Prime Minister Trudeau’s recent comments on the “gender” and “social” impacts of bringing construction workers into a rural, received outrage when those in the industry received his comments as attacking male construction workers. Gillette recently published an ad exhorting men “to be better.” Jordan Peterson has been challenged numerous for his comments on feminism and the gender pay gap. Douglas Wilson comments on the Gillette ad: “Until this Gillette ad came along, it was hard to envisage a line of guys barbecuing as incipient fascism. But now that the creepy point has been made we will not be allowed to forget it. We can’t be too careful apparently.”
These debates about masculinity and what it is and what it looks like have been around for a long time. I would argue that many of these debates stem back in part to the sexual revolution and the political and social upheavals of the 60s and 70s. Of course the questions of gender identity from that time period has turned into the gender confusion of transgenderism and same-sex couples of the present day.
Something that I have been reflecting on is a distinction between the tokens of masculinity and the definition of masculinity. This has been through conversation with my older brother and through watching Alastair Roberts’ YouTube channel. With all the confusion that we are facing, we are not simply asking what men do, but who they are. And then when we ask that, we must also ask how they relate to women before God. I want to reflect a little more one what a man is, and for more thorough thoughts, I would refer you to anything that Alastair Roberts has written on the topic.
I have heard a lot of discussion over a number of pastor’s blogs and podcasts about how to deal with the issue of effeminacy. I appreciate a lot of their points, but it does in fact seem that often we focus on the tokens of masculinity. By this, I mean that we focus on the appearance, what makes a man look like a man. Now, I am not saying that this doesn’t matter, but we also have to be careful that we don’t make something that doesn’t matter an issue of morality. As one of my friends has said: “Do you like your coffee black or with cream? OK, cool, I don’t care.” And yes, I would argue that if possible, it is excellent for a man to know how to play both piano and rugby.
I also believe that we would do well to reflect more on male virtue, something that Alastair Roberts reflects on more here. As he points out the Latin word for man (vir), forms the word itself. One dictionary defines it this way: “the quality or practice of moral excellence or righteousness. a particular moral excellence the virtue of tolerance. any of the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) or theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity) any admirable quality, feature, or trait.” To give an example of virtue from the book of Proverbs 25:28 “A man without self-control, is like a city broken into and left without walls.” In other words, you can be fit, wealthy, aggressive, but if you don’t have the virtue of self-control, you have no defense mechanisms. This is weakness. None of these things are necessarily wrong in and of themselves, but a real strength must undergird external strength.
This has been one of my my central reflections as I reflect on the blue collar industries that our Prime Minister mocks. I personally have appreciated both my experiences in “the academy” and “out in the field.” The first problem with his comments are that if he has any critique of construction workers, that critique would be as valuable or more valuable of the males in a university setting. There is something to say for a guy who works out on an oil rig, a landscaper, or a soldier. There is something masculine about going out and breaking into a sweat and working hard with your hands, getting out onto the hockey rink or rugby field and hitting hard and winning the game. Of course, this is not all there is to masculinity, and there is something such as being a gentleman and losing like a man in sports, but we would do well to avoid dismissing these realities.
When you get down to the root issues, a breakdown of masculinity in our culture more often than not comes down to issues such as self-pity, cowardice, etc. This is why Douglas Wilson defines masculinity as “the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility.” Men ought to take responsibility for their actions or lack of actions, and press forward in humble and sacrificial leadership under orders from the Word of God. We look to the cross and there we seek mercy and grace in the time of need. And then under the banner of Christ, we return to the battlefield to lead with courage and gentleness and servanthood.