Cultural Concerns of Manhood
Sometimes, I forget that all of our perspectives are heaviliy influenced by culture, personal experience, and context. I know that this sound quite naive, but sometimes we all can not understand why others can not see things the same way that we see things.
This past weekend, New Hope Free Methodist in Rochester, NY, hosted a men's breakfasat where 22 men gathered to encourage one another. The topic for the morning is "What qualities define authentic manhood". What ensued was a wonderful conversation where we analyzed the character of Jesus and applied his life and mission towards our very culturally influenced concept of masculinity.
What struck me in this small, multi-cultural gathering was the ease in which some people easily responded to this question and contrastingly, how difficult it was for others to even understand the question. The question was meant to have the participants understand how their concept of masculinity deeply shapes their behaviors, relationships, and responses to adversity. Masculinity and femininity are peer influenced, highly socialized concepts. We learn what is masculine from our communities, media, and traditions. This can be very positive or as in many cases in our nation's cities, highly destructive.
I find that men who have been in oppressive cultures tend to actually have a better conceived understanding of their own concepts of masculinity than do men who live within a culture where they are predominant. This does not mean that those who have been oppressed have a healthier understanding of masculinity, but that the concept is clearer in their minds. This is most likely due to the fact that when others dehumanize you, you are forced to define what you are fighting for. In other words, if someone deminishes your manhood, you are forced to understand its dimensions if you are to respond.
Many men who have never been oppressed (personally, socially, or culturally) struggle with separating manhood/masculinity from general personhood. They do not have a clear understanding that they live in a culture where men have invisible peer approved rules that contributes to their understanding of who they are and what they do. Therefore, they are more likely to contribute their behavior to individual preference. For instance, when asked why they did not want to see "Mama Mia" (code for a popular chick flick), those who have never been oppressed would respond that they "just don't like musicals", as opposed to understanding the peer induced shaming that occurs if men like "chick flicks". Their choice is a product of their concept of masculinity, however, they are more likely to lack the insight to understand that.
In our meeting, there was a wonderful blending of perspectives, but it was fascinating to note how cultural experiences allow us difference sized windows into ourselves. Ultimately, truth is absolute while cultural is relative. However, culture is the lense in which we see that truth! Its vital that we understand this.
Think about this and leave some comments.
Pastor M Traylor