Friday, July 1, 2011

The Death of Masculinity (Part 1)

Some days, I think masculinity is dying. It certainly is misunderstood, perhaps most by we men ourselves. Over my lifetime, I have seen good examples of masculinity at it's best, and more examples of it at its worst.

I have a point of view on this that I feel prompted to share. I know I don't have it all right. But maybe someone will benefit from reading this. I hope so.

This is my opinion. It is not the result of scientific research. It is the result of a lot of observation and soul searching.

I'll start out by telling you what I don't think masculinity is.

The other day, I was in a public place and overheard a man talking to his wife on his phone. He was, well, commanding. He was telling his wife exactly what to do—with their children, and where she exactly was to meet him. It made me feel a little sick to my stomach.

Granted, every relationship has different dynamics. I never heard her talk to him. Maybe they yammer back and forth at each other like that all the time. Maybe the wife likes him to totally take charge. I don't know. I don't mean to judge the man or his invisible wife. I don't know enough to judge them (and I never will). But I can make an observation.

I love the insight found in Alma 38:12:
Use boldness, but not overbearance; and also see that ye bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love...
I think masculinity should be bold but not overbearing. I think masculinity keeps its passion under control for the benefit of others which makes love possible, makes it grow. I believe (but do not know) that the man on the phone was being overbearing. Overbearannce, to me, shows disrespect and unkindness and selfishness. I hope that was not the case with the man on the phone, but it might have been. If so, I am sad for his wife. I am sad for all wives, women, and children who are treated this way by men. I believe it is a false masculinity.

To me, Christ is the ultimate example of true masculinity, which I think is a godly character trait. Bold yet tender. Kind but fearless. Determined yet willing to submit to the will of His Father. Obedient without being self-righteous. Full of integrity yet uncondemning. These are a few of the characteristics that I see as masculinity at its finest.

Both men and women have both masculine and feminine traits, though the former is predominant in men and the latter in women. I am attracted to femininity. I grew up in a cowboy culture, and over the years I ran into cowgirls who had traded in their femininity. I am not talking about women who ride and rope and adopt the cowboy way of life. I am talking about women who adopt a false masculinity and who are vulgar and mean and rough and rude. False masculinity is a self-deception, whether adopted by men or women.

But there is another aspect of this I want to talk about.

I think masculinity is dying because of what I observe in the traits of a lot of young men. Not all, but some. Maybe too many. They are not bold in their relationships with women. They don't ask girls on dates. They wait for the girl to initiate "the relationship." They don't risk putting themselves out there. They don't pursue girls.

Girls don't like this. Just ask an unmarried woman in her mid-twenties. Then be prepared to listen to the answer. These sentiments are all but universal. I have talked to many teenage girls and young adult women. Most of them have similar complaints to the ones I outlined in the previous paragraph.

Girls like masculinity. They are attracted to it. I am talking about true masculinity as a reflection of a commitment to Christ. They are wondering what happened to it. I don't know. I don't know what to tell them. I wish I knew.

Some of you single men reading this have been hurt, deeply hurt, and it is hard for you to get back into the dating mode after the pain. I am not talking about you. I have experienced that kind of hurt. It makes you gun shy. I understand.

Maybe the younger generation hasn't seen enough good examples of how to be masculine. Maybe our older generation has let them down. I don't know. I am looking for answers. I want to hear your opinions. I want to get my head around this issue.

If you don't see any evidence of what I am talking about, please speak up and give me hope. If you disagree with what I have said, let us all hear from you. If you agree, I want to hear from you, too.

In closing this post, I want to say that I am deeply grateful for my two sons-in-law who I think both are great examples of true masculinity. Thank you. I love you. Our daughters are in good hands.

To be continued...

(See Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.)

5 comments:

