A relatively new friend of mine helped start a men’s ministry in Colorado a number of years ago. In addition to remaining involved, he has also written a book about masculinity, so naturally our conversations gravitate to the topics of faith, gender, and the interplay both have in society. Gender on its own is a fascinating topic, and various cultures contribute to this discussion in unique ways and have their own approaches and understandings. Even the topic of masculinity can be broad and produce volumes of content. But this post will focus in a very limited way on my personal perspective of masculinity and my recent reflection on what it means to be a man in today’s American culture.
The recent gun debate helped kindle this reflection as well. I’ve been disappointed and frustrated more than once at the employment of antiquated male stereotypes to advance the case against gun control. Whether in friendly discourse or in the media, the inference that using a gun somehow makes a man more a man perpetuates this very shallow and limited understanding of masculinity.
The sexuality debate has contributed as well. Again, I won’t delve into this topic, but suffice it to say that assuming a heteronormative world contains male expression to just one category. This is a shame, because sexual expression, preference, orientation or whatever you choose to call it does not make a man. Being a man is complex and nuanced and can’t be easily labeled and placed in a box.
In fact, the whole “he’s all boy” narrative prompts me to roll my eyes because it is somehow implicitly stating that all boys and men are the same and enjoy the same things. That somehow boys who don’t enjoy hunting, fishing, and football are somehow less male. Frankly, it’s ridiculous. Some of our most beautiful contributions in art, music, and theatre have come from men. Are they somehow “less masculine”?
Admittedly, there are beautiful realities to gender. In many (not all) cases, women are more naturally gifted in certain areas than men, and vice versa. In my opinion, there are innate realities to gender and I celebrate this. My hope is not to repress or stifle traditional understandings of gender but to liberate them. My personal experience has only reinforced this.
Throughout our marriage, Kristan and I have unintentionally assumed traditional gender roles. I worked outside of the home earning income to pay bills and took care of the yard and any home repairs (or was often the case, simply arranged for the repairs). Kristan, in turn, worked inside the home as the primary caretaker for the children, preparing the meals, and taking care of “homemaking” duties.
As a result of her becoming disabled, we had to recalibrate these roles. In some ways our responsibilities have switched, with Kristan working more outside of the home (she’s building a business) and me taking on more responsibility for homemaking and childcare. I’ve learned to braid hair, I pack lunches, prepare dinner, and help coordinate children’s activities. In our traditional, let’s call it for what it is- sexist- culture, these were typically more female responsibilities.
But I’ve never felt more in touch with my masculinity. And herein lies my point: masculinity takes multiple forms. By stepping into the void and assuming uncharacteristic roles, I actually deepened my understanding of masculinity.
Reducing manliness to simplistic caricatures of gun-toting cowboys, boxers, and quarterbacks undermines true masculinity. True masculinity can’t be reduced to a set of proscribed behaviors rooted in dated stereotypes.
True masculinity is accountability, respect, and kindness.
True masculinity is courageous authenticity.
True masculinity is being male and being honest and free.
So let’s not reinforce and perpetuate these harmful notions. Let’s focus on meaningful character traits and reinforce the importance of dialing into your personal, unique gifts, whatever categories society might try to fit them in. Let’s liberate our sons and friends from the repressive chains of sexist labels and celebrate as our families, communities, and our world benefit from the joyous contributions of all human beings, regardless of their gender affiliation.