// true lad

A few days ago William Leith wrote incisively about attending a conference in which the economic crisis was being discussed. The gist of the speaker’s talk was that the crisis was the fault of men, who were driven by ego and testosterone and so, motivated by their instincts (or their groins), they unwittingly precipitated economic carnage. The hall erupted into laughter. Of course it did. How true! It was men that ruined the economy! Men, with their brash arrogance and total ignorance, screwed it up again. As usual.

But then Leith says, “for a brief, awkward moment, I felt slightly ashamed of myself.”

He writes that “you can say anything you like about men, as long as it’s nasty, and you’ll get a laugh. I used to think that this was because men, unlike women, were supremely self-confident… Mocking men seemed like a victimless crime. But now I’m not so sure.” He’s got a point. The amount of men who are insecure, or convinced of their own inadequacy, or unsure of what their place is in the world, is higher these days than it’s ever been before, and the trend doesn’t seem to show any sign of changing anytime soon.

One of my housemates this year is a passionate feminist, who will inevitably point out the inequalities in pay between the sexes, the historic oppression of women by men, the capability and insight of women the often goes ignored, the glass ceiling and many, many more social phenomena – moments before she kills me, that is. All of that is true, but I would argue that whereas once it came from a male arrogance and superiority, these days it comes from insecurity instead. We’re scared. Men can see that what they once had is slipping away, and they’re trying to hold onto it the only way they know how.

It used to be that strength and perseverance and tenacity were admirable, but now they look like arrogance, stupidity and hard-headedness. It used to be that giving yourself in service to a cause was admirable, but now it’s ludicrous, laughable even, and if you’re not laughing then clearly you don’t understand this world or your place in it.

At the very least, women have something to fight for, something to fight against – the narrative of oppression that they have battled against for years. But what do men have left to fight for?

Warren Farrell, the writer of The Myth of Male Power, pointed out that the root of the word “hero” is the word “servant”, and that was what male heroes were supposed to be, once. Robert Crampton, writing from a different angle, says “ladies, that’s why we like holding doors open for you. It makes us feel good. Men have an immense capacity for self-sacrifice. Not just a capacity, I would argue, but a need.” These days it shows itself in the small things instead; cooking dinner for people, say, going out of your way to look out for then, taking the initiative, but Crampton says (and I agree, at least in my case), that men are better when they are giving themselves in service of something, whatever that is. “I became a father at 33,” he writes. “Even so, I wish I’d done it sooner.”

Recently I started a new job as a Youth Worker, and there are a number of guys both in the school I work in and in the groups I am involved with leading who are asking the questions of what they are going to live for. It’s a good question, and it’s one that I don’t have a great answer for. My generation grew up at an odd time in history. I do believe that we have to provide young men with a cause to live, fight and give themselves for, whatever that looks like. And although a lot of the principles of Christian philosophy have (historically at least) looked imperialistic and oppressive, I do believe too that the intrinsic principles of upholding the image of God in people, supporting your brothers and fighting against oppression and injustice are all valuable lessons to learn. I believe, too, that a life dedicated to God will reap these things.

That said, a lot of people would disagree with me. My grandfather has spent my entire adult life implying – or sometimes telling me outright – that I am not a man because I am a Christian. That the religion is a joke, and that following Jesus will make me weak, unpopular and strange, bringing me into contact with the wrong sort of people. I am short and kind of skinny, and people keep telling me that I look like I’m about fifteen – I was bullied at school, too, and so I don’t have as much confidence as some. Oh, and I read English Literature at University, so I like poetry, too. Plenty of people would say that I follow Christ because I need a cause or I need a crutch, something to live for.

Maybe so, but a man has to live for something. William Leith writes about the new generation of men in the media – not Clint Eastwood or Cary Grant these days, but Woody Allen, Kevin Spacey in American Beauty or David Mitchell in Peep Show. He writes, “all these mocked men, the guys drinking and leering and mocking – they’re not miserable. They’re relieved. They’ve been told they don’t have to be strong anymore. They’re no longer required as protectors. So they’re revelling in their new-found freedom.” In my case, if I don’t live for this cause then those are the other options – and that’s what the guys in my youth group will follow, too, that’s what my sons will grow up believing and the kind of men my daughters will marry.

Maybe it’s true that men deserved to be mocked over the years, but it feels like the trend has gone too far, and now they’re being mocked for the qualities that are still admirable. The most worthwhile things I have undertaken in my life have been the times when I have persevered in service of something that didn’t necessarily benefit me directly – times when, faced by a challenge, I didn’t back down. Wisdom would tell me to quit. I am the wrong sort of man for that kind of life – not outwardly heroic, strong or confident. I should give up and give in, as after all, men are a joke.

Of course, it is fitting that one of those descriptions of Jesus Christ that people keep coming back to again and again talks of how,

being in very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the form of a servant, being found in the likeness of man. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross…

I believe Warren Farrell, that hero and servant are interchangeable, and that to live as a man in this world you have to give yourself in service of something – in your work, in your marriage, in your church – and I believe that something should be Jesus Christ. It’s harder than ever before, now that acts of servanthood are viewed either suspiciously or scornfully, but that just makes it all the more necessary.

After all – men were built for a challenge.

    • Jasper
    • December 3rd, 2010

    Great post Tom – you have a very readable style, and your subject matter struck a chord with me tonight. I’ve got some challenges coming up that I need to face head on, and you reminded me of the mindset I need to adopt for doing so.

    Keep ’em coming!

    • Andy Carlisle
    • December 3rd, 2010

    Great post, and I see that things have changed since my generation. There was far less ambiguity, a lot less mocking, although there were plenty of institutions that were soon to come crumbling down. If anyone says that identity is not important they’re wrong. People are searching for meaning and identity, just not realising they are doing so. Receommend the chapter in Father Fiction on manhood which is funny and perceptive. He takes a wry look at Promise Keepers and John Eldridge too

    • Tim
    • December 4th, 2010

    As always a pleasure to read, Tom.

    You say that “acts of servanthood are viewed either suspiciously or scornfully” and I agree that can sometimes be the case. Yet, I don’t believe that response is the norm.

    I think a challenge to us is to be willing and ready to take on the form of a servant, whilst knowing that we may sometimes be misunderstood or even misrepresented.

    On the whole I think we do still recognise a distinction between the virtues of strength, tenacity and perseverance, when compared to the follies of arrogance, hard-headedness and stupidity.

  1. Tim,

    I see your point, but I think that servanthood carries with it a whole range of different social baggage these days – maybe it’s just that people are more willing to analyse this stuff than they used to be.

    I do think that there is a distinction and I do see that people do recognise some forms of intrinsic virtue. But people are also distinctly cynical about those in a way that they weren’t once. Whereas once you didn’t do menial stuff because you were, say, “noble” – but you could at least make yourself nothing. Now it could be interpreted in a range of ways, and that surely changes the playing field a little?

  2. Good blog.

    I think ‘machosim’ and male dominance is now frowned on as arrogance and a loathing of women, when in reality many women are far far worse, more ruthless and hapy to exploit this so called ‘inequality’.

    An interesting dynamic.



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