For those who have known me over the last ten years would know, I have been hyper intentional with raising my boys. My wife and I spent years constructing our family rules so they would be clear and applicable. I love to help my sons experience new things, teach them lessons, and show them how to be aware of the world around them. It would be unfair to overlook how demanding I truly am in this era where parents try not to control their children. Their childhood is full of the quirks that it means to be my particular sons.
Having been convinced of King Jesus’ teachings on non-violence early in my undergraduate work in Bible college, one of our family rules is “Be gentle (with our hands and our mouths).” Since I am not a hunter and we don’t have any real guns for me to teach my boys to use, we have never allowed our boys to have, or even really play with, toy guns. I also come from a violent childhood and so have always been highly aware of how I use my body towards the boys lest I pass on the same ways of treating children and people I learned. Beyond this, they don’t get to watch violent television shows and we don’t honor violence, even in the name of “good.”
I say this because the controversy about Gillette’s commercial this week tapped something deep within me that I don’t think that I can hold back publicly anymore. I simply do not care if my family, my daughter, or my sons are anything like what America wants out of people. There are a number of things in that commercial that might parallel my parenting for my own sons, but in no way do I take a company’s moral superiority as a positive thing for American society.
While plenty have pointed out that this is just a ploy of virtue signaling, making a statement or action to signal those who agree with a person to create a sense of comradery, I am more concerned about the levels of moral demand that are being placed on young children through the cultural pressure placed on parents. There is no reasoning for defining or controlling “toxic masculinity.” The reality is that humans naturally fill in the gaps in these cultural phrases and begin to form connections themselves. It is clear that many have perceived the statements expressed in this commercial as being about the common markers of masculinity being toxic rather than desires, forces, and energies in men which must be directed, practiced, and controlled.
My boys have aggression as a natural part of their bodily existence. I have watched it grow. In fact, it has only become more pronounced with my wife’s recent pregnancy and the birth our daughter. The boys have become protective, putting their bodies on the line for their mom and sister on a few startling occasions, which is somewhat impressive for boys just seven and nine years old. A good example is when our youngest did not see his mom coming back our stroller and began a shoving match with her because he thought a random person was attempting to push his sister away. When asked why he was willing to fight an adult for his sister he didn’t know why. He just did it because he loved her.
This aggression has come out in other ways too. There has been a sharp increase in competitiveness over the last few years. They’ve really begun to enjoy channeling it into sports and massively imaginative games of Lord of the Rings on playgrounds. We don’t watch sports of any kind, so this was surprising to me. Though the imaginative anger and disgust needed to decapitate hundreds of invisible orcs is a feeling I remember well from childhood.
Most pointedly, this aggression comes out at me. As the boys have grown, I have naturally begun to be less physically interactive with them, and it seems their need for me to be physical with has grow. They are constantly begging me to wrestle with them. Every hug becomes a pushing and pulling match, every time we walk by each other they make it clear, by posture and laughter, that they’re ready for me to attack a moment’s notice, and so on and so on.
These qualities are everything I hope for in my boys. I want them to have an aggression that expresses itself naturally through personal sacrifice to protect family members, a competitiveness that seeks to be the best at accomplishing the goals before them, and the desire to be valuable through contributions to others. If left unchecked, untamed, ignored, or even worse, suppressed such aggression can become violent and destructive, especially as the sex drive will begin its attempt to control such motivations in them. But these same qualities, when honed and focused, are the foundation of human history as we know it and will continue to be in the future for human survival.
God has formed human bodies in the wonderful refinement of evolution to contribute to one another in particular ways. It would be foolish of “modern” humans to reject the natural and general tendencies of human bodies as males and females. Of course, there will be a range of expressing these biological emphases, but we need to move on from thinking that exceptions are defining for generalities. Humans do not possess unique subjective bodies. Our bodies are formed through, provided for, raised up within, and have a place within communities of human bodies. Not only do we need to accept this as a society again, but we have to begin teaching our children to learn to accept and live within the bodily limitations and expectations of these bodies.
As Christians, the body does not lose this natural meaning. Rather, it is refined even more through the incarnation and the presence of the Spirit in us. Where masculinity moved into violence King Jesus’ Spirit offers self-control and gentleness, alongside the other fruit of the Spirit. Where there is competitiveness leading to the harm of opponents King Jesus sets a goal of endurance against injustice and overwhelming an enemy with goodness. When sacrifice becomes protectionism against others King Jesus demands we give our all for the family of believers which spans every tribe, language, and nation. When the desire to accomplish and provide become oppressive King Jesus gives a mission and theology of liberation as an identity.
If the idea that I will continue to foster these qualities in my sons is seen as toxic so be it. Our family will look to the kingdom of God to see how godly men have lived by the Spirit and still exhibited these qualities. No amount of cultural demands by an empty and chaotic society like America or even the “West” is going to convince me that God’s creation has naturally made half of humanity defunct in their bodies. I don’t accept that ancient way of thinking about females and I won’t accept this modern version of it concerning males.
[[I am sure someone will push back at this point saying, “There is nothing wrong with boys. This is about how we raise them.” The problem with this is that our societies have developed ideas of expectations for male and female bodies based on their biological performance in relation to one another. The social structures of expression might be different throughout the world, but the biological hormones and reactions of the body are essentially the same throughout the human species, which why there is no society where men and women are expected to be the same.
To put it another way, thinking that social construction is the answer to differences between male and female bodies is foolish precisely because social performance exists to amplify and express the biological differences between male and female bodies percieved by human communities. If performing masculinity is itself toxic then being a male is toxic as a biological reality, not simply a cultural one.]]
 Spare the silliness that these are somehow feminine qualities.