FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The Toxic War on Masculinity: Nancy Pearcey

with Nancy Pearcey | October 9, 2023
Play Pause

Author and professor Nancy Pearcey knows her personal, searing path toward war on men. But on a broader level, she began to ask, how did the idea arise that masculinity is dangerous? She uncovers why the script for masculinity turned toxic—and how Christianity reconciles the war between the sexes, renovating manhood for good.

There's a sociologist who did a study, where he would ask young men, “What does it mean to be a good man?” They had no trouble answering that: “Integrity, honesty, sacrifice; to be a protector and be a provider; be generous,” and so on. Then, when he'd say, “But what does it mean to be a real man?” they would say, “Oh, no, no, no!—a real man; that's completely different.” -- Nancy Pearcey

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Author and professor Nancy Pearcey uncovers why the script for masculinity turned toxic—and how Christianity reconciles the war between the sexes.

MP3 Download Transcript

The Toxic War on Masculinity: Nancy Pearcey

With Nancy Pearcey
October 09, 2023
| Download Transcript PDF

Dave: Hey, before we dive into today’s episode—

Ann: —we have some exciting news!

Dave: Do you even know what it is?

Ann: Yes!

Dave: What is it?

Ann: We have an exclusive Art of Marriage preview event on November 1st.

Dave: Yes; that means there’s a new Art of Marriage coming out—and you get to see videos/some of the teaching—you get an insider look at this remake of our flagship, the Art of Marriage®. It’s going to literally change your life and the families in your neighborhood.

Ann: You can sign up in the show notes or at

Dave: I hope you’ll join us!



Nancy: There’s a sociologist who did a study, where he would ask young men, “What does it mean to be a good man?” They had no trouble answering that: “Integrity, honesty, sacrifice; to be a protector and be a provider; be generous,” and so on. Then, when he’d say, “But what does it mean to be a real man?” they would say, “Oh, no, no, no!—a real man; that’s completely different.”

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: I’ve spent 33 seasons in an NFL locker room. I’ve never mentioned that on FamilyLife before, have I? [Laughter]

Ann: I don’t think you have!

Dave: But I was the Detroit Lions chaplain. I was around a lot of men, young men. And then, I coached high school football for 13, I think, seasons; so I was around a lot of high school men.

Ann: And you’ve coached a lot of teams, over the years, of guys. We had three boys, so you coached a lot of their teams as well.

Dave: Yes; and then, pastoring a church with thousands of men. One of the questions I would often ask—either a high school boy, or an NFL player, or just a guy at our church—was: “Tell me what a ‘real man’ is,” “Tell me what a godly man is,” “What is a man?” I am not kidding;I don’t think I ever got a clear answer. There was confusion. It was: “Well, maybe it’s…” There was never really any clarity. It was just, “Well, maybe it's...”

And then, I would look at—especially high school boys—and say: “When do you become a man?” They had no idea! “When you get your driver’s license?” “When you…?” Nobody knew. I think it’s—

Ann: Do you feel like you had a good answer for that?

Dave: I didn’t when I was growing up.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: As I became a husband, you know, I went on a journey with the Scriptures to say, “What does God say a man is?—and a woman?” Yes, I think I had a clear answer; but I don’t think our culture—and even in the church—I don’t think we know.

Ann: I think we’re living in different days, even than when you were coaching.

Dave: What does that mean?

Ann: I think that there are just a lot of different views now of what people would say a real man [is] —and especially, [who] a man of God is—it’s not always looked at in a positive way.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: So today is going to be really fun and interesting.

Dave: Yes. We have a woman in the studio, who’s going to talk to us about masculinity. We have Nancy Pearcey back on FamilyLife Today. I don’t know how many years it’s been since you’ve been here, but we are glad to have you back. Do you know how many years?

Nancy: I think about four years.

Dave: Oh.

Nancy: It was for my earlier book, Love Thy Body, and that came out in 2018.

