Masculinity is good and not all men are toxic

“Masculinity” just means qualities that are characteristic of a man. But these days it has become a bit of a dirty word. This is partially understandable:

  • Most women have been at the arse-end of what has commonly been called “toxic masculinity” for an awful long time – that is everything from arrogance and casual sexism to misogyny and abuse.
  • The women’s movement is still relatively new (I talked about it a few weeks ago. You can read it here if you want to suss it out) and so we still have a lot of pretty poor attitudes, assumptions and behaviors towards women that have been institutionalised in our culture. For the longest time, we have been culturally numb to these, thinking its OK or doesn’t matter. But now, people are calling it out louder than before.
  • What erupts on social media is a reaction to hundreds of years of things that are not OK. Its a reaction to the feeling of not having had a voice before, or not being heard before, or just not plain being listened to before.

What happens then is that we have swung the pendulum towards all masculinity being bad and all men being jerks. This is just not the case.

What I want to see being part of the conversation is what real men look like, and what good masculinity looks like.

We might fall into the trap of thinking that all masculinity should be eradicated. But I don’t think this is what most women – or our culture – wants. We want our men to be grown ups. We want out men to be real men. But what does a real man look like?

Our culture actually celebrates what a real man should look like. The Marvel Universe movies have been some of the biggest and most popular movies in our generation. And what is aspirational in these movies is the men of character. In these movies we celebrate Captain America as the quintessential man. He is strong and powerful – but he is gentle and uses his power and strength in the service of others. He is humble, protective, principled, he has integrity, self-control, passion and a sincere sense of responsibility with no hint of complaint or resentment.

What we might not realise is that we have plenty of examples of just this kind of man in our day-to-day lives already – they just might not look like Captain America, and they might not be able to keep up that superhero character 24/7. But they try, and they self-reflect and they grow.

We should celebrate this. We should celebrate them.

Because that, in my opinion, is what a real man looks like. He is strong and he is powerful but he uses it for the good of others, in the service of others – not for his own glory or pride.

Does this sound familiar? It should. As Christians we have the picture of manhood: Jesus was the most powerful man ever to have lived. Yes, he is fully God, but he is also fully man. And as a man he, as the most powerful, did not relinquish or give up his power. He used his power for the salvation of the world.

When I say “power” here, I don’t mean like his superpower. I mean, on the cross, as a man, he used his power to die.

Just pause there and think about that.

God created man. And it was good. But after the fall, we all suffer from, and struggle with, sinful behavior. We will never be perfect until we get to finally relax in heaven. Until then, there will be good men and there will be bad men. There will be good women and there will be bad women. It is incumbent on us, with the help of the Spirit, to be active participants in our discipleship and growth in Christ-likeness.

Women – a discipleship journey does not preclude us from calling out crap behavior. But it means we should do it with love and grace.

Men – that means not being a jerk (you can read more about that here too). There is such a thing as toxic masculinity. But we have good men in our midst who should be celebrated for it. And we can help them use their power in the service of others. I know great men who you might call “feminist” in that, they choose to use their power and strength in the service of women – lifting them up, calling out crap behavior when its directed at them, respecting them, protecting them, working shoulder to shoulder with them, being aware (or actively learning) what women face, working to change institutional and cultural numbness to the plight of women, listening to them.

These are great men and we should not tar them with a “all masculinity is toxic” brush. Men are good. Masculinity is good. But like all things, good things can be made bad when mishandled or subject to pride and arrogance.

I want to celebrate our good men. I want them to be men. I want them to be masculine. Because I want us to be in conversation. This is a long game. If we are to change the kind of culture that results in terrible behavior towards women, we need men on our side. This is not a game to be played in opposition – nor should it be. We are co-workers in this life. We were created to be co-workers and it’s where we can be at our best, or our worst. I would like it be be at our best.

 

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