(Family Magazine October 2011 3rd Issue)
If it is unfeasible for men to cling onto the stereotypical identity of larger income, professional position, or functional role in the family, how can men develop their identity in the 21st century? Are men becoming tamed dragons, and merging into a gender-free species that share the same role with women?
A Short Story
John (real name withheld) is an Asian American engineer. His wife was pregnant with twins on the way, and he was laid off. Unable to find a similar job, he and his wife decided that he should stay home and take care of the two kids while his wife returns to work after the kids arrive. Due to the recent recession, many men swap their role with woman and stay at home as “daddy-sitter.” This is the reality of 21st century that men must face.
The New Reality
Feminist movements have made great strides worldwide in the past decades, but not for men. In light of the feminist movement and demand for equality, the definition of masculinity has become even more challenging and confusing for Christian men who try to uphold the principle of being “the head of the household” and spiritual leadership at home, while adapting to the shift in men and women’s social roles. In the 21st century, man’s identity is an issue indicative by the question, “What does it mean to be a Man?” (Barratt, 1994)
Since the 60’s, we have witnessed tidal waves of changes in the social roles for both men and women. “Sheconomy” is a wittingly crafted term by Luscombe (2010). Her study revealed that in October 2009, women held about 51.5 percent of high-paying management and professional jobs in the U.S. Almost 60% of today’s college graduates are women, the opposite of the baby boom generation. As these trends continue in the West, men will be working for more female bosses. While women still earn less than men in general, a third of women as highest-paying executives earn more than their husbands. Many women are penetrating the “Glass Ceiling” (Jackson, 2009) that was once exclusively men’s private country club. It is clear that socioeconomic powers are intimately coupled with the rise of femininity and higher education.
The word masculinity is a point of tension: men’s role in the family cannot be defined by the term “breadwinner” as many wives are bringing home the paycheck. In many aspects, many men are beginning to face their new social and familial roles, and pondering on the meaning of masculinity and identity. If it is unfeasible for men to cling onto the stereotypical identity of larger income, professional position, or functional role in the family, how can men develop their identity in the 21st century? Are men becoming tamed dragons, and merging into a gender-free species that share the same role with women?
Masculinity in a new century is more about the character of men’s hearts and souls than about the size of their biceps or their wallets. Emerging evidence offers two possible ideas of masculinity that may contribute the wellness of males and families.
The first idea is based on Siegel’s (2007) suggestion, for men to adopt a concept of “Two People, One Breadwinner.” The premise is, while husband and wife are not alike, they are considered as “one breadwinner” because their combined income contributes to a family’s financial welfare. By removing the stereotypical labeling of “breadwinner” from men, it frees them from the sense of inadequacy when earning less than his wife. Both husband and wife are united as a singular entity of breadwinner. As reminded by the Scriptures, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24; NIV). The thought of “one flesh” is a metaphorical concept of unity where both husband and wife strive to perfect that union. In other word, men in the 21st century can be freed from the fixation of being “the breadwinner;” he is not shamed by his wife’s larger income simply because they both contribute to the “one flesh.” A man’s masculinity should not be defined from an individualistic line of thought, but from a marital commitment and familial relationships.
A Short Story
Joan is a full-time banker with two children in elementary school. Her husband is an engineer working in Silicon Valley and rarely comes home before 8 p.m. On a typical day, Joan picks up her children from her parents after work, cooks dinner, helps children with homework etc. Yet her household tasks seem endless. Even with weekly cleaning help from hired maid, the house seems messy as she was unable to deal with it. Fatigue is her constant companion!
As women spend more time at work, there is an urgent need for husband to share household responsibilities with his wife. Commonly known as “second shift”, the term describes employed mother who faces a heavier load of household labor after coming home from work. Milkie et al., (2009) confirmed that for contemporary U.S. parents with preschoolers, full-time working mothers’ total workloads are greater than fathers’: mothers have less leisure and feel greater time pressures compared with fathers.
Also, the sheer fact of women having more financial power has leveled the playing field of purchase decisions. Men should not hold onto the concept that certain purchase decisions, such as cars, TV, home theater equipment are exclusive to men’s prerogative. By sharing his decision making process will empower his spouse to truly be “his helper.” The simple necessity to make up for less time at home when both partners are working, men need to step up their familial role by: 1) sharing more household work, and 2) sharing more purchase decisions with his spouse. Men may find themselves facing a list of non-male-centric tasks, such as cooking, babysitting, washing laundry, house cleaning etc. There is no easy way out for most men as most families could not afford to hire a full-time maid. Tremendous courage is needed for a man to forgo the luxury he once enjoyed to come to term with “becoming one flesh.”
