Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Gender Stereotypes About Men in the Christian Faith Part 2

1 Corinthians 16:13 “ Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”

I made a previous post about how gender stereotypes affect women in the Christian community, now I want to take the time to discuss how it affects men.  Just like women, men too have been subjected to stereotypes on how a man is suppose to be and act among the Christian faith.  Men are expected to be strong, touch, macho, aggressive, courageous, more logical and rational than women and are natural born leaders.  There are other many ideas on what makes a real man.  Real men hunt, enjoy sports, like outdoor activities, are hard drinkers, eat red meat, know how to fight, can take a punch, aren’t soft, too sensitive, don’t show their emotions don’t have any interest in anything that isn’t considered manly.  In fact, if men show a lot of sensitivity or any interest in non-traditional masculine hobbies, he often ridiculed as being weak, gay, a sissy or not real man.  

One example I like to make, is few years back while stumbling upon a British Christian women’s website. A female commentor posted to complain about her husband because he always asked for her opinions when making decisions, offer to wash the dishes, shed a tear when watching a touching film, and did cross stitching(since his mother taught him) and she even implied she was worried that he might be gay because of his hobby, although she declared he wasn’t.  She claimed she didn’t want a man who fluffed her pillows but one who told her what to do and would forbid her from going out with her friends at night.  I felt the description of her husband sounded normal and wondered if she had a skewed view of what a man should be like which was touch, macho and dominant and even considered she was an unhealthy view relationships with men as she basically admitted to wanting to be dominated by her husband.  More surprising, an older female who was member of the website, gave her advice on how to persuade her husband to turn away from cross-stitching and washing the dishes, just in case his actions are the result of the devil.  

Since the end of the 20th century, in the secular society there has been an new phenomenon called the menaissance movement which is meant to combat what is considered the feminized male, the effeminate male, the emasculated male, the wimpy male or the man-child, in which men embrace some traditional male ideals, such as being decisive, assertive, protectors, gentlemen and celebrating the differences between the sexes.  Even in the churches, there is a new masculinity movement to attract more men and combat what they perceive to the church of becoming too feminized with women outnumbering men in attending church.  There was the popular Promise Keepers which started in the 1990s.  Christian comedian Brad Stine started a ministry called GodMen in which men are allowed to display traditional manly traits such as being raw and express themselves in typical male ways and watch videos of karate fights, car chases and listen to a song called “Grow A Pair”.  Even Pastor Mark Driscoll once described Jesus, Paul and John the Baptist as heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes who are also aggressive, assertive and nonverbal.  I even saw a painting on the internet of Jesus Christ having muscles, wearing a T-shirt and Jeans and showing off a tattoo on his biceps. It seems in this movement, is the desire to redefine Jesus Christ to fit into the mold of masculinity built on the traditional cultural ideas of manhood.  

This concept isn’t very original.   In fact, early as turn-off-the 20th century,  former baseball player and Evangelist preacher Billy Sunday founded what was know as Muscular Christianity which was to remasculize the church.  During the Ancient Roman Empire, Christians were being persecuted and accused of being too effeminate, including 3rd century Emperor Diocletian who blamed Christianity for making the Roman Empire weak.  Of course during the 1960s and 1970s, in middle of the popular famous “Jesus Movement” Jesus transformed into a peace-loving, kumbaya-type, namby-pamby hippie.  I don’t follow either of these ideals of Jesus Christ and find some flaws in them.  I view Jesus, our savior as a strong, wise, kind and courageous man who taught about love, peace, patience, humility, forgiveness, to love your enemies and turn the other cheek, who at times was firm and showed anger when justified and other times showed mercy, healed the sick and in the end endured pain and suffering as he was crucified on the cross and died for all our sins.  Jesus also wept in John 11:35, when he was moved by the mourning of the death of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha of whom he and his disciples stayed with.

Regarding Manhood itself, although I understand and even agree with some of the need for the menaissance movement, I'm often conflicted on what I regard as two extremes.  On one side, there is need to bring back the retrosexual male who carry all the traits and characteristics of the old model of manhood based on very rigid gender stereotypes and from a nostalgic era and have little tolerance of anything that is seen as too soft or sissified.  Than on another side, there is a need to take the gender-neutral approach too extreme to the point of wiping out gender distinctions, since gender is considered a social construct.  Men were expected to get in touch with their feminine sides, be more like women, express their emotions like women, some typical masculine traits like aggressiveness, and rough and tumble play among boys is seen as negative. These ideals are based on society cultural expectations placed on males, dating back in the by gone era where boys were taught that “boys don’t cry” , be tough, don’t be too soft, play sports, learn how to fight, dolls are for girls, housework is women’s work.  If a boy took an interest an anything that wasn’t typically boy hobbies they were considered a sissy. 

In today’s post-feministic society, the pendulum swung the other way, where boys are encouraged to play with dolls, and typical boy traits, like playing with toy guns, rough and tumble play are considered too aggressive and some believe even encourage violent behavior when they become men despite experts claiming otherwise.  Even in schools, boys are often penalized for engaging in these types of behavior which led to complaints on how now boys and not girls are more disadvantaged in schools.  In the media or  TV and films, sometimes males are portrayed as the clueless idiot, wimpy guy or the immature man-child which makes one understand even more why the call for the menaissance.  As I stated before in my previous post, I’m aware that men and women do have some differences not just biological but also psychological with their own unique strength and weaknesses.  I also support some traditional manly traits, such as the men being the providers, protectors, defenders, strong, courageous, decisiveness, gentlemen behavior as good core values for men. Yet, I also balance these out with being sensitive, tender, caring, gentle, compassionate, empathetic, nurturing, not afraid to show emotions and express his feelings, allowed to be vulnerable and to cry.  I also believe men should be men, but not the classic 1950s, John Wayne-type of manhood.  Instead, they should embrace their masculinity in their own individual ways.

Since the 1960s and 1970s, when feminism was on the rise, just as women were breaking down barriers, so were men.  Men realized that they also could also go beyond restrictive gender stereotypes and pursue any goals they desire and not just what was considered typical male interests.  They learned it was okay for men to become nurses, ballet dancers, models, fashion designers, learn sewing, knitting, cross-stitching, cooking, poets, stay-at-home dads etc.  Even in the home, men started contributing more in the household chores and childcare as women leaving the home to pursue their own careers or education.  Now men realize that they don’t need to be the only breadwinner, make all the decisions, be macho, throw a punch, avoid any housework or childcare and write them off as women’s work or hold in their emotions and feelings to validate their manhood.  They can be strong, protective, even tough and still be sensitive, gentle, caring, vulnerable, show emotions even cry at the same time.  There are some biblical figures that can be used as examples including in the book of Samuel,  David and his friendship with Jonathan, the son of  King Saul who hugged each other and cried when, David was forced to flee since King Saul was trying to kill him.  In today’s society, more men are just like women, are free from the burdens and constraints of the past cultural expectations placed upon them and can be freely who they are embracing their own individual god-giving skills, gifts and talents and interests/ without judgment or condemnation on what a real man is.  

Most importantly, men should strive to be strong godly men, husbands and fathers who worked alongside women as heirs in god’s kingdom to glorify god and follow Christ, our Lord and Savior.

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