Posts tagged ‘APA’

The Measure of a Man


When the American Psychological Association published its “Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men,” a maelstrom ensued.  Some decried the guidelines as an attack on men generally.  Others defended the report as long overdue so a new kind of masculinity can rise from an older masculinity’s ashes.  Throw in an ad by razor legend Gillette that exhorts men to do better, and you have all the makings of a cultural explosion that feels like, ironically enough, a testosterone-laden WWE wrestling match.

The APA is right about this much:  many men are struggling.  In its summary, it explains:

Men commit 90 percent of homicides in the United States and represent 77 percent of homicide victims.  They’re the demographic group most at risk of being victimized by violent crime.  They are 3.5 times more likely than women to die by suicide, and their life expectancy is 4.9 years shorter than women’s.  Boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder than girls, and they face harsher punishments in school – especially boys of color.

The challenges are real and broadly agreed upon.  The disagreement comes in what we should do about all this.  On the one hand, I struggle with statements like these in the APA report:

Psychologists strive to recognize that masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and contextual norms … Psychologists aspire to help boys and men over their lifetimes navigate restrictive definitions of masculinity and create their own concepts of what it means to be male, although it should be emphasized that expression of masculine gender norms may not be seen as essential for those who hold a male gender identity.

It is true that certain masculine norms are culturally conditioned.  At the same time, it is difficult to deny that some of men’s drives and desires seem to be innate.  It wasn’t that long ago when we were claiming that the innate differences between men and women ran so deep that it was like men were from Mars and women were from Venus.

There is a drive in many men toward things like physical strength, risk taking, and stoicism.  To lump traditionally masculine traits like these into a category of “nurture” while denying components of “nature” is a relatively recent philosophical and psychological development, and, I would add, probably wrong.

On the other hand, I am also adamantly opposed to any attitude that revels in masculinity’s baser manifestations. Even if men do have certain innate desires and drives, this doesn’t make all their desires and drives moral.  Many men, for instance, couple their desire for risk with a desire for sex – with disastrous results.  Drives and desires, like everything else, have been degraded by sin.  Indeed, Scripture has story after story on what happens when men succumb to their twisted innate desires.  LamechSamsonDavid.  All of these men may have looked manly, but they were also fools.  Just because you feel something internally doesn’t mean you should act on it externally.

Christianity takes a unique approach to masculinity.  While not denying that men have certain innate drives and desires, Christianity teaches that these are not determinative of what it means to be a man.  Instead, Christian men are called upon to harness these drives and desires to fulfill a higher calling.  True masculinity is about vocation.  This is why, in the Bible, the word for “man” can be either a noun or a verb.  On the one hand, the Bible refers to a man, in Greek, by the noun aner, which denotes someone who is of the male sex (e.g., Matthew 14:21).  On the other hand, the apostle Paul exhorts the Corinthian men with the verb andrizomai, which can be translated, “be manly” (1 Corinthians 16:13).  Men are called not just to act out of who they are and what they want, but out of who God has called them to be.

My favorite description of manhood in the Bible comes when Paul is talking to men about marriage:  “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).  On the one hand, Paul encourages a traditionally masculine virtue of sacrifice, even to the point of death, on behalf of a man for his wife.  This takes true toughness.  On the other hand, Paul also calls husbands to love their wives, which takes plenty of intentional tenderness.  In other words, the biblical calling of masculinity is not mindlessly macho, but it is not particularly woke, either.  Instead, the biblical calling of masculinity looks like Jesus.  And if there’s anyone who knows what masculinity should look like, it’s Him.  After all, He was not only born a man, He willingly became a man.  And He not only willingly became a man, He created men.  That means He has the blueprints.  Perhaps, then, as men, we should follow them – and Him.

January 28, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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