The Best Men Can Be

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“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love.”

(1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

Life was much simpler before the time where I had to decide whether or not to throw a Gillette razor in the toilet as a form of social protest, but here we are. If you haven’t been on the internet since Monday, Gillette released a new commercial depicting the violent and psychological effects of toxic masculinity and aiming to call men to a higher standard. Needless to say, this has caused nothing less than a kerfuffle online. It even led the notorious Fox News commentator Todd Starnes to say, “Before too long, they’ll be telling us to shave our legs.”

What’s going on here? Why are we waging what seems to be another cultural war over...a razor ad? The Right would have you believe this is politically-correct virtue signaling, telling men that deep inside that they suck. And throwing a Gillette razor in the toilet owns the libs. The Left would have you believe this represents the new era of masculinity, one unhitched from “traditional masculinity”. I believe both are in error.

First, it’s worthwhile to take a step back and come to a fuller perspective of our cultural moment. We are living in the era of #MeToo, a movement catapulted by the downfall of the infamous Harvey Weinstein. Since then, hundreds of men like actor Kevin Spacey and comedian Louis C.K. (and some women like Asia Argento) have fallen in disgrace over their past sexual encounters. Conversely, we are living in a gender-confused age. An age where we saw the rapid acceptance of gay marriage and now the rapid acceptance of transgenderism. The traditional definitions of “man” and “woman” have been jettisoned entirely, as well as the words “man” and “woman.” If the cultural moment of the 60s and 70s was of sexual liberation, our cultural moment is one of sexual confusion, though the false promise still rings of liberation.

It is nothing short of a crisis. A crisis of sexuality. I reject our modern notions of sexuality being inherently about who we are romantically attracted to. I believe this betrays the very fabric of who we were created to be: sexual beings. Our sexuality is hardwired not only spiritually, but psychologically and physically to who we are. This is why I believe our crisis is not merely one of sexuality but of identity. Who are you? Or rather, who do you think you are?

This crisis of identity has been propelled by post-modern and deconstructionist views of objective truth and virtue. Or, in essence, there is no objective standard by which we can judge whether something is inherently good or evil, virtuous or not. It has blurred the lines between, what for centuries has now been established as fact: that men and women are inherently, biologically, and psychologically different (Trigger warning. Wait, was that supposed to go before or after that statement?).

Which brings us to the new Gillette ad. Contrary to what many people think, I thought it was a good ad. It displayed what being a man looks like in our cultural moment: stop bullying, don’t sexually objectify women, be a good dad, act like men (buy our razors?). However, Gillette has stepped into the quagmire of our cultural identity crisis. While trying to display what being a man is and does, we have to ask: doesn’t that go against the very mainstream cultural narrative being promoted by many who have praised the ad? Namely, that there are no differences between men and women? If there are truly no differences between men and women, then why are we trying to promote a “new masculinity”? Wouldn’t this defeat the very purpose of the sexual revolution since there is no such thing as gender?

I have to say one more thing before I get to the definitions of masculinity. We must recognize there are men who, without the right guidance of their masculine traits wield them for horror instead of honor. I believe the American Psychological Association, when they created their new guidelines on masculinity were seeking to address this issue, though incredibly halfheartedly. We have to address the problems of machismo and passivity in masculinity, but the only way to do that is with more truer and fuller masculinity. Without men leading other men, without older men being examples for younger men, we will continue to see bullies and sexual harassers. I think everyone can agree with that.

Gillette recognized there is something different about being a man. And that’s a good thing. Men are protectors, not bullies. Men are virtuous, not chauvinists. Men are full of integrity, not burning with sexual lust. They made an argument about what it means to be masculine.

But this begs the question, how are we defining masculinity?

This definition and concept do not come from myself but from Dr. Paul Maxwell. He defines Masculinity like this,

A man’s maximization of his potential for competence in the domain of maleness, manliness, and manhood.”

What does this mean? According to Dr. Maxwell, maleness is what you’re born as, manliness is how you culturally live that out, and manhood is how you cultivate those things in your own life. Men are born with maleness: physical strength and testosterone. We are bred in manliness: an instinct to protect and work hard. We personalize these things into manhood: virtue, integrity, being your own man. Listen to Paul Maxwell break it down on Doctrine and Devotion.

We don’t ignore our maleness, we embrace it. We don’t reject our manliness, we redeem it. We don’t retreat from our manhood, we become our own man living lives of virtue, integrity, honor, and courage. This is masculinity. This is where the church and culture can and must agree.

For Christians, this takes on an even greater degree of importance. You can get to Dr. Maxwell’s definition of masculinity without reading the Bible, so how does masculinity relate to our faith? I think it is simply this: recognizing the God who instituted masculinity and worshiping him with it.

The foundation of masculinity begins and ends with God. We wouldn’t know what maleness is in comparison to femaleness if God hadn’t woven it into the fabric of the universe in Genesis 1 and 2. We wouldn’t know what manliness looked like had it not been for the example of Jesus walking it out for us and the instructions God gave us through the Law. We wouldn’t know how manhood plays out in our daily lives if we didn’t have the Helper guiding us (John 14:26). What the Gillette ad really showed us was Biblical masculinity. Men, as Paul calls the Corinthian church to do in 16:13-14, need to be watchful: be the protector of the church. Stand firm in the faith: fight for the truth and defend it. Act like men: be bold and courageous. Be strong: grow in mental, spiritual, and physical fitness. Let all that you do be done in love: Give yourself to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in growing you in kindness, gentleness, respect, self-control, and love. Love for God and love for people. This is not saying women can’t and shouldn’t pursue these things, but the point of these specific verses is to call men to act like men. This is the fullness of masculinity.

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to masculinity. We need to double down on what it means to be a man. There will be questions and obvious hurdles in trying to promote this in a larger society, but we need to face those questions head-on because men are literally killing themselves. Something needs to change and something must change. Gillette is on the right track, we just need to be able to undergird it with what true and full masculinity is: the best men can be.

Further Reading:

Psychology Has a New Approach to Building Healthier Men

Masculinity Isn’t a Sickness

The APA Can’t Spin Its Way Out of Its Attack on ‘Traditional Masculinity’

Jake Cannon