Can Masculinity Be Non-Toxic?
I’m about to make a statement that I genuinely believe everyone deep down knows to be true, even as its obviousness is now being systematically scrubbed from the collective consciousness of those in our decidedly post-modern, post-Christian culture.
It’s going to be controversial. It might even make some folks mad. It might get me labeled as a bigot. But deep down, we all know that none of those things will make it any less true.
Are you ready for my controversial, possibly riot-inciting statement? Here it goes:
Men and women are different. And those differences are not just biological.
There, I said it. But you already knew that, didn’t you? So why is that this simple admission is so important, especially for people of faith? Allow me to explain.
I taught high school/middle school for 6 years. The young men and women that I taught, for the most part (again, not all, but for the most part) lacked positive feminine or masculine role models in their lives. In other words, they had no idea what it meant to grow up as a man or a woman. In certain cases, dad wasn’t at home or was completely out of the picture, and mom was an alcoholic or abusive (or a victim of abuse). So these young men and women were forced to look elsewhere to find out who they were supposed to be.
On one end of the spectrum, there were well-meaning figures that gave exceptionally vague, androgynous answers about what it meant to be male and female in the name of not wanting to hurt feelings and wanting to include everyone.
However, those voices were usually outshouted and out-preached by television, movies, video games, pornography, pop/hip-hop music, social media, and online content that preached to them every day about what it meant to be a real “man” or a real “woman,” and usually that involved a highly sexualized, over-exaggerated caricature of manhood or womanhood.
“Real men” drove trucks, watched sports, shot guns, and proved their masculinity by the number of women they were able to bed. “Real women” were subtle but aggressive in how they used their sexuality like a powerful weapon to control and manipulate.
So which voices won? The voices that told them there are no real differences between guys and girls and we can just grow into whatever we want to be?
Or the ones that confirmed, that yes, there are differences, but which gave misconstrued and abusive definitions of what those differences actually are?
I’ll let you take a wild guess.
We’re at a critical crossroad as Christians. We have a choice to join our post-modern culture and dismiss gender roles as bygone relics from oppressive societies that have no use in our progressive, enlightened era. For the sake of being accepted and relevant, we can try to label gender roles as simply constructs of the collective imagination of the oppressive patriarchy and nothing more or nothing less than that. But try as we might, they won’t be dismissed and they’re not going away.
Why? Because Genesis 5:2 tells us that, “He [God] created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them ‘Mankind’ when they were created.” Jesus would later echo this in Mark 10:6 when He declared that “at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female’.”
They’re not going away because they were made and given to us by God.
This leads me to believe that there is a beautiful design from God when it comes to who we are as men and women, and that design is far more than biological. We can either recognize this beautiful design and redeem it, or allow a corrupted, sinful version of what it means to be masculine or feminine disciple the next generation.
Porn, fringe activist groups (like the “Proud Boys,” an exclusively male political organization that swears in members under the oath, “I’m a proud male chauvinist who refuses to apologize for creating the modern world”), and hyper-sexualized and hyper-violent media disciple young men each and every day with false and toxic versions of masculinity.
And because churches and Christian leaders are terrified of being labeled as antiquated, misogynistic, and patriarchal, we’re talking less and less about true, biblical masculinity. Admitting that masculinity exists and celebrating it isn’t the same as promoting sexist and chauvinistic mindsets.
Is promoting masculinity among men the same as degrading women?
Recognizing and celebrating masculinity is not the same as deprecating and undervaluing women. Women should be properly celebrated, recognized, honored, and given proper credit for their contribution to society, the home, and the church. We have failed to do so in the past, and by God’s grace women are now being given opportunities in our generation like never before.
Women should be honored and celebrated as beautiful, valuable and equal in every way to men because they are made in the image and likeness of Almighty God. But we can also (and we should also) celebrate men. To do so is not to disrespect women. There are many strong, courageous, competent, and honorable women that we praise God for and pray that our daughters will grow up to be like.