Dave: Yes; and this book has just come out: The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles the Sexes. I would love to be a student in your class. You teach at Houston Baptist? You have young men and women—college kids—in there every day; and I’m just sitting here, thinking, “I would love to sit under your teaching!”

Ann: Me, too. [For] our listeners, this is a treat. She’s really wise, really thoughtful. And you’ve talked to a lot of people; you’ve read a lot; you’ve studied the Scriptures a lot. I’m kind of excited that we get to talk about this topic, because I think there is a lot of confusion.

Nancy, do you think there is?

Nancy: Oh, yes! And let me step in first and say our university is changing its name from Houston Baptist to Houston Christian.

Ann: How long have you been teaching?

Nancy: Ten years! I teach apologetics; that’s what I teach.

Dave: Well, let me ask you this—because I don’t know a lot of the backstory—“What’s the ‘former agnostic’?”

Nancy: Oh! My personal story, which I do love to tell, by the way. I’ve started using it now in all of my speaking; because I realize, the older I get, the more thankful I am that God got ahold of me! So I’ve been using my story a lot more. I was raised in a Christian home; but if you’ve ever been in an ethnic home—and mine was Scandinavian—all Scandinavians are Lutherans, because it was a state church. In other words, they rely a lot on ethnicity to hold you; there’s not a lot of strong personal commitment. So, when I was in high school, I started asking questions.

Dave: —because you’re a thinker!

Nancy: I was going to—and I was going to a public school, right?

Dave: Yes, yes.

Nancy: All my textbooks were secular; all my teachers were secular. And I just started asking, “How do we know it’s true?” That was it: “How do we know Christianity is true?” And nobody in my life could answer that; none of the adults in my life could answer that. I talked to a Christian college professor, and I asked him, point blank, “Why are you a Christian?” And he said, “Works for me!” [Laughter] That’s it, you know?

I had a chance to talk to a seminary dean, and I thought I would get a more substantial answer from him.

Ann: So you’re really looking for answers!

Nancy: I was asking a lot of questions.

Ann: Yes.

Nancy: Yes; I didn’t just slide, you know? A lot of people sort of slide away from their Christian background.

Ann: Yes.

Nancy: No, when I gave up my Christian faith, I immediately realized that, if there was no God, there was no meaning to life; there’s no foundation for ethics: “This is true for me; true for you.” There is no purpose to life; we’re just on a rock flying through empty space. I realized there’s not even a foundation for knowledge in the sense that, if all I have is my puny brain in the scope of time and space, what makes me think I could have some kind of universal absolute truth?—ridiculous!

At 16, it struck me that that was ridiculous! So I became a relativist, and a skeptic, and a determinist. I absorbed all of these secular -isms. By the time I was in college, I went back to Europe. We had lived in Europe when I was a child, and I really loved it; so I saved my money all through high school—from playing in the local symphony, by the way—

Ann: Ahh!

Nancy: —that was my job.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Violin.

Nancy: I played the violin so that I could go back to Europe. And when I was in Europe the second time, that’s when I sort of stumbled across L’Abri, the ministry of Francis Schaeffer, which is an apologetics ministry.

Dave: Right, right.

Nancy: That’s what he was known for. The term “cultural apologetics” was coined to describe what he did, because he didn’t just deal with abstract arguments, and the logical, either. You know, he looked at ideas as they percolate down through a culture: through art, literature, music, and so on.

Ann: That’s right up your alley!

Nancy: That spoke to me!

Ann: Yes.

Nancy: Yes, I would not have been drawn in by any other form of apologetics.

Dave: Wow.

Nancy: At first, I left—I was at L’Abri twice—because the first time, it was so attractive. I had never seen such an attractive form of Christianity. Not only was it intellectually engaging, but culturally—you know, the arts—and, on top of all that, this was 1971; and everyone there was a Hippie. [Laughter] But that was a serious consideration, in the sense that, at that time, nobody was reaching across that cultural divide and reaching out to these affected young people. I thought, “Who are these Christians!? They can even talk to Hippies!”

