TheWar On Men
(Though Women Should Read This Too)
by Ricky Chelette, Executive Director
In the article “The Problem With a Fight Against Toxic Masculinity,” Michael Salter states,
“Amid this heated discourse, newspaper and magazine articles have blamed toxic masculinity for rape,murder, mass shootings, gang violence, online trolling, climate change, Brexit, and the election of Donald Trump.”1
In a nutshell, the media continually tells us that men are the cause of every woe in the world. Masculinity, at least as the world understands it, is under attack, and rightly so.
The Harvard Business Review stated,
“Studies have shown that when men feel that their gender identity is being questioned or threatened, they are much more likely than women to respond by reasserting that identity through aggressive thoughts and harmful, toxic behaviors. A wealth of research has shown that masculinity is among the most fragile of identities, so precarious that even seemingly minor threats can push otherwise-ethical men to lie, cheat, harass, and even commit assault, all in an attempt to prove that they’re “real men.”2
Though we can agree that men can be dangerous and men without discipline and control can be deadly, however, that is also true of women. God gave humankind dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28), and we are responsible for stewarding ourselves, the world, and its inhabitants in accordance with God’s revealed Word. For those who are Christian, it is also evidence of the fruit of the spirit that we should have self-control.3
Toxic Masculinity Defined
But what is all this talk of toxic masculinity? What is toxic masculinity? The American Psychological Association in “The APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice for Boys and Men” defines masculinity as,
“a set of descriptive, prescriptive, and proscriptive of cognitions about boys and men (Levant & Richmond, 2007; Pleck, Sonenstein, & Ku, 1994). Although there are differences in masculinity ideologies, there is a particular constellation of standards that have held sway over large segments of the population, including: anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence. These have been collectively referred to as traditional masculinity ideology (Levant & Richmond, 2007).”4
If you want to know why men have a hard time understanding what it is to be a man, you have to go no further than reviewing the definition above. Notice the choice of words, the inferences to negativity, and the nuances of barbarianism hinted at throughout the definition. Furthermore, there is a wholehearted rejection of “traditional masculinity” without any reference or definition as to what that might be.
No wonder it is difficult for people to define what a man or a woman is. No wonder young boys are drawn to pornography to find out what they think the world says is a man. No wonder gangs and violence are on the upswing while gentlemen are hard to find.
Men are trapped in a vortex of confusion where every traditional understanding of masculine expression has been labeled toxic, dangerous, or something to be programmed out of our psyche.
In an outstanding examination of masculinity, Nancy Pearcy, in her book, The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles The Sexes, examines how we have lost “good men” in our culture and replaced them for the counterfeits of what she and other researches call “real men.” The difficulty is that “real men” are societal perceptions, true social constructs, of what has been portrayed to men as “real.” They conform to the expectations of society while simultaneously being criticized by that society for being abusive, vulgar, oppressive, and privileged. Who can navigate such ambiguity?
We have lost the men of the pre-industrial age, where chivalry, integrity, honor, civility, and decorum were considered the marks of true manhood. Men were taught to be attentive, sensitive, and attuned to those around them. Gentlemen were honored, admired, and emulated. Today, such behaviors are too often ridiculed, scorned, marginalized, and identified as weak.
A More Biblical Definition of Masculinity
In my decades of working with men who struggle with gender identity and their sense of masculinity, I have tried to redirect their false notions of masculinity and what it means to be a “real man” to what it means to be a godly man. I have found that the most life-changing definition of genuine masculinity is the ability of man to speak truth into chaos and give identity and direction. This definition is taken from God’s intentional creation of man in Genesis and His assignment to the first man in the garden. In Genesis 1:19-20 God brings the animals to Adam to be named, and whatever he called them, they were called.
Many wonder how I can get a definition for masculinity out of this passage but take a closer look. God had created all the animals. He knew exactly what they were, as He is God. But God also created Adam to reflect His image in the world. In Genesis 1-2 we see God speak, and things are created: light, night, water, earth, shore, sea, all living creatures, and man. A mere word spoken by God, and things come into existence. Adam could not create anything. He was not God, but because he was made in God’s image, he could speak and give identity and direction to that which was created – he named the animals, and that is what they were called.