But by and large across all cultures, ethnicities, and generations of human history (as evidenced by masculine archetypes appearing in literature, history, and societal understandings), there are attributes that men tend to value in themselves and in each other more so than do women. While strength, courage, competence, and honor are not exclusive to men, we as men tend to place a higher premium on these things. To acknowledge this reality is not to denigrate or belittle women, but rather to recognize the obvious (no matter how many still choose to deny it).
Again, attributes like strength, courage, competence, and honor are not exclusive to men. But they are what every man values most in themselves and in other men. Teaching our sons and discipling the men in our congregations about true masculinity is critical for the spiritual health of our homes, churches, and communities. When we teach and model to our men that being a man involves so much more than hunting, drinking beer, driving a truck, bedding multiple women, eating bacon, and watching football, we must have agreed upon values and principles to point them to of true masculinity.
Teaching our sons and discipling the men in our congregations about true masculinity is critical for the spiritual health of our homes, churches, and communities.
Acknowledging the reality that masculinity places a higher value on certain attributes also asks the cultural question of the hour: is it alright for us to recognize the clearly observable differences between what we all know is seen as masculine and what we all know is seen as feminine and celebrate them?
The Great Hypocrisy
To any who might answer that question with a resounding “No,” let me frame another question. Why in our society when a man decides he is going to identify as a trans-woman, or a woman decides she is going to identify as a trans-man, do we celebrate when they begin to participate in things of a masculine or feminine nature?
When a biological male who identifies as a woman wears make up, high heels, and enjoys women’s fashion, our culture applauds them for their courage and for being true to themselves. We rarely (if ever) raise an issue with them reinforcing gender stereotypes of it being primarily women who care about those things. When a biological female who identifies as a man dresses in baseball caps, drinks beer, and becomes a diehard fan of a sports team, our culture cheers them on for their bravery. But we don’t call them out for reinforcing the stereotype that masculinity means drinking beer and watching football.
In other words, as a culture we are all about gender roles being more than biological.
Transgenderism confirms this in the most obvious and blatant ways possible. Someone that is born a man but feels like they are a woman is screaming out that there is a role he wishes to play that is more than simply biological.
We seem to have no trouble at all recognizing that “feminine” and “masculine” actually are agreed upon, do in fact mean something, and can be celebrated. However, we seem to have a hard time recognizing those things when they apply to those who identify as their biological sex.
Why? Perhaps there are more reasons for why than we even know, realize, or have ever bothered to consider. But perhaps our reticence to embrace celebrating masculinity for biological men comes from the “toxic” (there, I said it!) caricatures of manliness that have been passed off for true masculinity and created untold damage to marriages, families, and churches alike.
For example, caricatures like, “Boys don’t cry.” We’ve created a mythology that says real men don’t get emotional and any man that does is effeminate and should feel shame. This toxic lie creates untold emotional and relational trauma to countless men as their wives, children, and brothers in Christ struggle to connect and relate to them emotionally. The idea that real men don’t cry is a delusion accepted only by men without enough courage to face their emotions. If weeping is a sign of weakness, then the great men in the Bible who wept before God (David, Joseph, Job, Peter, John, Paul) and even Jesus Himself (John 11:35) were wimps and cowards.
The idea that real men don’t cry is a delusion accepted only by men without enough courage to face their emotions.
Or, “Real men do manly work and leave the house work for the woman.” This caricature of manhood usually is passed down generationally and relegates things like cleaning, cooking, dishes, and childcare as tasks only for women while carpentry, construction, lawn care, and outdoor manual labor are reserved only for men. This is not only a gross and legalistic oversimplification of what it means to be male and female, it completely ignores the fact that some men may prefer to do the cooking in their families while their wives may be more gifted in carpentry. Working in the kitchen doesn’t make a man any less masculine.
On the contrary, one could argue that a man who works hard in the kitchen to provide dinner for his hungry family is far more masculine than the dude that sits in the recliner with his beer and does nothing to help his wife who is forced to perform certain tasks completely absent from her dim-witted husband–tasks that he has deemed as feminine.
