Does God Make the Man?

Media, Religion, and the Crisis of Masculinity

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Stewart M. Hoover, Curtis D. Coats
  • New York, NY: 
    NYU Press
    , October
     2015.
     240 pages.
     $27.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781479862238.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

With the surge of the feminist movement over the past few decades and its critique of male-driven culture, religion, and media, there was bound to be a backlash by those who felt differently. This reaction has been found among more conservative, traditional voices calling for a movement away from the changing understanding of the roles of men in modern homes. The movement advocating for neo-traditionalist masculinity has been spearheaded primarily by White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Because this definition of masculinity is slightly more contextually sensitive and nuanced than traditional understandings of masculinity, Stewart Hoover and Curtis Coats engage in a “critical test” of neo-traditionalist masculinity in their work Does God Make the Man?: Media, Religion, and the Crisis of Masculinity.

Hoover and Coats began by interviewing dozens of white, Protestant, heterosexual males (and some of their wives), divided into evangelical and ecumenical cohorts for the sake of analysis, on the topic of what it means to be a man in today’s context. These men identified three major themes regarding their understanding of masculinity: provision, protection, and purpose (19). Hoover and Coats found that these models of masculinity were principally taught through various forms of media, particularly television shows and movies, and had rarely been influenced by teachings from the pulpit.

It may come as no surprise that films such as Braveheart, Lost, and Saving Private Ryan were mentioned when the evangelical interviewees were asked to describe examples of masculine men. The major themes of protection, provision, and purpose can certainly be seen in these films. The ecumenical sample mentioned similar characters, but their descriptions of men in media were far more nuanced. They included more domestic characters, such as Mister Rogers, George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, and even Presidents Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter (103). The ecumenical sample seemed far more comfortable in understanding their own sense of masculinity as one that could and should be lived out primarily in their home life. Though the evangelical sample did not list these more domestic examples of men in the media, Hoover and Coats found they also did their best to understand the themes of protection, provision, and purpose in their domestic lives, though with a more gender-complementarian bent than their ecumenical, egalitarian-leaning counterparts.

These men, a significant portion of whom are seminary educated, claimed to interpret media portrayals of masculinity through their own theological understanding of what it means to be a man, though none were able to describe this hermeneutic or pinpoint where they had learned it. Hoover and Coats deduce that the idea of providing, protecting, and having a sense of purpose is the lens through which these men view and interpret media. Because these men reported utilizing a theological lens to interpret the various examples of masculinity in the media, Hoover and Coats argue that God does indeed make the man. However, they conclude that media seems to be beating out religion in its education of manhood, especially as Protestantism’s role is, at best, ambiguous in helping men understand masculinity (155).

However, to say God has been a part of these participants’ understanding of what it means to be men seems insufficient when they are unable to offer a theologically informed explanation. Rather, perhaps these men are pointing to the name “God” to legitimize something they have come to believe through other means. While the writing remains engaging throughout the work, the depth of the authors’ findings leaves the reader wanting more. While those who are not participants in American Christianity may consider their ethnographic study both novel and interesting, much of it is predictable for those who are involved in churches in the United States.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Adam Tobey is a mission co-worker with Ibergo American Ministries.

Date of Review: 
November 3, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Stewart M. Hoover is Professor of Media Studies and Religious Studies, and Director of the Center for Media, Religion, and Culture at the University of Colorado. He is the author, co-author, or editor of twelve books, including most recently Media, Spiritualities and Social Change.

Curtis D. Coats is Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Millsaps College (MS).

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