perspective—one not often noted. Ah, realism. No, male self-control has not changed a great deal over human history. What has grown dramatically is sexual opportunity and what has declined precipitously is social restraint.

At bottom, sex scandals involve men because men want sex more than women do. If the classic sex-for-resources exchange model works—and I hold that it still does, despite the fact that men offer less (and women need fewer) resources than in the past—then women with significant authority and power should rarely find themselves in sex scandals. Why? Because they don’t need the resources. They already have them. The scandals will almost always be about men, because while they’ve got more than enough resources, it’s the sex that remains elusive, just out of reach. Until it’s not.

 

Sexual Expectations and Realities in Marriage

Who out there thinks they’re having too much sex?

The answer appears to be: nearly no one (under age 40, that is). Analyses involving new nationally-representative data on 18-39-year-olds, results from which I’ve highlighted in previous blog posts, suggests that very few young adults in America think they themselves are oversexed. Respondents were asked, “Are you content with the amount of sex you are having?” To which 50 percent replied “yes,” 43 percent said, “no, I’d prefer more,” and only 3 percent said, “no, I’d prefer less.”

An additional 4 percent refused to answer the question, which admittedly might have struck some as being irrelevant to them or presumptive of their own sexual activity. (That happens sometimes in survey research, and in that case it makes sense to pass on the question.) Indeed, plenty of people in the dataset aren’t even in relationships; the question could strike them as odd, or not. So what about the ones that are in relationships? And even more specifically, what about the ones that are married?

Well, it turns out—of course—marriage doesn’t completely take care of the sex drive. As if I expected it to. (I’m trying not to make this blog post personal.) It turns out that 53 percent of married young Americans are quite content with their frequency of sex, while 43 percent wish for more and only 2.1 percent wish for less.

Given the historically-strong gender connection with sex drive, what do the numbers look like when we split them by male and female? Well, your grandmother probably could’ve predicted this one. About 61 percent of married women are content with the extent of bedroom activity they’re experiencing, compared with 44 percent of married men. It should be noted that only 7/10th of one percent of married men are complaining about too much sex. It’s just an uncommon gripe. More women than men, but only 3.3 percent total, voice such a concern. It turns out that 54 percent of married young men would appreciate more sex, but so would 34 percent of married young women.  Those are numbers worth noting. To be sure, life and busy-ness can get in the way—and marital problems will often either concern sex or become intertwined with it. But it’s notable that many married (18-39-year-old) men and women wish to be intimate with their spouse more often than they are. I guess that’s good, and certainly better than the other way around.

So far I’ve said nothing about this group’s reported actual sexual frequency, which varies widely:

– 19 percent reported no sex in the past two weeks

– 16 percent reported once in the past two weeks

– 16 percent said twice

– 13 percent said three times

– 10 percent said four

– 15 percent said 5-6

– 6 percent said 7-10 times

– 4 percent of married young adults reported 11 or more times in the past two weeks.

[Cue the irritation of some, and the blessed “Oh, I’m normal” response of others.]

To be sure, there’s a nearly linear association between the two variables:

– 91 percent of the (11+ timers) said “yes” when asked if they were content with the amount of sex they’re having. (The nerve of those other nine percent…!)

That number dips to 86 percent (among 7-10 timers), then 66 percent, 65 percent, 61, 40, 41, and down to 37 percent among those married young Americans who reported no sex in the past two weeks. The most notable dip in contentment here–from a majority that’s content to a minority that is–appears between those who say “3 times” and those who say twice (in two weeks).

The same numbers among men only: 85 percent of the male 11+ timers said “yes,” they’re content. The same (85 percent) among male 7-10 timers, then down to 66 percent, 60 percent, 44 percent, 30 percent, 36 percent, and only 21 percent of married men who’ve not had sex in the past week say they are content with the amount of sex they’ve been having. The most notable decline here is from “4 times” to “3 times” (in two weeks).  This reminds me of the Woody Allen film in which his character responds to a therapist’s question about his sex life, saying, “We almost never have sex, like, only two or three times a week.” Diane Keaton, his partner, responds independently to the same question, “We’re always having sex, like, two or three times a week!” (In fact, 54 percent of married women who said “zero times” to the frequency question also said that “yes” they were content with how often they have sex.) In general, young women appear far more content with their married sex lives than the men. Not a shock, I know.

