The APA and differing views of masculinity

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One of my favorite places growing up was a spot on Terrapin Creek. We called it Seven Springs for the series of fountains bubbling up from the ground, giving the stretch of water a particularly refreshing temperature. It was a perfect place following the morning practice during two-a-days.

The best thing about it, though, was the swing. In a previous life it had been some bicycle handlebars. It dangled from a tall tree on the opposite bank, tied on by a ski rope. Another section of rope went from the handlebars to the water, where you could swing it back and forth with enough momentum and get it to your buddy waiting for his turn.

There were some things you had to know, though. The very name of the creek told you to keep an eye out for snapping turtles, not to mention snakes. When swinging, it was very important to pull the second rope up to you and hold on to it while keeping a grip on the handlebars; letting it dangle could let it wind around your leg and tattoo you with a rope burn you wouldn’t forget as you dropped to the water. Oh, and for some reason there was a partially-submerged, burned-out car near the bank where we got into the water. It was important to steer clear of that.

So yeah, there were some risks involved. Some guys dared themselves to jump out of the top of the tree instead of the platform. We dared each other to contort into a dive into the creek from the swing instead of just dropping. I found out, painfully, how difficult that could be. All of this, for us, was just typical behavior.

The American Psychiatric Association would consider it something else. This week, the APA issued guidelines calling traditional masculinity “psychologically harmful.” The organization has since tried to walk back that assertion by saying they were only talking about extreme cases of masculinity. But the position has been put out there – men and boys living in the framework of traditional masculinity is not the way we should go.  

“The main thrust of the subsequent research is that traditional masculinity – marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression – is, on the whole, harmful,” the report concluded.

Some things come natural to boys. They push boundaries. They take risks. Things like jumping off the shed using a plastic garbage bag as a parachute sound good, but they don’t go as planned (yep, me).

Becoming a man is learning how to channel that nature, not eliminate it. The training up of young men, says Glen McCall, lead state missionary for Georgia Baptist Men’s Ministry, leads to grown examples of biblical manhood. Tenants such as those taught in Royal Ambassadors give boys “the right sense of the Gospel and spiritual responsibility.”

Framing traditional masculinity within Scripture brings about men society needs, he adds.

“He’ll be the kind of guy who loves his children and loves his wife as Jesus loves the Church. It has nothing to do with femininity or masculinity from a psychological perspective, just from the Bible.”

And one’s source for the picture of masculinity matters, he continues.

“Men not only need to be leaders, but follow leaders. Who are they learning character from?” McCall asks. “Real character is who you are.”

And that’s what we’re really all trying to build, right? The Bible says plenty about manhood. We’re to love our wives to that point we sacrifice ourselves for her (Eph. 5:25). Begin early in teaching your children positive habits early (Pro. 22:6). Despite a culture that opposes the Gospel, plant your flag and stand firm (Josh. 1:6-9).

McCall cites the most obvious example of biblical manhood.

“The best picture of masculinity is Jesus. He humbled himself, but never backed away from aggression. He didn’t act with aggression himself, but did have righteous indignation when necessary.”

The world doesn’t need men afraid of who God created them to be. It needs men willing to take on the challenge of living the way to which Scripture calls us. It’s practically daring us to.

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