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Do Men Feel the Identity Struggle Too?

For the past week or so, I've been discussing some issues related to the identity of a woman in current American society. Are we really oppressed? Do we have choices? What are those choices when it comes to wanting children and/or working? What are some discussions that couples-to-be need to be having in order to insure fulfillment of both partners?

Today I want to bring men into the picture. Do they deal with these issues of identity too?

Last night Jake and I were discussing this very thing. He was sharing with me his idea that maybe a portion of woman's struggle with her identity is a generational issue. Some women have a hard time making a choice that is different from what her mother, or aunt, or grandmother would think is proper for a woman. Being the first woman to work outside of the home in one's family could be a hard choice. Even if that's what a woman wants, it can feel like she's "oppressed" because she's making a choice that is different than what she saw as "womanly" or "motherly" growing up. It's a crisis of identity that takes significant time, soul-searching and prayer to work through.

Jake said there can be a similar male issue as well. Many men of the older generations have a lot of skills. Many are tradesmen or craftsmen- they know how to weld, they have electrical training, they can build things, they're really handy. When men growing up in that environment decide to do something different- maybe they pursue more academic subjects or decide to be a stay-at-home dad- then they feel a sort of crisis of identity as well. They feel like because they've chosen a different route in life, they don't feel like they have as much to offer. When their dryer breaks, they don't know how to fix it. Instead, they have to call someone else to come fix it. If they want to build a new cabinet space, they have to hire someone else to do it because they just don't know how or don't have the skills to make something that looks nice. They are not "providing for their families" because they stay at home with the kids while the wife is working. It's hard because they're not fulfilling what was considered "manly" growing up.

Things change over time. Roles, responsibilities, expectations. Maybe we as a society need to allow more room for people who want to do things differently or choose paths that look a little odd to the status quo. And as we're beginning to raise the next generation, we may want to constantly be thinking about our expectations for them and how we can allow them freedom in their choices- allowing them to explore who they are and what they like instead of putting (amoral) boundaries around them relating to our likes and dislikes and wants and desires. Of course, much easier said than done. :)


Henry said...

I struggle with it daily. My larger culture (contemporary Western American male living in the Midwest) lays out acceptable ways to be masculine and my subculture (moderate/conservative Western evangelical Christianity in Missouri) gives another set (though they largely overlap).

If I am to deviate from the above bounded descriptions of masculinity, I'm seen as effeminate or something worse. If I don't desire competition, solving problems through violence and physical strength, if I don't pee standing up (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNCoevpt5TE) then I am not a man (as my cultures have defined man-ness).

It's connected to knowing those skills that Jake mentioned and it goes deeper. You can her the whispers of the rhetoric of my subculture (Driscoll, anyone?) and from the mainstream culture as well. And with whispers comes doubt about identity.

How can I be a man in my culture and subculture if what I find to be masculine mores are anti-Christian?

And so I am plagued with doubts about identity in relation to the cultures in which I am situated.

JR. said...

I agree with Henry - as much as we like to make it about individual choice, our society as a whole does have surprisingly (IMO) well-defined gender roles.

We can resist them. We can rage against them or embrace them. But whatever we do, we're interacting with them.

That's why I think your individual experience is interesting and important, but not definitive. I'm glad that women like you are growing up and living without feeling oppressed, but I think it's also where you choose to live.

For instance, if you tried to teach a Sunday School class for adults in some churches, you would not be allowed because you're a woman (as I know you well know).

So, I guess I want to say I'm glad the discourse is changing, but I think we still have a long way to go.

I've really enjoyed your thoughts on the book. I'm glad you picked it up!

Tiffany said...

Thanks for the comments; I agree that our society does have some ideas about gender roles, but I think it's MUCH more defined within the church than outside of the church. And I definitely have acknowledged that my experience is definitely not the experience of every woman, but I think that women need to make sure that they're not oppressing themselves, but are taking opportunities and helping one another instead of hurting one another.

We can definitely be more encouraging in celebrating the advances that we see instead of always holding up the negatives and pretending that they are "what always happens" (of course, but not ignoring the negatives).

Henry, thanks for the comments too! I definitely think that location has a signficant amount to say about what is male and what is female. I think that I'm going to have a huge culture shock when I get to Wilmore, despite going to a seminary that has come a long way in the gender-identity struggle. I have a feeling that with each generation, a lot of advancements are going to be made. It's exciting that we have little ones that we can be influencing in what is male and what is female!

Thanks again for the comment; I appreciate your input.

Ariah said...

Jumping in late I know, sorry. I think Men definitely feel it as well, but I've learned, through reading and open conversations with my wife and other women, that I think the struggle and the implications of the identity struggle are different.

Boy and girls both struggle with identity growing up and into adulthood. But in general, I think it's much more pervasive for women. It can be an almost constant conscience struggle (not necessarily for all women), where as I don't think it's as constant for men.

I hate making generalizations, so please see the above not as an attempt to categorize as much as some of the perspective I've seen recently, with plenty of exceptions.

And the only reason I say it is because I think it's important not to lose site of dealing with the issues women face and speaking out against them (objectification, etc). Rather then giving men any excuse that "we all struggle" and thus we don't have to be active in addressing gender injustices.