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Significant interest in the psychology of men surged from about the mid-1970s, after the feminist movement. Early “masculist” authors included Goldberg (1976) and Farrell (1975), whose original suggestions fell in line with the psychology of the times, namely, that men should be more sensitive and less aggressive. Their later works (e.g., Farrell, 1986) were reconstructions of these early manifestations of North American culture’s interest in gender differences. The mid-1980s saw a new turn in the interest of male psychology with the development of the men’s movement. This movement is headed by two predominant forces only loosely aligned: the mythopoetic leaders exemplified by poet laureate Robert Bly (1990) and his colleagues Michael Meade and Robert Moore (Moore & Gillette, 1992), and the International Men’s Conference, a loose confederation of men generating out of the San Antonio, Texas, area who gathered together in “wild men” retreats. Joining the foray into the men’s movement was Jungian analyst James Hillman, who brought the only solidly psychological perspective to the understanding of maleness. The men’s movement of the 1980s was short-lived, however, as were the publications and meetings it fostered. Taking the place of the secular men’s movement has been the increasingly popular Promise Keepers’ meetings, the brainchild of former Colorado football coach Bill McCartney, which draw tens of thousands of Christian men annually for revival of the male spirit from a distinctively evangelical Christian perspective.
During the course of the now largely dormant feminist movement and in the wake of the seemingly dead secular men’s movement, there has been a small amount of research into masculinity and an even smaller amount of biblical and theological research into what it means to be male. Nothing in the biblical-theological literature matches the immensely valuable work by Trible (1978), which examined femininity as well as the nature of God from a biblical perspective. That which has been written from a Christian perspective, aside from an occasional journal article (Johnson, 1988), has been universally from a conservative and limited perspective (Neuer, 1991; Piper & Grudem, 1991). A plethora of books written by contemporarily popular authors (Crabb, 1990; Dobson, 1991) have kept the matter of masculinity in front of the Christian audience. From the secular side of psychology a few important examinations of gender differences in general have helped in our understanding of maleness (Gilligan, 1982; Gray, 1992; Tannen, 1990), but little has substantiated an understanding of what it means to be male. Many authors examining gender differences follow early, somewhat strident feminist theory suggesting that most gender differences are social roles (VanLeeuwen, 1990). Thus we are left with much more theory than fact, and it is expected that the next few years will greatly increase our understanding of gender differences in general and masculinity in particular.
What we know about maleness comes from several quarters: extant biological research, primarily regarding the effect of hormones, genes, brain differences, musculature, and physical illness; sociological and behavioral research; study of child development as it relates to gender differences; gender-specific biblical and theological directives; and theoretical formulations. Biological research has identified the predominance of testosterone in the male body, which seemingly has a strong causative effect on males’ tendency to be physically aggressive more than females. The lack of normative testosterone levels in males is highly correlated with evident passiveness in behavior. Some research shows that larger amounts of testosterone lead to overly aggressive or criminal activity. Evidence of gender differences due to hormone levels is also tangentially related to brain differences in males and females because the hypothalamus of the brain regulates hormonal functions as well as motivation and at least some emotion. More important brain differences are that male brains are lateralized, or one-sided; female brains are more bilateral. The lateralized male brain does not allow for as rapid a shift from left to right brain functions as occurs in women, hence making men less able to create and produce simultaneously, think and feel simultaneously, and talk and listen simultaneously. Possibly related to these factors is that men are found to be better at seeing the environment while women are found to be better listeners.
While testosterone and other genetic factors lead to the male body converting caloric intake more to musculature than fat storage, it appears that this physical superiority also leads to the profound inferiority of males in being much more susceptible to almost all physical diseases, such as cancer, heart, and lung disease. Related to some hard evidence of physical differences between the sexes is the fact that not only are men more inclined to most physical illnesses, but also they are highly inclined to accidents, criminality, and suicide. Males of all ages are approximately twice as likely as females to have auto accidents, falls, drowning, and most other accidents. Ninety-five percent of current prison inmates are men, and the men who are incarcerated have committed more serious and more frequent crimes than have the incarcerated women. For reasons that are not entirely clear but that relate to their tendency toward criminality, even the youngest of boys tend to be more inclined to some kind of dishonesty than girls.
Rates of suicide gestures and suicides reveal that 10 times more gestures are made by women, who are also more inclined to complain of depression, but 10 times more suicides are committed by men, who tend to become depressed much more seriously and later in life. In their drinking patterns men tend to drink earlier, more often, and in greater quantity, and have more serious complications of their drinking (see Alcohol Abuse and Dependency).
