Family Policy Matters Radio Posts

  "Family Policy Matters" Radio   Marriage & Parenting

Is Masculinity Really Toxic? (with Nancy Pearcey)

Nancy Pearcey Headshot

Over the last several decades, the feminist movement has waged a war on men and condemned masculinity as “toxic.” But how did we get here? Is this an accurate view of men? And how do we reckon with the long-term consequences of this aspect of the culture war in our nation?

This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes Nancy Pearcey, a professor and author of The Toxic War on Masculinityto discuss the many cultural challenges that men are facing today.

  • Subscribe to our podcast so you can hear our interviews every week.
  • Tune in to one of the radio stations that carry Family Policy Matters (see the list below).
  • Click below to listen online.

SpotifyApple PodcastsiHeart RadioAudacyAmazon Music

Family Policy Matters
Transcript: Is Masculinity Really Toxic? (with Nancy Pearcey)

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Toxic masculinity is the idea that masculinity is somehow toxic, dangerous, and destructive. But is this a fair, accurate, or helpful characterization? Well, our guest says no. Nancy Pearcey is a best-selling author and speaker, a professor and scholar in residence at Houston Christian University, and a former agnostic. She was hailed in The Economist as America’s Preeminent Evangelical Protestant Female Intellectual. Wow. Her newest book, The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles The Sexes, tackles this age-old battle of the sexes. She joins us today to talk about that. Professor Pearcey, welcome to Family Policy Matters.

NANCY PEARCEY: Thanks for having me.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So, first of all, where did this concept of toxic masculinity even come from?

NANCY PEARCEY: Yeah, that’s a good question because we have to go back to where the language first turned negative towards men. And it actually is much further back than most people realize. It means we have to go back to the Industrial Revolution, because before that, men worked alongside the family all day, their wives and kids on the family farm, the family industry, the family business. So, the social expectation on men focused on their caretaking role. In fact, most books on parenting were written to fathers, not to mothers, because men did, in fact, spend as much time with their children, and their sons were practically apprentices all day in the father’s craft or a business. So, what happened with the Industrial Revolution? It takes work out of the home, and for the first time, men are not working with people they love and have a moral bond with, their family members. Instead, they’re working in competition with other men. And this is when the language started to change. People started to protest that men were losing their caretaking role. That they were becoming individualistic, egocentric, greedy, and acquisitive to use the language of the 19th century and turning their job into an idol. And so, if we want to focus on fixing the problem, we have to ask where it started. And that’s where it started is when men became separated from their family. And that does show where the solution has to lie. Can we reconnect fathers with their families, even in an industrial age?

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: We know that our culture has become more secularized. Has taking religion out of this discussion also had an effect?

NANCY PEARCEY: I’m so glad you said that, because absolutely. In my book, I start with the colonial era, which was largely Christian. And so, there were Christian concepts of masculinity at the time. Even secular historians acknowledge that. One secular historian writes, in the colonial era, the definition of masculine virtue was duty to God and man. Very much formulated towards duty and being responsible for the common good of the family and the community. And so, what happened, though, again, it’s the Industrial Revolution. And that was a turning point. Because after that, there arose a stark difference between public and private, right. As long as economic productivity was done in the home, there was not a sharp divide.

But now you started to have factories and offices and financial institutions and universities and the state. And people began to argue that these large public institutions should operate by scientific principles by which they really mean value-free. Which is what we hear today, right? Don’t bring your private values into the public realm. And since it was men who are working in that public realm and who are getting that secularized education, they did actually become secular before women did. So this was part of the problem, too, is that they began to be less bound in conscience to biblical principles. And they started following with secular ideas of masculinity. And you know what happened in the 19th century? There was a huge increase in crime, gambling, drinking, prostitution, the number of brothels mushroomed. So, a lot of the problems that we associate with the 19th century were because men were becoming more secular. So, you’ve really put your finger on what’s the most important issue, which is men lost their understanding of a biblical view of masculinity.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: You know, it’s not a piece of cake being a woman either, right? In this culture, sometimes we struggle with what it means to be a female as a Christian. Is there some parallel going on here? Are we all struggling kind of to figure out where we’re supposed to be?

