One of the key messages I remember from Guyland, a powerful book on male culture, was the importance of the ‘guy code’:
- Be a man: guys don’t want to be perceived as weak, effeminate, or gay. Masculinity matters. Showing emotions is a sign of weakness, especially kindness or compassion.
- Power is everything: status and power are crucial. They define success. So does winning.
- Be aggressive: live life on the edge, take risks, go for it. Don’t care what others think.
These findings are not unique; they are reported in other books and research as well. Yes, gender fluidity is a major topic at the moment and I am sure that in time, it will redefine what we mean by male, female, or even the concept of gender. Right now, the idea of masculinity, however, is still very much defined by this guy code.
Masculinity to the world means being strong (physically and emotionally), emotionally detached, powerful, successful, aggressive. But in the church, are we really presenting a different picture? How are we defining masculinity? And when we talk about topics like gender, relationships, and sex, do we accurately assess existing thought patterns and convictions and contradict these where necessary?
The latter is of crucial importance. We can easily be misunderstood, even when we are convinced we are teaching the ‘right’ things, because our listeners assimilate whatever we say into their own thinking. If you don’t deliberately challenge existing beliefs, teens may just interpret your teachings completely wrong.
Getting Masculinity Wrong
Let’s look at some examples:
- When we talk about marriage, how do we describe the role of the man? There’s a huge grey area between affirming Biblical teachings on the man as the head of the family and teaching male dominance. Yet without making this explicit, existing thoughts on masculinity could easily lead guys to interpret Christianity as affirming the dominant position of the man.
- When we teach on sex, what do we say about the roles and responsibilities of both men and women? One example is the strong emphasis on modesty for girls for instance, with an equal emphasis on male control is missing. This affirms cultural messages on the role of the girl (’Eve’) as the temptress, making men apparently powerless to withstand her lure. It’s a small step from this to ‘she asked for it’ responses after sexual assaults where girls are accused of causing it by behavior or appearance.
- In our day-to-day conversations with boys, what type of masculinity do we communicate and model? Do we, even unconsciously, berate boys for showing emotions (“You cry like a girl”), for coming across as gay (by tolerating homophobic ‘jokes’ for instance), or for not being male enough (for instance mocking someone who sucks at playing sports). In the same way, do we use different standards for boys and girls in the same behavior? An example would be to call boys ‘natural leaders’ and girls ‘bossy’ for showing the same behavior. Do we applaud aggression and risk in boys and denounce it in girls?
How we talk about masculinity matters. It matters to the boys, but it matters to the girls as well. More than one ‘good Christian girl’ waited way too long with reporting domestic violence because she was taught she should obey her husband.
As leaders, we set the tone. We need to communicate a true Biblical view on masculinity, not our own notions—which may not be as Biblical as we think. But are we ready to examine our own beliefs and stereotypes and allow God to reshape them? Can we at least try to put down our cultural glasses and see God’s purpose for men? (and women by the way)
Why Masculinity Matters
Teaching teens the right view on masculinity matters. It will relieve them of so much pressure to fit into an impossible model. It will help them embrace who they are, even if they don’t fit into the stereotype of the guy code-guy. It will also prevent them from acting out in a desperate attempt to conform to this norm. The thought that a warped view on masculinity is a contributing factor to campus rapes and mass shootings is a valid one.
Above all, it will help them experience their faith in a new way. Our views of masculinity affect how we see God and Jesus as well, and determine how we relate and communicate. There’s a reason why for many, the idea of God as a ‘father’ is anything but a positive association.
How we define masculinity matters big time. Do what can we, what can you do to start defining it in Biblical terms?