Or how about this one, “The greatness of a man is measured by his success on the ball field, his prowess in the bedroom, or the size of his billfold.” In other words, performance equals value. Therefore, a man’s competence, mastery, or dominance over other weaker men in a certain area of life earns him his worth. While this may be a mindset that achievement-oriented men may naturally gravitate towards, this outlook is decidedly anti-gospel. The gospel tells us that our identity as sons of God is a gift to be received, not a task to be achieved (Gal. 3:26). The gospel compels us to be considerate of and encourage weaker brothers (Rom. 14, 1 Cor. 8), not to view them as competition to be crushed.
God has uniquely designed men with a specific purpose and given them a role to play within their home, marriage, family, and church. The problem is that many of us don’t know our purpose and we don’t know our role–so we take cues from culture or from those around us about what it means to be “a man.” Caricatures of masculinity get passed off as true manhood; our culture then rejects those caricatures (sometimes rightfully so); and then true, Biblical masculinity doesn’t get talked about for fear that it will be rejected too.
There are huge, cataclysmic consequences for us being too bashful to talk about godly masculinity. The suicide rate among American men is four times higher than among women. Although depression is higher in women than men, only around 25% of men surveyed who had depression sought any help. Sixty-four percent of Christian men view pornography at least once a month (men who regularly view pornography have a 300% increase in their marital infidelity rate). Men are less likely to attend church, pray, or view their faith as very important in their lives than women.
When we fail to challenge our men to step up into their God-given role and calling as men, we fail them. And in failing them, we fail their wives, children, and the generations to come who need strong, godly, men who will display what true masculinity looks like.
Men, your role is to be the spiritual leader of your home and to lead your wife and your children as you yourself submit to God’s authority. You display the image of God by showing what Jesus looks like in how you serve and love your wife (Eph. 5:25) and what God the Father looks like in how you love, protect, provide, and raise your children.
True masculinity means being selfless. Ephesians 5:25 commands husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” That means that the kind of love Jesus shows us is the kind of love that men are called to show our wives and families. Christ’s love towards us is selfless: He “gave himself up“ for His bride the church as He went to the cross. Therefore, the Bible calls men to give themselves up and lay down their lives for those around them. That means their pursuits, hobbies, interests, desires, and what we want all come after our spouse and families.
That‘s real manhood. Real, godly men are selfless and sacrificial, not self-seeking.
True masculinity means being humble, temperate, and self-controlled.
Nowhere in the Bible is a man encouraged to be an “alpha male” who puffs out his chest and takes charge to get what he wants–be it from a workplace or a woman. On the contrary, we’re encouraged to consider others more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3), to discipline our bodies and bring them under control (1 Cor. 9:27), and to be gentle and self-controlled in all that we do (Gal. 5:23). A man with no control of his vices or urges is no man at all, but only an overgrown boy who can shave.
A man with no control of his vices or urges is no man at all, but only an overgrown boy who can shave.
True masculinity means putting away childish things. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” Biblical manhood involves being willing to grow up, accept the responsibilities of adulthood, and put away our childish impulses. It means that real men are willing to work hard, communicate in a mature and productive manner, and stop making everything about them.
True masculinity means respecting, honoring, and valuing women as joint heirs with Christ. In God’s beautiful design, He has created men and women differently, and yet with equal value, dignity, and worth. 1 Peter 3:7 tells men to “show women honor and respect as a fellow heir of the grace of life.” That means things like physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse are heinous violations of God’s word and commands. Things like denying a woman’s civil rights, forbidding her education, or devaluing her perspective, viewpoint, or opinion are also breaking God’s charge on us as men to honor and respect women. Even subtle things like misogynistic, disparaging comments made about women that are shrouded in humor disrespect and defile the image of God. Real, godly men respect and honor women.
True masculinity means being selfless.
The stakes are high.
I want my two sons (Aden and Judah) to be discipled in the truth of what it means to be a godly, Jesus-loving, sacrificial, responsibility-embracing, woman-respecting man of God. But I know that if I fail to do my job as their father, the toxic caricatures will step in and disciple them into distortions of masculinity. Men, this is why we must be in the Word, on our knees, and in the lives of our brothers in Christ and sons in the faith.
Masculinity doesn’t have to be toxic. But we need men of God to live it out.