NANCY PEARCEY: Well, let me put it this way. The reason I wrote a book on masculinity is because right now boys having it worse. Boys are falling behind at all levels of education. It’s starts in kindergarten because they don’t have the same fine motor control. So, they cannot operate a scissors, and already in kindergarten, they feel like they’re falling behind. And all the way through grade school, in high school, boys are doing worse in test scores and in grades. In college now, I don’t know if you know this, but it was a surprise to me: 60% of college students are now female, 40% are male. And in Graduate School and Professional School now, there are also more women than men.

So, women are just pulling way ahead. And then, as adults, men are falling behind both where they used to be and in relation to women. They’re falling behind in the sense of being more prone to drug and alcohol addiction, more prone to crime, 90 some percent of prison inmates are male, they’re more likely to be homeless than more likely to be in a mental institution, and they’re dropping out of the workforce. It is not showing up in the unemployment statistics because they’ve stopped looking for work. But when researchers look deeper, they now tell us male unemployment is at Great Depression-era levels. And that was a shock because we all remember what a crisis the Great Depression was, but male unemployment is at that level now. And then also male life expectancy has gone down. A magazine called The New Scientist was reporting on the statistics, and it said, the major demographic factor now in early death is being male. So that’s why I wrote a book on men because I think it is time for us to have some compassion on boys and men and ask whether there are some programs that we should institute that will be specially geared toward them.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: What kind of response are you getting to this in the culture? Because I can just see some eye rolls happening, you know, about how tough especially white men have in America? Are people believing the statistics and the things you’re writing?

NANCY PEARCEY: You are right; there are some eye rolls because people say, well, men are still more likely to be at the very top levels, right presidents and CEOs, Hollywood film producers, and so on. But what they don’t realize is that is maybe 10%, maybe. The vast majority of men are actually falling behind with the statistics that I just gave you. And fortunately, people are starting to recognize that there’s a whole slew of books now on boys falling behind in school. The first book is started with a book by Christina Hoff Sommers, who herself is a feminist. And yet she wrote a book called The War Against Boys because schools are just not having programs to help boys, and they’re falling behind. And finally, up until now, that’s been mostly a conservative issue, right, to care about boys and men. Finally, there’s a new book that came out even after my book. It’s very recent, and it’s just called Of Boys and Men. It’s by Richard Reeves. He’s at the Brookings Institution. And so, he’s the first person with impeccable liberal connections, qualifications, who’s now come out saying we need to care about boys and men. And he took a lot of heat for it, too. But at least he was a known liberal and not a conservative. And so, he’s making it acceptable now across the board for people to say, yes, we do have to care about boys and men. And he’s even started his own institution. He left the Brookings Institution and started his own organization.

That’s a good sign that, finally, it’s getting sort of out of the conservative bubble. And liberals are starting to say, yes, this is a problem. You see, the reason girls moved ahead is because they got support in 1972, Title IX and 1994 Gender Equity Act. Millions of dollars were poured into girls’ curriculum into training materials, into equity workshops, and so on. And the thing is, nobody expected, though, that girls would just catch up to boys and then roar ahead, you know, they just kept going. Nobody thought that they thought we will bring growth up to where boys are. But instead, girls have moved way ahead. But there have been no comparable programs for boys. So that’s the issue if we’re going to help girls like that, which is a good thing, but we should also be helping boys.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: What about Christian men? We talked about the role of religion in the history of this issue, but what about just today? Do you find that Christian men come down a little differently as far as this is concerned?

NANCY PEARCEY: Yes, and actually, this is the major reason I finally decided to write the book is because I ran into sociological data showing that Christian men who are committed, who attend church regularly actually test out as the most loving and engaged husbands and fathers. And I did not expect that because we all hear in the media that Christian men, evangelical men, are exhibit A of toxic masculinity. I’ll give you just one example, the co-founder of the ChurchToo movement, which followed the MeToo movement, said this, the theology of male headship feeds the rape culture that we see permeating American Christianity today.