Ann: Wow!

Dave: Wow.

Nancy: But because it was so appealing, I was afraid I might be drawn in emotionally, and I didn’t—

Ann: —you didn’t want that!

Nancy: —I didn’t want to do that. Because Christianity let me down once already, you know? So I wasn’t going to go back lightly.

I stayed a month and studied; [then] left L’Abri and went home; but because of L’Abri, I discovered there was such a thing as apologetics. I discovered C.S. Lewis! Not only Schaeffer, but Lewis, Chesterton, and so on. Just through my own reading, I eventually decided: “Okay, I am intellectually convinced: ‘It’s true! Now, where do I find Christians?’” I wasn’t in a church or anything. I thought, “Well, I knew some back at L’Abri!” [Laughter]

A year and a half later, I went back to L’Abri; and that’s where I really got grounded in understanding Christian worldview, apologetics, and so on. It’s shaped all of my writings since then. Everything I do: I want to help young people, who are having the same questions I was having when I was that age.

Dave: Wow!

Ann: What a great story! Thanks for sharing that.

Dave: Yes; well, let’s talk about The Toxic War on Masculinity. You begin it with a story of your dad. I’m guessing this has a foundation of why you want to study this, because it’s full! I can’t wait to get into the content; but tell us about your dad, I guess.

Nancy: Yes, my father was physically abusive.

Ann: Did you have any siblings?

Nancy: Yes, there are six kids in the family.

Ann: Oh! So where did you fall in line?

Nancy: I was third.

Ann: And this was going on with all your siblings?

Nancy: All except the last one.

I used to work for Prison Fellowship. Do you know that ministry?

Ann: Wow! Yes.

Nancy: One thing we knew was: even violent people mellow over time. You know, even violent criminals mellow over time; so my dad did mellow by the sixth kid.

Ann: Wow.

Nancy: The sixth kid is the only one who doesn’t have memories of being beaten, but the rest of us do.

Ann: What about your mom?

Nancy: No; not that he was—he was pretty verbally abusive to her—he didn’t respect her at all. And we didn’t either! I mean, we took our cues from him, right?—you do. He treats her like a dishrag, so we did as well.

Then, she never stood up for us—this is our complaint with our mom—she never stood up for us. But looking back, as an adult, I don’t blame her; I wouldn’t stand up to that guy either!

Ann: She was probably scared. He was probably a scary dad.

Nancy: Oh! He was very scary.

Ann: Yes.

Nancy: Fear! I mean, when I became a Christian—you know, and started going through all the emotional healing of this—well, let me give you the emotional healing side.

Ann: Yes.

Nancy: In my book, Toxic War on Masculinity, I do talk about when the healing started; because I had one person say, “I opened your book, and I read your story. I thought, ‘Oh, no! This is going to be some angry feminist!’ And then, I got to the end, and I realized, ‘No, it’s a story of healing!’”

At L’Abri was a psychiatric social worker, who agreed to be on staff because she realized that a lot of people’s problems with Christianity were not just intellectual.

Dave: Right.

Nancy: The apologetics wasn’t the only thing; but it also is often emotional, especially conflict with your parents. Her name was Sheila Bird, and we called her “Birdie.” The interesting thing is: she saw my dad. The reason I ended up at L’Abri was because—I’m trying to keep this short!—my father was teaching in Turkey at the Middle East Technical University. It was right before the military coup, and there was a lot of violence happening, especially against Westerners: car bombings, package bombings.

They told my dad, “You need to get out! It’s too dangerous.” He was driving across Europe to catch the cheap Luxemburg flights, and a Christian friend told him, “If you’re driving through Switzerland, you’ve got to stop at this place called L’Abri!” [Laughter] He wrote to me in Germany—I was in Germany—and he says, “Come on down and see us.” People will sometimes ask me, “Why would you go to a Christian ministry if you were not a Christian?” Well, I didn’t go to a Christian ministry. I went to see my parents, because I wasn’t going to see them again; they were going back to the States. I went to L’Abri to see my parents, not to go to a Christian ministry.

