Gavin Peacock recently wrote for Christian Today about the value of male-only friendships. He talked about the male camaraderie he experienced as a professional footballer and put forward the idea that male friendship is a casualty of the sexual revolution.
Peacock is right to be concerned about the state of masculinity. Male suicide is the biggest cause of death for men between 20 and 49. Men kill at least 150 women per year and the most reliable predictor of violent crime is that the person committing it will probably be male. There is a huge problem in the UK today with men. However, I'm not sure male friendship is one of the issues that needs to be dealt with.
I don't want to extrapolate my experiences onto everyone, but I haven't seen a huge decrease in men's ability to be friends with one another. In fact, the ongoing issue that we see in Project 3:28 in terms of women's lack of representation on the Christian platform is that Christian male leaders organise conferences based on their (male) networks and friendships. A current example of this is the Reformation 500 conference, which according to Glen Scrivener is a group of male friends holding a conference together.
I spent Saturday walking across London with thousands of women at the London Women's March. It was a wonderful day. We walked together in solidarity because we believe in creating a world where women are liberated into fullness of life. Where women's sex and people's race are no longer life-limiting and where those with disabilities can also flourish. Sadly, Donald Trump's presidency seems to be ushering in a different kind of world. One shaped by falsehood, misogyny and division.
In many ways the sexual revolution has done little for women's lives. The exploitation of women in the sex industry continues to be an indictment on a movement that was supposed to bring liberation. In my work with the DAY Programme, I have found that teenage girls are having sex, not because they enjoy it, but because it is expected of them by teenage boys and adult men. Sadly, as with most revolutions, the lack of women's liberation is just collateral damage.
Many women at the march wore "pussy hats" as an ironic memorial to the now infamous recording of Donald Trump talking about where he would grab women. As this tape demonstrates, male friendship may be characterised by the objectification of women. Rather than being a force for good in society, it can be deeply damaging.
The reason men killing each other is more acceptable than men loving each other is not because of same-sex relationships. It's because male socialisation insists that the worst thing a man can be is a woman. Men who don't stay in the man box, who don't play along in the locker room, who don't sexually conquer women? Those men are called pussies, fags, queers, women, girls. Because the worst thing a man can be is a woman.
Thankfully, as Christians we can reject these ideas alongside those of fixed masculinity. The Christian faith is fundamentally about free will. Men and women are not limited to genital-based characteristics. Instead we are created with the capacity to develop fully rounded identities and as Christians we can then become one in Christ.
Sadly, Christian culture is rarely aware of this. Nowhere more clearly can this be seen than in the disturbing cultural norm in which Christian men and women cannot have platonic friendships. There is an assumption that men and women not married to each other cannot spend time alone without having sex. The 'Billy Graham Rule' of men not being alone with women who are not their wives continues throughout many of our churches.
Interestingly, many men joined us on the Women's March and I brought along my four-year-old son. It was a wonderful time of solidarity and mutual fellowship. As Christians, we could learn a lot from it. Sadly, our churches often looks less like the body of Christ and more like two distinct groups, unable to join together because women are seen by men solely as "sexual integrity risks".
Let's not get caught up in the non-issue of male friendships when our communities are completely unable to model God's design for men and women. Let's begin to challenge those gendered assumptions and find ways to work together to care for creation and to usher in the Kingdom.
Natalie Collins is a gender justice specialist. She set up Spark and works to enable individuals and organisations to prevent and respond to male violence against women. She is also the creator of DAY, a youth domestic abuse and exploitation education programme. She is on Twitter @God_loves_women.