Remember the lyrics from Disney’s Mulan and her battle song “Be a Man“? Her cross-dressing number to “be a man” puts just enough ironic spin on this puzzling command to boys everywhere. How are you supposed to be a man? Swift as a river, force of a typhoon, mysterious as the dark side of the moon. Great. Crystal clear.

Most of us feel the temptation to answer the “How to be a man?” question by exaggerating gender differences. Just be really strong and stoic and aggressive and in control. Don’t cry, be strong, be silent, be powerful. Have we mentioned be strong? It’s kind of important.

Everyone is tempted to make masculinity stronger than femininity.  Christians do it, as well as secularists.

I’ve been dabbling in cartooning lately and noticed it’s a temptation here, too. To make a man look strong you exaggerate his hips (smaller), his biceps (rounder), his chest (wider).  How many male heroes have you seen with big hips? To make a woman superhero, you exaggerate, too. There are no super hero females with AA breasts.

While I am an essentialist (believing differences exist between the sexes), I’m certain there aren’t quite as many differences as some “biblical” forms of manhood and womanhood sketch out. I don’t require men act or look like a super hero to be a “real man”.  I don’t require men to rescue me more than I rescue them. I don’t need my husband to lead me in my spiritual walk or make all final decisions in our marriage. 

If the state of current gender roles bothers you, too, consider joining “Corsets and Ties” this week. We will be LIVE on Soulation’s Facebook page with our first session this Thursday, June 16, 8:45pm MT. I will share why so many women want men to rescue them. Join us to find out how to dissolve current gender myths with some refreshing reminders of what the Bible really teaches. 

Onto my guest post* written by Karl Wheeler, husband, father, pastor whose insight led me to interview him for “God, the Bible, and the Gay Christian” eCourse (enrolling now). His persistent vulnerability as a recovering alcoholic have won my respect in many challenging Christian conversations. Karl is also versed in the strengths and failings of the evangelical culture as he has stood alongside famous leaders evangelicals (both conservative and progressive). He shares below about the troubling legacy of Promise Keepers and American masculinity. Karl will join us in the comments. 

While I have heard a thousand times that men need to start  “having some balls” (a statement I have never fully understood) I have never heard of a woman being admonished to “have some ovaries.” Wouldn’t that make equal sense?

Here is an actual sentence I heard from a Christian leader in a previous church where I worked: “She has more balls than most of you men in this room.”

Translation: She has courage, and as a female that is peculiar; but as men it should come naturally to you. Shame on you for having a woman show more courage than you.

I once spoke at a Promise Keepers (PK) event with 10,000 men in attendance. In fairness, my friend, who PK really wanted to hear from, was unable to speak so he asked me to fill in for him.

The event traumatized me. This is my summary of it:

  • Because you have a penis, you are special.
  • God has a special mission for you–go find some ovaries and get them to see how special you are.
  • Be nice to the ovaries, but remember they want you to “lead them” because ovaries apparently get lost easily.

My last post (Jesus the Wuss) generated some strong reactions, online and offline, alike. The crux of the disagreement over my take on Jesus and masculinity has to do with the perception by some that the church is attempting to emasculate men. I have heard that claim for the past 20 years.

The response to the emasculation of men in the church usually goes something like this — men are supposed to “reject passivity” and develop the following characteristics:

  • a strong backbone–a sense of moral conviction,
  • courage in the face of opposition,
  • the ability to lead by setting a strong example of moral purity and devotion to Christ,
  • taking the initiative in matters of faith
  • a servant’s heart (do “her” job- dishes, cleaning, child-care)
  • a desire to rescue women

REMIND ME, WHY ARE THESE MALE QUALITIES?

They are exactly the same qualities I see in my wife, April, the most important woman in my life. April has on numerous occasions saved my ass. She has swooped in, and with courage, backbone and the ability to rescue has shown me a better way. I would hope that I could return the favor.

I also co-pastor with my friend Kathy Escobar, and on numerous occasions I have seen her face opposition with amazing courage and resolve. I hope I do the same.

I have learned to be sober, chaste and caring by learning from both men and women. If I only learned those things from other men, I would only be half the man I am.

I read, in a very popular book of the last decade, that men are made to be wild and they need a battle to fight, an adventure to live and a beauty to rescue. But don’t women want to overcome, live adventurously, and find someone to love? And about the whole rescuer/rescuee thing, shouldn’t a man at least ask permission before he assumes a woman wants to be rescued? And what happens when a man finds himself in deep doo-doo? Can’t a woman help a brother out?

I never worry about whether I am man enough. It never crosses my mind. I am a man.  That is enough for me. The only common trait I have found among all men is that they all have a penis. Because most men have a certain trait, does not make that trait desirable, exclusive of women or a prerequisite to being a man.

I have never heard my wife complain that I wasn’t manly, only that I was acting like a butthole. In my experience, that condition is common to both sexes.

*originally published at Karl’s blog “Show Some Ovaries