Striving For “Manliness” Is A Fool’s Game

Leadership Journal’s humor newsletter gives weekly doses of funny cartoons and anecdotes. Most of the time.

The cartoonist’s point, I think, is to poke a little fun at the speaker and how the men react to him. The point I got from it is that people in the church have the wrong idea about manhood.

The manly men of Coach

The manly men of Coach

It reminds me of the characters in the 90s sitcom Coach. The show centered on Division 1 football coach Hayden Fox. Half the show took place in his office next to the locker room and the show was as testosterone-laden as you could imagine.

Coach Fox’s life wasn’t completely woman-free, though. He had a daughter whose boyfriend the coach thoroughly disapproved of: a theater major who concentrated on the art of mime, there was nothing Stuart could do that met the uber-manly Coach Fox’s idea of what a man should be.

One scene in particular still sticks in my memory. The writing and comedic timing of the actors was perfect as Stuart was trying to tell Coach Fox about a major disappointment that had him getting emotional, and the coach getting visibly uncomfortable with Stuart:

“It’s not unmanly to cry,” Stuart choked out between sobs.

“Yes it is!” Coach Fox said.

Getting Manliness Right

When Coach Fox rebuked Stuart, it was funny. We knew the butt of this joke was not Stuart but the coach himself for not understanding that men really do cry over disappointments. That’s part of who we are and how we’re made.

That’s where the cartoon above misses the mark. It suggests that the speaker is the one who fails to understand that men do not want to hold hands and pray to “our sweet, sweet Lord.” Some men don’t want to do that, of course, but others do.

To get manliness right is a fool’s game anyway. Our life in the family of God is not supposed to be focused on a long pursuit of biblical manhood or womanhood. Our lives are to be focused on Jesus, God the Son. (Hebrews 12:1-2.) And as we concentrate on God, he has a much better goal than mere manliness or womanliness to take us to:

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. … Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:12, 17-18.)

God is transforming us into the image of God himself: Jesus.

***

By the way, Jesus was a man and he wept. (John 11:35.) So it must actually be manly to cry.

***

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26 Responses to Striving For “Manliness” Is A Fool’s Game

  1. As the mum of 3 boys, I salute you! I’d infinitely prefer them to focus on looking like Jesus than see them pursue some ‘manly’ caricature. (Besides that, they are ‘people’ first.)

  2. Although I agree with most of what was said here, I do not think that it is a bad thing to encourage masculine virtues. I was taught to defend women/girls and to be gentle with them. Roughhousing was for men/boys. Remember the masculinity displayed on 9/11 when the firemen risked and lost their lives in order to save others. While we do not want to be a “Coach Fox”, we do want to be real men as Jesus was.

    Women can be equal to men and retain their femininity and men can retain their masculinity without being idiots.

    • Tim says:

      I wonder, though, how much of what is called masculine virtue is a social or cultural construct. Men risk their lives to save others sounds like something women can and should do as well. My wife might not be big enough to carry me from a burning building, but then again neither is my dad. Each of them, though, would risk their lives to save mine, and it’s not really an issue of masculinity or femininity when looked at that way.

      • Hester says:

        I often wonder who wrote the master list of which virtues are only admirable / appropriate in one gender. I’m certainly not in possession of it. Most of the seemingly gender-specific virtues people talk about, always seem to boil down to a universal one when subjected to scrutiny:

        – Firefighters on 9/11 = courage and self-sacrifice. A mother who jumps in a front of a moving car to save her child who runs into the street is doing the exact same thing.
        – “Women and children first” – the idea here is that the strong should protect the weak, which is fine. But that really should be determined on a case-by-case basis since not all women are weaker than men, and many men are weaker than women. When we let the principle drive without reference to the situation, we get some pretty obvious absurdities like a 90yo man in a walker being required to open the door for an able-bodied 19yo woman, and the example given by CBMW, where in a mugging, a man who knows nothing about self-defense should protect a woman with a black belt just because she’s a woman, even though he’ll probably get knifed and killed. (In fact the last example I would consider unethical and negligent – esp. if the woman just stood there passively even though she was more than able to intervene – as it would likely end in completely needless injury / loss of life.)

        • Tim says:

          The mugging scenario (courtesy of john Piper, by the way) is also an exercise in futility. The black belt will still have to fight the mugger. She’ll just have to do it while trying not to trip over the body of her formerly alive male friend.

