Watching the violence of this summer spill into the fall, I can’t help but notice a common denominator deeper than ethnicity or religion or occupation…maleness. In the incidents involving shootings at schools or workplaces or involving bombs set to explode, men are the perpetrators. In the vast majority of incidents between law enforcement and people of color, men are the ones doing the shooting or being shot. Our national dialogue has villainized Muslims, immigrants, the police, the black community, the white community, the LGBTQ+ community, but not once pointed out the painfully obvious connection in all this violence: men.
I suggest a modest proposal: we deport all the men out of the country and make America great for the first time. Imagine how much less violence we’d encounter. Imagine how the absence of the Y chromosome would alter the stories we’d hear on the evening news. Imagine a society without “locker room” talk. Imagine no more patriarchy at the local ministerium meeting. Ah…. The latter two, especially, would be dreams come true. Yet, I would miss the men, some of them at least. My husband, the men in my family and my guy friends are good eggs.
While this modest proposal is hyperbole, the real issue isn’t generally men but the way our culture revers a certain type of masculinity and preaches its embodiment. This “hypermasculinity” promotes the obsessive need to be #1 in everything, valuing strength at the expense of others’ weaknesses and accepting the violence—physical, verbal, emotional—enacted in reaching the unrealistic goal of being “the best” as the cost of doing business. We teach men hypermasculinity is tough. Tears and fears are for girls. I’ve always been appalled by the phrase “scream like a girl” and recently was again when I heard some colleagues in ministry using it as incentive encouraging donations to a charitable fundraiser. Such language, even in the context of ministry and charitable giving, smacks of glorifying hypermasculine behavior.
Hypermasculinity is insidious, and it’s everywhere. It starts early in the athletic events in which we enroll our sons. They are preached at to be stronger, more aggressive, more competitive and simply better than the others they will meet. It starts early in the movies we show our children—when was the last time you saw a grown man shed tears in an animated Disney film? Our daughters, too, are taught this kind of masculinity is the way men are “supposed to” behave. Princesses can, and do, cry but princes remain solidly stoic. As our children age, hypermasculinity is embodied in the games they play, uber-violent video games like “Grand Theft Auto” or in the dreams they dream, like becoming a professional football player. Hypermasculinity is glorified in a crass decal promoting rape culture sold in small t-shirt shops along ocean boardwalks or in a set of plastic testicles hanging from the hitch of a jacked-up truck. Hypermasculinity is exemplified in some of our political candidates and because their campaigns have been “blessed” by mainstream acceptance, the values they express are excused.
Our collective understanding of masculinity is literally killing us. If we want our society to become more life-giving and just, we need a different approach to embodying maleness in the present-day United States. As a Christian, the obvious place I look for guidance is Jesus. He was fully a human man, and yet he was fully the Creator God, and somehow in this mystery of identity, Jesus encompasses the full range of gender, of embodied humanness. When his beloved friend died, Jesus wept openly in front of everybody. He constantly leveraged his power to raise up those his patriarchal society ignored and downplayed. In intimate “locker room moments,” Jesus and his boys found much better things to talk about than their response to other people’s bodies. Through his death, Jesus sacrificed everything—health, reputation, success—in one of the most shameful ways possible so that everyone might know what it means to live, fully live.
People of faith need to take a leading role proclaiming and inciting a transformed understanding of masculinity. In my exasperated moments I want to scream, “Death to the patriarchy!” and tear down everything and everyone masculine. As a disciple of Jesus, though, I sense he would call his followers to do otherwise than undiscerning destruction. He would question the attitudes and actions of those around him. He would speak out for those hurting. He would be far more concerned about faithfulness to God than being the best preacher or rabbi or man in town. How can we uplift postures and behaviors more congruent with God’s vision of flourishing of life for everyone? Looking to Jesus, let us raise our voices against hypermasculinity in our corners of the world.
Rev. Rebecca Hoover lives outside of the Reading, Pennsylvania area where she juggles being one half of a dual-clergy couple, raising a daughter and serving as pastor of One United Church of Christ.
RevGalBlogPals encourages you to share our blog posts via email or social media. We do not grant permission to cut-and-paste prayers and articles without a link back. For permission to use material in paper publications, please email revgalblogpals at gmail dot com.