Are traditional gender roles part of our DNA, or produced and directed by culture? The differences between men and women go far beyond anatomy, right to our very souls. Yet men share many basic needs with women, such as the need for emotional intimacy and transparency, the need to love and be loved, and the need for purpose and meaning. Beneath our cultural costumes, men and women are more alike than different.
But the cultural role we play as men affects whether and which of these needs are met. Rough-and-tumble little boys can become relationally closed and competitive men and resist appearing affectionate, gentle, kind, expressive, relational, emotional, understanding, submissive, and nurturing for fear they’ll be judged less than manly.
Here then is a source of masculine anger. Men are trying to live out the stereotypical role of being rough-and-tumble, self-sufficient, and independent, and in so doing many of their most basic needs are going unmet. Conversely, if a man opens himself to others to address those needs, he may think of himself or be thought of by others as unmanly. We’re in a double bind. And the discontentment and frustration can easily degenerate into anger.
Cultural expectations concerning what a man should be and how a man should act often leaves him feeling unsure about his societal role in general. But, how might this affect the way men relate to women in particular?
Many men who succeed in conforming to the masculine stereotype for too long stand in danger of developing what psychologists call ‘mascupathology.’ Don’t be frightened by this high-sounding term. It’s not difficult to understand. What it describes is the extreme trouble some ‘macho’ types have getting comfortable with women. These men are tense and on guard, and can’t let down their masculine edge. They’re so intent on displaying their gender before the opposite sex that they can’t seem to be friends with women, even their sisters, daughters, and wives.
This isn’t all that rare. I’m sure many of you listening today struggle at some level with ‘mascupathology.’ If you’ve found that my description sounds a bit like you, I encourage you to make a change both, for your sake and the sake of the female loved ones in your life. Begin by understanding the cultural myths of masculinity that may be blocking you from addressing some of your basic emotional needs. If you fail to grasp the conflict between myth and reality with regard to your masculinity, you’ll never be able to get to the cause of your anger and discomfort. I’ll be talking at length about these myths in the days ahead.
How can men begin breaking through the masculine myth of ‘you-are-what-you-do’ and see that their true identity is in Jesus Christ. Once you grasp that, you can begin relating to other people, especially other men, apart from what they do. We must open up our schedules, set aside our Day-Timers, and get to the business of allowing our identity in Christ to liberate and transform our human relationships.
A friend named Nathan meets each week with a group of four other men to do what men rarely do. They purposely avoid talking about what they do in order to talk about who they are and how they feel. They’re learning to peel away the layers of ingrained masculine facade; to give and receive the nurture, affirmation, and encouragement they desperately need but are often too ‘manly’ to seek.
Recently Nathan shared a painful issue with his friends. His father lays dying in a nursing home. He’s incapacitated. His mind is totally gone. Nathan visits him, and helps dress and care for him. What he wants more than anything is to hear these words from his father before he dies: ‘Nathan, you’re a good son.’ But he knows he never will.
Nathan’s friends let him share these painful and vulnerable feelings, and offer consolation and encouragement as he deals with his pain and loss. There aren’t many men who function together as these five do. But that can change. And perhaps you’ll be part of that change.
– Steve Arterburn