A popular recording artist says that embodying masculinity can take the form of wearing a dress. But is that really necessary or accurate?
In “The Abolition of Man,” C.S. Lewis wrote, “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”
As the iconic Christian apologist and author had a prophetic instinct about many things, he also foresaw the eventual disintegration and “blurring of the lines” of gender roles in the 21st century. Recently, we’ve seen popular figures like One Direction’s lead singer Harry Styles wearing a dress during a photoshoot for Vogue magazine. It’s hard for the next generation to not have confused ideas about healthy, Biblical standards for masculinity when so many cultural figures and influencers are promoting a different message.
To help address these misunderstandings, let’s start with what we know from Scripture about healthy masculinity. Micah 6:8, NIV, states, “He has told you, O man, what is good, and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”
We can infer from this that a man’s top priority should always be his relationship with God. This way of living promotes a framework for healthy masculinity because when men prioritize their relationship with God, it allows them to develop constructive relationships with those in their community, behaving with respect and dignity and loving others the way Christ loved the Church. Like all leaders, men are called to live by example, and exhibiting this through exercising servant leadership can only be made possible by placing Christ at the center of it all.
Given that this is the case, men don’t need to change their identity to embody healthy masculinity. Men don’t need to be pressured to become more “feminine” or change how they dress to lead by example and have constructive relationships with one another. In Genesis 2:18, God designates a woman to be a “helper” for the man, to the end that the woman will be “suitable” for the man. The word “suitable” comes from a Hebrew term meaning “complementary.” While it’s clear that Eve was meant to “complement” Adam, it’s very important to note that she also wouldn’t be like him in every respect. Confusion happens when we allow modern culture to “blur the lines” between these gender differences that are meaningfully intended and have a purpose.
Ever since the advent of modern feminism in the 20th century, studies have shown that women have reported being less happy than men, as well as less happy than their mothers and grandmothers were at equivalent stages of life. The rejection by the feminist movement of critical, biblically-based institutions such as the family and marriage in the pursuit of greater market opportunities for women may have contributed to these reported levels of unfulfillment among women.
Oftentimes, memes, and politically correct graphics can be seen circulating across social media encouraging men to “be feminist” as a way to develop healthy standards of masculinity. This is false because the set of behaviors, leadership qualities, and lifestyle that fits within the framework of healthy masculinity doesn’t come from “fighting for equality” or participating in identity politics. Rather, it comes from intentionally seeking out and exemplifying the character of Christ as seen in His Word.
Christ-centered men and women need to celebrate these differences, setting an example for modern culture in the process. We don’t need to change our God-given gender differences, overthrow beautiful institutions that some in our culture think are toxic when they aren’t, or conform to stereotypes that may be trendy on social media. In the workforce, in academia, in the Church, and even in the family, healthy masculinity always strives to lead by example — the example of prioritizing the needs of those around them before themselves. As we read in Galatians 5:13, ESV, “For you were called to freedom brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, serve one another.”
It’s time for us to live out these principles, and in so doing, help the culture see that Christ’s way is the right way.