Complete the following statement:
Big is to small as slow is to fast.
Hot is to cold as man is to _______________.
If you answered “woman,” you’re probably not alone. But you’re also not exactly correct.
I’ve asked several groups of men to create a list of characteristics that they classify as “manly” traits. Each time I get some version of the same answers. One guy usually mentions the ability to grow a tangled jungle of body hair on the chin, shoulders, chest or back, and this is generally followed by a mention of male pattern baldness. Someone comments on the ease of relieving oneself from a standing position or the inability to experience a pregnancy or menstrual cycle.
Once you get past the silly and the biological, the discussion turns toward a list of “manly” character traits. A man should be disciplined and responsible. It’s manly to be strong and patient. A man is not lazy or a coward. Honesty and integrity are manly. A man is marked by selflessness and self-control.
These traits are all true, and they should absolutely be characteristics of a godly man. To be clear, however, these are not uniquely masculine traits. A woman should also be disciplined and responsible. A woman should also not be lazy or a coward. All of these traits should apply just as aptly to a woman, and that does not, as a result, make her manly.
These are traits of mature, godly men and women. They are not to be uniquely applied to one gender or the other. Most of us think of “man” and “woman” existing at opposite ends of a spectrum. But the opposite of a man is not a woman. Likewise, the opposite of a woman is not a man. The opposite of a man is a boy. The opposite of a woman is a girl.
A guy who is not strong or brave, who is not selfless or maintaining self-control, is not effeminate: He is childish. He is a man acting like a boy. Similarly, any grown woman who is undisciplined and irresponsible or throws fits or pity parties is certainly not masculine: She is childish.
Gentlemen, when a woman is better than you at a skill that is stereotypically considered “manly,” that should not be emasculating. What should be emasculating is a boy outdoing you in maturity, responsibility or integrity. The same, of course, is true for women being outdone by girls.
To become more of a man is not synonymous with becoming more rough or rugged, nor is it moving further and further from femininity. It is moving further and further from boyishness. Growing in womanhood does not equate to becoming more dainty or genteel. It equates to moving on from immaturity and childishness. If you want to grow more manly or womanly, identify and pray for maturity in the areas in which you are still thinking or acting childishly.
In 1 Corinthians 13, a chapter about perfect love, Paul speaks about becoming a man. What he says has nothing to do with becoming less feminine and everything to do with becoming less of a selfish boy who thinks only about himself and has no love for anyone else.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” 1 Corinthians 13:11
The Genders Do Not “Oppose” Each Other
Taking men and women off opposite ends of a spectrum does not equate to throwing out gender differences. Certainly there are many differences between men and women—beautiful, God-given differences, biological differences and God-given role differences as laid out in Scripture. Gender is a gift from God, and these differences are to be celebrated and embraced. As we take note of how much God made us alike (and for each other), let’s certainly not negate that the Lord also made us distinct. In their differences, men and women are not each other’s opposite. They are each other’s complement.
The word “opposite” can be used to mean “the other of two related or corresponding things.” However, when it comes to men and women, we are more likely to use it for its other meaning, “completely unlike.” Complement, on the other hand, means that each is beneficially enhanced by the other.
As God created and made the world good, He also declared that Adam being alone was “not good.” To resolve this, God created woman “out of man” because she, unlike any other living thing, was “fit for him.” Eve was not created because Adam needed a contrasting counterpart; those abounded. He needed a compatible companion, one like him, one that “fit.” Men and women are far from identical, but in many ways God designed us similarly so that we are well suited for each other.
One gender does not complete the other, but neither does one by nature oppose the other. Both men and women are made in the image of God. Our united pursuit and purpose is to become more like Christ, not less like each other. Becoming more like Christ requires men and women to put our selfish, childish ways behind us and together grow in selfless maturity, appreciating how God made us both distinct and compatible.