Ann: Interesting! Let me ask you, at that time, what were your thoughts about your dad/your father?

Nancy: Oh, I had totally suppressed it.

Ann: Yes.

Nancy: This was interesting; I had so suppressed it, because I thought, “My childhood was so unhappy, that I’m going to start my life over.”

Ann: So you just buried it?

Nancy: I totally buried it! I thought, “I’m going to recreate myself from scratch.” I thought you could do that! [Laughter] This is why it was so important that God let me be at a place, where there was a psychiatric social worker! Not only that, but at L’Abri, you know, Francis Schaeffer used to have Saturday night discussions. My family—my parents and a couple siblings—were there. Birdie saw my father—and she told me when I went to see her—she said, “I looked at your father, and I thought, ‘Here is a man who suppresses everyone around him.’”

Ann: Wow.

Nancy: She could see it! In hindsight, I might not have even talked about it. I had suppressed it so carefully, but she knew to ask!

Ann: She knew to ask.

Nancy: She knew to ask about my family; about my father! She also noticed, by the way, that our family is totally disconnected. There was no coherence; there were no emotional bonds among anyone in our family.

Ann: Were you surprised when she said that to you?

Nancy: [Laughing] Well, not entirely, because, if you look at my dad, I would agree with her!

Ann: So it was obvious.

Nancy: Yes! Yes, I think it was. I mean, he had these steely blue eyes that looked like: “I’m a concentration camp guard.”

Dave: Well, what did the healing look like?

Nancy: So Birdie/she had to persuade me, “You can’t just walk away from your past. You do have to work through this stuff with your father.” My sister, by the way, who was also not a Christian, also stayed with me at L’Abri at the time, my older sister. She had not suppressed it; she was a little older. We sat on the side of the Alps—because L’Abri is in the Swiss Alps—

Ann: Wow!

Nancy: —and she would say: “Do you remember when Dad used to do this?” “Do you remember when Dad used to do that?” I said, “Of course, I do!” But I had so suppressed it, that I wasn’t consciously thinking of it anymore; but “Of course, I do!”

Ann: Yes.

Nancy: So that was helpful, too—between my sister and Birdie, you know, we went back through my past—and basically, it’s the healing power of His love, experiencing love from Birdie that I had never experienced before; being able to talk openly about these things, where I expected to be rejected, right? You don’t talk to people about your deepest pain. You don’t expect people to keep loving and accepting you on that level, but she did. That was it! When I left L’Abri, my model of God was Birdie.

Ann: Ahh.

Nancy: She would ask her gentle, probing questions; and I would hear God asking these gentle, probing questions, getting deeper and deeper. The emotional healing really started at L’Abri: learning to experience God’s love, because God’s love is ultimate healing power—to have such a transformative relationship with God—that God’s love actually changes you.

Ann: That’s so beautiful. I’m wondering: so often they’ll say your view of God is, many times, tainted by your view of your father.

Dave: —for good or bad.

Ann: Right; did you have that experience?

Nancy: Oh, yes; but Birdie solved that in a lot of ways.

Ann: Really?

Nancy: I mean, having one person step in and be different.

Dave: Yes, that’s true.

Ann: That’s so encouraging.

Nancy: It made a big difference.

Dave: Now, as you think back on that in regard to what you write now about masculinity, was your view of masculinity defined by your dad?

Nancy: Well, as you can imagine, I became a raging feminist! [Laughter]

Ann: —because of your dad?

Nancy: Yes.

Ann: Do you think—

Nancy: Oh, yes. I think so.

Ann: —do you think he was “toxic”? I put quotation marks around that word.

Nancy: Well, his behavior in the home was definitely toxic.

Dave: Yes.

