Real Men, Real Women

By | July 17, 2011

Recently I’ve been seeing more and more written in the broad category of gender issues (or maybe better described as gender identity), and specifically discussing men (Dan Brennan/Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions, Where Have The Good Men Gone?, Church For Men). This has got me doing quite a bit of thinking. In some areas, I have a good sense of what I believe. But in other areas, I’m not sure what to think. For example:

These days it’s hard to find a man who puts Jesus first—while it seems like Christian women are as common as boots at a rodeo. I have single, female friends who just roll their eyes when they think of the tiny crop of unmarried men who attend their churches. “There’s a great selection of weirdos, mama’s boys and creeps,” said one woman. “I’m not being picky – I’m being honest. I’m tempted to go into a bar to meet guys – at least they’re pretending to be men.”

How is that going to bar bar is more “manly”? The stereotype would say that these guys are getting drunk and hitting on the ladies. Is that more “manly”? At least she points out that they’re “pretending to be men,” not actually being men necessarily. And is all this woman wants is a guy who is just pretending to be a man? How does she define “weirdos, mama’s boys and creeps” anyway? Because I suspect what one persons sees as a man of integrity, another calls a “mama’s boy”, or another man who is caring may be seen as a creep.

Attempting to define gender is a thorny issue. At it’s most basic, gender is defined physically. So to say that a person can be more or less of their gender brings up some questions. First of all, does gender describe more than just physical difference? It’s true that there are many things in which it can be said that it is more common for women to be this way than that. But do having those characteristics make them more a woman? Perhaps more importantly, do lacking certain characteristics make them less of a woman? I argue no, that it is insulting to suggest that a man or woman is less their gender because of not fitting into a certain stereotype.

Now I recognize that in many cases what people are talking about is “being a man” as opposed to being a boy. In other words, it has more to do with maturity than gender. However, what maturity looks like for a man and for a woman may be different.

I’m quite frustrated with many of the silly things that people associate with being a man. “Real men drink beer, smoke cigars, ride a motorcycle, drive a truck, pick up women, have a beard, never cry, wear boots, fight, etc., etc.” In our culture, we’ve often defined masculinity as the tough guy who doesn’t need anyone. But I don’t think this is a good picture of what a true man should be. Maybe what you think of as a real man is someone who is powerful and successful: someone in a high position in their job, who makes a lot of money, who tells everyone else what to do and doesn’t let anything or anyone get in their way. Yet I don’t think this is a good archetype of masculinity either. This is why I appreciate what Don Miller said on his blog recently:

In an age where a few celebrity pastors are projecting an immature masculine image, a guy like Tony Dungy reminds us of what a good man looks like. He looks like a sober, mature, thoughtful, strong, disciplined person who brings peace into chaos. It would be easy for some of us guys to get led astray by false teachers who use shame, guilt and ridicule to make themselves feel more manly, but these guys are just covering up their own insecurities.

I lean toward agreeing with John Eldredge, that there is more to gender than just the physical. While I think that maturity will often look different for men and women, there is a lot of similarity too. Maturity should be defined more by character than by superficial tastes or actions.

John Eldredge has some ideas about gender which I find interesting in part because I feel they avoid stereotypes and things such as differences in personalities. Stated at its simplest, he defines three desires for men and three for women which he believes everyone is those respective genders share. While it’s impossible to say that anything holds true for all people, I can see this potentially being true for most people. Eldredge says that men need a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. On the other side, women want to be fought for, to have an adventure to share, and beauty to unveil. (These ideas are developed more thoroughly in his books “Wild at Heart” and “Captivating” respectively.)

I agree that I can see many ways in which churches lean toward stereotypical femininity as opposed to masculinity. I’m all for making some fundamental changes in order to engage men. However, as we do this, we need to make sure and not fall into the trap of defining masculinity as the “macho” guy. If you’re a man who is mostly about doing and not about talking about it and especially not about even thinking about feelings, that’s completely fine. However I believe it’s wrong and harmful to criticize and condemn guys who are, for example, more emotional, as being less of a “real man”. There are many different types of people, men and women, and there must be room in the church for all of them.

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