When I was in middle school, my favorite comic book character was The Mighty Thor. He was the muscular, hammer-wielding embodiment of strength, fertility, and healing. He was a protector of mankind and a rescuer of underdogs, and I always found that concept attractive. But there was also a measure of rebellion in choosing this particular mythological hero.
It may seem silly, but I thought his most impressive feature was his long, golden hair. I’d been taught that boys and men should not have long hair. For the first time in my young life, I found myself in opposition to a masculine myth.
Mythology is a collection of myths that usually come from cultural or sacred traditions and stories. Like mythology, modern masculinity is a compilation of learned cultural behaviors and stereotypes rather than the result of God-intended individuality.
I felt conflicted as a young man because I thought my deep feelings and flowing tears, and my desire to wear a bracelet and have a close male friend, were taboo and not welcome in the kingdom of godly manhood.
The television shows I watched, Christian books I read, and the world I lived in told me I wasn’t manly.
I’ve struggled against the myth that masculinity is defined by athleticism, brawn, hunting, toughness, and love of cars.
What if you love art, tenderness, creativity, or a “song in the color pink”? What if you don’t fit the narrow cultural parameters of manhood? Is there something wrong with your masculinity?
These oversimplified generalizations of gender attributes and differences are called gender stereotypes. These stereotypes can be positive or negative, but they often fail to communicate accurate information.
Even with evidence to the contrary, we are often guilty of applying these gender assumptions to others.
Here are just a few of the culture-driven masculinity myths that prompted me to ask, “Hey God, did you mess up when you made me?”
They told me I wasn’t manly because:
1. Men Are Not Emotional
I am a man, but I am also an outwardly-emotional individual. Like David in the Bible, I don’t mind being vulnerable, open, and real. My passion and compassion flow through my tears. I have learned that they do not hinder my manliness but rather, they enhance my passion for serving others and doing ministry.
Not every man is outwardly-emotional, but I wonder how many young boys and men have been hurt because we encourage them to suppress their true feelings and not verbalize their emotions.
In rejecting this myth, we tell boys and men that it’s okay to show and share their true feelings. We need to teach our sons that it takes real courage to shed a tear and let someone else in.
2. Men Are Sports-Fanatics
I like periodically attending a baseball or hockey game and I enjoy a televised football game a couple times a year, but I much prefer to read, write, or create. Truth is: we need good and honest examples of men in all shapes, sizes, and styles.
Some men prefer a trip to the art museum over a car show or hunting store. Some of us would choose a drama film over an action/adventure flick. Some of us enjoy watching a cooking or interior design show over a basketball game.
None of these preferences mean we’re not “masculine” or that we need to “man up.” We are all created as individuals beyond gender roles and stereotypes. We’re all searching for what makes us feel passionately.
3. Men Are Sex-Crazed
They told me that men are driven by their sex drives—it’s always on their minds and they can’t control it.
As a young man I thought there was something wrong with me because I didn’t experiment, crave, or conquer.
What are we doing to our men when we tell them that this is what’s expected? And what about those of us who would rather cuddle, receive a bouquet of flowers, or wrap up in a blanket under the moonlight?
We set men up for all kinds of issues when we buy into this myth. We encourage filthy talk and reduce women to sex objects, taking away their dignity. The epidemic of men looking at pornography is another consequence of this myth.
But we can’t address these issues if we teach our young men that’s it’s just the way they think—“boys will be boys,” after all.
4. Men Are Substandard Nurturers
All men value their careers and are driven by money, because they must be the providers or bread winners, yes?
I was told this so much that when I couldn’t provide enough for our family to survive and my wife had to work (and sometimes bring home a bigger paycheck than myself), I felt like a failure.
Is it any wonder that many men take their own lives in the midst of economic crises? I believe this happens because men are taught that their manliness is determined by the size of their paycheck.
And then, it brings up the idea of nurturing. Mothers are amazing, but some of us guys are wonderful at supporting our children and fostering love and acceptance. It can be a joint effort, yes?
I’m seeing more and more men embrace spending time with their children and making family a priority. Many men are becoming stay-at-home dads and are finding fulfillment in doing so.
So give us all a chance to nurture our children. We might surprise you!
5. Men Are Self-Sufficient
My world taught me that men are independent and don’t need encouragement from their wives or other men. But it’s so untrue. To need or want love or support from a spouse or friend is not a bad thing.
God’s love is brought to full expression when we receive his love and can fully express that love to others in our lives, and that includes other men.
However, men have been taught to be afraid to be transparent, real, and/or affectionate with other men because of the social, cultural, and even “Christian” restrictions on men seeking community.
We can’t do it on our own and we were never meant to.
6. Men Are Slobs
If I had the money, I would have a closet full of shoes and a drawer full of Happy Socks! Fortunately, young men are becoming more comfortable with sporting their own style.
Being tidy or well-groomed is not a gender trait. Some of us—many of us—do care about how we look.
When it comes to style and appearance, men and boys are struggling more and more with self-image issues. Magazines and other media display so many “perfect” male specimens that many of us have begun to second-guess our worth.
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.
I used to keep it all inside—my questions, confusion, pain, struggles, and fears. That time is over.
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.