Nancy: So I did become very much a feminist.

Dave: Yes.

Nancy: You know, I was always reading some feminist book. I read all the major, ground-breaking feminists from Betty Friedan to Simone de Beauvoir and Kate Millett. I read them all.


Nancy: Because, whenever they talked about how horrible men were, I thought, “Well, yes!”

Dave: Yes.

Ann: You agreed!

Nancy: Definitely! It affected my view of men, even though the healing in my relationship with God was very real.

Dave: Yes.

Nancy: Make sure you’ve got that part.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Yes.

Nancy: But my view of men was very tainted, definitely. I thought—every feminist book I read—I thought was better than the last one.

Ann: Really?

Nancy: I always had a feminist book at my bedside; always.

Ann: Let me ask you: you’ve been married for/have you been married 50 years?

Nancy: Almost!

Ann: Yes. So how did that affect your marriage? Did you view your husband in a negative kind of way?

Nancy: You would think I would, but I don’t think so.

Ann: Wow.

Nancy: Can I do the Myers-Briggs thing?

Ann: Yes, yes. [Laughter]

Nancy: Okay! [Laughing] Because I’m an INFP! I’m a very strong “F.”

Dave: Feeler; Introverted Intuitive Feeler—

Nancy: —Feeler—


Nancy: I’m very relational.

Dave: Yes.

Nancy: I’m very relational.

Ann: Yes.

Nancy: So I have very deep personal relationships.

Ann: —which was helpful for your marriage?

Nancy: Yes.

Dave: Well, it’s interesting: you know, as you talk about your background—as I read through The Toxic War on Masculinity—and again, there’s so much in there; I don’t even know where to start! There are so many things that you walk through with the history of masculinity in our culture. I put the book down, thinking you are very pro-man/very pro-masculinity.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Hearing that background, I think, “Wow; this has been quite a journey.”

Ann: —a transformation.

Dave: You end up, at the end of the book, saying men are good. Do you know what I mean?—not ripping on men. It’s: “Here’s the journey men have gone through,” and “Here’s what real masculinity looks like.”

Ann: —in a beautiful way!

Dave: And as a man, I’m thinking, “Yes!” I want to hand this to everybody, and say, “This is a godly perspective on manhood.” The journey that you went on is very interesting.

Nancy: Oh, thank you so much! I’m glad that’s what comes through, because I certainly did try to make it positive toward men.

Dave: Yes.

Nancy: Even when I dealt with some of the difficulties that men have in our culture—and even when I dealt, at the end, with abusive marriages and so on—I tried to always keep it positive. I’m glad that’s what’s coming through; because, you know, men don’t respond well to being accused of being toxic. [Laughter] Who would?!

Dave: Right.

Nancy: Here’s what I find really effective. There’s a sociologist, who did a study; and he ends up saying there’s, in our culture, two competing scripts for manhood. He’s a very well-known sociologist; so he speaks around the world, in countries around the world. He began to use that as his testing ground. He would ask young men—“What does it mean to be a good man? You know, if you’re at a funeral, and in the eulogy, somebody says, ‘He was a good man,’ what does that mean?” They had no trouble answering that. Everyone around the world said: “Integrity, honesty, sacrifice. Help out the little guy,”—I kind of like that one: “Help out the little guy,”—“Be a protector, and be a provider; be generous,” and so on.

Ann: This is worldwide?

Nancy: Worldwide! And by the way, he would say, “Where did you learn that?”—you know, integrity and sacrifice. They would say, “Well, it’s just in the air we breathe.” And in the Western countries, they would say, “It’s our Judeo-Christian heritage.”

Ann: Oh!

Nancy: Then, when he’d say, “But what does it mean to be a real man?” they would say, “Oh, no, no, no! A real man—that’s completely different—Be tough; be strong; never show weakness; win at all costs! Suck it up; be competitive; get rich!”

