Before we can dive into understanding God’s view of manhood, we need to understand that we already have our own view of it. Likely, we didn’t formulate this understanding after methodical reflection and study. No, chances are you were given your philosophy of manhood by others.
For some, it happens in an instant, perhaps when a parent or other relative decides it’s time for you to “understand how things work.” For others, it’s a slow development, pieced together over time through what is said by family, teachers, schoolmates, at home, in the classroom, and on the playground. Along the way, perhaps, you reject some pieces you hear and synthesize the others into a composite picture of manliness.
In one set of circumstances, the picture that may emerge, especially for young men who really enjoy sports and other outdoor activities, and from a family that does as well, is that of the Marlboro Man. A self-sufficient, adventurous, unemotional, rugged man’s man. There are some good things about this man. He’s reliable and hard working. He’s brave and knows how to get things done. And yet, something’s missing.
When this masculinity is taken to extremes, it can become misogynistic. It can be cold. It’s hard for those around this man (and for the man himself) to know how he feels at any given time. He’s an emotional guessing game for them. By the time you realizes that he’s overwhelmed, he’s half way to a divorce or a mid-life crisis. And he may not truly feel like a man unless he’s doing something that feeds the image he has of himself. So, changing diapers takes a back seat to fixing up an old car. This is a truncated masculinity. Some of it is true and beautiful, but it is insufficient.
In a completely different set of circumstances, a boy may be given a picture of manhood that looks strangely foreign to Marlboro Man. Perhaps he is raised by a single mother and/or his grandmother. Or perhaps he is raised in an environment that is simply trying to blur (or erase altogether) the lines between boys and girls, between masculinity and femininity. The picture he acquires looks strangely like the picture of a female in his life. She’s kind and gentle. Relationships are important. Her interests aren’t sports or machinery, but shopping and coffee dates.
Perhaps this boy only has women role models in his life, perhaps he naturally gravitates to areas often thought of as feminine, or perhaps he’s been told explicitly that boys and girls are the same OR that boys should be more like girls. However it happens, he comes to see that real men behave like real women…that there’s no such thing, really, as masculinity. This, too, is truncated – partially wonderful and partially destructive.
Both of these pictures are toxic. In the next post, we’ll look at how different people are reacting to them and start to see a way forward.