BARE MARRIAGE PODCAST: Why Do Christian Books Make Men Sound So Fragile?

by | Aug 26, 2021 | Podcasts | 38 comments

Why Do Christian Books Make Men Sound Fragile
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It’s time for our Start Your Engines podcast, and today we’re asking if Christian resources are causing male fragility–or at least making male fragility sound widespread.

Our belief is that men and women are equally made in the image of God, and one is not closer to God than the other. But with the way many Christian resources talk about men, they need women to coddle them and do the hard emotional work of keeping the family together, because men can’t handle that.

That’s insulting to men. All too often it’s dangerous to women. And it’s simply not true.

So let’s jump in!

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube!


Timeline of the Podcast

0:45 Announcements
2:00 Discussion on Direct Communication
5:15 Why do our resources make men sound so fragile?!
20:00 What about communication between teens and unmarried men and women?
25:30 How direct communication helped Connor
34:50 Direct communication when it comes to sex
43:25 A Reader Question with Michael John Cusick

Main Segment: Why Do Christian Resources Ignore Direct Communication?

Keith and Connor came on with me today to look at how Christian resources tell women to communicate with men–or rather how not to communicate with them!

We started with the classic quote from John Piper and Wayne Grudem about how women should be careful how they give directions to men who are lost, lest they usurp mature feminity and masculinity: 

it is simply impossible that from time to time a woman not be put in a position of influencing or guiding men. For example, a housewife in her backyard may be asked by a man how to get to the freeway. At that point she is giving a kind of leadership. She has superior knowledge that the man needs and he submits himself to her guidance. But we all know that there is a way for that housewife to direct the man in which neither of them feels their mature femininity or masculinity compromised. It is not a contradiction to speak of certain kinds of influence coming from women to men in ways that affirm the responsibility of men to provide a pattern of strength and initiative.
John Piper and Wayne Grudem

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

We went on to show how this attitude is prevalent in other Christian resources, and I read a number of quotes to the guys and wanted their reactions.

And they both agreed that this was horrendously insulting to men, and that the goal should be intimacy and mutual respect. Real men can handle strong women.

Things got dicey when I started reading quotes about teenage girls being responsible for boys’ anger–neither of them liked that very much! And we all concluded: Can’t we please do better at this? Because we’re making this way more complicated than it needs to be. Let’s just treat each other as people.

And we ended the segment with the big question: Why do Christian resources do this? Why do they make men sound so weak? Do they even realize they’re doing this? Because it’s just so weird and I don’t get it.

New Research: Cognitive Labor is being identified in the literature!

I shared with the guys some new research from the American Sociological Review looking at cognitive labor–what we’ve called mental load.

The data demonstrate that cognitive labor entails anticipating needs, identifying options for filling them, making decisions, and monitoring progress. Because such work is taxing but often invisible to both cognitive laborers and their partners, it is a frequent source of conflict for couples. Cognitive labor is also a gendered phenomenon: women in this study do more cognitive labor overall and more of the anticipation and monitoring work in particular. 

The Cognitive Dimension of Household Labor

The American Sociological Review

This confirmed a lot about what the guys talked about in the last Start Your Engines podcast–and that men are quite capable of doing this cognitive labor, too, and it vastly improves marriages.

False Teaching of the Week: Men are More Fragile than Women

No, they aren’t. Equally made in the image of God! Equally have the Holy Spirit.

Reader Question: How do I get my sex addicted husband out of denial?

I asked licensed counselor Michael John Cusick onto the podcast to talk about how to help your husband see that sex addiction is a serious thing that needs to be dealt with.

Things Mentioned in This Podcast:


Why Do Christian Books Make Men Sound Fragile

Why do you think so many Christian books talk about men like they’re so fragile? How can we change this conversation? Let’s talk in the comments!

The Direct Communication Series

And please see my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, with lots on having difficult conversations and resolving conflict!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. A2bbethany

    Im going to have to postpone finishing the podcast. My toddler burned her hand on the hot burner, while I was making breakfast.

    First bit was great though,

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Ouch! Oh, no! When Rebecca was 2 she put her wrists right down on the top of a metal toaster. It was awful. You may need to get those gauze bandages. Ouch!

  2. Nathan

    I hope your baby is okay!

    As for the theory, it seems a bit contradictory. Men are supposedly holier and closer to God than women, yet men are weak, fragile, easily threatened and constantly on the brink of sin and lust. And even though women are supposedly less Godly than men, it’s their responsibility to keep us from sinning.

    It really does make you wonder if the people advancing this are really aware of how irrational the big picture of it is.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I honestly don’t get it. I know I critique it all the time, but I honestly don’t get it. Are they that unaware of how they sound? That much in a bubble that they don’t even hear it?

