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The New York Times article described it as a “familiar thorn for evangelicals.” Once again, evangelicals and sex are in the news in a sinister way.
Robert Aaron Long, the suspect in custody for the shootings in Atlanta, GA that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, claimed to be a sex addict. Long grew up in a “strict evangelical community” in southern California that “emphasized sexual purity,” according to the article by Ruth Graham. The article quoted Brad Onishi, who also grew up in a strict evangelical community of purity culture and is now an associate professor of religious studies at Skidmore College: “the evangelical culture he was raised in, he said ‘teaches women to hate their bodies, as the source of temptation, and it teaches men to hate their minds, which leads them into lust and sexual immorality.’”
Evangelicals have indeed struggled with the proper views of sex in a culture that views sexual activity as a normative behavior, regardless of marital status. But to what degree have evangelical men adopted American Bro Culture?
Historian Patrick Wyman describes ‘Bro Culture’ as a creation of 21st century America. While Bro Culture is not a monolith and is full of contradictions, subcultures, and variety, it includes an idea of manhood that is centered around a physical activity (which includes body building or fighting or particular training or crossfit, etc.), connected to a community via social media. Bro Culture does include women, though it is skewed heavily toward men, usually in the 18-40 year old range, and it is “rooted in the physicality and the body, self-ownership through activity.” In many ways, it is a way of dealing with our current 21st century reality. According to Wyman, “That’s especially appealing to the many millions of American men who don’t have college degrees (many more of them than women, given the gendered trends in undergraduate enrollment) who are effectively locked out of professional-managerial culture and its straightforward path into the comfortable upper-middle class. Accomplishment through physical prowess is thus a means of building both a sense of self and community.” This has overt reminders of the rise of Muscular Christianity in the turn of the century United States, as many white middle class men viewed the influx of working class immigrants with some degree of jealousy as manhood became defined by Teddy Roosevelt’s ‘Strenuous Life’ and working with one’s hands. Tanned, muscular and hard working blue collar men came to represent masculinity in the 20th century, and thus white middle class men made sport their avenue to access muscular masculinity without giving up their middle class status.
Bro Culture is also driven by consumption. It is the 21st century, after all. If you listen to the right podcasts, and ingest the correct protein powder or follow a certain diet or lifting app, you too can “deadlift 800 pounds” which is partly what makes Bro Culture so appealing….anyone can succeed with the right gear, diet, plan, community, mentor, mantra and mental game. The heroes in Bro Culture are usually military veterans or members of the police force and intellectualism is much less important than physicality. Wyman asserts that Bro Culture deserves scrutiny: “The code of American manhood that’s developing out of this social-media melting pot has some aspects that bear watching: A love of firearms centered on tactical usefulness (for use in what context, exactly?), a vision of muscular physicality, self-defense as a personal obligation, an unquestioning hero-worship of military culture, and far too often, a deep suspicion of people who don’t subscribe to this precise view of being a guy.” For myself, I like the concepts of personal responsibility, hard work, and setting challenges and reaching goals. But I’m less keen on emphasizing physicality at the expense of thoughtfulness. Wyman argues, “this kind of Bro Culture is also intimately connected to the emergence of a new kind of American ethnonationalism, rooted in its peculiar conception of masculinity, its collection of lifestyle products, its worship of guns, and its aversion to self-reflection.”
The last part about an “aversion to self-reflection” is particularly troubling. To what degree have evangelical men emphasized physicality over self-reflection?
When masculinity is focused on physicality at the expense of thoughtfulness and self-reflection, what is the result?