Manhood in these United States is in an increasing state of crisis. As a matter of fact, based on some recent developments, you could make a case that a broad sense of true masculinity in our culture is swirling around the drain with increasing speed.
This is not new; it has been coming on for quite awhile. Trace the shift over the past few decades. The prevailing concept of manhood in popular culture has been seen as…
+ macho man, marked by strength, independence, and a take- charge attitude. This was the basic stuff of pioneer stock. I had one of the early action figures – a nine-inch tall Daniel Boone. Remember the theme song of the show?
“Daniel Boone was a man, yes as big man;
He was brave, he was fearless
And as tough as a mighty oak tree….
The rippin’est, roarin’est fightin’est man
the frontier ever knew
What a Boone, what a do-er
What a dream-comer-true-er was he!
The message? Real men are brave, fearless, tough, do-ers who make dreams come true. Movies featured John Wayne and Indiana Jones and other larger-than-life hero figures. These were men who were independent, courageous, explorers, builders, protectors and defenders. There were romantics who treated women with a sense of respect and gallantry. The “Greatest Generation” of World War 2 turned into ordinary men who built homes, businesses and communities. Yes, some went rogue, drank too much, dissed women and were itching for a fight. But a strong, positive male-ness prevailed—and was accepted.
+ metrosexual man, which emerged out of the feminist movement of the 1960’s. Some women insisted that the only way for them to be fully female was to reduce distinctive gender-defined roles. While there were some necessary correctives to culturally approved discrimination and even oppression of females, the surprising result was the rise of the feminized man.
In the movie Tootsie, Dustin Hoffmann played a down-on-his-luck actor who takes a role playing a female in a soap opera. When his drag act is discovered, he tries to explain to the woman who had become his best friend: “I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man..I just gotta learn to do it without a dress.” Increasingly, the feminine sensitivities or “side” of men were to be cultivated and celebrated.
We began to see men deferring to women –not out of respect, but as increasingly passive. Men began extending adolescence & delaying adult responsibilities—even into their early thirties. Men began looking to be coddled like little boys and in their relationships, often merely traded one mommy for another. Men were left holding the bag—literally– while women advanced and stepped up where men dropped the ball or just dropped out.
That led us to…
+minimized man: If men are merely bit actors in the story of the world, we should just reduce their visibility. So, in recent years, we have seen the rise of the “idiot man” as a common comic foil in commercials and sit-coms. Notice how many times the dad or the male character is the one who intellectually slow or simply clueless . Men are presented merely as little boys at play, suited for sports & video games, drinking more beer and grilling more meat. Reading and thinking substantively is really for women, who now outnumber men by a 3-1 margin in receiving college degrees.
Atlantic Monthly’s 2010 article The End of Men actually began
by arguing that evolution is taking over and that perhaps men are simply not
suited for life in this age. Even churches have been largely feminized, with
the average church being 61% female in attendance– and that doesn’t include the committes and teams that make the minstry run. Bible studies always include more women than men. Some say Christian universities are becoming convents. Christian bookstores largely marketed to stay-at-home moms, dominated by Amish romances and Jesus kitsch.
The confusion for men comes because in some measure, all three of these concepts are at play at any given moment in our culture. But in the past few weeks, it just seems that we have hit a tipping point.
+ A new Hertz commercial “Gas or Brake?” is built around a series of scenes that show boys/men and girls/women in the same situations: jumping off the high dive, dissecting a frog, on a date, etc. In every case the males are shown as timid and frightened, while the females are aggressive and courageous. This is even presented as being built in from conception.
+ Willow Smith, the precociously talented 11-year-old daughter of Will & Jada Pinkett Smith is the latest tween musical star. In the video for her new bubblegum / hip-hop song 21st Century Girl, (a basically harmless ditty), she wears a T-shirt that says “Boys Need Training”. It starts early.
+ Of course, that girl-power theme is just Beyonce on training wheels. Beyonce’s latest, which was a cornerstone of the Oprah farewell gala, is Run the World (Girls). The chorus is:
“who runs the world? (Girls)
Who runs this motha? (Girls)
Who runs the world? (Girls)…
Which is repeated repeatedly, followed by lyrics that include:
My persuasion can build a nation
Endless power, our love we can devour
You’ll do anything for me….
Boy you know you love it
How we’re smart enough to make these millions
Strong enough to bear the children
Then get back to business
See, you better not play me
Don’t come here baby
Hope you still like me
** pay me!
+ In the aftermath of the Rep. Andrew Weiner sexting debacle, a group of women on ABC News held a roundtable to discuss it. The upshot of
their discussion, led by Claire Shipman, was that this was a good moment for women. Huh? A degrading, creepy act by one troubled man was good for women… how? Because it was further proof that male leadership in any arena—political, corporate, etc – is always suspect and never a positive thing. Studies by “experts” were cited, showing that when corporate boards are dominated by men and their testosterone, the corporation is less profitable and when governments have too many men, it is harder to negotiate legislation or promote peace. The assertion was not that bringing both male and female perspectives to cultural and corporate decision-making is healthy and helpful (we can all agree with that); it was that the most obvious, self-evident truth for the positive advance of society is that the influence of male leadership must be significantly reduced and/or diluted.
+ Then there is the whole gay “marriage” legislation in New York state (coming soon to a state near you), which necessarily redefines the nature of family, which in every case, removes, dilutes and/or redefines the significant, Creator God-designed role for the male as father (we only need a small cellular donation), husband, spiritual leader and more.
Is there anything we can do? Jesus’ people are called to live out the priorities and realities of His Kingdom. It’s vastly different from the world, rooted in the character of God and the timeless authority of Scripture—both of which are beyond cultural whims. Those Kingdom realities include concepts of masculinity and femininity—and principles for how they relate in the home, the church and society.
So it’s simply crucial that the church take help all people think rightly about and live godly in their masculinity and femininity. But specifically, manhood training for men must be intentional and courageous—and begin early.
This is not sweat lodge, Tim the Tool-Man Taylor whoofing and events that are mostly about eating or sports. It involves careful Biblical teaching on the gospel and manhood, deep mentoring relationships, opportunities for involvement in courageous adventure and celebration of godly male leadership in the home and the community. It is disciple-making, shaping men like the Man Jesus, where faith and masculinity are not in conflict.
When done properly, this emphasis will not denigrate or oppress women; it will highlight the beauty of God’s design for both men and women, and raise the joy of both.
Putting a stopper in the manhood drain will take work and creativity. It is essential for the best future of our society—and also for the gospel mission of the church. But that’s a discussion for another day.