I’m pressed for time—given this is a holiday weekend—so I won’t add more commentary to these numbers. There are of course other variables to consider–like how long you’ve been married–and other predictors of sexual contentedness that a short blog post cannot accommodate, but that invariably readers will wonder about. Wonder away.

 

On Memorial Day, here’s to those who have served, especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. We are grateful.

Good News and Bad News in Marriage and Divorce Statistics

The subject of marriage is on many minds lately, not the least of which are journalists and the POTUS. I love nothing more than to sit in front of pages of population estimates by state or country, over time, and discern the stories in the numbers. Since you the reader probably aren’t likely in a position to be—or worse, have no interest in—indulging such an interest, I’ll save you the work and report some interesting factoids here. No politics from this quarter today, just numbers. Here are a few things I learned:

First, the sheer number of new marriages (i.e., weddings) has generally been decreasing, even while the population of the US continues to increase. For example, in the year 2000 there were 2.32 million new marriages in a population of 281 million persons. In 2010, however, there were 2.1 million new marriages, despite a growing population of 309 million persons.

Ergo, marriage is in retreat (and more so among the poor and working class, as data noted below will suggest), a slight uptick in 2010 notwithstanding.

Second, there has been change in the marriage-to-divorce ratio nationally. This is the statistic that most people (incorrectly) use when they state that “half of all marriages end in divorce.” The ratio has commonly hovered around 2-to-1 since no-fault divorce became a reality. (Before that, it was about 4-to-1 from 1950 to just before 1970.) In other words, this means for every two new marriages recorded in a given year, there is one divorce.

But that ratio has exhibited some change recently. In 2010, the ratio stood at 1.89-to-1, compared to 2.05-to-1 in 2000. Not a radical shift, but a notable one. The action is largely on the marriage side of the equation: the marriage rate has dropped 17 percent in 10 years, while the divorce rate has dropped 10 percent. The two tend to rise and fall together, but clearly not tightly so. People are being more selective about marrying, likely, and as a result there are fewer divorces.

Third, some states exhibit dramatically different stories here. The marriage rate in Mississippi has dropped 48 percent in 20 years (from 1990 to 2010), while their divorce rate has dropped 22 percent. Their ratio of new marriages to divorce is now 1.14-to-1, meaning that if you were going to go ahead and misinterpret that statistic the old-fashioned way, you’d say something like 88 percent of all marriages in Mississippi will end in divorce. Of course we don’t know the future, and any given year’s new marriages aren’t often also reflected as divorces that year—Hollywood goofballs notwithstanding—but the ratio tells us that there are nearly
as many divorces in Mississippi now as there are marriages. Not good.

So which state has the best ratio? Which means (to me at least) the most marriages relative to divorces…the blessed state of my birth: Iowa, where 2.9 new marriages were registered in 2010 for every one divorce. Sociologist Maria Kefalas wrote about Iowa as having many “marriage naturalists,” and it appears so. Even though I’ve been gone from the place since I was 13, cultural traces remain, no doubt.

I should admit that there is one state that artificially has a better ratio than Iowa, but let’s not be serious about counting it as best. It’s Nevada, whose whopper 38.3 marriage rate is so far out of step with the rest of the country, due to its marriage industry. But whereas many wealthy and unhappily-married Easterners used to flock to Nevada for its tolerant divorce laws, that’s no longer necessary. But it remains a marriage factory…for now. But look at this: its 38.3 rate is a fraction of what it was in 2000 (72.2) and before that, in 1990 (99.0). I’m sure that’s not lost on the wedding industry. Times are tough for Elvis impersonators, I suspect.

Indeed, only in Hawaii do we see a marriage rate that has not lost ground since 1990. (I’m not entirely sure why, but I suspect it has to do with a rise in “destination weddings,” since Hawaii’s elevated marriage rate—17.6—is second only to Nevada’s.). A few other states whose marriage rates haven’t dipped nearly so much as, say, Mississippi’s 48 percent plunge: West Virginia (7% dip, from 7.2 to 6.7), North Dakota (13% dip, from 7.5 in 1990 to 6.5 in 2010), and Vermont (15%, from 10.9 to 9.3).

And in the end, the reliable conclusion tends to remain true: states that exhibit lower divorce rates tend to exhibit lower marriage rates as well, signaling elevated inclination toward cohabitation as a longer-term relationship strategy.

p.s. Note to marrying couples: only you like the idea of a destination wedding. Seldom does anyone else in your orbit feel like spending loads of cash to fly someplace exotic to watch you tie the knot and chat for three minutes. Get married where you live.


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