On Being “Manly”

Yesterday, a Facebook friend posted a link to a site that is all about manliness and manhood. The particular article that my friend suggested is about “How to Create a Lifelong Brotherhood.” He then wrote, “Men, you should read it.” So, I took his suggestion and read it.

The article itself seemed harmless enough. The writer took the position that one of the biggest difficulties facing men today is loneliness. He shared statistics about depression and suicide rates. He looked longingly to the ‘good old days’ when men were part of communities of other men in order to survive in a dangerous world. The role of secret societies in bringing men together was disparaged, but they did, he admitted, seem to fulfill a necessary function for the men who join them. And, I was relieved when I read elsewhere that theirs is not a Christian site. It is a place that encourages men, regardless of faith or lack of, to “live moral, ethical, and virtuous lives.”

Now, I don’t want to dismiss the point that my friend and this writer are apparently trying to make. I do think that people need community. We do not thrive in isolation from others. What I do have a problem with is how these people think it’s a problem that men can deal with in isolation from women and children.

In many evangelical faith communities there is a common fallacy that pits men against women. They will never say it like that but, that is the reality. Men are to be strong. Men are to lead. Men are to do so-called ‘manly’ things. Women are weak and must submit. Theirs is what has become known as a complementary role. For these people, men and women are NOT equal but, are two parts separated at creation. In many ways they are not complete until they are united in some kind of matrimonial ceremony.

I have problems with this position on many levels. However, for this discussion I’m only going to address one. Many in conservative circles like to simplify issues to binary black/white, right/wrong, true/false discussions. We are right, everyone else is not. I’m sorry, gender issues cannot be reduced to this. Females and males have developed different physical characteristics, to be sure. But, that’s where the differences end. All people are capable of filling the same roles, be they clerical or construction. Women can, and should, do anything that men do. Proof of this is displayed every day in the culture at large. But, these men choose to say that this only proves that gender roles are confused. They argue that history shows men and women have always served different functions in society. If we could only recapture that, all would be well with the world. Uh…what? This nostalgia has no real basis in fact. What these men dream of is a return to a world created by Hollywood in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Shows like “Father Knows Best” and “Leave it to Beaver” were about a well-constructed family culture where a man wore a suit and was the principle bread winner, while women wore dresses and smiles and performed domestic duties. Hey, Guys! It’s not real! It’s something that a group of men constructed from cardboard and paint. To believe that these shows reflected reality in any way, shape or form is delusional.

I think that men are actually finding their historic hegemony threatened. Women and others, including minorities and LGBT folks are chipping away at the power that men, more specifically white men, have enjoyed. This is causing a crisis of identity among these men. They are finding themselves marginalized in many ways. It’s uncomfortable. It causes stress. So what? Be a man and deal with it. The world has changed. And it is going to continue to change. Gender equality is becoming a reality. There is NO going back. Yeah, circle the wagons and band together. You can sit around the campfire and tell each other stories about the good old days. Or, we can all embrace the changes and mature into the people that, I believe, God intended.

What do you think about this? Should men and women fill different roles in society? I’d love to hear what you have to say.


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