I remember watching Pretender growing up, there was this guy – Kyle – raised to be a sociopath, he was taught this mantra: “I decide who lives or dies.” And he did just that. It seems like these days, that’s true, not of life and death, but of men and women. About a week ago, I stumbled across a piece, a mother telling her daughter that there were limits on what she could and couldn’t do because she was a girl. She could never be a father, but she could be a mother. (Tough luck for single mothers who have to be both.) She could never be the breadwinner, but she could stay at home to raise her kids. (Tough luck for working mothers who have to do both.) She was deciding for her daughter what it was to be a woman, using herself as a definition, a blueprint that her daughter should pattern her life after in order to gain her approval.
Likewise, I saw another piece talking about manhood in much the same way, A real, true man was a good husband and a good father. So that must mean that men who opt to remain single and never have any children are not real, true men. It’s author was deciding for others what it took to be a man, using himself as a definition, a blueprint that other men should pattern their lives after in order to gain his approval.
Any other form of womanhood or manhood just doesn’t match their lofty criteria. Throw in the descriptor ‘Biblical’ into the mix and you end up sending this message: “God loves you, but he would you so much more if you were a feminine woman or a masculine man.” Manhood and womanhood are really confusing on it’s best days. If it’s tied to marriage and parenthood, then every single or child-free couple are failures at manhood and womanhood.
Jesus’ message was never that we ought to be more manly men or more womanly women. It was never that men ought to father children and that women ought to bear children, or that marriage was the ideal expression of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Jesus’ words about family were very different – that members of the household would turn against one another, that anyone who lost their family would find a new one in the church – as brothers and sisters adopted into God’s family. Brothers and sisters – not fathers and mothers.
The thing is – not matching these people’s expectations for a real, true man or woman can make you feel like a second class person. Only some vague shadow of a person because you’re the right gender (which is better than nothing) but not quite right. After all the opposite of something that is real or true is something that is artificial and false. As usual, too much emphasis is placed on what others think or require of you to be ‘in’ or ‘with’ or ‘among’ them. That’s probably because we’re still social animals. We don’t do so well alone. We depend on each other’s company – and that means that being approved of is important.
I don’t really think manhood and womanhood is as simple as being sufficiently masculine and sufficiently feminine, being a spouse and a parent. I don’t think being human should be reduced being a man or a woman before all else. When I think about my personal heroes, they stood for something more important … peace, civil rights, justice, truth, mercy, and so much more. Come to think of it, nobody make’s my list for being manly or womanly. I like the men and women who spoke up for the outcasts, helped deal with poverty even in the midst of it, tried to teach people to change their understanding about their lot in life and inspire the next generation to tackle the big problems that were headed their way. Being the right kind of man or woman to the exclusion of all the other (wrong) kinds of men and women just never seemed important. After all, we’re in a constantly changing world and everything is bound to be different five minutes from now.
No, I don’t decide who is a man and who isn’t a man. I don’t decide who is a woman and who isn’t a woman. I don’t decide that being husband and wife and a father and mother is all there is to a true expression of what it is to be men and women. Women and men don’t exist in a world where laws tell us what’s appropriate for a free person or a slave person, what’s appropriate for a person of high status or low status, or assign punishments for people who dare to cross boundaries. We celebrate when boundaries are broken particularly when they’re oppressive. I think it takes being something of an outsider to see it – when one is a manly man or a womanly woman, they’re the ideal and can have a hard time understanding people who are different. But when different people get together, they celebrate the diversity of what it is to be a human. Like the android commercials – “Be together, not the same.”