  1. If I may give my two cents worth which isn't much. . .
    I know what you're talking about. I see it in others. Sometimes I experience it in my own home. I am wife and have a very wonderful husband. My husband is in no way overbearing. He never has been. He's never raised his voice to me. He is very gentle and kind. I am deeply grateful I have such a loving husband and always hope for the same for my daughters. On the other hand, however, there is at times a lack of the masculinity that you speak of.
    At times I find myself wishing he would not be so passive in some ways. By this I mean there are times I long for him to "step up" and take charge. Lead out more in family matters. Make more decisions as head of the household. Fulfill his priesthood obligations.
    Maybe that’s the thing – maybe it’s a priesthood thing. You said that you are attracted to femininity. I have heard that before from other men and priesthood leaders I know. They have said they are attracted to the qualities of humility and compassion and femininity. From my point of view it is the same. I am attracted to masculinity, the qualities of leadership, of carrying the mantle of the priesthood well, men who perform their duties and reach out to others. As a woman I want to be protected, cared for, and loved. I want a man to step up and take charge, to be able to bring the Spirit into our lives and home, and at the end of the day be able to hold and comfort me.
    I see many men, older and younger, who like the comfortable position they are in when they are “mothered” by their wives. Their wives take the role, whether by choice or force, of being their mom. They do everything for the husband and in a way that allows the husband to kick back and relax knowing that she’ll do it or take care of it all. I think it creates a troublesome dynamic in which the husband abdicates his role as the provider, the comforter, the protector, the man of the house. I can’t speak for others who may do this by choice or for the women who prefer it this way. I can only speak for myself and the qualities that I long for that are sometimes absent.
    I don’t know. Is there a lack of examples in the older generation? It’s the older generation I am attracted to. Those men still have those qualities. I think it’s the younger generation. This day and age there are too many men that don’t want to participate. Maybe they think it’s too hard. They want to relax. They want to be comfortable. I think it’s selfishness. If the adversary wants to destroy the home and is attacking families, then part of that is destroying the desire and need for men to work. Not the kind of work of going to a job every day. The kind of work I refer to is the work of duty, obligation, fatherhood, priesthood. Instead of playing with his children he chooses to play a video game. Instead of going home teaching he chooses to watch television. He’s tired. He’ll do it later. He wants to be comfortable.
    I just know that I see what you’re talking about and think there are many contributing factors. It’s heartbreaking as a woman. There is hope in some of the young men I see in my ward. They are hard working, they bear their responsibilities well, they become excellent young missionaries and I find myself hoping and praying they will remain that way and make a young woman very happy. I also hope my daughters will be able to find such a man when the time comes.

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  2. Anonymous, Thank you for your thoughtful comment. You have helped clarify and expand on what I was trying to say. As a former bishop I have to say you are spot on with your observations. You are not alone with your frustrations.

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  3. I have to admit that I have heard this complaint a lot from single women in the church. As a single man, I must admit that I do not see much basis for it. I don't doubt that there are girls that want to be asked out and aren't, and I don't doubt that there are some guys who too timid with girls. What I doubt is that most LDS single males fail to pursue women.

    The prettiest girls in singles wards get asked out for every weekend. The less pretty ones get asked out less often, and the non-pretty girls get asked out rarely if at all. It is this last group that I think is responsible for the complaints about Mormon men becoming less masculine.

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  4. Mark, I totally agree with you that this is not epidemic; in fact, I may have misnamed the series. It is getting more common, but that does not constitute a majority. I don't mean to be judgmental of any group or try to lump anyone into a category. I have just seen certain things once, twice, three times and more... I don't think I every heard a "complaint" from a woman about these issues. It was always more of a wondering why and also it was usually self-conscious, as in, "What's wrong with me? I am also sure that this is not necessarily a sign of the times. I think we always have had and will have different ways to express our negative traits. However, I am certain that electronic media is sucking maleness away from our society, in more ways than every before. I think that contributes more to lack of confidence in men than anything else right now: secret addictions to harmful media. That is I think a very real eroding factor. All the best, Mike

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  5. As a woman who spent almost ten years attending student and YSA wards before finally getting married last year, LDS dating culture is particularly interesting to me. I heard many roommates, friends, church leaders (both genders, all levels, ages, etc.) say, "What's wrong with these men? Can't they see what a great girl you are/I am?" Frankly, I feel like this is the wrong attitude for young women to take, first, because it is a double standard. As a single, I never felt like there was anything "wrong" with me because I turned a date down or ended a relationship that I could tell wasn't right. Sometimes a guy just isn't interested in a girl, and she needs to be ok with that. If a woman is going to function in an emotionally mature way, she has to be able to honor a man's preference just as she would expect him to honor hers.

    The second problem with the "What's wrong with him?" approach is that it demonstrates a lack of self-esteem and security. As a single, what I noticed wasn't that young men were taking out pretty young women to the exclusion of the less attractive women. It was the insecure, resentful girls who would not get dates (or second, third dates). What young man wants to go out with someone who somehow both likes and resents him? With a general increase of that kind of self-pity among young women, I can't exactly say that I blame young men who don't seem to want to date them.

    In my opinion, one of the most attractive things about a person, male or female, is their confidence. Confidence comes from knowing who you are, accepting and loving yourself - even as a single. When it comes down to it, I even think a confident person is far more attractive than a good-looking person who lacks confidence. I see so many church leaders (and young women themselves) trying to build the confidence of young women by perpetuating this "clueless, lazy male" stereotype as the reason for them not dating. Because women start believing it themselves, it backfires. As soon as she starts believing that "boys are dumb," a woman diminishes her power to attract good, self-respecting men (and I believe that there are many good, self-respecting men out there - far more than we acknowledge).

    I believe that, if young women and church leaders want young men to initiate more dates, something has to change about our rhetoric. We can't keep blaming young men, flattering ourselves as women that we're the innocent victims, and still expect them to want to take us out.
    Men don't need to be chastised into dating, they will take out confident, happy women who love themselves.

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