Sunday, September 2, 2012

Men: Academic, Artist, or Athlete?

Girls, what comes to mind when you hear the word "man?"

Most likely, when I asked that question, an image came to mind instead of a definition. Whatever image you most associate with a guy is what came to mind. Culture and society (that includes literature, media, perhaps even the church) is good at projecting images of what men ought to look like-- personas. And these are often pretty accurately reflective of what men really do look like. Here, I'll show you what I mean. Come with me on a quick diversion that illustrates this point well... :-)

FRONTIER MAN: the all-American, hunts, fishes, lives off the land, isn't afraid to get dirty

THE SUPER HERO: holds super powers, rescues the ladies, flies, wears tights 

THE MUSICIAN / THE HIPSTER (these two often mingle)
Wears skinny jeans, plays guitar, hibernates in coffee shops, writes, is very exclusive

 THE KNIGHT: noble, suave, heroic, generally rides a steed

THE GEEK: genius, mechanically-minded, often speaks in a foreign language

THE STUD: strong physique, warrior-type, executes strong plan of attack


THE JERK: witty, popular, shrewd, irresponsible (sometimes learning a lesson) 

Girls are always out to find "a real man." At least this is what I hear a lot. They've been searching since the days of the ancients, and nothing has changed since. But are they simply searching for an image, a persona, of what we've been told is a man... or should they instead be looking for a definition of what a man ought to be? This summer, and this first week of the new semester, I've been reading and watching (mostly watching) an exorbitant amount of Victorian novels, poetry, and BBC time period dramas. This was partly in order to prepare for my Jane Austen class at WJU and partly because, at the end of the day, it's highly therapeutic to lay down and immerse yourself in three hours of beautiful English countryside-- at least for a girl. And if there's one thing in these stories, it's a plethora of male characters to analyze. We women highly enjoy this. Due to the extensive character development that takes place in these plots, there's much opportunity to examine the various types of men. There's usually the upstanding male lead (whose integrity and affection attract the heroine) and the licentious scalawag (whose passion and charm seduce the side characters). We root for the sympathetic heroine to finally come to terms with the male lead. But this isn't simply because he's a man who adheres to the classic romantic persona; it's because he's a hero at heart.  

Sy Rogers had a more effective way of categorizing these men during a conference I once attended. He said that men typically fall into one of three types: 1) the academic 2) the artist 3) the athlete. Obviously, there is some overlap, and certain people definitely seem to have all three. But, basically, men in each of these categories are known for their strengths, which come in the form of either intellectual capabilities, emotional expression, or physical aptitudes. What was profound to me was... they're ALL men. From a Christian perspective, if we gals are eager to find "real men" (which, from what I hear, translates into leaders who are spiritually mature), we can find them in all three of these categories, despite what culture tells us is admirable or popular. One man may not fit the athletic type-- he isn't muscular at all and tends to stay pretty clean-- but his well-researched scholarly work changes the world of science, politics, psychology, or theology. Another man may be relatively uneducated and simplistic in thought-- but his physical strength provides the ability to work with his hands to create things or participate in sports, where he can give glory to his Creator. Still another may not fit the athletic or academic type, yet his expressive creative abilities allow him to use music, art, or literature to create beauty that speaks powerful truths. They are all equally admirable, and they are all equally masculine.

Ladies, there are many guys out there who need encouragement in what God has created them to be. They're up under a lot of competition and pressure by society to act or look a certain way. If you meet a man who does not fit your preconceived stereotype, but has actions that speak volumes about his character, he is the "real man." I'm thinking of people like Eric Liddell, Peter Marshall, and Jim Elliot, whose faith and integrity dominated their careers, which were Olympic runner, preacher/writer, and evangelist. Don't run after the wrong ones-- the ones who fit the mold but have no substance. Don't fall in love with a persona because, believe me, it's easy to do. Look for the man who is confident in his identity, whether that be academic, artist, athlete, or whatever stamp you might place on him. Ultimately, if he is a Christian, his identity is in Christ, and that must be flagrantly displayed in whatever his hands find to do. Look discerningly for the hero at heart.