In their day-to-day activities males are found to be superior in mathematical functions, mechanical functions, and spatial relations compared to females’ superiority in language-based functions of life, such as reading and speaking. Activity levels of males of all ages, but particularly of neonates, are found to be higher than those of females, but males are found to be much less compliant and group-minded than females. One research study found that in groups of children there was always fighting when the groups were male-only, never fighting when the groups were female-only, and usually fighting when there were mixed-sex groups, with the fighting always being initiated by the boys. The fact that boys are more active relates to their being more exploratory of their environment and theoretically may lead to their tendency to be more exploratory and scientific in their adult lives. If boys and men are attuned to the physical possibilities of the real world, girls and women are more attuned to the emotional and relational aspects as evidenced by their compliance, tendency to seek agreement rather than argument, and what some researchers call communality (i.e., seeking emotional connectedness with other people). The question as to how much of female communality and male directedness is socially determined is open to debate. The probable truth is that the tendencies stem from nature, nurture, and the interaction of those two ingredients of human behavior. Additional study has found that a relatively stable phenomenon among males across age levels is that they value independence, competitiveness, play, and individualism; females tend to value social intimacy.
The sparse amount of solid theological literature regarding gender differences, let alone the nature of maleness, allows for only marginal considerations of spiritual differences between men and women. The Old Testament presentation of women as being responsive and sometimes seductive may be an artifact of the apparent patriarchy of the time or a reflection of something basic to gender difference. Eve’s creation as helper, not so much assistant to the male, can be perceived as a reflection of a basic ingredient of femaleness being to complement or perhaps to correct maleness. Conservatives and many evangelicals would point to Paul’s suggestion that the man is the head as Christ is the head of the church as evidence of male superiority in the household, but such a view seems to be inadequate to understand unmarried persons and may be too concretized an understanding of maleness.
Following Paul’s suggestion that sin is anything to excess, hence idolatrous, it has been suggested that female sin may be the inclination to help to a fault (hence criticize) as well as speak to a fault (utilizing her verbal superiority). Male sin may be inclined toward being dominant, aggressive, or anger-based, whether at home, at work, or with friends.
Paul’s suggestion (1 Thess. 2:11–12, niv) that fathers are to be “encouraging, comforting, and urging” may be the Scripture’s best description of what it means to be a Christian male. Other scholars have suggested that Paul similarly exhorts men to love their wives because spousal loving comes less naturally to men than to women and requires more effort. Following this line of thought, it has been suggested that after the fall women retain the pre-fall understanding of human connectedness and communality (hence the curse to seek after the man), while men retain the pre-fall understanding of the value of work and production (hence the curse of toiling with sweat). An extension of this theology is that the communality of women is complemented by the directedness of men, thus giving females a better understanding of our unified existence and need for each other and males a better grasp of our ultimate individual natures and separateness.
Other Bible students have remarked on the frequency of male-to-male intimacy, such as that seen between Joseph and his brothers, Jonathan and David, Jesus and his disciples, and Paul and his many students, noting that such intimacy seems to be lacking in North American culture. The fact that 65% of church attendees are female, 80% of therapy patients are female, and 90% of same-sex intimate relationships are female-to-female would seem to suggest that the present culture does not support or reward male-to-male intimacy.
The theoretical formulations of maleness come out of this broad array of research in biology, psychology, and theology. Our present understanding leads us to believe that the relevant distinctive qualities of maleness include being significantly less fluent and effective verbally (although men actually talk more than women); being physically superior and more aggressive and inclined to physical excesses, such as in work, play, and criminality; possessing the spiritual quality of leadership that generates from physical superiority and a feeling of separateness in the world; needing female connectedness and help through correction; and usually lacking in intimate male friendship, which seems contrary to many biblical examples.
R. B. Johnson
- Bly, R. (1990). Iron John: A book about men. New York: Random House.
- Crabb, L. (1990). Men and woman: Enjoying the difference. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- Dobson, J. C. (1991). Straight talk. Dallas: Word.
- Farrell, W. (1975). The liberated man. New York: Random House.
- Farrell, W. (1986). Why men are the way they are. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Goldberg, H. (1976). The hazards of being male. New York: Signet Classics.
- Gray, J. (1992). Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. New York: HarperCollins.
- Johnson, R. (1988). The theology of gender. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 7 (4), 39–49.
- Moore, R., & Gillette, D. (1990). King, warrior, magician, lover. New York: HarperCollins.
- Neuer, W. (1991). Man and woman in Christian perspective. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
- Piper, J., & Grudem, W. (Eds.). (1991). Recovering biblical manhood and womanhood: A response to evangelical feminism. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
- Tannen, D. (1990). You just don’t understand. New York: Morrow.
- Trible, P. (1978). God and the rhetoric of sexuality. Philadelphia: Fortress.
- VanLeeuwen, M. S. (1990). Gender and grace. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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