Making Waves: Masculinity & Stereotypes

"Chapter One" Sneak Peek

It was a heart-breaking and dismal day in Folsom, California.  The temperature lingered in the fifties and the bittersweet and cool January afternoon culminated with a sky of green in memory of twelve-year-old Ronin Shimizu. Raj, a fellow Boy Scout, looked up at the green balloons (launched in memory of a friend’s passing) and exclaimed, “Hey Ronin … Don’t look now, but the impact, the waves of your impact across our city’s youth, the waves are just rippling across our schools.”

His life set forth a wave of acceptance, laughter, and compassion wherever he would go. In his death, his life rolled rapids of social media attention toward a problem that had to be talked about — gender stereotyping and bullying. He took his own life but his impact and message must live on.

The word rōnin literally means “wave man” — a free spirited samurai with no lord or master. At his celebration service earlier in the day, tides of intense sentiment filled the room from family, students, and friends packed in Lakeside Church. His best friend Haley shared: “He told me that one day, he’d make my wedding dress . . . but the world doesn’t get to see it now and I don’t get to see it.”

Ronin was a sensitive young man who always followed his heart and it was evident in the room by the many collaborated stories sharing Ronin’s affinity for creativity and love for the arts. He had a passion for fashion, shopping, theater, tap dancing, camping, rowing and cheerleading. Bullying and teasing followed him for years, leading his parents to move him from school after school across town, finally resorting to home school him in the vain attempt to outrun the taunting.

Why does a young man with a passion for the arts and cheering others on have to feel “unmanly” or “gay” if he dreams a different dream and follows his heart? As Christians, are we ready to ask the hard questions about masculinity and stereotypes or are we afraid to share our stories and talk about the delusions and the destruction?

The facts are astounding. Official figures reveal that men are four times more likely than women to commit suicide and the numbers are increasing. Men are bombarded with perplexing messages on gender, identity and image from every side. There are new and impossible standards of male beauty and physique. Many of our men and boys are missing out on strong life-building relationships with other men and remain emotionally bound. Male violence is at an all-time high. Several begin their journeys toward manhood in a land of fantasy “too busy conquering fake lands, looking at fake women, and winning fake championships to follow Christ’s path of self-denying, cross-bearing, service.” [1] Some of our creative liberties, style choices and idiosyncrasies are being misinterpreted as feminine.

Gender issues are permeating our newscasts, television shows and movies. Several books on the matter are abounding in the marketplace. These debates will continue to be at the forefront of our cultural conversations for many years to come. Society begins to see these issues as personal matters because they affect their personal stories.

The word rōnin not only means “wave man,” it is also a native expression that means “wandering man” or someone who is without a home. How dispiritingly on target for the “Ronins” in our homes, schools and “pews.” Filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom reminds us that, “At a young age, boys learn that to express compassion or empathy is to show weakness. They hear confusing messages that force them to repress their emotions, establish hierarchies, and constantly prove their masculinity.” “Our society’s failure to recognize and care for the social and emotional well-being of our boys contributes to a nation of young men who navigate adversity and conflict with an incomplete emotional skill set. Whether boys and later men have chosen to resist or conform to this masculine norm, there is loneliness, anxiety, and pain.” [2]

Yes, we do need a revival of men of conviction, strength, vision, and courage BUT we will not change a thing if we hide behind our own masks of togetherness and toughness. These discussions may cause some waves (and the waves may crash from both sides) but we have to start an ongoing conversation.

Some may believe that we live in a day and age where men are forgoing masculine traditions and becoming less manly. Many men don’t fit the Paul Bunyan or Marlboro Man images. There was a clearly marked “man” code that told us all (at least in our culture) exactly what we had to like and how we had to live. Men felt like their unquestioned dominance was coming to an end. They were so used to the dominating social constructs, that they began to feel insecure. Their definition of “what it means to be a man” was being upended.

Hyper-masculinity became a thing. Dominance, aggression, sexual subjugation and hidden emotion became a “place of refuge” for many. Although many men felt better on the outside, aching turmoil and a loss of identity raged within. Some of us, no matter how hard we might try, just could not fit these hyper-constructs. It just wasn’t who we were. We were stereotyped and considered effeminate.

As I write this book, I am grateful for some of the great strides that have been made in redefining masculinity. The young men I have taught and mentored feel more free to share their feelings to a few, enjoy healthy and life-strengthening relationships with others of the same sex, and are finding their creative “out of the man-box” voices. However, I am devastated because many of them are faced with a new masculinity paradigm. Many of them are left to believe that they are either macho or feminine or gay and there are no other choices. But what does the Bible say to all of this?

Very few question the forms of masculinity they have been taught or “pressured” to conform to along the way and a man or boy’s view of masculinity affects his identity and self-esteem, his mental health and purpose, his interaction with other men, women and children, and his future.

I am not an expert on the subject of masculinity or the Scriptures but rather a student who decided to speak up for the mostly silent.

I struggled for years with the often commonplace idea that masculinity is defined by athleticism, brawn, hunting, and toughness. I wrestled with my “maleness.” At an early age, I began my search for identity and examined the discourses of Christian books on the topic of masculinity and found excerpts that made me question my identity and my Creator. Did He make a mistake?

What does the Bible say about masculinity? How has culture or Christianity defined or dictated our gender stereotypes? Is there room for the boys and men who don’t seem to fit the macho mold? In a world of bullied masculine ideals and expectations, the correct answer is not to “man up.”

Masculinity isn’t something we usually sit down and discuss around a glass of iced sweet tea, but it is an incredibly important conversation. As Christians. 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 and our children need us to think it through. We have to have this talk.

This book was designed to make us think. Isn’t that what Christ did with His parables? He didn’t tell them exactly what they needed to know but rather shared stories, asked questions and left His disciples, the Pharisees or crowds wrestle with the meanings within themselves. He wanted us to have a walk, a journey, a quest of our own. Don’t fear the unknown but rather embrace the possibility that we don’t have it all figured out. There are absolutes and great truths but what do they mean to us, in our time and culture, and how do they make us better men and women in Christ?

Thank you for joining me on my first book writing adventure as I investigate the Scriptures, explore the stories of others, share several contemporary articles and quotes, and continues to ask the hard questions about masculinity. May we continue the dialogue and in so doing, may we find hope and identity in a world of macho stereotypes. Let’s make some waves!

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