by Dale Fincher
I’ve been speaking a lot to men this last year. Ever since Jonalyn wrote Ruby Slippers, they’ve been asking for my Ruby Slippers for Men. Well, I’m not yet up to the task. But I’ve been crafting talks on the modern myths of masculinity.
I am often asked after a talk, “Are men and women the same or different?”
When you reveal false ideas in a worldview, like exposing masculine myths, the mind scrambles for coherance to patch up the missing holes. Sometimes removing one idea can topple a lot of others, like Jenga. This happens when we face our prejudices in the classroom and on the therapist couch. We forget how shocking college was when so many of our ideas were undone and replaced with better ones. This is why many students, arriving home from college to share their new wisdom, are met with resistance. The family never thought about that before and it might mean hard work of shifting how we do things.
If you believe all birds fly and someone shows you an ostrich for the first time, your first inclination will likely be to say the ostrich isn’t a bird. But that would be incorrect. And after a short explanation, you may ask, “Do you even believe in birds? Do you think they are the same as other ground creatures, like zebras?”
Shifting a worldview is painfully hard work, especially about things that matter, like God’s existence and gender identity. But if we care about truth, we have no alternative.
Manhood matters and sits in a crisis of question marks… for a few decades now. In fact, the crisis showed up when second-wave feminism emerged in the 70s with a vengeance (first-wave feminism was a hundred years prior, led by Christians). The early 90s brought the secular men’s movement followed by the Christian men’s movement which relied on the information from the secular men’s movement but baptized it with Bible verses and Christian character.
Don’t believe me? Robert Bly was a big voice in the secular men’s movement. Read Iron John. Then read the leading voice in the Christian men’s movement, John Eldridge. Read Wild at Heart. Notice how often Eldridge relies on Bly to make his case.
Men are wild and untamable. They have wounds. Part of their wounding comes from domestication from women. Boys need to separate from their mothers who emasculate them. Boys need initiation rights to be declared men and go into the woods and shoot guns and have adventures and Bar Mitzvahs and and medieval knighting and stuff.
For many, the masculine narrative has been this: “Evil feminism has feminized men and feminized the church and created a crisis… we need to take back ground and return women to their place.”
Not only is this insulting to women at its very root, but, on my view, feminism did not create a masculine crisis. It revealed it.
The power brokers of our culture, namely white men, did not ask of themselves the questions that feminists asked of women. What does it mean to be gendered and what is my place in this world and how should I use my abilities to better the world? Men had not asked themselves that question in a long time. And when it came to defining women, men usually defined them in lesser terms, those who do “women’s work” (with demeaning tone) and were concerned very little with a female point of view or the female experience in community. As far back as Aristotle, people believed women were as opposite from men as darkness is from light.
So in the modern men’s movement, men had to fumble around for a speedy definition of themselves. They looked back into history and, for the most part, baptized fallen forms of manhood. When I ask male students what it means to be a man, I get two popular answers: men urinate standing up and men do not give birth. Some will say men don’t cry, that men are leaders, that men are bread-winners, that men protect.
Women had a head start in understanding their femaleness. Women’s studies are found at every major university in the country. Men’s studies departments have recently emerged and playing catch up. We have more answers today of what it means to be a woman than what it means to be a man, because women had a head start. Just like in the times of slavery, the oppressed ask the right questions before the oppressors do. Their freedom is at stake.
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