The Rise of the Girly Man

Ask 100 people what a

real man

is and you are likely to get some widely diverse answers. Why?
Because of the way our perception has changed in regards to what it
means to be a man.
Ask 100 people what a “real man” is and you are likely to get some widely diverse answers. Why? Because of the way our perception has changed in regards to what it means to be a man.

An article in U.S. News and World Report said this about how life has changed for the American male: “Little more than a generation ago, life was far simpler for the American male. More often than not, he was family patriarch and breadwinner.

His wife catered to his needs and raised his children. His word around the home was law. Not any more. As a result of the women’s revolution and economic pressures, men today face a world in which macho is no longer enough.

The new and improved model of male is expected to share in breadwinning and child-rearing and be both tender and tough.

Where once independence and aloofness were desirable, now openness, sensitivity, and intimacy are prized. Many men struggle to blend traditional masculinity with what are regarded as softer, or feminine, traits.”

An article in Newsweek focused on men’s role as fathers: “The modern father. His wife probably thinks he doesn’t do enough. His boss probably thinks he takes this ‘kid thing’ too far. His parents think he looks a little odd cleaning the house and changing diapers … and the father himself? He may not be at all sure what kind of father he should be. He is supposed to be the new sensitive man, caring and warm. Yet he was raised to succeed in work, not at home.”

Current diaper ads show men holding babies, but I must confess, the first time I walked into a men’s restroom equipped with a changing table, I panicked, thinking I had accidentally entered the women’s room.

Not only had I never used a restroom changing table, I had never even seen one! But as that great theologian Bob Dylan once said, “the times, they are a-changing.”

What is the result of this shift in our culture’s definition of maleness? Confusion.

And out of this confusion has emerged two divergent models of masculinity: The effeminate male (dubbed “girly men” by one of the wits on Saturday Night Live) and the rough and gruff “macho” man.

Author Robert Bly wrote extensively on the effeminate male model (whom he calls “soft males”), noting they tend to be weak-willed and indecisive, lacking confidence and drive.

He offers this insightful comment: “They are lovely, valuable people and not interested in harming the earth or starting wars … there’s something favorable toward life in their whole general mood and style of living, but something’s wrong. Many of them are unhappy: there’s not much energy in them. They are life-preserving, but not exactly life-giving.”

In other words, they are nice, but they have no vitality to pour into those around them. I find this to be a fascinating observation, because I hear this same complaint from more and more women.

They say, “I get so tired of being the only one in this relationship with direction and purpose … My husband has no energy or creativity to offer our marriage.”

They complain of an essential male ingredient that seems to be lacking. They don’t know what it is, but its absence frustrates them.

Feminist Deborah Laake wrote an article entitled, Wormboys: Is He a Wimp, or Isn’t He? She observes that “ten years ago we were complaining that men all feel this need to perform their macho role and think they’ve got to be strong and they can’t cry, and now we’ve released them from that. We wanted to destroy sex roles, so we destroyed them, and now we’re complaining.”

Why the complaints from so many women? Because what they’re left with are confused and frightened men who have been set adrift from an understanding of authentic masculinity: men incapable of breathing life and energy into those around them, men who lack the mysterious male ingredient that would free them to fully engage in the challenges of manhood.

Next week we’ll look at the other side of the coin: the “macho” man.

Henry Harris is lead pastor of Rolling Hills Community Church, 330 Tres Pinos Rd. in Hollister. If you have questions or comments, please visit the church Web site at, e-mail [email protected] or phone (831) 636-5353.

Leave your comments