A shirtless model on a billboard. A bumbling loser in a sitcom. A callous businessman, or the suave guy who gets all the girls. If you ask the media, this is what manhood looks like in the 21st century: cool, powerful, and ruthless, or stupid, hapless, and helpless.
You might roll your eyes and say, “Yeah, but the media stereotypes women, too. What’s the big deal?” Well, the big deal is that stereotypes of any kind limit and undermine. And we’re seeing the effects of that: For instance, in the United States, young boys are more likely than girls to be prescribed “sit still!” medications such as Ritalin and Adderall. And the majority of suicides around the world are committed by men.
While I’m not blaming the media for these problems, these statistics have definitely made me take notice. I don’t want to stand by as anyone is forced into a certain box or made to feel unworthy.
So what’s a person to do? For me, the starting point – as with any challenge I face – is God. Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, defined God as Father-Mother – that is, as including and expressing both traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine qualities. Both types of qualities are worthy because they originate in God. And in spite of the popular joke that men and women are from different planets, the nature of God as Father-Mother unifies the masculine and feminine. Instead of the genders being at war, in God we find complete harmony between “male” qualities and “female” qualities, which belong to everyone’s true identity as a spiritual idea of God.
All that might sound a little “out there” given the things we see in our own offices or communities or on the news. But we have to start somewhere. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mrs. Eddy asked what we’re looking to as our “model”: “Is it imperfection, joy, sorrow, sin, suffering?… Do you not hear from all mankind of the imperfect model? The world is holding it before your gaze continually. The result is that you are liable to follow those lower patterns, limit your life-work, and adopt into your experience the angular outline and deformity of matter models” (p. 248).
Right now the model held before us is a pretty bleak picture of manhood. The good news is that change begins within each of us. What sense of manhood do we choose to embrace, no matter what the rest of the world is offering up? Science and Health puts forth this one: “The ideal man corresponds to creation, to intelligence, and to Truth” (p. 517).
As a guy, I love this definition – and not because I think it means that I have a corner on these qualities! What it tells me is that manhood cannot be obsolete or undervalued because it reflects God’s nature and therefore is everyone’s true nature as God’s spiritual offspring, or expression. And this definition of manhood sets a positive standard for masculinity that includes intelligence, creativity, productivity, and honesty.
Does this mean that only men are smart, creative, and honest, while women are not? Of course not! That passage in Science and Health is followed up with this: “The ideal woman corresponds to Life and to Love.” Does that mean that women are lively, energetic, social, caring, nurturing, and loving, but men are not? Again, no way! We each incorporate both sets of these qualities in our complete identity and nature. That’s the beauty of those qualities being united in God. Christian Science explains that man and woman are created not as two incomplete halves of a whole but rather as the full expression of divine goodness and Love, spiritual and complete and perfect.
So how do we conquer the stereotypes that threaten to divide and demean us? By being undivided within ourselves. Each of us has the ability to express our innate manhood and womanhood. And as we let our own light shine brighter, that naturally helps free those around us from anything that would inhibit their expression of strength and tenderness, joy and humility. That model of unified manhood and womanhood blesses men and women alike.
Adapted from an article published in the April 16, 2012, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.