Ma’am, please don’t think less of me with my pressed suit and soft hands and opening doors…

Continued from part 1.

Now what is the point of all of that in part one?  One, men have more work to do to resist stereotypes and get to the brass tacks of real masculinity.  Two, we get to reframe the discussion about men and women.  Are they the same or are they different?  Yes and yes.

Try walking into the locker room of a sex that is not your own and see the reaction.  Expect to be arrested.

Men and women are different.  We have different bodies.  And our bodies inform how we move in the world and some of our responsibilities.  Women give birth.  That’s one of their gifts to the world.  Men usually have more upper body strength.   That is their gift to the world.  Neither of these say one is “over” another or “better” than another.  They just have different gifts.  Women are better at protecting their men from other women.  Men are better at protecting their women from other men.  Both protect, but often in different ways.  We should celebrate the differences.

Men and women are also the same.  Some don‘t want to admit this, fearing that if men and women are too similar than heterosexuality is at risk.  Some put men and women on metaphorical planets (Men from Mars and Women from Venus) to widen the gap.  Many joke that the opposite sex simply cannot be understood.  Maybe not understood because stereo-types never lead to new discoveries.

Yet, men and women both have minds, wills, and emotions.  We can both reason, feel, make choices.  We shop for groceries, take tests in schools, run companies.  For a long time, you’d think that men were given the mind (absent emotions) and women were given the emotions (absent the mind).  Drop that formula into the Enlightenment Era that respects the mind and disregards the emotions and you suddenly see reasons to think women inferior.

In the Apostle’s day, women were to be treated “as the weaker vessel.”  This was a matter of the body, not of the soul.  And honor was due for her weaker body for she had gifts to use with a weaker body that could be more powerful than a man’s!  A classic car is more delicate than a tank, but each have a powerful purpose.  No one doubts that most women are physically weaker than most men, but to regard with honor…?  A woman is more easily physical abused than a man (nearly all violent is men against women).  Gentlemen were aware of this, hence they were “gentle.”

Today, in many churches, the quality of “gentle” is relegated to women and men with soft hands who are less masculine.  I heard a popular pastor say men are “sissies” who do not like Ultimate Fighting.  In my talks to males around the country, nearly all of them, after a private survey, associate “gentle” with femininity.   That assumption is lodged in a masculine myth.   For the Apostle Paul, “Gentle” is a Fruit of the Spirit, for both men and women.  Paul would not fit into our current views of masculinity very well.

Many men are good leaders.  Many are not.  Many women are good leaders.  Many are not.  Based on today’s literature for men, you’d think all men are good leaders, called to it (!).  And all women are not.  And when there are exceptions staring us in the face, the new caveat morphs into a back-pedal.  Well, men are good leaders in the home and women are not.  And if we see not all men are good leaders, even in the home, a further backpedal: men are spiritual leaders.  The literature keeps punting “leadership” for men back further and further, until the words mean very little.

In a recent classroom discussion with guys, they defined spiritual leader as someone who is a good example and loves his family.  That sounds like something women are called to also.  And in none of the definitions could I find a clear view of leadership, beyond initiating family prayer time (cannot the mother/wife initiate this?)  Yet, the word “leader” somehow matters to men, to preserve male identity.  Men need the word “leader,” they think.  If there is one thing that men seem to hold onto with fever is being the power-broker.  They will give up their upper-body strength, their smarts, their emotional power, (all of these could be natural gifts from God), as long as they can stay in charge (which is not a natural gift… and do men automatically know what’s best by virtue of being male? As a male, I would hope not).  Instead of looking more deeply as masculinity, we’ve landed on the very thing that is the male problem since the judgement of Eden: we need power as part of our identity.  We forget being a power-broker was the result of the Fall, not a result  of God’s design.  We need to learn to explore the metaphor of washing one another’s feet without needing the last word.

And with power and control assigned to men because of their sex, women become, by virtue of the fact, an inferior sex.

There is another way for masculinity, out of the power-trap.  Thankfully.

What if God wanted men to be equal partners with women instead of superior to them?

Are men and women different, yes.  But a better day for men and women must mark the real differences and challenge our unhelpful (and often non-Biblical) norms.  We must strip off stereotypes from each other and notice one another, celebrating what we have in common and not exaggerating our differences.  One difference we will not find is inferiority of one or the other.  That is not what it means to be made in God’s image, male or female.

Could this be why novels like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre receive a high applause from women? These are stories of a better kind of romance: where man and women–met with unequal social conditions, unequal financial standings, and unequal bodies–meet one another with equal souls.

For men, that’s is where we must begin.

Photo credit: Squidoo