The American Academy of Universities recently released a report about sexual assault on college campuses, and the news was not good. The report, one of the most broad and far reaching studies to date, surveyed more than 150,000 students at 27 large universities throughout the country. The results showed that nearly 20 percent of college women have been sexually assaulted, and only about 30 percent of these assaults will ever be reported because of the stigma surrounding sexual violence.
There are many reasons for this state of affairs, but one of the most obvious is often overlooked: We have a crisis of masculinity in our culture that begins at an early age, and it is often tied to athletics.
Recently I attended a conference sponsored by A Call to Men, an organization dedicated to helping men develop healthy understandings of masculinity. This particular year the conference focused on the connections between sports culture and violence against women.
Over and over again we heard the same old story, one that nearly all men who have competed in athletics can attest to. A young boy makes a mistake on the playing field and immediately his coach, parents, perhaps even other men respond by yelling at him. And God forbid if the boy reacts like a normal human being and begins to cry, because then come the words that former NFL player and activist Joe Ehrmann calls the three most damaging words a young boy can hear: “Be a man,” they say. “Men don’t cry. Only girls cry.” This, of course, both shames the boy and begins to devalue women in his mind.
The net result of all of this shaming is that men are walking around with a tremendous amount of pain and often an unhealthy sense of superiority toward women. We’ve been taught that it’s not OK to express emotion, and so we become disconnected and emotionally unavailable. All of that shame continues to build up until one day it erupts. And usually the recipients of this anger are women and children. It’s no mistake that men commit almost all sexual assaults or that men perpetrate 99 percent of the mass shootings in our country. Men are in pain because they are being sold an unhealthy and dangerous understanding of what it means to be a man.
But this image of detached, emotionless manhood is not at all consistent with our ultimate example as Christians. Jesus was in fact an excellent model for healthy masculinity. He always stood with the marginalized and oppressed, particularly women. He was certainly not afraid to show emotion, and he had close, healthy relationships with women throughout his life.
It is time for Christians, particularly men, to stand against the unhealthy versions of masculine identity in our culture. We need to speak out when we see women being devalued and boys being shamed. We need to share our own pain and embrace vulnerability, emulating the example of Jesus on the cross. And as we are healed of our shame, we need to willingly enter into the pain of other men, in the same way that Jesus took on the pain and sin of the world.
Men, it’s time for us to take a stand. It’s unacceptable that so many women will be the victims of the pain we’re not willing to deal with. Whether it’s on the playing field, on campus or even in the media we consume, we need to speak up and challenge these unhealthy stereotypes. Our worth is not tied to an unhealthy version of masculinity. It is grounded in the unconditional love and acceptance of Jesus.