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.
It begins the minute we’re born, well before we’re aware of it. ‘Little boys are made of snips and snails and puppy-dog tails.’ As young boys, we love guns, tanks, racecars, and airplanes. And by the time we reach adulthood we’re thoroughly indoctrinated and well practiced in our culture’s expectations of what a man’s supposed to be’achievement oriented, assertive, autonomous, dominant, confident, practical, unemotional, and strong.
But here’s the problem, this is a lose-lose situation. If we fall short of the ideal, we’re wimps and failures; if we attain the ideal we’ve become a so-called ‘man’ at the expense of being a human being. Dr. Frank Pittman says this:
‘As a guy develops and practices his masculinity, he is accompanied and critiqued by an invisible male chorus of all the other guys who hiss or cheer as he attempts to approximate the masculine ideal, who push him to sacrifice more and more of his humanity for the sake of his masculinity, and who ridicule him when he holds back. The chorus is made up of all the guy’s comrades and rivals, all his buddies and bosses, his male ancestors and his male cultural heroes, his models of masculinity’and above all, his father, who may have been a real person in the boy’s life, or may have existed for him only as the myth of the man who got away.’
Guys, perhaps its time we rethink what it means to truly be a man!
Beneath the surface of many strong, seemingly together, male exteriors are frightened little boys who are still desperately searching for affirmation and validation as a man. If we’re going to be honest, we should admit that’s where a lot of men live today. Many of us are unsure of how to carry off the masculine role, so we hide our fears behind masks of strength because that’s what our fathers did. But when the fa’ade is threatened on the job or at home, the cornered little boy lashes out in anger.
Whether it’s due to divorce, addiction, overwork, or the widespread crisis of fathers who’ve abdicated their roles to others, many of us have, in a very real way, lost our fathers. That’s the source of a great deal of confusion, fear, and anger many of us feel.
If we’re to move forward and experience the redemptive possibilities of God in the future, we must face up to our past. As with any loss in life, a man who experiences a sense of loss in his relationship with his father must grieve. Without proper, healthy grieving the inner hurt is like an open sore’vulnerable to repeated pain and infection, and detrimental to future health.
And the greatest asset a hurting, angry man can have in this situation is a faithful, loving friend. That is, another man who’ll understand him and stand with him as he, with God’s help, rediscovers his masculinity.