What I Want My Granddaughters to Know About Men

Dear Clover (8) and Mathilda (2),

Over the last 50-60 years (mainly during my growing up years) women and men all around our country have been fighting for you!

They’ve been working hard to ensure that you grow up in a world where you are treated equally with men.

It may be that when you enter the workforce in 15 years or so that that may seem quaint—that equal pay for equal work and equal opportunities will be so deeply ingrained in our culture that your generation has no memory of anything else.

In a remarkably short period of time the storyline of girls and women has changed dramatically, mostly for the better—again thanks to many good women and men.  

For example:

  • In the early 1960’s girls were behind boys in school. But by 1982 girls not only caught up, they soared past boys. Girls now do far better than boys in virtually every area of education from pre-k through graduate school.
  • Increasingly the pay gap is shrinking. There’s still a lot of debate about this one. Some say that women make 80 cents or so for every $1 a man makes. This isn’t really the whole story. When you get down deep into the numbers and all of the factors that go into who works where and why, the gap is much, much smaller. There are certain job segments where the gap is huge and we still have work to do but again, a lot has changed in your favor over the last 50-60 years.
  • You are growing up in a world of unprecedented opportunities for women. When I think back to the opportunities your great-grandmother had (again, this was in my lifetime!) to what is possible for you now…it’s breathtaking!

I could go but I want to get to my main point.

This new world for women has not come without a price for men. You are not only growing up in a world fighting for equality for women, you are also growing up in a world that has become increasingly disdainful of all things masculine.

Here are two recent book titles:

  • Is There Anything Good About Men?
  • Do Fathers Matter?

Can you imagine anyone having to write a book with a title like that about women?

  • Is there Anything Good About Women?
  • Do Mothers Matter?

Unfortunately, some men contribute to the negative masculine stereotype. And we’ve been seeing it rear its ugly head lately through a series of powerful men being called out for sexual harassment. In fact, many believe we have reached a tipping point—one hopefully of high impact—that will bring to light this dark side of masculinity and protect our daughters, wives, sisters, and colleagues from it.

As your grandpa I’m sickened on the one hand, and heartened on the other hand, that this has become a public issue. For your sake, I pray that God will protect you from sick men who simply don’t deserve the title, Man.

However, the actions of a sick and powerful small group of men has given some in our culture the chance to pile on. Men, some in the media are saying, simply by being men, are complicit or guilty.  They are all monsters. 

For example:

Jennifer Berdahl, a professor in the business school at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver who studies the harassment of men, says harassment is also about gender and how society defines it. Males learn a sense of superiority over females from the time they are children, she says. Being a man means being superior to a woman and dominating women sexually or otherwise; sexual harassment is taking that (thinking) to an extreme, Berdahl says...Men are socialized from the age of 3 to think of themselves as being a ‘real man,’ defined as dominating women.

That is simply not true.  It is vastly overstated and not only demeans men but the many good women who raise these boys into men.

As a man, and as your grandpa, here are some things I want you to know about men. You will be surrounded by them all your lives so I want you to see men as their Creator sees them.

1) Yes…some men are bad men. They are sick. They are contemptible. They bring shame to the masculine side of the Image of God. But they are not the majority of men or even close to it.

2) Good, noble men do exist in the world, lots of them…and the world needs them.

3) A good man is one who uses his gifts and talents to help build a better world. And many men have done just that: Countless dads working hard to provide for their families and invest time in their children. Men faithfully loving their wives. Men protecting our country, often at great personal sacrifice. Men building the infrastructures of our nation. Men educating our children and youth. Men creating works of art be it music or literature or dance or film. Men doing their jobs with integrity and excellence.

4) While, as my friend, Dr. Michael Gurian, says, almost all of the challenges and ills a society faces trace themselves back to troubled men, at the same time, many, many of the successes and strengths of our society are built on the backs of good men.

5) The overwhelming majority of men not only want what’s best for women, they actively fight for it. These women are their daughters, wives, sisters, moms, aunts, friends, and co-workers. Men care deeply about these women in their lives. They neither want nor condone masculine domination of women.

6) Masculinity in and of itself is not toxic. It is a good, God-created, sacred gift, just as is the feminine.

7) Men are wired to experience the world differently from women. Our brains work differently. Our thought processes works differently. Our chemical make-up is different. That doesn’t make us better than women. It doesn’t make us inferior. Women and men are equal but different, and those differences make the world a better place.

8) Again, a real man is a man who uses his unique gifts and talents, and his uniqueness as the Image of God male, to serve those he loves and the world around him. And again, those men are all around us.

Your Daddies are good men. Your Grandpas are good men. The men in your church are good men. You will interact with far more good men than bad men throughout your lives. May you discover the blessing that men can be as you grow into the women God created you to be.

Could Dad be the Key to Healing our Country?

Multiple studies suggest that fatherlessness is a major contributor to crime and juvenile delinquency; premature sexuality and out-of-wedlock births to teenagers; deteriorating educational achievement; depression, substance abuse, and alienation among adolescents; and the growing number of women and children in poverty.  That list comes from David Popenoe of Rutgers University, who says the decline of fatherhood “is a major source behind many of the most disturbing problems that plaque American society.”  (Emphasis mine.  P. 221)

That a book with the title, Do Fathers Matter? has to be written at all, is telling.  In the beginning of the book Raeburn says that up until the 1970’s almost every major scientific study done on parenting was done on moms.  And the research discovered what we intuitively know: Moms are absolutely necessary.   Very few studies were done on the impact of Fathers.  And even though no studies were done to suggest that dads are irrelevant,
The irrelevancy of fathers had become an article of faith among researchers, and why would any of them question what they knew to be true?  (p. 6)

But once research was done on dads, Science showed that not only do dads matter, they matter a lot.

