What characteristics, positive and negative, come to mind when you think of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’? How does the culture view/define them? How have those changed over time? What is a Biblical description of those terms, and how do they compare to your pictures and those of the culture?
While it seems to me that both masculinity and femininity have been radically redefined in the last 50 years, I’m tempted strongly to evaluate the changes to the concept of manhood as the most negative and damaging. It is as if equality for women was improved at least partly at the expense of men. Rather than lifting both up, women were lifted up and men brought lower.
To put it bluntly, women have become, not just better women, but more masculine, and men have been made more feminine and less masculine, to their detriment.
Males biochemistry is such that they are more aggressive by chemical nature than women, and that energy needs to be channeled, guided and directed, yet instead, we pacify them with Ritalin, and can’t understand why they are falling behind in ambition and achievement.
We are so afraid as a culture of injury and liability that we prohibit them from risks, drilling safety into their heads until they are afraid to explore and test themselves. I think this in part contributes to their finding outlets in video games, especially violent ones. Similarly, it leads to sedentary lifestyles, so they are more unhealthy and less able to do heavy work.
The portraits of men in popular media are very often either wimpy or boorish, and often a strange combination, and usually shown as foolish, stupid or out of touch. With so many absent fathers due to work or divorce, these fictional men are our boys role models, leading to confusion when we get onto them about their immaturity. They are having an identity crisis.
We are so concerned about protecting their self-esteem that we don’t teach them how to fail and get back up. We don’t force them to take responsibility for themselves, and excuse all manner of ills as the fault of society or the like.
Similarly, we treat every minor accomplishment, even normal expected duties as major milestones, so they have no sense of true accomplishment nor of true humility. We teach them to worship themselves because everything they do is great.
This also leads to immaturity and an inability to take responsibility. It also affects how they treat women in relationships. If we praise everything and protect them from their mistakes, then when a relationship goes through a tough time, they don’t know how to handle it and mistreat or leave her. Their loyalties are to themselves and not to serving their wives, families, and communities.
Similarly, protecting their self-esteem from any slight develops a strong sense of entitlement that contributes to lavish and excessive spending habits to maintain a perceived necessary lifestyle, but without the work ethic to earn the resources to acquire it. Thus, we have rampant debt-based consumerism for toys and bling.
Along with the work ethic, their entitlement mentality denies them the pleasures of facing, embracing, and overcoming challenges, so they tend to give up easily, not wanting something badly enough to deal with obstacles, and thus leading to an apathy of “if I can’t get it easily, I’ll do without or find a shortcut, even if it isn’t ethical.”
All of these things lead us to having lives that are substantially more complicated than they need to be or even were for our forebears. There is a simplicity to clean living that our frenetic, confused pursuit of self-actualization does not allow.
How do we go about correcting these issues? It isn’t really that hard.
First, a simple thing is to provide real heroes instead of anti-heroes. Our contemporary treatments of history seem to focus on the flaws of historical figures more than on their accomplishments. We show how they are misfits in our time rather than how they excelled in theirs. Our movies show protagonists that are highly flawed and succeed in spite of themselves rather than heroes who strive to overcome obstacles, internal and external. This is done in the name of ‘realism’ and ‘balance,’ when what we need is inspiration, someone to look up to, to model oneself after.
Second, we need to allow the consequences of their actions to bear their fruit, and in order for that to happen, we first need to allow them to act, even if it is foolish or has some level of risk. Then we need to allow them to feel pain, disappointment, even some rejection, not rampantly, but in a controlled manner, and be ready to comfort and lead them through it.
We need to set standards, and expect those standards to be met without a reward at every little step. These aren’t pets, they are human beings, independent moral agents, and a sense of duty is not too much to ask of them.
We need to teach them both how to fight and when to fight, and also how/when not to fight. There are times that we must physically protect ourselves and others from malicious people. Negotiation does not always work, but we need to teach both diplomacy and warfare—and part of that is how to fight fair. This is probably the least popular idea in today’s culture, but I maintain it is necessary. A consequence of this reality, is that we have to teach them to expect to be punished for defending themselves, and to realize that sometimes, that is a price we will have to accept.
We need to model good masculinity, and not parrot the confused picture presented by the culture, so that means we have to learn how to be true godly men in spite of the various bad lessons we’ve learned previously and be willing to unlearn them.
We need to teach them how to appropriately reward themselves and find the rewards of delayed gratification and hard work. The easiest way to do this is to make them work and earn their wants and gradually more and more of their needs.
We need to provide good role models in cross gender relationships, both romantic and platonic or professional. If we struggle in this area, then we need to find better models together, preferably in real people in our community, or at least in good stories/movies/shows.
Finally, for this list, we need to encourage boys to seek out appropriate challenges and then not let them give up when it gets hard.
Granted, much of this applies equally well to girls, but our boys seem to need it more today. There is something odd in the male psyche where we need to be needed. If we don’t feel we have a real role, a contending horse in the race, then we fold up and check out. We retreat into our recreation and let the world go by. There is some evidence that the ready availability of government assistance facilitates this sense of uselessness in lower income men, because the government is taking care of them and their families, so there is not a motivation to do what is necessary to find work to provide a living, so they withdraw, including withdrawing from their families because they don’t feel needed.
Men in particular derive deep satisfaction from our work and accomplishments and less from our relationships. We need to feel that we have invested our strength and abilities into and for the benefit of our families and communities. If it is not wanted, needed or appreciated, we tend to go looking for a situation where it is. Many aspects of our society are robbing men of this, increasing a sense of futility that kills the male spirit faster than nearly anything else.
If the women and kids seem to be getting on fine without us, we’ll get out of their way. If we are working harder for less and less recognition/reward/benefit, it creates a sense of futility. If everything we say or do is offensive to someone with a chip on their shoulder, we’ll shut up, and our ideas, feelings and so on go unexpressed, and potentially bottled up. With fewer and fewer acceptable outlets for our energy and natural aggressiveness, they can burst out in unhealthy ways. When the government seeks to solve all of our personal problems, we lose the ability and will to do for ourselves, and hate ourselves for it. This of course tends to lead toward self destructive behaviour which creates more personal problems which means there is more outside intervention and the cycle bears down on itself.
Our culture needs to relearn how to let men be men in healthy productive ways without trying to make them fit some unisex model. Boys and girls are physiologically different, and we need to learn how to celebrate that, to shape it, to understand it, and maximize the impact of each without resorting to stereotypes or comparisons as to which is better.
I honestly wonder how many of our societal and political ills would solve themselves if we got masculinity and femininity right.
I’d like to acknowledge the article “7 Lessons in Manliness from the Greatest Generation” for inspiration for these thoughts.