What is it about masculinity that seems so…fragile?
Our culture gives a lot of talk to what makes a “real man.” We produce thousands of male-centric products. We have lots of ideas about what men do and enjoy.
And yet, for all of this, we seem more confused than ever. Men seem less secure in themselves, less confident in their own masculinity. It seems harder to understand what it means to raise boys into men.
I thought about this over the weekend, as we celebrated men and masculinity. And the problem it seems, is not in spite of all the male-centric discussions and advertising.
I don’t want my son to inherit a fragile masculinity. I don’t want him to have to pursue manhood, the way our culture defines it. So I had to figure out where our confusion comes from.
It turns out that our confusion about masculinity is precisely because of our obsession with it.
“Masculine” Is Just a Marketing Idea, Apparently
There are thousands of unnecessarily male-gendered products on the market today. They are ostensibly, gender-neutral or even feminine products, but with a masculine matte finish (because glossy would not be masculine.)
Body wash too girly? Put it in a gray bottle.
Calorie-free soda too feminine? Give it ten calories.
Of course, there are plenty of pointlessly gendered female products as well. And they both achieve the same end of being sexist. Male-gendered products exist because marketers believe men are stupid. They believe men are insecure in their masculinity and heterosexuality enough to use regular Kleenex to blow their manly noses. Marketers believe that masculinity is a caricature to be exploited to make money. And they are probably right. Any man who believes these products are any different, aside from their packaging, is either very gullible, or very fragile in his masculinity. His manhood is something he has to purchase at Wal-Mart.
And so, capitalism is making masculinity more fragile.
Broad Generalizations Help Men Measure Themselves
This month, Cheri and I did a Paleo diet. We ate meat, vegetables and healthy fats. No bread, sugar, potatoes, pasta, or other unnecessary carbs. It’s been good. I’m down about 15 pounds and two inches.
You know what we didn’t eat? Bacon.
It really just kind of slipped our minds. The other day we just realized, “We haven’t had bacon this month!”
Bacon is supposed to be a “manly” food, something that men everywhere need to exist. Our culture paints men with a lot of broad strokes. There are ideas about men needing to live in “caves” and men needing to eat certain things. Most of these ideas are also marketing ploys (designed as much to get women to buy things for their men.)
When we make broad generalizations, we do damage to men and boys. It’s the same kind of damage that unrealistic body images do to women and girls. Generalizations about the way men are, or the way they are supposed to be make men strive to be something they are not necessarily designed to be.
There are lots of things I’m supposed to have in my home as a man. I don’t buy them, because I prefer to be the kind of man who is frugal and has a retirement account.
There are lots of activities I’m supposed to enjoy as a man, but I don’t, because I only have so much time in my life for recreation.
And so, our broad generalizations about men are making masculinity more fragile.
Jesus Loves You, Girly Boy
Finally, yes, even our churches are not doing men any favors.
The week before Father’s Day, I saw an ad that said, “Real men go to church.”
Good job, church. Your opening line is to insult strangers’ masculinity. How many men respond positively to having their manhood insulted by an ostensibly male-led organization?
Furthermore, as churches struggle to keep men in the seats, there is a lot of theorizing about what makes men tick. One popular myth is that men do not “bond” over shared beliefs, but shared activities, especially activities that involve risk. That’s why men don’t do Bible studies.
And so, the church is just following the culture of making broad generalizations about how men are. The anti-intellectualism that is assumed among men is absurd, as if men do not have inner thoughts.
One of the reasons I am so thankful for my place of work is that the male culture is exactly this – a place where intellectual gifts are valued, ideas are exchanged, and beliefs are shared. It’s not a place where we are ranked by our athletic abilities (some of us are athletes, some are not.) It is incredibly short-sighted of the church (which was built on centuries of great male minds), to now assume that men do not like to talk about big ideas.
“Idea big. Me no like talk. Me fix car now. Me manly.”
No wonder we are confused about men. Men are supposed to be gullible, unhealthy, insecure idiots. And so even our churches are making masculinity more fragile.
Men, we don’t want our sons to be confused about what makes them men, right?
Do we want our sons to believe they have to purchase their way to manhood?
Do we want our sons to suppress their brains and express their maleness just on the athletic field?
Or do we want our sons to be the kind of men that God made them to be?