According to C.S. Lewis, when society believed in an objective truth, it crafted an educational system that consisted of older men teaching manhood to younger men. However, now that society believes that truth is subjective, it creates men who are conditioned to exacting standards in much the same way animals are raised to exacting standards so that they can be processed as food. The result is ‘men without chests’, or a generation of adults who have no heart, no sentiment, and no morality.
I couldn’t help but wonder – what of the women? Perhaps C.S. Lewis was using ‘men’ in the general sense – in which case it would include women. Perhaps he wasn’t thinking of women at all because the illustrated suggested that wisdom was personified as a woman who was usually wearing a wedding dress. It’s odd, isn’t it; that a woman is the personification of women and yet no thought is given to the education of daughters. When traditional education is men teaching manhood to men, then women are either learning manhood or they’re not learning anything at all.
One thing to consider is that C.S. Lewis is the product of his education – starting with boarding schools and culminating with his career as a professor. His academic world was one of men who thought up, talked about, wrote about, and read the work of other men. In his world, there were only a few women who had manged to reach that glass ceiling and even then they weren’t on the same level as him and his fellow men. As an academic, he would have been in a world that frequently used ‘man’ in the general sense of ‘human.’ He wouldn’t have given proverbs like: ‘No man is an island.’ or ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’ or ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.’ a second thought because while ‘man’ can be used in a general sense for ‘human’ it’s hardly ever done in English.
In my second language, whenever a group of men and women are being referred to, the plural masculine word is used: “los niños” could mean “the boys” or “the children (including girls)” and “los maestros” could mean “the male teachers” or “the teachers (including women).” I often find that when I see such words, I almost automatically think of it as “the boys” or “the male teachers” before I think of them as “the children” or “the teachers (both men and women)”. In English, we hardly use ‘men’ to refer to a group of men and women. If we mean ‘men and women’ we say ‘men and women’ or ‘ladies and gentlemen’. This is a peculiarity to our society. So too, when I see words such as “man”, “men”, “he”, “his”, or “him” I think of guys first and foremost. Take a look at the Bible. It’s largely androcentric – written by men, to men, using masculine pronouns except in the few instances where women are specifically referred to in ways differing from the way that men are addressed. This created a problem, one group of translators decided to adhere to the cultural tendency to use masculine terms in a general sense, so they used ‘brothers’ or ‘brethren’ where the other group of translators opted to say ‘brothers and sisters’ or ‘people’. The former group decried the efforts of the latter as sacrilege and managed to get the companies to pull the gender neutral language Bibles off of the shelves from the major stores. What message does that send?
Which got me into trouble with my youth pastor who preached on the brothers of the early church and emphasized the brotherhood of all believers. He was not amused when I asked, “What about the sisters?” Remember that illustration about wisdom being a woman? If it’s a natural and righteous relationship for a man to pursue and marry a woman (wisdom), then what is to be said of the relationship between a woman and the woman (wisdom)? If the purpose of education is for men to teach manhood to men, then why bother educating women to the same level? Would that not be teaching a woman the nature of manhood, which is contrary to design? After all, there is this objective truth that does not change and would have it be so.
Which is to use a lot words to say that: “The nature of manhood is an objective truth.” Meaning that whatever generations of fathers taught their sons and teachers taught their students is that which should continue to be taught as long as humans exist. There’s just a slight problem with that. Not all aspects of traditional masculinity were ideals that ought to be enshrined. After all, it’s a system of beliefs that inherently exclude women (for being feminine) and men that are unable to measure up. It seems to me that the whole argument isn’t just about educating children to prepare them for a future, but using a theory to indoctrinate children to grow up to be adults who believe certain things about what it is to be men or women. The odd thing is that C.S. Lewis argued that it would be nonsensical to compare the educational level of a student from the past to the present. Shouldn’t it be the same for masculinity? Sure, an 1880s cowboy might be inherently masculine, but is he ‘more’ or ‘less’ masculine than a 1930s factory worker? What about compared to a 2010 computer programmer? The question becomes what the measure of masculinity is and how to measure up different people to it.
But what if the nature of the world contains both objective truth and subjective truth – the objective truth that morality is necessary for a healthy society, but a subjective truth about what the nature of masculinity and femininity is? A subjective truth that changes with the times and the people who mold it. If we continue to live in a ‘one or the other’ world, then we will continue to exist in a place that divides men and women, truth and falsehood, wisdom and folly into two opposing camps where one is right and the other wrong, one is good and the other is evil. That’s the sort of thinking that got us into this mess. We need to accept the subjective thinking that allows the lines to be blurred where they need be to give us the freedom to change when and where we need to so that each person can be empowered and not indoctrinated.