One icy winter morning I drove to work burning with irritation toward my husband. As I hung up my coat, I fervently enumerated the details of his latest blunder to a captivated audience of my female coworkers. Someone quipped, "Testosterone!" as cheers of affirmation flooded the room. I strode to my office vindicated and understood.
That afternoon, laughter spilled from the lunchroom as my friends mischievously brainstormed self-improvement classes for men such as "Laundry 101—Sorting Silks and Socks," "Hunting 302—The Art of Finding Things," and "Navigation Techniques—A Short Course in Asking Directions." As I joined them, a cartoon of a woman on her knees praying, "Thank you, Lord, for my two X chromosomes," also made the rounds. I laughed so hard I cried.
Gender differences are fertile ground for humor, and few of us would deny that a healthy dose of humor can ease exasperation. When your husband stands in the light of a gaping refrigerator yelling because he can't find the mustard that's in front of his nose, it helps to be able to laugh. But our jokes deviate from tasteful wit into male bashing when they capitalize on failures and exploit weaknesses, pitting the genders against each other.
Although husbands are primary targets, all men are vulnerable. Fathers, supervisors, pastors, brothers, uncles, and the driver beside you on the highway, are all fair game. And the setting is wherever women gather: the workplace, the salon, the little league bench, and yes, dare I admit it, even the church.
Several years ago, at a Christian women's retreat I attended, a discussion about the differences between men and women deteriorated into scathing stories about the inadequacies of men. Over bowls of popcorn and mugs of chocolate, we recklessly devalued most men we knew until a visitor commented, "Wow! I was afraid you'd all be into that submission thing! Am I glad to know you're open-minded. You know, I often wonder if God is a woman. It makes sense if you really think about it. Men are such imbeciles."
My heart stung with conviction. Although I knew men didn't appreciate being the targets of critical humor, I assumed male bashing between women was harmless. But the Lord began to show me how it hurts both myself and others. Here's how.
Male bashing distorts our view of men. I didn't realize how much I'd bought into negative stereotypes about men until one day, early in my marriage, when my husband, George, returned home in the midst of my annual holiday cookie baking. I thought to myself, Watch, just like a man, he won't help a bit, but he'll be happy to eat the goods. Much to my surprise, he eagerly joined in, recalling fond memories of making sandtarts with his grandmother. Since then, he's become our family's chief Christmas cookie baker.
Male bashing negatively affects our friends. Leslie desired a family but at thirty-four was still single. Her struggles with difficult male coworkers left her fearful she could never live with a man. She and I often commiserated over tea in the cafeteria. Although we enjoyed the camaraderie, I began to see that I was helping to solidify her fears.
Male bashing threatens our relationships with men. Because it's essentially gossip, male bashing undermines trust—the foundation of relationships—and makes it difficult for men to be vulnerable. Jeff, a church friend, once admitted to me that he avoided committees on which a particular woman served because she often used her husband's weaknesses as amusing anecdotes. "If she talks like that about him," he confided, "what might she say about me?"
Male bashing hurts our children. Initially, I was amused to hear my five-year-old son tell a baby sitter we have four children in our family: himself, his brother, his sister, and his father. But I was embarrassed when I later learned he'd merely repeated my own words. As my son and I talked, he asked me, "Mommy, what do you say about me? " I realized when my children hear me belittle their father, they question their own security. After all, if someone as powerful as Daddy is vulnerable to such disregard, aren't they also?
Male bashing distorts our view of God. In 1995, as I battled ovarian cancer, I was forced to examine my deepest beliefs about God. I desperately needed to understand his character and his nature. God created us in his image, male and female. Whenever we recklessly criticize someone based on gender, we inevitably insult our Creator as well. Such carelessness erodes our appreciation of his character and thus our ability to trust him. I came to a place in my life where I couldn't allow anything to interfere with that trust. When I saw that male bashing did, it had to go!
Although I still catch myself slipping at times, the following steps have helped me curb my tongue:
Give it to God. By confessing my weakness to God, I was released from its power over me. Although to some friends it seemed like a trivial issue, I wanted its power in my life broken, so I shared my struggle with supportive friends, asking them to pray for me and with me. Going to God gave me grace; going public made me accountable.
Walk a mile in his shoes. I now make it a point to imagine situations from a man's viewpoint. This habit was driven home recently when I wound up stuck in a doorway with a coworker. He and I were walking into a building on our way to a meeting when he paused, debating if he should open the door for me. After an awkward shuffle, we ended up sandwiched in the middle. Later he confessed that while he prefers to hold a door for a woman, he fears she may be offended if he does.
Stop the stereotypes. Our expectations are often governed by stereotypes, such as my expectations about my husband's cookie-baking skills. Often our expectations are also influenced by the notion that men and women should be equally good at everything. Based on that theory, today's men are expected to demonstrate a wide range of interpersonal and domestic skills no one would have dreamed of expecting a generation ago. At a neighborhood barbecue, one man mentioned his wife's irritation with him when he washed a good sweater with the bathroom towels. "Didn't your mother ever teach you how to do laundry?" she'd chided. "No," he replied, "I was under the car learning to change the oil with Dad during Mom's laundry lesson!"
Praise the positives. My husband, George, the pastor of our small rural church, loves visiting shut-in members of our congregation, and they love him. Recently, he accompanied one member to the emergency room. Later the gentleman's daughter called and told me how much his presence meant to her father. That evening I relayed the message to George and told him how much I admired his ability to minister Christ's love to our shut-ins. As my words brought tears to his eyes, I realized my acknowledgment of his strength had a powerful impact.
Celebrate success. Celebrating victories and accomplishments banishes bashing. The two simply cannot coexist. Recently I arrived home to find a completely wallpapered kitchen, complements of my husband. Although it was obviously a pleasant surprise, the fact that it had remained half-done for four years was ample bashing ammunition. But I celebrated instead. George beamed as I gushed with sincere appreciation.
Temptations haven't disappeared since my conviction to overcome my male bashing habit. I still frequent lunchrooms and women's retreats, and men are still men. Recently, my new resolve was tested. The morning after my husband had committed an offensive relationship blunder, I caught myself rehearsing the most humorous way to tell my female coworkers about it as I drove to work. Aware of slipping down the slope to sin, I reluctantly began to pray for him instead. As I did, I found my heart warming toward him rather than burning with irritation. By the time I arrived at work and hung my coat, the desire to turn his faux pas into a demeaning charade was gone. And by noon I'd committed a humorous blunder of my own. So I still got to be the life of the lunchroom—only this time, the joke was on me!
Ida Rose Heckard is a school psychologist who lives with her husband and three children in Pennsylvania.
1998 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine. For reprint information call 630-260-6200 or e-mail email@example.com.