After writing a lot on relationships and the role of women in the last few months, I felt it appropriate to share a little on the issue of masculinity. So in the next few weeks we’re going to be having a series here on this issue – including a guest post next week, with the female perspective on masculinity.
When writing on masculinity there’s always a danger that you can be accused of being under-qualified. In the church even more so – as a single man in his 30’s it can be easy, both culturally and in a church context, to be seen as not a ‘real’ man because I’m not married.
This kind of sums up the point I want to discuss – that a lot of what we have been reliably informed is what makes a man a ‘real man’ is not actually Biblical, but just cultural traditions which have come through misinterpretations and misunderstandings of scripture.
This post covers both singleness and masculinity – partially because so often the subjects are linked, especially in a church context and partially because that’s largely my experience – often I’ve felt that because of my singleness, that somehow I’m not a real man, not as masculine as married men – that is partly my perception, but also partly down to the attitudes and language of some people I have met or heard speak on the subject.
You see, there are Christians out there who think there’s something wrong with you as a man if you’re not married or at least engaged – that you aren’t a ‘real man’, or a social exclusion that can happen if you are single and in a minority in your church.
It doesn’t just happen at church either. It happens culturally, in our everyday lives. We have other ways of speaking about it, other language we use, but it’s just the same.
Pub banter – often of a competitive nature – arguments over sport, women, current affairs, and also concerning personal performance in some of these areas, as well as professional performance. Often our definition of what makes a man is who performs the best, whose team is the best, and sadly, in a secular environment, often who has slept with the most or prettiest women. Men who don’t ‘perform’ in any of these areas aren’t deemed as ‘real men’.
Of course, this is all garbage.
None of this is what actually makes a man.
But yet this is what I have been exposed to growing up in a secular society and being part of church since a very young age. I was never told by anyone – at church or culturally, what a man was meant to be, how I was meant to act, what masculinity was.
Often it was assumed or implied, often communicated silently and subconsciously. I’ve heard preaching on the subject – especially from people like Mark Driscoll. Some of it helpful, some of it really unhelpful, to be honest.
Although there are many characteristics which are more obvious and noticeable in both men and women – what we term ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ traits – what I have come to understand is that actually many – in fact pretty much all – of these can be shared between genders.
For example, Driscoll, when talking about men, often talks about ‘real men’ needing to take responsibility for themselves and their families. Now call me Captain Obvious, but aren’t all of us called to take responsibility for our lives and the lives of our family?
Isn’t that something both genders do?
And isn’t a bit insulting to suggest that it’s only men that really display this quality and play this role?
Indeed, women leaders often display characteristics that Driscoll for example would term ‘masculine’ – but the fact is that they have these qualities, these characteristics and gifts, and God made them that way – so what have been termed ‘masculine’ qualities are showing themselves prevalent in a woman.
Many of you will have heard of the new film ‘The Iron Lady’, starring Meryl Streep as the former UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. I may not agree with her politics, but as an example of leadership – especially female leadership - she was incredible.
As a woman leading a very traditional, right-wing political party and then going on to be the longest-serving UK Prime Minister of the 20th century, she was almost unique. Now in achieving this she displayed many what we would call ‘masculine’ qualities – although she definitely brought a unique feminine touch to the role of Prime Minister, without question, there was a degree where she exhibited many qualities we would normally call, ‘masculine’.
A woman naturally displaying masculine traits, as well as feminine ones. Can’t be unique can it?
The reverse often happens too – when a man is sensitive, in touch with their emotions, exceedingly compassionate, these are qualities which are often described as ‘feminine’ – indeed, they are often described as being in touch with their ‘feminine’ side – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that (though some men would probably say or think there is).
Masculine qualities aren’t exclusive to men.
Feminine qualities aren’t exclusive to women.
Masculinity – and therefore femininity too – is beyond gender.
Men can possess feminine qualities, and women masculine ones. I mean, it makes sense doesn’t it? God made men and women in His own image – so God clearly possesses both masculine and feminine qualities.
If He didn’t, women can’t have been made in His image, so sorry to Mark Driscoll, John Piper and all those who can’t stand God having feminine qualities, or say He doesn’t – but it’s the truth.
It’s simple facts.
God has feminine qualities, just as much as masculine ones.
God, let’s be clear, goes beyond gender. He is without, beyond gender. He clearly possesses – if we are made in His image – both what we would call masculine and feminine qualities – though obviously, being God, there are dimensions Him which go beyond both.
The simple fact is, if God doesn’t have feminine qualities, He can’t be God in the first place. It’s simply not possible. God couldn’t make women in His image without He Himself possessing what we call feminine qualities, in abundance.
I am sure a whole host of complientarians and traditionalists are all jumping up in the air right now in annoyance and frustration, but there’s no way out of it.
That means also, if both men and women are made in His image, that we both, men and women, have masculine and feminine characteristics and qualities – and we must acknowledge this, celebrate it and embrace it.
Masculinity and femininity are then, beyond gender. They can be found in both genders – though masculinity may be found more obviously in men, and femininity in women, there are feminine elements to men, and masculine ones to women.
Now this isn’t to say that men and women are the same – because we are clearly different in a lot of ways, and those ways too should be celebrated.
Furthermore, both men and women need guidance on how to navigate who they are as men and women, to help discover their identity and gifting – teaching on gender differences and what it means to be a man and woman of God in the way we were created is very important. There are certain issues, characteristics and qualities than men and women need to face up to and deal with specifically, and taught on at a young age, so that they struggle less with their identities as they grow older and mature.
I know for sure I would have appreciated good teaching on what it means to be a man as I was growing up.
But part of good teaching on being a man should involve how to be in touch with the so-called feminine aspects of our make up, just as teaching on how to be a woman should contain elements on how to be in touch with their masculine qualities.
Not only would that help both men and women better understand themselves, but also one another – and indeed God – better. If all of us did that, then things would be a lot better for everyone, wouldn’t they?
Think of a world where men better understand women and women better understand men – what a difference it would make.
The key isn’t simply teaching men to be more masculine or even defining masculinity. It is simply teaching both males and females more about both, at a young age, and above all accepting that femininity and masculinity are aspects of both men and women – and indeed, aspects of God.
No matter what gender we are, we all need to learn more about both femininity and masculinity – and as we do we inevitably learn not only more about ourselves and each other, but about God too.
That is definitely something worth pursuing.
Now time for you to join the discussion:
Do you agree that masculine - and feminine – qualities go beyond gender?
If you are a single Christian man, have you ever been made to feel second class or less of a man because you are single?
Have you ever had masculinity – or what it means to be a man – defined to you?
What do you think makes a man?
Next week: A female perspective on masculinity
Related posts: The masculine/feminine balance