Growing up, I never fully identified with what other boys my age did. Sports was never my forte. I was not one to go out and practice a particular sport over and over. I found that boring and repetitive. Watching sports was even more of a challenge because I never understood what was happening and there was not a storyline to keep me interested. Maybe it was sports that caused me to feel alienated from other boys my age, but sports play a huge role in our American society.
Not only that, I wasn’t a fan of a lot of the music to which they listened, movies that were just about fighting and nothing else, playing video games until all hours of the night, or even the popular clothing that all the kids my age wore. A lot of this was because my parents wouldn’t allow me to listen to a lot of the music, watch a lot of those movies, play video games all the time, or wear clothing that was absurdly expensive for someone who would just grow out of it in a few weeks.
In high school, I remember feeling even more alienated because I didn’t want to sit down and fill out a bracket, I was horrible at all PE games (and had the tendency to lose interest), and I was involved in band and choir instead of the illustrious football/basketball/baseball team. Not only did I remain uninvolved in sports, but I also actually thoroughly enjoyed being in band and choir. I enjoyed being in musicals. I enjoyed performance. I enjoyed playing piano.
I heard the litany of insults that students would call me. It was the usual unintelligent rumblings of those whom the evolutionary process seemed to skip. Kids were mean. That was normal. I would much rather watch a musical than a game any day of the week. But the only time I felt different was when I was at school…and sometimes at church.
The evangelical church sometimes has the tendency to stereotype genders. Men play sports. Men eat steaks. Men are reminiscent of those cavemen from the GEICO commercials. Women make casseroles. Women stay at home with their children. Women should always be June Cleaver.
Luckily, I grew up in a home where my parents taught me that boys didn’t play with trucks and girls didn’t play with barbies. I never felt like less of a man because I didn’t want to go outside and stand in the middle of a field. At home, I felt loved and like more of a man. At church, I oftentimes felt like less of a man.
In her book, Redeeming Sex, Deb Hirsch writes this: “The problem is that buying a truck for a kid who would rather paint or dress a doll can lead him to further alienation from his masculine identity. Wouldn’t we do better to raise our kids according to their natural likes, gifts and strengths, broadening out our own categories in order to accommodate them?”
Unfortunately, I know of a lot of kids who feel like they aren’t a man at home. I was fortunate enough to be raised to where my parents taught me that what made me a man was keeping my promises, helping out those who needed help, caring for others more than yourself, and eating steak…but to be fair, eating steak was what made a woman a woman in our house, too. It was a universal truth. My parents taught me that my character made me a man.
My fear is that the evangelical church is missing out on this conversation. Every time you stereotype men for an event that is “manly,” realize that you are alienating quite a few guys. Every time that you consider those involved in the arts as “fags,” remember that David played a harp and danced around…so David was a fag. Does that make you uncomfortable? Good. It should. Because your words make me uncomfortable. In fact, every time you call someone a fag or gay or some other term from the LGBT community in hopes that it makes someone feel like less of a man, you should be ashamed. I have many gay friends who are more of a man than you’ll ever be.
Many in the evangelical church still think it’s okay to categorize guys based upon their athletic ability, their diet, or their job status. And we do the same for girls based upon their ability to be a mother, their job status, and their cooking abilities.
I am a man who loves cooking, living in a clean apartment, gardening, making sure everything is decorated and looks appealing, spending a Tuesday evening watching a musical in the city, going to hear the symphony orchestra, listening to a recent musical soundtrack, watching great films about deep topics, watching a stand-up comedian, laughing, reading, and drinking egregious amounts of coffee.
But those don’t make me a man.
Can we, in the evangelical church, move past the idea that what we do makes us a man or a woman? We may not teach that from the pulpit, but we do imply it in several different avenues. I’m not saying that we walk on eggshells…I’m just asking that we become cognizant.
There are rumors going around that “guys” don’t like the church because it is too feminine. So we decide to add more sports, more meat, and more testosterone-driven messages. Maybe we don’t need to add more stereotypical manly activities and instead speak to the character.
With Father’s Day approaching, churches will most likely celebrate it to some extent (I’m not a fan for celebration of non-liturgical holidays…but that’s another topic for another time). Instead of doing the usual jokes about how men don’t ask for directions, eat too much meat, refuse to do the dishes, or whatever else, speak about character and integrity.
I would much rather sing in a choir any day over watching a football game….even the Super Bowl…and that doesn’t make me less of a man. I’m not the one who’s insecure about his masculinity. In my experience, the one who projects is the one who is insecure.