Robert Southey penned the poem; “What are little boys made of? Snips and snails, and puppy dog’s tails. That’s what little boys are made of!” If only it were that simple! During a Discussion Club for high school males, one young man made this comment; “My mom is more of a man than my dad will ever be.” Did that young man have a proper understanding of masculinity?
At one junction of the conversation I asked the group if they considered themselves men. It was a difficult question to answer. The discussion evolved to: “When a woman says that ‘You’re not a man’, what does she mean?” Their thoughts began with; “She’s referring to the size of…” (I won’t go any further.) Nevertheless, the overall consensus was that the statement indicated a man was failing or deficient in some aspect of responsibility.
So, is manhood just about the degree of assuming or managing responsibility? Is this what gauges manhood? What is a man? The cultural stereotypes of masculinity are stifling. The Rolling Stone top 100 best television show of all times list the Sopranos as number one.[i] (Whether you agree or not is not the point.) However, it makes me wonder if those writers were making observations or definitions of masculinity. On all accounts, despite depicting Tony Soprano as a noble anti-hero, it is certainly not a pattern-able masculine description one might want to emulate. The problem with looking towards cultural masculine identities is that culture is a shifting sand, and it’s not a good place to build our masculine house. We can respect some of those cultural norms which may help us (in part) to shine an image, so a cultural framework does matter, but it is not the essential matter.
In terms of the less than flattering reoccurring depictions of male characters in media, well…it’s up to men to deny the powers of those negative stereotypes. There is the “strong silent type”, “the romantic stalker”, “the unsuitable suitor”, the bad boy “loner”, and perhaps the most distasteful of all the “sitcom husband”.[ii]
In the latter, “he’s dumb, he’s crude, he’s filthy, he’s horny, he has the interpersonal skills of a child and the emotional depth of a staph infection. And yet he’s married to a woman so much more attractive than him that if you met this couple in real life, you’d do a double take…”[iii]
(Besides, without getting overly sensitive, women have endured and continue to endure negative media stereotypes as well.) Nevertheless, getting back to the topic at hand, an article titled
“Proof that Traditional Masculinity May Actually be Dangerous” reads:
The pressure to be traditionally masculine can cause men to overcompensate when their masculinity is threatened. But what does that overcompensation look like? Previous research has suggested that men who are stressed about their masculine identities may be more likely to commit violence within intimate or sexual relationships, while other research linked that pressure with poor health outcomes and risky sexual behavior.
In a new study, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the University of Georgia looked into other ways gender role threats may cause men to act out. They wanted to know: Will men who are undergoing psychological stress because of masculinity threats be more likely to engage in substance abuse and commit violent assaults?
A good place to begin progress, according to the researchers, is to focus on how boys and men are socialized and try to construct less rigid gender norms so that they don’t stress out about not measuring up to traditional masculine ideals. Unfortunately, the study doesn’t offer any tangible ways to do this, stating it’s too early to “make recommendations about specific prevention strategies.[iv]
How does one define “traditional masculinity” (and do I detect a biased taste in the “less rigid norms”)? What really is masculinity? Being masculine (or a man -depending on one’s age) is being male. Is that too simple? Is that the lowest common denominator, is it the pinnacle of a very practical observation. A man is a man. If we could naturally and heartily accept that, would there not be a lot less confusion and self-doubt in the hearts of our boys and emerging men? Nevertheless, I believe this would not necessarily make for a better world, because the real question has been obscured. Despite cultural leanings, masculine stereotypes, historical and traditional frameworks, the real questions are about the quality or kind of man one aspires to be.
The 3R’s of Masculinity
I purpose for your understanding and consideration a Biblical description and definition of authentic masculinity, in which I have titled “The 3 R’s: Reason, Roles and Relationship”. This approach was selected because it is a more meaningful and memorable way to organize and remember these concepts. We all know about “Reading, Writing and Arithmetic”, which ironically enough the latter two does not start with the letter “R” (and makes one question the educational system.)
Perhaps more familiar is the environmental initiatives to “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” which are also represented by R’s. What makes these mandates so powerful is their focus on the large picture of saving our planet and humanity (through a powerful global effort), while at the same time including the efforts of the individual – who feels the need to pitch some paper in a blue box so it won’t go to the landfill.
I see this collective and individual need to be immersed in a biblical vision and understanding of the masculinity. By starting with the Bible (Genesis 2), we have a much more stable, enduring and less personally biased route of discovery. What’s more, Adam -the original “Genesis Man” -being the first male, makes an obvious template in understanding masculinity. The “3 R’s” outlines the following:
Reason focuses on the connection to “environmental life”. Biblical masculinity means living in and living out the Reason of your existence as a male, being productive and making provision and bringing identity to your world, garden and sphere of influence.
Roles focusses on the connection to “social life”. Biblical masculinity means living in and living out your Roles as a man, sharing love and identity in your spheres of influence, be it as a husband, son, brother, friend or mentor.
Relationship focusses on the connection to “spiritual life.” Biblical masculinity is living in and living out an intimate relationship with your Creator our Father -God.
I challenge you to “go deep” with me as we explore… “The Genesis Man: Discovering and Aspiring towards a lifestyle of authentic Masculinity.”