The real tension, I think, today is not between men and women so much as within men’s own heads between these two competing scripts. As our culture has become more secular, the good man ideal is fading; it’s losing its hold on men’s hearts. What’s left is more the real man, which is what people mean when they say “toxic.”

Ann: Yes.

Nancy: They mean the real man as entitlement, power, overdominance, and so on.

Dave: Is that why you wanted to write about it and study it?

Nancy: No, no; that was one of the sociologists I read when I was involved in it.

Dave: Yes.

Nancy: That’s not when I first got started.

Do you know when I first got started? I will tell you! There were two reasons. One is—I did have to ask, “Where is this coming from?”—because the hostility against men is so extreme today, even in mainstream publications. I read a Washington Post article titled, “Why Can’t We Hate Men?” What? This is not some fringe feminist publication!—it’s the Washington Post!

Ann: Yes.

Nancy: “Why Can’t We Hate Men?” You can buy t-shirts that say, “So Many Men, So Little Ammunition.”

Ann: We’re out of time for Day One, but this is setting us up for tomorrow!

Dave: Yes; I mean, you just set something up; and I’ll end with this—

Ann: Oh, that’s a cliffhanger right there! [Laughter]

Dave: At the church I helped lead for 30 years, we had a men’s retreat, and guess what we called it? [Laughter] We called it “Man Up!”

Nancy: Oh.

Dave: It’s really interesting; we probably did that for seven, eight, or ten years. A couple thousand men would come away to this camp. My youngest son came on our staff; and one of his first years there, he said, “Dad! That’s a really bad name for a men’s retreat.” [Laughter] It’s interesting, because you just sort of articulated what he tried to say to me. I looked at him and said, “What are you talking about?! Nike uses that phrase!—‘Man Up!’ Let’s go away and let’s ‘man up’ and be men.”

He said, “That is what is killing us as men. We’re being told to ‘man up,’ and we think that means be toxic and macho; don’t cry.” He said, “That is not going to reach my generation; we are repelling against that. A man shouldn’t man up; in fact, a man can’t man up!”

Ann: A man should lay down his life.

Dave: Yes; and he was trying to get at: “We are nothing without Christ. And you’re saying, ‘Man up, and you can do this without Jesus!’ We should be saying, ‘No, I need Jesus.’ It should be something more tender and sensitive.”

At first, I looked at him and said, “What are you talking about?!” Then, as I thought about it, I [realized], “He is exactly right.” And it’s what you’ve just read; that’s the wrong phrase. And that’s something my generation—and you know this generation a little bit—we’ve grown up with that as the vision, and it’s the wrong vision.

You get into that in the book. In fact, tomorrow, we’ve got to talk about: “Okay, if that’s not the right vision, what is?” I can’t wait for our listeners to hear the section in your book about men who go to church.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: That was inspiring to me, and that’s tomorrow.

Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson talking with Nancy Pearcey on FamilyLife Today. Nancy has written an incredible book called The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles the Sexes. Sometimes I wonder, how did the idea arise that masculinity is dangerous and destructive? Well, in her book, Nancy Pearcey leads you on a fascinating excursion through American history to discover why the script for masculinity turned toxic all of a sudden and how to fix it.

This book is, as I said, amazing! And it’s going to be our gift to you when you call and partner with us financially. You can go online to or give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329; again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” And you can feel free to drop us something in the mail if you’d like. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, FL  32832.

You know, there are a lot of negative perceptions of men, as we’ve been talking about today, in the media and characters on television and in movies. There are a lot of alarming statements that are made by famous men or other famous individuals about men. Well, how do we come around to redeeming that negative stereotype? Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be back tomorrow with Nancy Pearcey to talk about just that. We hope you’ll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a donor-supported production of FamilyLife, a Cru® ministry.

Helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.


We are so happy to provide these transcripts to you. However, there is a cost to produce them for our website. If you’ve benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would you consider donating today to help defray the costs? 

Copyright © 2023 FamilyLife. All rights reserved.