So, what happened is the social scientists were listening to these accusations and saying, but where’s your evidence? You’re making these charges, but where’s your data? So, they went out and did the studies, and I cite about a dozen studies in my book where they consistently found that Christian men who are regular churchgoers who are committed to their faith do, in fact, test out as the most loving husbands and fathers. Their wives report the highest level of happiness, and yes, they do interview wives separately; always ask that. And Christian fathers spend more time with their children than secular fathers, 3.5 hours more per week than secular fathers. Christian couples divorce at a lower rate than secular couples, 35% lower rate than secular couples. And then the big surprise is that they actually have the lowest rate of domestic abuse and violence of any major group in America.

Sometimes, a single quote can kind of crystallize it, so let me give you one. This is a person who did the largest study is Brad Wilcox at the University of Virginia. And to give you a sense of his stature, he writes in places like the New York Times. So, this was a New York Times article that he wrote, and he said direct quote, it turns out that the happiest of all wives in America are religious conservatives, fully 73% of women who hold conservative gender values and attend church regularly with their husbands have high-quality marriages. So that’s the data. This is not a pep talk from a religious leader. This is solid empirical findings. And we should be bold in bringing it into the public square and arguing for the beneficial effects that Christianity has on the family and on men in particular.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So, you’re not denying then that there is such a thing as toxic masculinity that can be a problem.

NANCY PEARCEY: To be balanced, they did also interview nominal Christian men, and they test out quite different. The first pushback I always get is, but haven’t we all heard that Christians divorce at the same rate as everyone else? And so, the researchers did go back to the data. And they made that crucial distinction between men who are religiously committed and attend church regularly versus nominal Christians. So these are men who, on a survey like this, might check the Baptist box but who actually attend church rarely, if at all. It’s more of a cultural Christianity. And they test out shockingly different. They fit all of the toxic stereotypes. Their wives report the lowest level of happiness. They spend the least amount of time with their kids. They divorce at a higher rate than even secular men, 20% higher than secular men. And the real shocker is they have the highest rate of domestic abuse and violence of any group in America.

So, this is why the statistics get skewed. If you just look at Christian men, you’re gonna get men who are better than secular men, and you are going to get men who are at worse than secular men. So that’s why the statistics can be so misleading. And it does say that churches have quite a job. On one hand, they should be giving greater support and encouragement to the men who are doing well. They should not buy into the toxic stereotypes, right? But on the other hand, they really do need to reach out to these men who are the fringes, you know, who are using Christian language like headship and submission, but who are putting secular definitions into those words like entitlement and dominance and misogyny and so on. How can the church reach out and have a more effective discipleship for these men who truly are toxic?

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So, who do you hope will read this book? Who could benefit the most, do you think?

NANCY PEARCEY: Of course, it’s written primarily to men to help them to think through the different scripts that they’re getting. You know, are they absorbing some of the secular script? You have to know the secular worldview and its view of men in order to have a critical grid. I just got an email from a former graduate student; she’s now teaching high school. And she wrote me and said, all of my male students are fans of Andrew Tate. And in case your audience doesn’t know him yet, he’s one of the best-known internet influencers today. And he says quite openly, I’m a pimp, and he runs an only fans company. And he said I produce pornography. That’s what I do. And yeah, he’s become, like I said, a very powerful influence on young men. So, I said to my former graduate student, where do you teach? At a Classical Christian School. So even at a school like that, her male teenage students are reaching out to these very secular definitions of masculinity. But if the churches aren’t offering a compelling biblical view of masculinity, our young men are reaching out to these online influences, and they really need to have a critical grid in place so that they don’t absorb the secular script.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, I wish we could talk longer, but we are just about out of time. Before we go, Nancy Pearcey, where can our listeners go to follow your good work? And, of course, to purchase your new book, The Toxic War on Masculinity?

NANCY PEARCEY: Yes, you can buy it, of course, at Amazon, like everything else, or My publisher just redid my website. And so, it’s all colorful and fun. So come on over to my website,, where you can browse all of my books and see what else I’ve written and you can leave a comment, which I really enjoy.

TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right, well, Nancy Pearcey, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.

– END –


Receive Our Legislative Alerts