  3. Nathan

    The reason may be that this whole philosophy wasn’t built all at once. Maybe it was created piece by piece. Each piece by itself isn’t THAT bizarre. It’s just when we put it all together that it doesn’t make sense.

    For example, the idea that men lead and women serve. I don’t agree with it, but the idea isn’t fundamentally irrational. It’s been accepted for centuries all over the world. Then the idea that men have uncontrollable sex drives. Okay, maybe God DID create men with the higher (and virtually uncontrollable) sex drive.

    And so on. Maybe the whole philosophy was built up so gradually that people advocating it never really looked at it as a whole to see the inconsistencies. Also, when you’re taught something from day 1 by parents, older relatives, pastors, etc., it’s hard to overcome it.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Good thoughts, Nathan! Interestingly, it’s when you put them all together and you see how this absolutely CAN’T work that all of it starts falling like a house of cards.

  4. Mara R

    15 minutes in then had to go to work.

    My theory is that this doctrine is being built by men placed in ‘authority’ much earlier than they should be. Long before their wounded egos have had a chance to heal.

    I don’t what else to think about Piper and Grudem being so terrified of women that they actually believe that a woman had the power to undercut their masculinity by not deferring to the proper degree.

    I’ve linked this here before. I may again when this topic comes up. But the doctrine IS designed to protect men at the expense of women whether those who build it know this or not. They build it to protect themselves and prop themselves up.

    • Laura

      Mara R,

      Thank you for sharing that link about Jock Strap Religion. What an awesome post! And so true about how the church has been treating women for far too many years. Because Jesus never felt threatened by a woman, every man should follow His example.

      • Mara R

        Thanks, Laura.
        I wrote that over ten years ago.
        Since then, I’ve have also considered that another problem with the Christian Church is that it suck at vetting out candidates for leadership who have brain disorders and personality disorders and/or are predatory.

        The big personality disorder that comes to mind is, of course, Narcissistic Personality Disorder (The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, anyone?). It appears that our churches are full of NPD. And it appears that our churches attract people with this personality disorder.

        No surprise, since many of our churches seem to be over-obsessed with hierarchy and who gets to be the boss of whom.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Yes, I do believe that hierarchy is absolutely not of Jesus, and is the root of so many issues we have today.

      • Anonymous305

        Speaking of Mars Hill, I accidentally found an article that was critical of the podcast, saying that it was wrong to portray all complementarians as being like Mark Driscoll because that ignores the truth that women find joy and freedom from doing what God created them to do, which is to submit and be stay-at-home moms. It also warned readers to “consider the source” because Christianity Today ignores the plain, biblical truths of 6-day creationism and the prohibition on female preachers.

        I’m not even offended that some women find joy in stay-at-home momming, but that’s not the same as saying it’s the only “legal” way to find joy. I wonder why Deborah from the Bible was allowed to work outside the home if none of us are?? And I wonder how abused women are supposed to find joy in submitting???? And I’m not sure why literal creationism and preventing female leadership is the best way to determine credibility.

        Such a contrast from the criticism that the podcast was too soft by portraying grooming behavior as caring.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Yes, very true. I loved being a stay-at-home mom! Rebecca and Joanna love it too. But as I’ll talk about later this month, for some families that doesn’t work. That needs to be okay.

  5. Nathan

    Example: I’m driving in a strange town and can’t find the freeway. I see a woman working in her front yard.

    Nathan: Excuse me, but I seem to be lost and can’t find the freeway. Do you know where it is?

    Woman: Yes. I’ve lived here all my life and know exactly where it is. Drive to the end of this street, take a right and drive until you get to Broadway. Turn left and go for two miles until Oak Street. Turn right, and the freeway will be about another mile away.

    If I’m intimidated or threatened by THAT, then I need to see a therapist!

    • Bre

      That was my mother’s thought exactly! She follows Sheila now after I recommended her and has come over to the “dark side” of believing in equality and and women in leadership after reading this stuff. We were listening to one of the podcasts where this was quoted when I was visiting two weeks ago and her (near) exact words were “OMG, seriously! What a fragile, paranoid man! How is this BS considered normal and not a sign of mental illness and an over-inflated ego? Does this moron even live in reality? Why is he so paranoid about women knowing or doing anything?” We had some interesting discussions on this stuff when I was home visiting. This stuff is insane to anyone who didn’t grow up in the church or get raised on this. Another “favorite” of mine from a book of John Piper’s that I chucked into the trash; online dating is sinful because women are allowed to freely communicate and have a role and choice in the development of their own relationship, which is leading and EVIL! Think about that…online dating is sinful because it encourages women to freely communicate…how are you supposed to build a relationship, much less show interest, if you don’t communicate unless the man wants to? Literally, the only way a relationship is a relationship is if you both have interest and a role because it’s a two-party system. My mom has compared these sort of ideas about men needing women to act like helpless idiots to boost their egos to “pastors wanting us to go back to the caveman clubbing women over the head and dragging them back to their caves”. This stuff is just so bizzare.

