Men and women have two “sides” — that is, a masculine and a feminine side. Despite the controversies, changing scientific research, sociological theories, and gender-role debates, this seems indisputable. We are byproducts of a male and a female and are infused with both genders, so to speak. So…
- Women have a masculine and a feminine side
- Men have a masculine and a feminine side
What’s disputable, at least from the perspective of contemporary culture, is whether or not getting “in touch” with your appropriate side is advantageous or necessary. This is because the idea of masculinity and femininity veer dangerously close to stereotypes many wish to disassemble.
Over at Acculturated in an article entitled In Defense of Traditional Gender Roles, Hollywood screenwriter Mark Tapson writes,
“…the blunt, relentless assault on traditional standards of manhood over the last five decades or so, and the near-obliteration of traditional gender roles, have left young men and young women equally resentful and polarized. ‘Men are confused about what’s expected of them,’ [Kay] Hymowitz says, and ‘don’t feel that they have a clear social role.’ That’s because women have usurped those roles and been celebrated for it while men have been, at best, lectured about the need to reimagine masculinity, or, at worst, openly dismissed as no longer necessary and even becoming obsolete. For decades we’ve encouraged men to get in touch with their feminine side, and now many seem incapable of getting back in touch with their masculine side.” (bold mine)
Having raised four children (2 boys and 2 girls, all married), and now being a grandparent (of 2 girls and a 2nd grandson on the way), this issue is of incredible import to me.
I’ve recently been thinking about a book I read quite a while back entitled Bonding: Relationships in the Image of God, by Donald Joy, Professor of Human Development at Asbury Theological Seminary. While I don’t agree with everything Joy says, there is much in this book about human relationships that is quite fascinating. The thing I’ve been reflecting on lately is found in his chapter on parents and children. Joy suggests that the image of God is expressed in “male and female modes” and the mother and father play specific roles in affirming these “modes” and the masculinity and/or femininity of their children.
The child, says Joy, is born into the “feminine milieu” from which he/she should be, in the case of the boy, drawn out of or, in the case of the girl, affirmed in. Joy writes:
“The female side of God’s image consistently and powerfully marks the child by its warmth, intimacy, and constant attachment and care. The literal umbilical attachment tends to continue in a psychological attachment; mothering is borderline connectedness throughout life. In the early years, the child imagines itself to be an extension of its mother. It ventures out from the mother as its ‘center’ and runs back to her as ‘safety.’
In an equally unexpected way, the male side of God’s image marks the child by its gift of independence, by its detachment, and by its predictable but undulating patterns of intimacy. Fathers — no doubt partly because they are detached from the actual incubation of the child — tend not to have the psychological umbilical attachment that mothers have.”
As such, children experience their mother and father (who function as sort of God figures) in different ways; the mother is intuitively “connected” to the child, both emotionally and (especially in the case of the breast-fed child) physically, while the father is aloof from such connections, must forge them, and in so doing draw the child into another relational / emotional sphere.
The foundational idea here is that the image of God is expressed through male and female (Gen. 1:27). Ideally, it is the influence of the feminine and masculine that shapes the child. Joy goes on to talk about the effects of the absence, or dysfunction, of these parental roles, which can result in numerous sexual, social, and psychological problems.
The thing I want to point out, however, is Joy’s assertion that the interaction of both parents radically shapes their child’s notions of his or her masculinity or femininity. Let’s look at it just from the angle of boys:
- The father is responsible to draw his son out of the “feminine milieu.”
- The mother is responsible to release her son from the “feminine milieu.”
Interestingly, both parents play a role in affirming the opposite gender. The son is wooed away from his mother and into masculinity, while the daughter is affirmed in her femininity, while seeing masculinity modeled. Thus, the parental relationship is most crucial to the child’s understanding, and eventual practice, of gender roles. Writes Joy,
“When the child becomes socially active, the parental marriage is the inevitable model on which the emerging young adult is constructing relationships. A boy’s best assurance that his mother knows what she is talking about is found in the obviously strong, affectionate marriage the young man observes in his parents. And a girl’s surest foundation for safety in the whole world is found in the clear evidence that her father truly loves and respects her mother. If her father is frozen up in his marriage, he is likely either to: (a) be frozen up toward her developing sexuality, fear it, even sense his own arousal toward her; or (b) be sexually dangerous to her. If the father exploits the daughter when she needs truly safe affirmation, he drives her quickly out of the home and into the arms of some man who will deliver her from the exploitative environment. That deliverer is very likely to be someone who has won her through competitive exploitation.”
Contemporary culture appears desirous to dispel such gender differences. This is where I begin to have problems with certain forms of egalitarianism, when real differences between the sexes are leveled. I’ve written before about a college class my oldest son was required to take called “Gender Distinctives” that was taught by a lesbian and a transgendered professor. The stated purpose of the class was to re-think traditional notions of gender. The teachers even went so far as to suggest that men can, and should, give birth to children. No kidding.
This is the type of absurdity that, I believe, is screwing up the family unit. It is the type of thinking that says my sons should cultivate their feminine side and my daughters needn’t. Even worse, it’s the thinking that says masculinity and femininity are myths. Or at least, they are interchangeable despite your gender.
I have no problem admitting I have a feminine side. And, to a certain degree, that side needs cultivated, especially as it relates to being more right-brained or more nurturing. But a man’s feminine side is only healthy as it is balanced against and subservient to his masculine side. Likewise, allowing my sons or grandsons to maintain a “psychological umbilical attachment” to their mothers is unhealthy. This is not to say they shouldn’t have a special bond with her. Or that cultivating compassion and ethos is somehow wrong. It’s to say, simply, that they were created male (Gen. 1:27). Which, among other things, means not being created female.