Breaking Masculinity Stereotypes

WHAT ARE BOYS MADE OF?

I was a young man who was searching for answers. The subject never came up and I definitely didn’t want to embarrass myself and inquire about the thoughts that permeated my adolescent cerebrum. I wanted to be a “real man” as well as a loving, faithful husband and a dedicated, compassionate father in the future. and so I sought for the answers in the security and privacy of my room from books. My mother could attest to the fact that my bookshelves were adorned with books about parenting and masculinity issues. I wanted to know more about my identity and make sure that my life was pleasing to my Father in heaven. I did not have many good examples and so I sought out answers from others who might be wiser than myself. Despite what many of the books and culture was telling me, I felt accepted and chosen. I was okay with how God created me and I tried my best to make sense of it all as much as I could.

I vividly remember being introduced to one book in particular – a best-selling Christian book that challenged men to recover their God-given and wild self-identity. It didn’t take long before I was disenchanted. I cringed as I read the words on the pages and closed the book mid-chapter two.  I never gave the book a second chance until the age of forty-five. It was then that I finally read the book in its entirety and was pleased to find that the author encouraged men to develop authentic and deep intimacy in small fellowships of the heart; however, I felt the book fell short in properly portraying those of us who don’t fit in to the cultural stereotypical ideal of manhood.

The damage was done early on and I was left confused. What is one to think when the first chapter suggests: A man “needs to have in hand something real – the tiller of a boat, a set of reins, the roughness of rope, or simply a shovel. Can a man live all his days to keep his fingernails clean and trim? Is that what a boy dreams of? Society at large can’t make up its mind about men. Having spent the last thirty years redefining masculinity into something more sensitive, safe, manageable and, well, feminine, it now berates men for not being men.”

I’ve read other Christian book excerpts that suggest that it’s females who are “touched by things that may seem silly to you, like a romantic scene in a movie or a person in need who might make you more suspicious.” According to some, “Christian men are like poodles – once an admirable hunting dog that’s been so housebroken it’s now afraid to get its feet wet.” Not to mention these suggestions of “admirable men”: “David slaying the giant, Samson wreaking vengeance on the Philistines, (and) Moses unleashing God’s plagues on Egypt.” Killing, anger, and destruction – the qualities we all want exemplified by our young men? No way!

Do you remember this rhyme from time past?

What are little boys made of
What are little boys made of

Snips & snails & puppy dogs tails
And such are little boys made of.
What are young women made of
Sugar & spice & all things nice.

Ask yourself: are all boys defined by snails and dog tails? And are all girls sugary nice? Is a boy not truly “all boy” if he is a percentage sugar or spice? The snips in the early nineteenth century nursery rhyme are “little bits of” things with the assumption that it’s the little things found in a boys’ pockets. Bits of string, bits of rocks, bits of shells, bits of sticks, etc. Bits of just about anything you might find in the pockets of little boys.

Think about it. What would we have found in your pocket as a child.

Do those things define you?

I’ve struggled for years with the often common place idea that masculinity is predominantly defined by athleticism, brawn, hunting, toughness, or the pursuit of cars. What if the things in your pocket resembled art, tenderness, creativity, or a song in the color of pink? If you fit in that category of sugar and spice and bits of nice, is there something wrong with your masculinity?

I recently asked other men to share with me what things they would have done differently or would attempt if it wasn’t for our cultural masculinity stereotypes. Here are just a few of their responses:

“I’d listen to pop music more than I do. I’m a hard rock fan – by far that’s my favorite music; however, if it wasn’t looked at weird by other men, I would listen to pop music and play it loud in my car.”

“I enjoy romantic movies. Also, I like to have a bath with Epsom salts sometimes.”

“If it hadn’t been for the stereotypes, when I was younger I would have worn earrings and I’d think it’d be cool to paint my nails at times. Probably not all at one time BUT creatively a painting a couple here and there.”

“I actually love sewing, and cuddles!”

“Let me start by saying I no longer care what other people think. I’m comfortable with who I am. I like to watch romantic movies but I try not to cry during the touching scenes.”

“I watch soaps. I love Lifetime movies.”

“It’s kinda hard to say since a lot of my interests like my music tastes and the type of movies I watch are public and I don’t care what people think about it. I guess for me if I had more money, I’d be very interested in shopping for clothes and having a lot of them which can be seen as feminine? So I’m going to go with that.”

“Just be more free to express emotions. Men feel just as deeply as women do but are discouraged from expressing it. It might just be a glare from another guy or a smirk when a man talks about his feelings.”

“We are not supposed to cry! HA!!”

We call the oversimplified generalizations of gender attributes and differences — gender stereotypes. These stereotypes can be positive or negative and sometimes fail to communicate accurate information. We might all be guilty at times for applying gender assumptions to others regardless of indications to the contrary.

For some, the stereotypical male role may conclude that all males are self-assured, independent, career‐focused, competitive, and keeps his emotions in check (to name just a few). Men are sometimes expected to eschew vulnerability, sensitivity, and nurturing behavior. These kinds of labels can be harmful and may hinder a young man’s growth, expression, creativity, and spirituality.

Is it possible that we are just afraid of that which we do not know or have been preconditioned to fear? For several years now, I’ve asked the hard questions. I pondered if there was something wrong with me. I examined the discourses of books on the topic of masculinity and found excerpts that made me question my identity and God. Did He make a mistake?

What does the Bible say about masculinity? How does society or the church define or dictate our gender stereotypes? Is there room for “boys” like me who don’t seem to fit the macho mold? Have we bought into the snips and snails mentality and other precarious tales? Is there anyone else out there who feels the same way?

The Bible is filled with men of both strength and beauty.

We must reach out to our young men and make sure they find their identity in Christ and not in standards set by tabloid images.

We have been taught that there is only one way to be masculine. We’ve been taught that straying from the “norm” means it’s time to “man up,” hide the tears, and move forward.

Where do these myths leave us?

I believe we live in a world of heartbroken boys, confused adolescent males, and bitter angry men.

We must share our stories, admit our shortcomings, and seek the transforming answers that will eventually bring hope and health to a generation of hurting young men. The church needs us to assess what constitutes true biblical masculinity. Our children need us to evaluate these ideas carefully.

We cannot and must not ignore the statistics that are piling up like lifeless corpses in a land of learned machismo. We must move beyond the myths.

They told me I wasn’t manly. I say I am.

Strapping, rugged, double he-man athlete.
Fearless, daring muscular brawn and strong –
the machismo kind that makes man complete.
Where did the rest of us men go so wrong?

Simple, loving, triple artistic man.
Quiet, creative, shoe lover and geek –
the non-macho kind with paint brush in hand.
What’s wrong with us guys with normal physique?

Momma’s boy? Really! You’ve nothing better?
I may not be a hunter but I still seek adventure.

Don’t judge masculinity by cardigan sweater!
We’re still fathers and lovers and our manhood’s secure.

We’re different than you and yet just the same.
Your silly stereotypes are truly quite lame!

 

 

 

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