    • Anonymous305

      Oh, dating… I read somewhere (not Piper, but probably his fans) that today’s dating goes against the scriptural norms that Christians have followed for almost 2,000 years. Now, if that means that some of today’s practices are unbiblical, yes, but if that means that all Christians in all cultures had the same ideas about how to chose a spouse from 33 AD until 1959, then facepalm many facepalms.

  6. Jo R

    Keith nailed it: these men want deference, which is the perfect single word for “unconditional respect.”

    I wonder if these men suffered some typical incident in junior high, like being rejected at a school dance or having a female classmate get a higher grade on a test, and subconsciously—or even consciously—decided that they would somehow, some way, some time get their revenge. And not just on the one girl that caused the shame or embarrassment, but on ALL females. Instead of learning the important life lesson that life won’t always go our way, they let the incident fester and rankle, then got attracted to the idea that men should be absolute leaders in the home and the church. So they became thought leaders and have foisted their childhood issues—and the supposed solution—on the rest of us.

    Why have we women (raises hand!) accepted this bilge wholesale and never questioned it? Because these men were leaders, they were educated, they were confident, and they wrapped up their warped ideas in words like “biblical” and “Christian.”

    And that, folks, is why this kind of teaching qualifies as spiritual abuse. You start with a false premise and find a verse or two, then make the partner in the marriage who’s already most likely working harder to improve the relationship feel like a disobedient Christian—not just to her husband but to GOD—by piling on to the wives’ shoulders all the responsibility and none of the authority.

    Nathan: I wish there were notifications back to commenters, but THANK YOU!

    • Anon

      You’d think these guys would start questioning themselves after a while – ‘is the world really full of aggressive women who are seeking to undermine me? Or are my feelings that women are constantly trying to belittle me and my need to constantly dominate them and disrespect them down to MY problems and insecurities.’ But it’s easier just to assume that the world is full of thousands of women seeking to undermine them than to contemplate for one single moment that the issue might be with THEM!

      It reminds me a bit of the Incel community – none of these guys ever stop to ask themselves if the reason they can’t get a date is because of a flaw in their OWN character – oh, no. it’s got to be down to the fact that all women are horrible.

      Personally, if I start having the same problem interacting with multiple people, I assume the problem is most likely to be with ME because I’m the common denominator in all these interactions… Ok, it’s not 100% guaranteed to be my fault, but that’s certainly the first place I should be looking for the problem.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        The fact that there are so many similarities between the incel communities and evangelical best-sellers terrifies me.

    • Chris

      Jo, I got rejected at a junior high dance once. I remember it well, I asked a girl to dance and she looked at my forhead, made a comment about my acne, laughed and said “no way”.
      But I digress. The real problem with girls who are “smart” is not that they are smart. It’s that they are obnoxious about being smart. So take a girl who goes running around bragging about a good mark on a reading test and rubbing it in the face of a boy with undiagnosed dyslexia. Do you think he dislikes her because she is smart? Or because she is being obnoxious? The same is true of this “strong women” BS. Nearly all men know, and will acknowledge that they know some strong women. But a lot of young girls and women have come to believe that being stong means being mean and obnoxious. In my experience, women tend to mature out of that. But when they are younger, it’s very common.

      • Maria Bernadette

        Chris, the problem is not that she was smart, it’s that she was obnoxious. The two are not the same.

        The blog post didn’t talk about women who were obnoxious over being smart or strong. It was about how some men feel threatened by the mere fact that a woman is smart or strong.

      • Godspeach

        She was rude yes, but she’s an immature teenager. We have all be rejected or humiliated in our youth, but we must seek help if we are still hurting or bitter because of these incidents.
        I’m pretty sure there are just as many incidents of teenaged boys humiliating some young lady who’s considered less than attractive. I saw it all the time in high school.

      • Jo R

        Sorry, was offline several days…

        Just as a point of curiosity, when male classmates bragged about high marks or made fun of someone’s acne, would you likewise say the boys were being “obnoxious,” or were they just doing some typical, immature horsing around?

  7. K. Ann

    Could you please provide the page number to the Piper-Griesmer quote? That would be so helpful to me!