In much the same way, men are designed to speak truth into the chaos of life. But to speak the truth means we must first know the Truth. Godly men know God’s Truth, His Word, and His Son, Jesus, and they are his first love and joy. When godly men operate in truth, they are men of integrity, honor, civility, chivalry, and decorum. They are men who honor women and are willing to lay down their lives for others.5
The Real Need for Intimacy
Godly men also know that the deepest desire of their hearts and souls is not a longing for more things, toys, riches, power, or popularity but more intimacy with their families. Just look in the Bible. It is filled with stories of patriarchs who had serious family problems. But it is also filled with wonderful moments of reconciliation and intimacy. Consider the intimacy of Isaac, who knew by touch that Esau was hairy and Jacob was not.6 Jacob lamented the loss of his son Joseph,7 and Joseph wept bitterly when he was reunited with his brothers and, ultimately, his father, Jacob.8 When God stated in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone,” I believe he was not merely meaning the need for a wife and a procreative partner (which was also true), but the need for all humanity to be intimately connected to others, especially our families.
“One of the world’s longest health studies, conducted by Harvard University, followed a group of men for almost eighty years to find out what made them happy. …Overwhelmingly, the key factor in male mental health was a close, loving relationship.”9
What we need in this world are godly men who will embrace godly masculinity expressed in all its diversity. The idea that to be a man is to be stoic, aggressive, violent, disengaged, dominant, or oppressive is to abandon the teachings of Jesus and His Word and embrace a social construct created by Hollywood and the porn industry. Godly men honor women and they honor men. They make time for the helpless, the hopeless, and the hurting. They listen before they speak and act with confidence even when they are unsure of the next step, trusting God to direct their path.
Godly masculine men are the Michelangelos, the Pattons, the Peters, and the Thomas’ of our world. They are men, created by God as males, who are willing to stand against limiting cultural definitions of manhood and embrace the vastness of God’s grace and calling to be good, godly men. Godly men rise up in the face of toxic masculinity and recognize it for what it is: an often feeble attempt to meet legitimate needs in illegitimate and intimidating ways.
It Is Up To YOU
Are you longing for the intimacy that is found in godly masculinity? Do you long to abandon worldly definitions of masculinity for deeper, intimate, meaningful relationships with your family and friends?
The only way for toxic masculinity to be eliminated is for godly men to stand and be men of God. Young men need godly men. They are desperate for mentors. They long for examples to follow and other men who desire to invest in their lives. It is the responsibility of godly men to call up our brothers to a higher calling of masculinity that embraces the divine power, vulnerability, intimacy, and perseverance of faithfully being a man of God. We, like Jesus, must care for the sick, call out the hypocrite and the heretic, weep at the lostness of our world and the loss of life, and sacrifice ourselves for the good of others. When godly men stand up, the world will not only see the good of masculinity, but they will also see our Savior, who makes it all possible. So may it be!
1 Michael Salter, “The Fight Against Toxic Masculinity,” The Atlantic, February 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/02/toxic-masculinity-history/583411/ accessed 8/23/2023.
2 Maryam Kouchaki, Keith Leavitt, Luke Zhu, Anthony C. Klotz, Harvard Business Review, “Research: What Fragile Masculinity Masculinity Looks Like at Work,” January 2023, accessed 8/23/2023.
3 Ephesians 5:22-23.
4 American Psychological Association, Boys and Men Guidelines Group. (2018). APA guidelines for psychological practice with boys and men. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/about/policy/psychological-practice-boys-men-guidelines.pdf, accessed 8/23/2023.
5 John 15:13; Ephesians 5:25.
6 Genesis 27.
7 Genesis 37:34-35.
8 Genesis 45:14-15; 46:29.
9 Dana Severson, “After Studying the Lives of 724 Men for 79 Years, Harvard Reveals the One Biggest Secret to Success and Happiness,” Inc., November 9, 2017, as cited in Nancy Pearcy, The Toxic War on Masculinity: How Christianity Reconciles The Sexes, Baker Books, Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2023, 173.