It seems like, if Strong Towers is to operate in the realm of building men up, then we will at least occasionally need to address the current cultural battle we face simply by being men.
This is not something incredibly new, but the offensive raging against masculinity does seem to be picking up steam. And let’s face it, if you follow current events at all, we aren’t doing ourselves any favors. But for a while now popular culture has portrayed straight male characters mainly in one of two stereotypes - the chauvinist or the bungling fool. Both are used as punchlines (sometimes necessarily so, because as much as we don’t like to admit it sometimes we do dumb things, guys!) and are often portrayed as secondary to their female counterparts. Even the Incredible Hulk has been rewritten to need Black Widow to calm the beast inside and stave off his rage-induced transformation, leaving him as the awkward and jumpy Bruce Banner.
But in the last few years, a lot of fuel has been thrown on the funeral pyre of manhood, often under the banner of “toxic” masculinity. Much of it needs to be owned, learned from, and put to good use. Me Too and our current political landscape have shined a spotlight on the reality that we still have a long way to go to reach gender equality. Masculine superiority has been so ingrained in our common psyche that it will probably take a long time before we find ourselves at a place where the women of our society don’t need to fear simply being female. I hope that my son (and daughters) can live in a world closer to that than our own.
We do, however, need to be careful in how we respond to these decidedly negative aspects of the masculine journey. A lot of effort has been put into stamping out masculinity in all forms, not just these darker expressions of it. Some of these reactions even go so far as to emasculate men, teaching them to be better by being more feminine. As if the dog would be its best self by acting more like the cat. Sure, the dog could probably learn a thing or two from the cat, and vice versa, but they both serve different purposes. Instead of pursuing homogeneity as a misguided solution to our culture’s gender imbalance, we should be appreciating the differences that make men and women complementary to one another.
My son and oldest daughter, ages 5 and 3, have for the most part lived in the same house with the same toys their entire lives. We have actually worked hard at having them not claim possessions as their own, mainly as an exercise in sharing (and as a way to decrease the incessant bickering!). Both of them love to build and create, to dance and sing, to read and make-believe. My son loves to play with cars and trucks and spends time doing so everyday. My daughter couldn’t care less, even though we have bought “girly” cars as well. And my son really doesn’t care about the dolls (I will admit to having a hard time counting action figures in that category) we have, many of which were given to us to help both of them prepare for, and adjust to, having their baby sister join the family. This is not to say that I am locking my children into some antiquated gender role, quite the opposite. We have a friend who is a male nurse and another who is a female senior executive at a major international corporation. I hope that my parenting leads them to be secure enough to chase after whatever their passions are.
We made the decision for my wife to stay home when we had children, and not because of some notion that I needed to be the primary breadwinner or because that’s just what good Christian women do. We were actually both employed as teachers, both making about the same salary (I started a few years earlier than she did), and both just as invested in being the best parents we could. It was the right decision for us because of our two personalities, my wife would have had a harder time accepting the sacrifices that would have to come in both of her worlds if she was mom and teacher at the same time. That’s not because she is a female, it’s because she is who she is. While she stayed home, I worked with lots of fantastic female colleagues who were doing just that. And we have couple friends who have both stayed on the job once the kids came. More than one of them have even taken steps to shift the lionshare of homemaking, for lack of a better term, to dad while mom pursues her career. I think it’s refreshing to think we live in a world where this will become more commonplace.
If we want to find the fix for all of the wrongs that masculinity has visited upon the world, I don’t think we look for it by stamping out what makes us men. Instead, I think we need to teach, and strengthen, and reinforce what it is that we are supposed to do with our masculinity. Let’s address the epidemic that is fatherlessness in our country right now. Or the fathers who are present and still end up blowing it with their kids because they never had fathering modeled for them. Let’s hold up for recognition examples of what real men look like, not those that are chasing the spotlight or making a power grab in a leadership vacuum. Where are men of integrity, who are who they say they are in public and private? It may take us awhile to trust them, especially since we don’t have the best record when it comes to choosing who to look to as role models, but we need them. We need the politician without skeletons in their closet, the business leader without the secret life, the athlete without the revolving door of model girlfriends. We are fascinated by them all, their stories draw us in, but they point us in the wrong direction.
My son and daughter love playing with each other. But as siblings often do, they can get on each other’s nerves. Cue the yelling and the hitting (and spitting, and stomping, and tears, and tantrums, and whatever other ridiculousness goes through their brains). My son is old enough now that we’ve gone beyond just a simple reprimand for poor behavior and we are having (short) reasoned conversations with him about handling his emotions, making better choices, etc. One of the things I am conscious to do is not diminish the way he is feeling in that moment, even if it is anger. The emotion isn’t the problem, the way he ends up using it is. The fact is that right now he is bigger and stronger than his sister (I can definitely see that going the other way at some point though, she is one tough little girl!) and he could overpower and hurt her. He’s also smarter and more experienced than she is, and so his five year old powers of manipulation are more practiced than her three year old ones. Those advantages are neutral, meaning in and of themselves they are neither good nor bad. It is up to him to decide how he is going to put them to use. My hope is that I am training him to point those weapons in the right direction. God has made him the oldest, the one who goes before his siblings. And God has given him a strength for that role. He has, and will continue to develop a physical and emotional fortitude that is supposed to serve him well throughout his life. But more importantly, it is supposed to serve others well.
So let’s be men! But let’s be men of honor, of integrity. Let’s be men of strength, but also men who put that strength to its proper use. Let’s be men who model what masculinity looks like to the next generation, men who leave society a better place than we found it. Unfortunately, it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the bunch, so those of us trying to do it right have to work that much harder. But in the end, it will be worth it. Let’s be the kind of men our wives, and sons, and daughters need us to be. Let’s reclaim masculinity, not for our sake, but for theirs.