While reading the article “God’s vision for a healthy masculinity,” I appreciated the writer’s intentionality with his son and his suggestions for raising boys with a healthier masculinity through awareness and equality. Yet, as I read, a question arose: “What about me?”
I wasn’t raised the way the author and others are raising their boys today. I’ve spent most of my life repressing emotions, not showing weakness, and, when things get to the brink, responding in varying degrees of anger.
Even after taking the Enneagram and countless other personality tests, reading all of researcher Brené Brown’s books, completing a unit of clinical pastoral education and having an awesome wife who pushes me to be better about connecting with my feelings, my masculinity would still be considered “toxic.”
I still feel anger, sometimes bordering on rage. I hate showing weakness, still see the world through our society’s conventional gender understandings and repress most of what’s going through my heart and head.
What I usually do—just like every other “toxic” male—is push things way down until they all spill out or I just explode.
As I sit with both men and women who have been hurt by toxic masculinity, I know that our efforts to address it are crucially important. But these efforts need to go further. We need to teach males what it means to be men in addition to talking about gender equity and toxic behavior.
There are deeper questions I believe most males are asking themselves these days. What parts of me are valued? Is it OK to identify with more “conventional” conceptions of maleness? What are the limitations or dangers if I do? Is it OK for me to express some of my strongest feelings, such as my anger, my fear, my helplessness? Why might I want to be more open in expressing them?
I don’t think we do a good job of allowing men—young or old—to express some of their strongest emotions. The truth is, those expressions scare most of us, even when done in healthy ways. As a result, we sense that discomfort and choose to stay silent. The buildup due to silence and repression is what is toxic. And we’re seeing what happens: mass shootings, sexual harassment, rape, discrimination and domestic violence.
So what is God’s vision of a healthy masculinity? Some suggest a long-term effort toward a masculinity reconciled to God and the rest of creation. However, I don’t think we can wait. We can’t abandon the many men out there who need reconciliation now—men such as me.
We have two choices: we can wait for those men to come around and open themselves up so that reconciliation can finally happen. Or we can create places of safety and belonging for men and boys to express their feelings, even the darkest and most intense.
God’s vision for a healthy masculinity needs to be a shared vision of masculinity, and the responsibility for a ministry that brings about that vision must also be shared—by men and women alike.