... As Elinor Dashwood appropriately put it, he is the one who you must highly esteem. He is the one who is "amiable and worthy."

For a more extensive (and pretty exhaustive) read, I recommend this article. The Marks of Manhood


  1. This makes me feel good as a non-athletic man.

  2. I always short lists summarizing manhood/womanhood like Sy's to be entertaining more than useful. Generally people know what stereotypes they fit into and if they care they may or may not conform to those expectations. I question if such categories are even helpful when the are centered on anything less than their Christian identity.
    I agree there are many ways to express one's masculinity. David and Samson both better known for their accomplishments in war, were both artistic. David has a number of contributions to Psalms and Samson's riddles (I think that counts as arty, right?). Paul's articulation of so much Christian doctrine has many forgetting his labor centered vocation as a tent maker. Character profiles abound, we ought not be distracted from the only identifying characteristic that matters, Christ follower or not.

  3. [My response was originally about 3 times this length, but I tried to shrink it down a bit. I kind of go in circles and it’s not clear who I think my audience is, but I really wanted to respond to your great discussion]

    After reading the recommended article ‘The marks of manhood,’ my initial response was, “Yikes, after a day of reaching for these 13 goals, who has time left to strum on the guitar, read a book, take a bike ride, watch a funny movie…be a PERSON-A!”

    It’s my hope for you that you fall in love with a PERSON who is a MAN. A man in the sense that he exemplifies some of and is reaching toward the biblical ideals of manhood, and a person in the sense that he is…his own self, different from other…selves.

    KNOW WHO YOU ARE! This may be the most difficult thing of all. If you are a mountain girl, it’s okay to like mountain men. You could try dating the scenster guy who knows his way around the city, where all the cool hangouts are and best places for shows, but beware, trying to date a guy…even a well developing man…who is not your type may put too much strain on the relationship. It may be very comforting to date someone who knows who they are, but if it’s too far off from who you are its going to be very difficult later on down the road to figure out what defines you as a couple.

    While what defines a man and woman does not change, people most certainly do and it’s to be expected. I think both men and women are attracted to people who know who they are. So be yourself and invest in the gifts God has given you. BUT this could and often does change, so watch out!!!!.... Especially if you are young…***OR IF YOU ARE OLD BUT HAVE BEEN FOLLOWING EXPECTATIONS RATHER THAN CHRIST'S CALLING ON YOUR LIFE ALL THIS TIME***.

    It’s okay to be attracted to one type of persona more than another, but l suggest doing what you have done and begin to research man and womanhood so that you have ideas of what to look in those respects. We need to get to a place where you (and I) KNOW, with confidence, the answer to the question, “What is a Man?” Fortunately, I believe you are right on track and there is good development of your definition. Men are leaders. Men are spiritually mature. Men are heros. I like the definition of man set forth in Raising a Modern Day Knight: “A man is one who rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads courageously, and expects the greater reward.” You mentioned Character. This is key. Interestingly, if you read almost any book on leadership, you’ll find that there are different leadership styles (or personas), but Integrity (Character) is the one trait that all good leaders share in common…that and followers.

    “Psychologically, men are far more fragile than women. Men struggle with their identity much more than women do…Men, more than women are culture made” -‘Raising a Modern Day Knight’. You are also right that there is a lot of pressure on guys to…well, be defined. It’s SO much easier to invest in personas than in developing manhood. There’s nothing wrong with being a person, but a lot of us guys are focusing on this as we try to find our identities and missing the manhood part. As a new Father, I can see where it would be easy to stick my son in soccer practice, karate, drums…whatever, but forget to balance being disciplined at these hobbies with teaching him to be courageous, not self-seeking, etc. I have to trust that being a man is not tied up in my career or in the things I own or in my status. I also have to use the talents God has given me...and be confident in my God.

    Stopping now.