Courage, Boys! Part 1
Back in 1994 Garrison Keillor said in his The Book of Guys:
“Guys are in trouble these days. Years ago, manhood was an opportunity for
achievement and now it’s just a problem to be overcome. Guys who once
might have painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling are now just trying to be Mr.
O.K. All-Rite, the man who can bake a cherry pie, be passionate in a skillful
way, and yet also lift them bales and tote that barge.”
And he is not the only one to see this implosion of manhood. In the recent past a
number have addressed the “man problem” or the “boy crisis”:
Indeed, the contemporary attitude toward fathers, and men in general, is
interesting, to say the least. Absentee fathers were once regarded as a real problem for women and their children-- and, demonstrably, it is a problem for both. According to most studies, one in three children grow up without their biological father and one in four grow up without a father figure of any sort. However, this is not uniform when parsed along ethnic lines as the chart below illustrates.
(For this information on fatherlessness and more, see http://www.fathers.com/statistics-and- research/the-consequences- of-fatherlessness).
Nonetheless, to hold out the importance of fathers has now become a micro-
aggression against families that choose to be fatherless. Fathers are OK if they are wanted (sounds a lot like babies doesn’t it?). However, to suggest they are needed is nothing more than an attack against other equally good types of “families”. It is to suggest something normative or preferable for human flourishing about intact biological families. It is to put down single-mothers. It is to suggest that fatherless children are somehow disadvantaged. The point here is that there is no preferable form for the family because to suggest so would make people who disagree feel bad about their choices or unchosen circumstances. And, of course, to make someone feel bad is the near unpardonable sin-- -especially if the cause is rooted in a Christian perspective on the world.
To take this one step further, many would argue that men, especially as they have been traditionally involved within Christian circles (protector, provider, servant-leader), should not be involved in the family at all if maximal human flourishing is the goal. You need to seriously reprogram them at best and replace them with a sperm bank at worst. What they bring to family and society is consummately negative: violence, aggression, sexist patriarchal notions. The only real hope for the family is that men get reshaped into someone who gets in touch with his inner-feminine self. Someone who allows female sensibilities to reshape the way he interacts with the world—more sensitive, less offensive, less competitive, less assertive, less physical. He is to come to marriage with no expectations for his wife only with a willingness to live in such a way that her expectations are met and her goals are not hindered. She is the queen bee and he is the drone in her service. As Lorde sang in her popular song, “Royals”,
Let me be your ruler (ruler),
You can call me queen Bee;
And baby I'll rule, I'll rule, I'll rule, I'll rule.
Let me live that fantasy.
He is to be the nice guy standing around the edges of family and society trying
hard not be marginalized or excluded—in the extreme, think of the (former) Bruce Jenner. Or, think of this story by Roger Olsen, a theologian, when trying to express what he means by a society that disrespects men:
I will only say that today, in educational circles, boys and men are actively
disrespected-- for their maleness which is automatically assumed to be
dangerous to society…. Recently (but this has happened to me several times)
I happened to be in a large "box store" and see a three year old boy alone in
a long aisle. No adult was with him. I looked all around in neighboring aisles. He had not just wandered away for a moment. He was lost. I immediately thought he needed an adult to take him by the hand and help him find whatever adult(s) he had become separated from. It was not good for him to be so alone in a crowded and very large store. But I also knew immediately that, as a man, I could not help him. I could not even talk to him. "Stranger danger" applies only to men and it applies to all men. So I stood by and watched him from a distance until a woman came into the aisle and I said to her, I think he's lost. She said "Yup; he's lost." I said "Well, could you help him? I can't." She said "You're right; you can't. I will." Uh huh. I felt so disrespected-- not by the woman but by a society that considers all men potential pedophiles rather than potential protectors and helpers.
Some men have agreed with this assessment of their shortcomings and dangers.
They have become advocates of this new man. They are the supporters of every
misanthropic (man-hating) feminist cause. They flagellate themselves in public,
attributing society’s ills to themselves and traditional males, and call on their
fellow men to fall in line with them. Testosterone has become a bad word unless it is being used to help someone reach their chosen gender. Others have responded by checking out. Going off on their own they have decided to live their lives apart from women. One such group is Men Going Their Own Way. Here is their explanation of their movement:
M.G.T.O.W – Men Going Their Own Way is a statement of self-ownership, where the modern man preserves and protects his own sovereignty above all else. It is the manifestation of one word: “No”. Ejecting silly preconceptions and cultural definitions of what a “man” is. Looking to no one else for social cues. Refusing to bow, serve and kneel for the opportunity to be treated like a disposable utility. And, living according to his own best interests in a world which would rather he didn’t. (italics in original)
Though the experiences of men do differ—certainly these scenarios do not apply to all and do not reflect the attitude of all women-- it is true to say that all men live in a confusing time with many active hostile forces arrayed against them (only a few are represented above!). Even in the church, mother’s day is traditionally a celebration while Father’s day has turned into a “kick in the pants” or an “apologetic” for Father’s (and men as a whole).
Where does a man turn to understand what it means to be a man (and, where do
women turn to raise their little men or to figure out what a man should be)? Where does a man turn to find out whether or not he matters as a man, in society and the home? Who is he to be and what is he to do? We hope to give some guidance in the posts to follow. It is a time where men (and those who love them) need courage—to believe that they matter and to be what God calls them to be.