BY ANNA NORTHUP
“Boys will be boys.”
With that line, Gillette launched their latest advertisement – and a massive controversial ripple across the country.
Some of the response has been supportive – yes, men do need to hold other men accountable, and yes, there’s a violence problem that is an overwhelmingly male issue. The stats are intimidating and don’t seem to fare well for the guys: men commit over 90% of homicides, men outnumber women in prison ten to one, and 73% of arrests in the United States are male. This is sobering, and it is a serious matter. When a little boy gets his fun by beating up someone smaller, his father shouldn’t watch with arms crossed, holding a barbeque spatula.
But an overwhelming wave condemns the video for propagating men as indifferent fathers and poor role models for young boys; some go on to insist that it portrays modern men as ruffians, careless towards destructive behavior, and even rapists and sexual offenders.
The American Psychological Association recently weighed in: “It is critical to acknowledge that gender is a non-binary construct…masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and contextual norms.” It continues to describe the culprit as “traditional masculine ideology,” which involves “anti-feminism…adventure, risk, and violence.”
Is Masculinity Toxic?
I would argue that rather than a biologically and scientifically-based statement, this is a reaction (understandable, if unhelpful) to the growing panic surrounding “toxic masculinity.” As evidenced by the statistics above, there are a great deal of men in our society who deeply misuse their innate sense of “adventure, risk, and violence,” and their behavior and choices are real concerns that need to be addressed. But I must ask – isn’t that same innate boldness, adventure, and risk part of what we love about Captain America? What about Spiderman? Maybe Superman? Take your pick of society’s favorite male heroes. What’s the difference? The difference is that masculinity is much, much more than just the perverted version of “adventure, risk, and violence” (which does exist as a real problem today), and it is degrading to real men to relegate true masculinity to the base and animalistic characteristics that make our news headlines. We value men who are tender and gentle – but they’re still men. We value men who treat all equally and love the outcasts – but we admire their boldness and risk-taking for a right cause.
So what is real masculinity? The beginning is often a good place to start, so we need to go back to origins.
Where do we first see the strength, boldness, and nobility of masculinity?
Where do we see the body that takes the bullet for someone else?
Where do we first see its gentleness?
Where do we first see the tenderness?
Where do we first see the kindness, the quiet self-sacrifice, the fairness exuded to all people, regardless of age or stature or color or gender?
Not first in the Roman Empire. Not first in the Babylonians, in the Greeks, or in the Mongols. Our predecessors hungered after power, prestige, and public image, and got it through the shedding of blood. So what changed?
We see the masculinity we adore first in Jesus Christ and his early followers. No man thought, acted, spoke, or lived like Him. He needed no physical force, armies, or skill to prove His strength; nor was He weaker for the overflowing love He exhibited. Why do we value strength and gentleness, good judgment and mercy, confidence and compassion? Because Jesus Christ exhibited all of it first.
A True and Better Masculinity
Christianity says that the answer to toxic masculinity – the real presence of insecure, selfish, and domineering men – is not less masculinity; it’s a true and better masculinity. The masculinity Jesus embodied when, though He had the authority to condemn her, He saved an adulteress from a death by stoning (John 8:1-11, NIV), and when He easily could have refused to associate with the lowest in society, He compassionately healed the lepers (Matthew 8:1-4, NIV). He spoke unflinchingly against the religious hypocrisy of Israel’s powerful leaders (Matthew 12:1-14, NIV), wept at Lazarus’ death in deep affection (John 11:35, NIV), forgave Peter for his betrayal though He was justified in anger (John 21:15-17, NIV), and used His power to tenderly reprimand Martha in her anxiety, rather than force her submission (Luke 10:40-41, NIV).
Every day, there are men who use their power selfishly, and people suffer as a result. History is laden with men who abused the trust, control, and authority given to them. But it’s also filled with (albeit imperfect) men like Gandhi, William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela, who lived boldly for the greater good of this world.
Rather than belittling masculinity for its gross perversion in society, why don’t we champion and encourage the masculinity that has shaped nations, built governments, freed slaves, run economies, faithfully supported wives and children, fought the evil in this world, and gave their lives for good? That is true masculinity. Men who can be strong and gentle. Men who will love their families more than themselves, who see leadership as an opportunity to serve rather than take control. Men who will bravely be the first to step into battle.
Men who are man enough to admit when they are wrong and be the first to reach out to reconcile. Men who keep each other accountable. And men who teach their sons what masculinity truly means.
Mommy, Where Do Real Men Come From?
There is no better example for men than Jesus Christ. The Bible is overflowing with pictures of His kindness, love, strength, and courage. The Church is not always reflective of who He is, but that is just the point. His people are not a replacement for Jesus, but a pointer. Their imperfections should point to the perfection of the God they adore. And, wonder of wonders, He promised perfect love and acceptance when He died on the cross for our imperfections, and He promised to mold us into His perfection day by day (2 Corinthians 3:18, NIV) through a real, vibrant, and intimate relationship with Him. Does masculinity get better than that? The problem of abusive, self-centered men is real, and we cannot excuse the negative ramifications of their misuse of masculine characteristics. But instead of turning away from masculinity in hopelessness, let us look at what masculinity was meant to be, and still can be.
So let the traces of the glorious, nation-shaking, world-changing masculinity we glimpse today in our heroes point you back to the greatest Man who ever lived. He does not, and cannot, disappoint. And when we encourage our men to His example, we’ll see that the kind of nobility that once appeared on the movie screen finally becomes a reality in our lives. Gillette is right when they imply that true masculinity should not stand by and passively watch evil happen; let us take it a step forward and realize that true masculinity staggered up to the cross, bearing all our sorrows, shame, and sin, and died to save the world.
Boys will be boys. One day, they must become men.
Let’s make that something to be proud of.
 “Expanded Homicide Data.” FBI. July 26, 2011. Accessed March 26, 2019. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/offenses-known-to-law-enforcement/expanded/expandhomicidemain.
 “APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men.” American Psychological Association. Summer 2018. 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.