Thursday, August 25, 2011

What a Man has to Offer, Part 1

“Men want to feel useful.”  

It was a side comment in an ongoing discussion about masculinity and femininity, gender roles and Christianity.  I think it was an attempt to describe why some men, particularly more “conservative” Christian men, feel intimidated or threatened by anything that sounds like women’s lib.

Though the statement offered a tremendous amount of insight into and opportunity to understand the person who said it, it did not clarify for me anything that seemed to be innately - or uniquely - masculine.  However, in a roundabout way, it did get me to thinking about men, usefulness, and differing values between the sexes.

Honestly, what does a man have to offer in relationship?  

It makes sense that traits or characteristics that are esteemed by men may be very different than those women value in relationship.  Interestingly, however, some of the most valuable things I think a man has to offer do not seem to be entirely unique to men.  In other words, the things I find myself appreciating most about men (relationally) are not things that I would describe as distinctly masculine traits, nor are they qualities that only men can offer.  But, for whatever reason, they are strangely meaningful, powerful, and desirable in the masculine context - or perhaps they just feel and mean something a little different coming from men.  It might even be that men and women are on different pages about how meaningful certain qualities are, so it is particularly valuable when a man offers certain things.  Whatever the dynamic, here are some initial thoughts in what I see as being a 3-part series on

What a Man has to Offer

1. His Word

Words are powerful.  Perhaps it is true that women in particular want to know that they can trust a man's word, but when we feel like we can count on and invest in the things that men say, that their word is meaningful and substantive, it is freaking Pirate's Gold to us. Seriously, it is like buried treasure in the back yard, and we are die-hard treasure-hunters.  Any adventurer worth her salt is constantly asking things like:  Does he do what he says he will do?  If he has to renegotiate, does he do it with self respect AND respect for others?  Does he value the agreements, commitments and promises he offers others as much as he values doing his own thing and pleasing himself?  Is his yes, yes?  His no, no?  Is he flippant, sarcastic, or a dreamer to the point that those around him can’t take what he says seriously or don’t feel like they can trust what he says?  Do his actions and his words match?

If men want women (or anyone else, for that matter) to respect them, it necessitates that they pay attention to their words; what they say (and therefore what they do about what they say) matters.

2. Sexual Energy and Integrity

A man’s testosterone is a gift - when it is coupled with honor, character, and emotional maturity.  Sexual energy offered in the form of initiative, pursuit, healthy tenacity, curiosity, care for self and others is needed, wanted, desirable, invaluable.  Sexual character that is the integration of sexuality, physiology, emotion, intellect, spirituality, and values - personal, cultural, corporate, relational - is a prize.  Seriously, we're talking the World Cup.  It revs our engines.  It gets our blood going.  It's exciting; it's energizing; it's inspiring.

Let's take the example of Christian men who are proud of their virginity but who have neglected their own social development or are often just as riddled with lust, selfishness, and the objectification of women as the more sexually experienced.  Virginity isn’t the prize; it’s character, integrity, and maturity that turns our heads.  The sex act itself is like the bow - values and the motivation from which they spring are the gift.

Because men are often raised with different cultural (sexual) paradigms, and frankly, because of biochemical differences in the brain, I think men can really overlook the power they possess within the context of their sexuality.  In fact, I wonder what would happen if men didn't see their sexuality as being, oh, I don't know, a burden, isolating, out of control, or even solely personal - their prerogative for self gratification and pleasure.  I see a man's sexuality as something like the power of creativity.  A painter paints partially for himself, for his own expression, but an artist's work is meant to be seen, given, if you will, heard, experienced.  It is designed to impact the world, to touch and impact others.  Sexuality and sexual integrity is bigger than the sex act and I  firmly believe it is meant to be that kind of creative-force gift, offered in and to community.  A man's sexuality can be a source of power and edification in relationship - and frankly, should be.  If passion is energy then sexuality is a nuclear power source, and it is a power that can be hoarded, squandered, ill-stewarded to the point of destruction, or offered to bring electricity to relationship.

I know, I might get a little carried away on the word pictures and metaphors, but get used to it because there's more to come.

The point is, a man who asks himself what he is doing with his sexuality, who takes ownership of it and its expression, is a man who has a lot to offer.

3. Work Ethic

Let me say with some conviction that a man who isn’t afraid to work hard - whether that be in the form of physical exertion or the sacrifice of time, talent, intellect, and passion - offers some of the most valuable aspects of his personhood: His uniqueness, his will, his effort ... his strength.  Just think about the nature of strength: It has to be developed over time, honed, mastered, coupled with wisdom and discernment.  Hard work and strength are synonymous.  Perhaps that is why, on a visceral level, whether he works hard to accomplish something concrete, to contribute to a greater good, to be self-sacrificial, or to improve a relationship, there is something innately attractive about a man who doesn't shy away from hard work.  It is one way he offers his strength.  And it can be particularly valuable when it is applied to relationship itself.

*     *     *

Again, these are my initial reflections based largely on the things that I find valuable and why.  Other concepts like "A Defined Sense of Self," "Curiosity," and even "Personal Care and Hygiene" are floating around in my head as possible additions to the list, but I honestly don't know how this will end.  What would you include?  What do YOU cherish, value, prize?

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