Aggressive and Loving Men: Gender Hegemony in Christian Hardcore Punk

By Amy D. McDowell

Christian Hardcore band, photograph by Amy McDowell

During the 2017 presidential campaign, James Dobson, the evangelist and founder of Focus on the Family, urged Christians to vote for Donald Trump because the leadership of Hillary Rodham Clinton scared him “to death.” After writing that Hillary “haunts” his nights and days, Dobson asked other Christians to “pray for our nation in this time of crisis” (emphasis added). In conservative white evangelical communities, a nation in “crisis” is one in which men and women are confused about gender and sexuality and do not fulfill Biblically defined gender roles.  This fixation on a crisis in gender relations has far-reaching effects; it shapes evangelical anti-LGBTQ politics, anti-abortion campaigns, and the very practice of evangelism.

In my Gender & Society article, I use ethnographic observation and interview data to show how young white evangelical Christian Hardcore men respond to a perceived crisis in gender relations as they attempt to minister to secular men in hardcore punk, a male dominated music scene rooted in anti-establishment attitudes and rituals. Christian Hardcore men, like other conservative Protestant evangelical leaders and practitioners, want the U.S. to be a Christian nation. They reason that God calls them to hardcore music, as one interviewee put it, because “He” wants them “to save the nation from the underground up.” From their perspective, the underground is full of young men who have lost sight of God, church, and family. In an attempt to pull these “lost” men into evangelical Christianity, they create Christian infused hardcore music that they can use to make contact with secular men at live shows.

Christian Hardcore men present themselves as both aggressive and loving in hardcore music as they try to turn hardcore men in a Christian direction. They mosh madly to hardcore music and they openly express their “love” for other hardcore men in prayer, song, and conversation. For example, it is not unusual to see hand-drawn “Free Hugs” cardboard signs at the merchandise tables of bands and Christian Hardcore groups put up these signs to let other hardcore men know that they care for them and offer a listening ear.  Sometimes these hybrid expressions of hard and soft masculinity happen back-to-back: Hardcore Christian men do things like sing that they will “overcome this world with love” and then swing their arms and stomp violently to the furious beat of hardcore music. This two-sided performance of manhood pushes women to the peripheries of this music and in the process upholds a conservative Christian idea that women and men should not socialize together because women threaten the bond between men and between men and God. The exclusion of women is made apparent when Christian men engage in sexually degrading talk about hardcore women or do not acknowledge women in this music at all.

Overall, this article shows how Christian men leverage softness and aggression to reinforce gender inequality outside of religious institutions. On the one hand, their violent mosh pits push women to the edges of the scene. On the other, they focus on loving and befriending men (and not women), deviating from dominant notions of what it means to be a man. These findings offer a conceptual move away from studying religious masculinity as intrinsically distinct from secular masculinity and illustrate how a combination of “hard” and “soft” performances of masculinity can be a powerful mechanism for promoting patriarchy.

Amy McDowell is an Assistant Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Mississippi. Her research and teaching focuses on gender and sexuality, religion, race/ethnicity, culture and cultural performance. She has published articles on these topics in the Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, Qualitative Sociology, Sociological Forum, and the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture.


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