The belief that dads don’t really matter, however, runs deep in our culture.  Magazine articles and news pundits often debate the importance of dads around Father’s Day.  You’d never have those conversations about moms around Mother’s Day.  You’d never see a book published with the question, Do Moms Matter?

Could it be that dads have been made to feel irrelevant so they make themselves irrelevant and then it becomes a cultural norm that dads are irrelevant?  It doesn’t help that fewer American dads are participating in the lives of their children now than at any time since the U.S. began keeping records (p. 13).  A self-fulfilling prophecy?

And yet, as the opening quote suggests, making dads irrelevant creates all kinds of family and societal problems.  Could it be the much of the unrest in our country today traces itself to the marginalizing of dads?

While debates about flags and guns are important, perhaps we can start on something that the majority of us can buy into; something that speaks to the systemic issues:
·      What if communities and religious groups and the Government put a full court press on raising boys to be relevant, good dads? 
·      What if media presentations of dads/men were positive rather than the stereotypical picture of the dad/man as a buffoon? (See, for example, Cheerios excellent dad commercial!)
·      What if we believed and embraced the science that says that dad is crucial to the well-being of our society? 
·      What if we affirmed what the Bible says, that men/dads are created in the Image of God—male, and that we need the male and female Image of God working together to bring healing to our families, our communities, and our country?

Could dad be the key to bringing healing to our country?

Boys and Girls Emote Differently--Can't We Be OK With That?

Most boys hear those words and exhortations constantly throughout their lives. 

Men don’t cry! 
Men suck it up! 

Act like a man!

Recently I’ve been hearing push back on that phrase, with a growing number saying that Man Up! is one of the most damaging phrases a boy can hear. 

Anyone raising a boy or seeing the way boys are often robbed of the ability to express what we often categorize as “soft” emotions would have a hard time disagreeing.  We seemingly live in a culture that has a difficult time allowing boys and men to show any emotion other than anger—and we don’t like that emotion, either!  Crying, for example, is often pegged as one of the most anti-manly things a guy can do.  It’s a sign of weakness and a guy can never show himself to be weak.

You’ll get no disagreement from me on the problem.  I think we do a great disservice to our boys and the rest of culture when we socialize good, healthy, emoting out of our boys.

But, contrary to much of what I’ve been reading and hearing as of late, the answer is not to socialize boys to cry more or to nurture them to be more verbal with their emotions.  (Or to put it more bluntly, it does not help boys emote by insisting that we can nurture/socialize them emote more freely like girls often do!)

To start there is to do a great disservice to our boys. 

Brain science research has found at least 100 differences between the male and the female brain.  While males and females are mostly the “same” those over 100 brain differences make a big difference.

In addition, at the risk of oversimplifying, males are made up primarily of testosterone—an aggression/action hormone.  Women are made up primarily of estrogen and oxytocin—bonding/tend and befriend chemicals.  While males and females are mostly the “same” those hormones make a big difference.

Boys generally do not emote the way girls emote.  For one thing, because of the way a boy’s brain is wired, he has a much harder time accessing his feelings than does a girl. 

Ask a girl how she’s feeling about something and generally all you have to do is step back and listen to her verbally express her feelings instantaneously.

Ask a boy how he’s feeling about something and what you’ll often get is a blank stare or a mono-syllabic grunt…not because he doesn’t want to answer the question…but because he doesn’t know.  It can take a boy 30 minutes to over a day to access his feelings and put them into words.

Girls tend to processes stress in the front of the brain enabling them to verbalize the stress.  Boys tend to process stress in the back of the brain, moving them to a fight, flight, or freeze response—i.e., a response that doesn’t use a lot of words.

Where a girl’s brain is wired to tie emotions and words together, a boy’s brain is not.
            Women throughout the world have higher levels of prolactin, which controls, among other things, the development of tear glands…hence, generally, wherever you go (even in a culture that is friendly to male tears, like Italy), you see more tears from women’s eyes than from men’s. 
Leadership and the Sexes, Michael Gurian and Barbara Annis, pg. 14
My point is not that we should not nurture our boys to emote in healthy ways, but that you can’t start a discussion on helping boys emote more freely and healthily by focusing first on nurture. When we start with nurture, usually to the exclusion of nature, we tend to assume that boys can be socialized to express their emotions and feelings like girls—who tend to do it more openly and verbally.  But this, in the end, will only frustrate boys more.  Because it is trying to nurture them to emote in a way that isn’t a part of their nature. 

Many will claim that the brain has great elasticity, meaning that it can be molded and shaped through socialization and nurture, which is true.  But the brain also has some set points, so to speak, that make a male male and a female female.  These cannot be changed. 

Boys’ emotive nature, however, can be recognized, affirmed, and nurtured to respond accordingly.  Meaning, if we want to free our boys up to express all of their emotions, we need to understand how boys are wired to emote, and then free them to do so.  We start with nature, and then nurture their nature.

Most boys will not emote like most girls.  But boys are wired to emote and to do so in powerful, profound, healthy ways.  (Movement is always a good starting point for most males—get them moving and it will energize their brains to verbalize better, bond, shed some tears, emote, access feelings, etc.)

Our job is not to nurture boys to express emotions the way girls do, but the way boys do.

In other words, when we exhort a boy to Man Up! we should pour a rich understanding of nature and nurture into those words, so that we are truly inviting a boy to man-up into the healthy, thriving man he is created to be—engaging all of his emotions, gifts, and skills in the way he is created to by God.