Men as Protectors
These two gender-free concepts help to define men’s identity in the 21st century by anchoring his place in the family with tangible actions, but they seem to imply neutrality between men and women – a family exists simply as a form of limited business partnership (Blossfeld & Buchholz, 2009). While there are many “converging” roles for men and women in securing a family, our reflection leads us to an exploration of characters that define 21st century manhood that are significantly different from womanhood. From past clinical studies, prevalence data showed that women are twice likely than men to suffer from depression. As no one study has untangled all the puzzles behind depression, we do know that activity scheduling is an important part of treating depression. With males having the propensity to be more rationally-minded and more engaged in sports, together they are likely to can act as protective factors for men from depression. On the other hand, men’s rationality along with their typically higher physical strengths has historically empowered them to serve as protectors. These traits seem to reveal a biblically endorsed role of “being the head of the household,” and “sacrifice life” for the wife when necessary. When the two traits of rationality and physical strength are considered together, it seems to yield an inherent characteristic of courage that is impossible to ignore. Tracing back to the time of Joshua in the Old Testament, Joshua was continually being reminded by the Lord to be “courageous” (Joshua 1:7) as he was entrusted with the monumental task of leading over a million people into the land of Canaan. As most men are not required to lead a multitude to cross the Jordan River, they are entrusted with the responsibilities of serving and protecting their spouse and children.
Having the aptitude to protect and secure the family’s needs is a daily challenge of one’s character and courage. The author proposes three aspects of manhood as practical considerations: 1) be courageous in offering physical and emotional support to his family; 2) be courageous to communicate emotionally; 3) be courageous in modeling forgiveness.
Men as Models
The harmful effects and potential damages of absentee fathers have been well proven (Balthazar, 2007), and the opposite is also true – a father’s physical presence in the family speaks volume into securing stability and benefits of a family. Fathers, by taking sincere and authentic interest in their children’s interests and hobbies, will help to anchor their sense of security toward growing into adulthood. It is important for men to serve as healthy role models for children that doing household chores is a valuable contribution to the family, and being with his children to solve problems together is another contribution of his sheer presence.
But overtly relying on male’s rational mind can be an area of weakness for developing interpersonal relationships. Liberman (2006) of University of Pennsylvania shows that on average, women will communicate with 8805 words per day, while men will only use 6073 words. Furthermore, words such as frustration, fears, and feeling insecure are common feelings that we human encountered daily, yet they seem like taboos for men. The fewer words usage and rationally oriented expressions in men are not likely deficit in emotional intelligence but are reflective of how men are socialized in avoidance of them. There is substantial evidence showing that men are less likely to seek help for personal problems, and it often takes a major crisis for a man to overcome his socialized resistance to seeking help in therapy. Nutt (2010) believes that substantial evidence suggests that it is “important to recognize that men are generally less likely…in sharing or exploring deep feelings. Some men may not even be aware of deep feelings as they have been socialized to no longer to recognize them” (p. 2). The stereotyped and socialized masculinity of rationality is an obsolete perception of maleness that helps contribute to this perception of emotional deficit. The renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman (1995) in his book “Emotional Intelligence” touted that the rules for emotional engagement has changed. It is no longer sufficient to develop one’s cognitive intelligence at the expense of ignoring one’s emotional intelligence.
To overcome the apparent deficit of emotions in men, it is critical to value the importance of emotional intelligence and take step in nurturing the “emotional aspect of masculinity.” In Ephesians 4:14-15, Paul said, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves…by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (NIV). Speaking the “truth in love” is a crafty balance of rationality and emotionality.
Men as Forgivers
A defining evidence of masculinity, consistent with biblical teaching, is courageously demonstrating forgiveness. As Christ personified courage with his sacrifice on the cross, it is the offering of forgiveness that is at the heart of the crucifixion. The ability to embrace and offer forgiveness is indicative of masculinity in a man that transcends the hurdle of socialized stereotype. It is a model of masculinity with an understanding of rationality, emotionality, and spirituality. As in most contemporary marriages, conflicts are an unavoidable part of interpersonal relationships, and resolving conflicts is also an artful skill. Demonstration of masculinity can simply be the offering “I am sorry” to his wife or children in an appropriate situation. While forgiveness entails an inherent notion of unfairness, it is the key to clear most impasses resulted from interpersonal conflicts. Forgiving is a difficult practice but a wonderful act to melt away conflicts and hostility we so often encountered in intimate relationships. While the topic of forgiveness requires a much lengthier exploration than this article entails, it is a definitive aptitude where men can anchor his identity as Christ has already set the precedence.
The challenges toward manhood and masculine identity are daunting and yet exhilarating, and they will surely separate a tamed dragon from a roaring lion in the 21st century.
Phillip Lowe completed his MA studies in theology and psychology at Fuller Seminary, and is currently completing his doctoral degree in clinical psychology at Fuller School of Psychology. He also received his Bachelor and Master degrees in Electrical Engineering. He was involved in family ministry, counseling adults and families at church during the past few years. He has conducted numerous workshops on topics related to marriage, family, children, identity, sexuality, and spiritual renewal.
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