“You must treasure and protect the masculine part of your nature.” ~President Boyd Packer
The above quote comes from a priesthood session address in the April 2009 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which I am a member. Since hearing that talk I’ve thought again and again, how exactly do we define this masculinity President Packer wants us to treasure and protect? In a society where we have terms like “metrosexual” and “hypermasculine” and everything in between, how should I, personally, put this counsel into practice in my own life? Just how much does righteous masculinity differ from the world’s definition?
We often hear, and rightly so, about the unrealistic expectations placed on women. With the evils of pornography, the plague of eating disorders, the glass ceiling of the corporate world, cruel and sexist jokes, and the stereotypes and limitations society is responsible for or seeks to promote, women all over the world are often forced to fight for the rights of respect, appreciation, and equality.
But in my experience, society also has unrealistic and damaging roles for men to play too. These harmful expectations are more subtle. I believe even many Latter-day Saint men have false beliefs about what it means to be a man.
So, what manner of men ought we to be?
The answer is, even as Christ is.
If Christ is the perfect man, then he must also possess the perfect masculinity. So what kind of a man was He?
1. Jesus was emotional, even in front of other people. Even more amazingly, an instance of his crying preceded a miracle wherein He immediately alleviated the cause of His own pain. When His friend Lazarus died, the scripture reads that Jesus wept. Why did He cry, seeing as how He had power to raise His friend from the dead? The Jews ascribed it to an outpouring of love for His deceased friend. I think they were right. I also believe that this story teaches that crying is natural and healthy for men and women alike. I wonder at our society that tries to tell men that crying is a sign of weakness or effeminacy. If the most powerful being on earth and greatest man to ever walk it weeps, how can it indicate weakness? Additionally, the scriptures tell us that there are those who are “past feeling,” including the Nephites at the height of their debauchery and the brink of their extinction. Certainly then, emotions, even stereotypically non-masculine ones, are good.
2. Jesus loved children and deliberately took time to listen and talk with them. One might say, How very domestic. But it’s true. The New Testament records that He suffered the little children to come to Him and blessed them. The Book of Mormon has an even more detailed, and touching account of Jesus blessing the American children. The world teaches that it is women who interact with children, but Christ took time out for kids. How very different today when men abandon their own children, or simply neglect to teach and bless their lives.
3. Jesus, who could do all things, felt weak sometimes, probably just so He could experience what it was like to be a man, with all the weaknesses appertaining. He suffered fatigue, thirst, hunger, disappointment, betrayal, and the agonies of sin and pain, literally everything. Additionally, it doesn’t seem like He tried to hide it. In fact, some of the most wonderful things about Jesus were those very expressions of weakness. Who doesn’t feel deeply for Him when He asks the Father to remove from Him the crushing responsibility of taking the sins of the world? The Doctrine and Covenants records that “He knows the weakness of man and how to succor them who are tempted.” Too often men feel like society expects them to be completely in control, supremely confident, and almost superhuman. Jesus was a man who wasn’t afraid to show vulnerability. Isaiah described the Messiah-to-come as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Even a perfect man can ask for help, can show weakness, can need and call on the powers of heavens and friends to assist him.
4. Jesus showed men how to treat women. He forgave them their sins, He comforted them in their distress, He looked after them, He taught them. At no time do I get the sense that He coddled or spoke down to women. And what an interesting role-reversal occurs when Jesus reproved Martha for fretting in the kitchen and praised Mary for educating herself! Society today teaches that men are sex machines and generally treat women like objects. Christ was the exact opposite. I find it telling that the last disciple Jesus spoke to before dying on the cross was His mother and the first person Jesus visited after resurrection was also a woman. He reproved and instructed equally, and out of love.
In all honesty, this blog post is a little self-serving. There are many ways that I fall comfortably into the world’s definition of masculinity, but with some notable exceptions. I have no great love of any organized sport (except maybe hockey, the perfect marriage of grace and violence). I occasionally enjoy a “chick flick." I am on a vegetarian diet. I cry when I feel like it. I worked as a nanny. I like 19th-century literature. And sometimes I feel vulnerable. I am not what the world would call a “manly man.” But, in weighing the above comparison, I feel that the world’s definition has little value for me.
I don’t know exactly what President Packer’s definition of masculinity is, but I feel comfortable trying to emulate the type that Christ exemplified.