      • Pastor Bob says:

        Some of culture is good and respectful. RESPECT – the oft forgotten word of the day.

    • keriwyattkent says:

      Brian…were all the first responders to 9/11 male? Really? I think it was courage, not masculinity, that those firefighters and paramedics displayed. And both men and women can act courageously.

      • Tim says:

        it’s odd how some people want to say that being manly means being courageous, without realizing that what they’ve just said is that women aren’t allowed to me courageous because that would mean they are trying to be manly. Ouch, I just strained my brain trying to make describe such nonsense.

  3. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for this post, Tim; this issue comes up a lot lately. (For another excellent analysis, I’d recommend this post: http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com.au/2014/03/the-feminization-of-church.html?utm_content=buffer70b9c&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer) I tend to agree that much of what we consider “real man” etc. is culturally constructed, and so what we may call masculine virtues could be part of that construction. We see Middle Eastern men lamenting and wailing when loved ones die; is that masculine? We read some early church fathers’ spiritual writings that almost seem romantic in nature; is that masculine? It might not be how every man would act or write — but I think we tend to force men and women into very narrow categories sometimes.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for the link, Jeannie. I like her point that using “masculine” and “feminine” when talking about the church rarely helps advance the conversation. I think even if it does advance it some, the phrases soon need to be left behind as the discussion goes deeper into what church is and who we are as members of the body of Christ.

  4. nickcady says:

    I agree with you though, that the manliness issue has been overplayed as of late. However, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the cartoon. It is pointing out how Christians are often blind to how feminized modern Christian practice has become. I personally think that we are missing connections with the MAJORITY (and that’s the key) of men when we portray Jesus as our great boyfriend in the sky, and make men sing songs in church settings that could easily be pop songs about romantic relationships if only “Jesus” were replaced with “baby”.

    • Tim says:

      I hate to admit it, but cringing at the lyrics of some Sunday morning songs is one of my specialties, Nick. Yikes, those lyricists can get cheesy!

    • Hester says:

      It would probably be better to use the phrase “sentimental” rather than “feminized.” I’m a woman and I agree that a lot of praise songs are pretty sappy, annoying and light on content. Sentimentality has been associated with both genders at different points in time – for example, lots of stuff written and enjoyed by Victorian men would be considered extremely sentimental and sappy today. So I think “sentimental” is a fairer and more accurate description of what’s really turning people off.

      • Jeannie says:

        I also think it’s worth noting (and the article from “Wordgazer” which I linked above stresses this) that the vast majority of contemporary worship songs are written by men. There seems to be this idea that women are creating these romantic-type songs and “making” men sing them (in other words, women are once again contaminating the atmosphere with their girly stuff), but that’s not the case.

        • SHARON LETCHFORD says:

          I was going to say that too, Jeannie! I’m female and find myself cringing at the ‘feminisation’ complaints I hear made about the church. I personally can’t stand sentimentality and don’t fit the ‘box’ that is labelled ‘girly’, so I really am at a loss to understand what people are complaining about.
          I suspect it has more to do with how many women they see at the front of the church: if more, the church is ‘feminised’, if less, it’s, masculine’. We all know what this REALLY is though, don’t we?

  5. Aimee Byrd says:

    Matt and I used to love that show. It was so funny! And we have exaggerated what it means to be feminine and masculine in our evangelical culture. While I think it’s important to understand some of the distinctions in how we were created, I think the Bible is much more modest on laying out these issues than we like to admit.

    • Tim says:

      “Much more modest” – exactly, Aimee, well put. Recognizing the differences is great. Exaggerating them because of cultural lenses not only stinks, it’s anti-gospel.

  6. Angie says:

    Great post. CBMW (Strachan) put out a post yesterday about headship. After a read, I thought, “Hmm, I’ve got headship down. I do all that in relation to my husband.” I doubt affirmation of my loving sacrifice for my husband was his intended purpose. For me the same behaviors CBMW/Strachan would call submission (which in a way it is), but if my husband does it he is exercising headship or authority.

  7. Pingback: Discrimination – men, women, and crying in public | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  8. govpappy says:

    I’m crying with anger over how feminist this post is.

  9. Pingback: Men, Women, and Crying in Public | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  10. Heather Leigh says:

    Your posts always encourage me, but I’m sending this one to my husband as it may encourage him, too!

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