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Should Men Cultivate Their Feminine Side?

father-knows-bestMen 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.

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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Jay DiNitto February 17, 2013, 11:12 AM

    There’s no need for either gender to cultivate its opposite, since both men and women contain a little bit of their opposite already, i.e., men can create emotional bonds (up to a point) and women have physical strength (up to a point). At the risk of misappropriating a religious symbol, the ying and yang is a good visual aid for this.

    Society has functioned well enough without having to micromanage gender roles like that. When people in positions of influence think it’s good idea to “plan” gender expression, the hounds of biomechanics (evolutionary or designed…whichever your flavor) will break the door down and pee in your shoes.

  • Tim George February 17, 2013, 1:47 PM

    I had a long conversation after writer’s group the other day with a clinical psychologist who belongs to the group. Her credentials are impeccable ad she is editor of a state (not Florida) professional journal for psychologists, has a PhD and has been in practice for decades. And, she is convinced this muddling and meddling in gender roles is the beginning of the end for an effective society. Her arguments are not Theistic ally based since she is not a Christian. Amazingly she said to me at the end of that conversation, “I know what is happening to us but don’t see a solution to fixing it. Hopefully, someone like you with more spiritual insight will offer answers my colleagues do not have.”

    • Jessica Thomas February 17, 2013, 7:35 PM


    • Mike Duran February 18, 2013, 9:13 AM

      Tim, so much of this gender experimentation is spear-headed by academia. It’s social engineering from the cultural elites. So it’s good to know that some professionals have qualms. Interesting that the professor you mentioned even conceded a “spiritual fix” to the problem.

  • D.M. Dutcher February 17, 2013, 11:18 PM

    Wow, great article. I’m going to check that book out.

    I honestly don’t know about gender roles in a spiritual sense. To me, there’s a tension in the faith between “male and female he created them” and “in heaven, there will be no marriage or giving of marriage; they shall be like the angels.” I admit at being at a loss then; the idea of me being the spiritual head of a family or something is so alien to my mode of thinking that I don’t know how to relate.

    Most of the time, I just look at it from a cultural sense. I guess the idea of “being a real man” is something that is unusual to me, since I don’t have a wife, kids, or other external factors that I can use to define it. Anyways, again good article; I wish the Acculturated ones could have been up to this level.

  • Jill February 18, 2013, 9:03 AM

    I agree with the assertion that gender distinctions can and do exist. However, what bothers me is over-defining and analyzing them to the point that it seems we have boxes of traits that men and women need to check in order to properly fulfil their roles or functions in society. For example, you claim in your last paragraph that women are right-brained and nurturing. If you look at human traits on a spectrum, you will find that women are more nurturing than men, even though men do possess nurturing qualities. But are women “right-brained”? It’s highly unlikely that you would find this a feminine trait. Women, in studies of the mind, tend to succeed in linguistic and verbal processes, which are left-brained functions. It has even been postulated that men are more right-brained than women because men are more intuitive (as in, they tend to be more action-oriented, which clusters with right-brain intuition). You will find various psychologists making claims either way, which leaves me with the inevitable conclusion that I should act as God has wired me to act (as a more-nurturing-than-my-husband, left-brained female, who isn’t nearly as nurturing as her sister) and not worry about what is feminine or masculine. I don’t enjoy being pinned down. I don’t think anybody does, really. This is, no doubt, the reason that the feminist movement began to appear as soon as women became literate and had access to publishing (app. 17th C). Before that, the cries of unfair pigeon-holing were few and far between because men were the scholars, and by extension, the ones defining terms, although female apologists still cropped up every once in a while (Christine de Pizan in the 14th C, for example).

    In the pretend egalitarianism we now live under, men cry about being unfairly pigeon-holed, as well. They have every right to. They aren’t the unfeeling apes sitcoms and commercials portray them as. Still, returning to a boxed list of what is masculine and what is feminine isn’t what is needed because the list-writers will inevitably get it wrong. People should act out their natural talents and predilections (a dangerous statement, I know, but I don’t mean sinful predilections, but personality predilections). That way, this Joy person can be the woman she feels she must be and raise her daughters and sons accordingly, and I will do the same.

