Statistically speaking, males seem to be responsible for the great majority of human-made suffering. For example, say what you want about the malleability of human nature, but regardless of time or culture you will find the vast majority of violent crime is committed by males. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that a significant test for the health of any society is how well it does at socializing males out of their less appealing tendencies. This, of course, is where the social construction of gender becomes very important.
Generally speaking, when the unsponsored sector of Mormonism (which includes the bloggernacle) talks about gender issues in the Church, the conversation centers around questions of equity. Is it just that women don’t get the priesthood? Are women improperly marginalized within Church culture? Etc. etc. Obviously, these are tremendously important questions about which people have strong, well-articulated opinions. This post, however, is not interested in equity. Rather, I am curious at how the social construction gender in the Church does in terms of controlling male misbehavior.
Let me lay my cards on the table here. I think that there are basically two strategies for socializing men. One is to exalt the values of sensitivity and compassion. This makes good sense as caring sensitivity is probably the antithesis of the violent self-centeredness that seems to lie at the heart of much male misbehavior. The second strategy is to self-consciously construct a male identity around “male” virtues like strength, courage, and self-reliance but to channel them away from socially destructive activities. (The scare quotes around “male” are to indicate that I don’t think this virtues are the exclusive preserve of men.) My own sense is that the second strategy is likely to be more successful than the first strategy because it has more appeal to the marginal male. In other words, appeals to a more “manly”, identity will have more traction with the male who is strongly attracted to the violent self-centeredness of male misbehavior because such an identity exalts virtues closer to the appealing anti-social behavior. Put in simplistic terms, I think that the model of maleness offered by Rudyard Kipling probably does a better job of dealing with male misbehavior than the model of maleness offered by Friends. Obviously, I am oversimplifying, and I could be quite wrong.
So what is the model of maleness offered by Mormonism, and how well does it control male misbehavior? Of course, the priesthood is a key way in which this identity gets worked out, and it seems to me that it appeals to both of the models that I outline above. On one hand, the priesthood is tied up with stories about power and battle against the forces of evil. It also regularly gets associated with ideas of chivalry in sermons to young men. On the other hand, it also exalts virtues such as kindness, compassion, and meekness. By and large, I think that Mormonism does a pretty good job of socializing males. There are obvious problems. For example, I think that sometimes the Mormon male identity breeds condescension to women. Yet, I suspect that one of its virtues is that it finds a way of combining a “manly” Kipling-esque vision of maleness with the Christian ideals of compassion and kindness.
[By the way, I really am serious about this post not being about gender equity. Obviously, issues of equity get intertwined with issues about the best way of socializing males, but try to keep the comments related to the issue of male socialization.]