by Kelly Jarvis
It’s often referred to as masculine culture or patriarchy. It is sometimes casually referred to as ‘bro-culture.’ Whatever term is used, it is hurtful and can be dangerous. The ‘boys club’ is alive and well in our society. But please, stay with me… this is not your typical girl-power, men are the enemy kind of article.
In a culture where societal male gender characteristics like dominance, assertiveness, competition, wealth, power, and even violence are highly elevated and considered more valuable than others, it is not surprising that damage has been done to the male psyche.
The reality is that you don’t have to look far to find stories of women being disregarded, belittled, or even blatantly abused. Women have been conditioned to accept and even expect this type of treatment. We just handle it. It’s why we just sit back, rather than speak up, when a male colleague is considered more credible than us, even if they are less experienced. It’s why we’re not surprised when someone assumes we’re the secretary instead of the CEO. It’s why we look the other way when we are catcalled as we walk down the street to pay the parking meter. We’ve been told from a young age that it’s just the way it is and to just ignore it.
But let’s consider a different angle from the perspective of our male counterparts, our brothers in Christ. Women aren’t the only victims in a culture where this toxic view of gender exists and thrives. Men are often painted as the enemy or the bad guy. Yes, men are often the abusers and their actions are degrading to their female counterparts. Nothing I’m about to say removes the responsibility or burden of abusers for their actions. But what if men are also victims of this masculine culture? What if they don’t even realize they’re doing it and can’t see it in others? What if we can find out where that begins and undo it?
As young boys, they are told that ‘boys will be boys.’ They are not only handed violent toys, but encouraged to use them with vigor, and if they don’t, they don’t fit in. They’re not ‘manly’ enough. When boys like the color pink or purple, play with dolls, or like stories where a princess happens to be the main character, they are told that stuff is for girls. When they are four or five and like to sing and dance, they are told to refocus to sports and other 'boy things.'
From a very young age, our society tells boys they are less than if they don’t fit the mold. Sound familiar ladies? Not thin enough? Not pretty enough? Not as smart as your brother? Not good at math? Better as a teacher, but not an engineer? As the ‘minority,’ we’ve been equipped with ways to deal with this and hopefully, some positive influences that tell us that what society says is not always correct. Men, on the other hand, are expected to buy-in and are further persecuted if they question the societal expectation. They must conform.
Men are conditioned year after year in schools, on the playground, at family events, and even in our churches, to be the man they were 'made to be.' The expectations are so unrealistic and unattainable that few reach the ideal. The rest are in the macho failure box. Failure to live up to a non-existent, culture created, macho ideal. Nate Pyle’s book ‘Man Enough’ opened my eyes to the false narrative we’re telling our boys at a very young age. Nate refers to it as ‘the idea that there is one way to be a man.’ This is painful.
Jesus came into a masculine, patriarchal culture and he did not fit the narrative. He was gentle, wise, humble, meek, prayerful, empathetic, giving, forgiving, righteous, faithful… and so much more. It was mind boggling. None of his characteristics fit into the ‘masculine’ box. There was nothing aggressive, violent, or macho about him. Yet, he was the Savior they had been waiting for. They expected a powerful King to take power and lead by fear. What they got was a humble servant wanting to change the narrative. He flipped society’s expectations on its head.
Unfortunately, the church, that should be the biggest champion for all children of God, both men and women, to live out their callings with passion and excellence, are often the worst offenders. We misuse scripture out of context to elevate men and create a hierarchy that is damaging to BOTH men and women. Our churches are telling men that they must fit this unrealistic expectation or they are not living up to God’s expectations. This is just as unacceptable as telling a woman who is clearly gifted with leadership skills that she cannot lead.
Once your eyes have been opened to the truth of the Gospel through egalitarian theology, it’s hard to unsee it. You now see everything through the filter of God’s original intention for men and women - co-serving, co-leading, and co-equal in Christ. You read the verses that have traditionally been controversial and see them with such context and clarity that you wonder how anyone could see it any differently.
You begin to see why your husband, who is a sensitive soul, feels like he has to overcompensate with manly things in order to fit the mold. You start to see why men don’t feel comfortable admitting that they don’t want to hunt, actually enjoy musicals, or genuinely desire to stay home and nurture their children. You see why they feel the need to ‘man-up’ around the boys and why abuse is rampant.
Since being introduce to egalitarian theology, I have been trying to treat the men in my life with a little more empathy and give them the benefit of the doubt for the way culture has shaped them. My eyes are open to the way we, together, as co-leaders in our homes, workplaces, and churches, have to admit we’ve been wrong.
We have to undo gender bias. We have to reteach those who are victims of their culture. We have to start fresh with the children we’re raising. We have to allow them to be who they are, how God made them, and how they feel most at peace. We have to teach them that God doesn’t make mistakes, and that God, not society, defines their identity. Most importantly, we have to show some grace in the process because initiating change is not going to be easy. It takes a long time and a lot of love to undo a lifetime of societal expectations influenced by thousands of years of masculine culture. But we can start with ourselves, our homes, and our churches by spreading the word that, whether male or female, Jesus offers you the freedom to be you in a ‘man’s world.’
Kelly is a mom, executive, and CBE Greater DC board member that is passionate about equality and believes everyone, male or female, should fully thrive in the gifts God has given them.