    • Mike Duran February 18, 2013, 9:32 AM

      Jill, pigeon-holing and stereotyping are one thing. Acknowledging that being a male or a female means something is another. The question I’d ask you is, When “God created them male and female” were there any intrinsic emotional / spiritual / relational differences in that distinction? Or are we simply talking plumbing and societal mores?

      • Jill February 18, 2013, 9:59 AM

        The female brain actually looks different than the male brain (though they are more similar than they are different). This is probably related to hormonal differences and they way estrogen vs testosterone affect the developing baby’s brain. These hormonal differences will also affect general behavior, too (most people are already well-aware of female hormonal fluctuations). So, yes, God made men and women different (emotional and physical–definitely. I don’t know about spiritual). You are never simply talking plumbing. The plumbing becomes what it is due to enormous differences in utero (they start out looking identical, then become dramatically different). I’m bothered, not by what science tells us, but by the stereotypes that aren’t backed up by science. I’m also bothered by the tendency to readily forget that all human traits are on a spectrum.

  • J.S. Clark February 19, 2013, 6:04 AM

    As someone who was raised with “only men are in God’s image”.

    God made male and female, that is certain. So whatever it means, boys should be encouraged in the natural male proclivities, and females in theirs. In fact God told us through Moses not to confuse the genders, when he told us that a man should not wear a woman’s garment and possibly that the woman should not wear a man’s. I say possibly, because I’m not sure whether he was talking about clothes (since they wore fairly close to the same anyway) or perhaps stating that women should not be in planned combat (not using a man’s tools ie, weapons of warfare). But whichever interpretation, there was some line between the two that should not be blurred.

    At the same time I cannot think of any ‘traits’ that God specifically commanded for either side. Behaviors, yes, but traits? Is it possible that we worry too much about cultivating a side when we should be cultivating obediance? God did give different commands for men and women, so as long as those commands are obeyed from the heart, does it matter what milleu they come out of?

    I’m just thinking out loud. It just seems that a rather masculine woman who chooses to be a woman and not wanting to “be a man” is kind of one of those in your weakness I am strong type of situations. In fact, with Purim this week, Hadassah (Esther) comes to mind. She clearly saw herself as a woman, yet when the chips were down she did what some would consider not traditionally feminine (challenging a king and a husband), but didn’t that enhance her feminimity?

    Likewise, a man who may be naturally feminine who chooses to identify himself as a man not envying a woman, like perhaps . . . well . . . Yeshua. Obviously he was a manly-man, but look he was surrounded by women, no offense (considering it includes guys like me) but that normally means an affinity and understanding with women. Maybe Solomon was too (lots of women) and very artistic, and understanding toward women. Jacob, he was a mama’s boy . . . one might even stereotype that his mother was maniupulative and he inherited that. Women sometimes do seem that way, but yet Jacob became a great leader-father and prince with God.

    I guess that doesn’t help because it seems the heart of the issue is where we want to see ourselves. If we are men than we should want to be men whatever that looks like, and if we are women we should want to be women whatever that looks like. Perhaps that’s why God left the command vague? He could have said no skirts for men, no swords for women, but he left it pointed at the heart.

    And it seems for most women and men that would make itself fairly evident. I am stronger and more rugged than my wife, if I enjoy my identity than I should want to use my strength and put my ruggedness into the servive of my wife. If I was a woman, I am probably more lovely to everyone around me, also a woman can bring life into the world (with a man) and nourish it so if I wanted to be a woman I would celebrate and cultivate that.

    It just seems if you love being a woman that you would live celebrating what you are naturally made for. So simply tell men and women to desire what God has given them, obey God, and the rest will follow.

  • Jon Mast February 19, 2013, 6:42 AM

    Mike, are you familiar with “Wild at Heart” by John Eldridge? He talks about the necessity for boys to be “rescued” from their mothers by their fathers. Basically, he says that fathers need to step in and break that umbilical cord so that the boys can express their adventurous nature. A fair amount of what you write here seems to reflect his observations. While that book certainly isn’t about gender differences, it talks about what “masculine” means.

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