The Church’s Role in Combating Toxic Masculinity

There’s a billboard on the freeway by the exit to my house. It’s for a furniture discount store that opens only on the weekends. The imagery is simple: a black background with two lines of yellow text “We can please your wife three days a week. Can you?”

There’s this concept of men in our North American and European societies that puts an emphasis on dominant traits, violence, emotional disconnection, and sexual aggression. Recent school shootings are bringing the label of this concept, toxic masculinity, into our conversations. Even if someone isn’t aware of the actual name for it, most everyone is aware that something isn’t right with our boys. This billboard, aimed at established married middle class couples, is taking shots at all husband’s sexual performance.

I grew up in the 90’s, sandwiched between two major feminist movements. I benefited from the wave in the 70’s through the multitude of programs and curriculums that were available to boost my self esteem, affirm my worth, and value my body. My emotional intelligence was adequately attuned to myself and others. This latest wave we’re riding has empowered me to join the conversation on gender and sexuality ideas and taught me again how to love my body. But it’s also thrown into sharp contrast the reality that none of those programs and curriculum were marketed towards my male peers.

The stereotype of masculinity as defined by unemotional, powerful, athletic, sexual, and aggressive norms is reinforced by marketing, media, and social media. Evidence of it’s toxicity is clear in the pornography industry, rape culture, popular (and unpopular) music, and even our criminal justice system.

The way we talk to our boys matters. Society as a whole dismisses a man’s lack of emotional awareness — full advertising campaigns run on the gimmick that a husband will forget an important anniversary/birthday/chore. Ads like the one I drive past every day reinforce the idea that a man’s sexual performance is crucial to his identity. An entire social media site, WorldStar, thrives on videos of teenagers fighting, mostly males, while onlookers cheer and jeer. Those videos are shared across YouTube, SnapChat, Instagram, and other apps like WhatsApp and Kik. Professional NBA star James Harden is known by his impressive facial hair, complete with the tag line “fear the beard.” In the professional world, men on average hold significantly higher positions in companies and industries. Even comedies like Scrubs poke fun at the male surgeon stereotype. As I write this, I’m sitting in an arcade surrounded by games that are either sports themed or violence based. 85% of the current clientele is male.

A man’s man can ball, shoot, fight, bring home the bacon, command a boardroom, and keep his woman (and many others if he wants) satisfied. It’s no wonder he forgets things like birthdays because he’s so focused on protecting his loved ones from harm and defending his own honor.

The fallout from this concept of masculinity has led to a rise in eating disorders and depression in our young men. The pressure on them to meet these standards is great. The dismissal of their emotional intelligence has sold them short on their ability to confront their own internal struggles and who they were to created to be.

The church’s idea of masculinity makes it even more complicated. A Godly man is the spiritual leader, so even before he is married, he must work hard to attain more spiritual knowledge and a deeper faith than his spouse. Good Christian men sacrifice themselves for the sake of their family, like Christ sacrificed himself for the church (Ephesians 5). Any expression of sexuality outside of marriage is a symptom of sexual immorality and in some cases requires a public confession and a period of ostracism from his own family.

As a society and as a church, we are selling our men short. Societal and stereotypical standards are putting in place self limiting beliefs and practices that stunt emotional and psychological growth. On top of it all, our traditional theological teachings and ecumenical expectations stunt the spiritual growth of our male counterparts.

Each youth worker and pastor must evaluate their own space. How do you talk about your teenage boys, both to them and when they aren’t around? Let’s ditch the phrase “boys will be boys.” Instead, let’s take some of the practices I grew up with and encourage their self esteem, their worth, and ride our current wave of feminism to encourage their part in the greater picture of our society. Let’s encourage our young men to be comfortable with their emotions, give them strategies and tools to express themselves and their individuality, and foster within their relationships a balance of power, respect, and spiritual responsibility.

ABOUT AUDRUA: Audrua Welch Malvaez is a life long Methodist, veteran youth worker, and current Director of Adult Ministries at Plymouth Park United Methodist Church. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Houston in Middle School Education and is a Certified Youth Worker in the UMC. In addition to writing resources for youth workers, she also works with other youth workers to foster sex-positive youth ministries. Audrua lives in Dallas with her husband Bobby and their two dogs, Molly and Dobby. A minister by day, she quilts and sings babershop with her women’s chorus at nights.

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