  8. Nathan

    > > Nathan: I wish there were notifications back to commenters, but THANK YOU!

    Thanks for the compliment, Jo! I try my best to be good and respectful (I don’t always succeed), but then again I didn’t grow up in the church so I was never exposed to that.

    My current church is pretty good about equality. Their one weakness is that they still support “have sex with your husband often, or he’ll stray and it’s YOUR FAULT!”

    • Jo R

      Do they ever preach to the husbands to have frequent, intimate conversations with their wives so their wives won’t stray?

      You know, goose-gander, pot-kettle.

      • S

        Jo R, I love your reverse example, whether you meant it seriously, or not. I have felt this actually. I need both emotional connection and sex, yet was denied of both for so long. Women are deprived too, yet this seems to get overlooked. Mens needs do seem to triumph over womens in the church. I don’t remember men being told to fulfill their wives emotional needs (much less her sexual needs), yet I did hear that wives should keep having sex with their unfaithful husbands to help with their temptations. I was a young adult when I heard this, but I remember thinking how unfair for the wife. There was no mention of how she had every right to leave him in that case and how her painful feelings of betrayal mattered. I’m glad I noticed how messed up that was then and have changed my mind on many twisted teachings I was brought up in.

  9. Jo R

    And just to be cheeky… Do these guys have to switch their cars’ navigation systems to a male voice, so they aren’t being directed by a woman? Oh, wait, that’s right, that’s INDIRECT direction (is that an oxymoron???), so it’s OK. And what about Siri??? 🤣🤣🤣

  10. A2bbethany

    Note for anyone reading the comments:
    Incels are a hate group, “involuntary celibates” who believe that all women owe them sex. And apparently several have been serial killers.

    • Anon

      Yes, we’ve just had a shooting in the UK by one of them, which I guess is why the comparison came to mind. (I know it’s going to seem weird to American readers, but shootings are really, really uncommon over here, so it’s been a huge topic of conversation all across the media) And I do find it scary the number of Christian men who are basically talking the same way as Incels, just ‘spiritualising’ it with a load of talk about Christian women being ‘worldly’ and ‘arrogant’.

  11. Laura

    What an awesome podcast!

    This is a reminder to me that the world is full of men who are not intimidated by strong, smart women. I think John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and all these other evangelical authors who push this false narrative about masculinity were trying to overcompensate for the feminist movement of the 60’s and 70’s. They didn’t like that women were speaking up about getting equal pay doing the same jobs as men and felt that it was a threat to their masculinity. What’s really sad to me is the women who push this narrative that we need to coddle men so as not to “emasculate” them. My current read is This is Our Message: Women’s Leadership in the New Christian Right by Emily Suzanne Johnson. Beverly LaHaye, co-author of The Act of Marriage, is one of the women in this book. I haven’t gotten to her yet, but looking forward to reading this.

    The book Love & Respect really is not about respect. Like Keith said, it’s about the wife “deferring” to her husband as a leader, not an equal partner. Over the years of reading some of these evangelical teachings, some of these beliefs never sat well with me and I would think that maybe I wasn’t surrendered enough to God or lacking in some kind of faith. Well, now I know that others feel the same way and I believe it was God’s way of telling me that those teachings were not right.

    • Anonymous305

      From what little I know, Emerson suffered more disrespect from his father than his mother, but somehow decided that women are disrespectful????

      Today’s church sounds like Esther 1:16-22, like it’s proud of imitating ancient Persian kings??

      You’ve said in some posts that women should obey God rather than men, but I wonder how many women don’t see a difference because they were taught that God’s will is obeying men? 1 Corinthians 7 says a married woman is divided between God and husband, which doesn’t make sense if God’s will is always revealed through her husband.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, I do think that’s one of the big problems–that women are taught that the way they obey God is by obeying their husbands.

  12. anon

    Listening to the parts of the podcast talking about direct communication and women deferring to men reminded me of the principle of power distance and how that applies in different cultures. Essentially someone of lower authority doesn’t feel they can speak directly to someone of higher authority- which can lead to disasterus consequences.

    Its something aviation has worked hard to try to eliminate after it was identified as a key reason for the crash of Korean Air 801

    For anyone interested in more info there is a great podcast called Cautionary Tales by Tim Harford where he explores this and other communication breakdowns – primarily by looking at what occurred with the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. Google his episode titled “The Curse of Knowledge meets the Valley of Death”

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, the pilot analogy is so interesting! I have a friend who is a pilot with British Airways and he told us all about this. Apparently the Aussies are the best at it. The co-pilot just swears at the pilot if necessary and tells them what to do!


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