The Man Box

Mike McHargue introduced me to the idea of the study know as “The Man Box.” The study focuses on seven things men are told by society that they must do to be “a real man.” Mike talked about these unspoken “commandments” to men in “Your A Miracle and a Pain in the Ass.” And how they have adversely affected society and men.

  • The seven pillars of what “real men” are suppose to be
    • Self-sufficiency.
      • Men are to be self-sufficient and self-reliant. Especially in regards to their own physical and emotional health.
    • Acting tough
      • Men must be willing to defend their reputation physically and verbally. And men must not appear emotionally vulnerable.
    • Physical Attractiveness
      • Men must look good but not work to hard at trying to achieve this.
    • Rigid Masculine Gender Roles
      • Men must follow the expected gender roles in regards to divisions of household and caregiver work. The man is to be the expected finical provider, but the woman is expected to care for the house and children.
    • Heterosexuality and Homophobia
      • A “real man” will not act or appear gay.
    • Hypersexuality
      • A man must be always ready for sex, and always looking for his next sexual conquest.
    • Aggression and Control
      • A “real man” must control is household and hold control over his woman.

As someone who grew up in a primarily evangelical world, I was taught many of these things. Whether you believe it or not the church seems to promote this type of hyper masculine behavior. Read Jesus and John Wayne if you want to hear more on the church and hypermasculinity.

Self sufficiency

The Church pushes this hard at young men and boys. Men are to figure our their own problems. A true man is one who is a “strong emotional leader.” This is a man who is not emotionally vulnerable but a “solid rock” at all times – for his families sake.

I saw this modeled by my own father growing up. And I can tell you I’ve only every see my dad cry once. Throughout my childhood, he refused to connect on an emotional level – to anyone or anything. The only time I’ve seen him cry was a highly traumatic memory for me. My sister had gone to the front lawn where my dad had been cutting grass. Unknown to my father she had been following behind him as he cut grass. He backed up to turn around and she went under the lawnmower.

The lawnmower blades struck her head, face, chest, and leg. Dad carried her inside screaming and crying. He didn’t stop mourning even as we were taken to a friend’s house, and my sister was rushed to the hospital.

He refuses to get help for that memory. And to this day will never speak of that event or take time to process his pain. My sister came home from the hospital a month or two later, and not a single word was ever said about what happened. Nothing was discussed of how we as kids felt, how dad felt, or how my mom felt. Men do not need therapy; men do not need help.

And I can remember, maybe once, my dad telling me that he had a feeling or emotion towards me. He said he was proud of me. I remember that I had won I library drawing of sorts. Every time you read a book you got an entry into the drawing. I was so conditioned to distrust feelings at that point; my only mental response to the “I’m proud of you son” was “Pride cometh before a fall.” I couldn’t even accept that emotion from my dad. I’m sure my dad has told me he loves me or other emotional connections, but honestly this is the only one I can remember.

Guys aren’t soft. Don’t talk about emotions in front of others. He will just be picked on by other boys if he shows weakness. Never say I love you in front of his friends.

Summary from Dateable: Are You? Are They?

Acting Tough

I remember my pastor teaching us that we need to be willing to physically defend the “weaker sex.” Men were seen as the knights in shining armor ready to defend the fair maiden from attack. A man is never to be seen a “pansy” or weakling.

The homeschool culture I was a part of also stressed this idea. With my family often receiving Doug Phillips’ Vision Forum catalog. He promoted heavily books like “Family Man, Family Leader” and toys that promoted aggression in boys.

https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/18440292/downloadable-catalog-vision-forum

“This gutless, liberal, pansy leadership needs to step down and let real men run this nation again!!! What has happened to the America I once knew.”

Phil Kidd – Said in a August 21, 2014 Facebook post directed at Obama

My wife saw more of this than I ever did. Her father taught and demonstrated that a “real man” would do anything to protect his reputation and church. Her father lived and breathed this ideal.

Physical Attractiveness

I can remember this coming out more during college than any other time of my life. Men at college were made fun of if they were unkept or didn’t have well fitted clothes. But in the same sense any man that “overdid” it and spent a large amount of his time grooming, or used hairspray to get that perfect hair. They would be mocked for being to “feminine.”

Rigid Masculine Gender Roles

This is 100% a thing that the church promotes. And the more conservative the church the further down the path that you go. For the most part in church, I heard a version of this that allowed women to work outside the home (although it wasn’t the preferred option). A version that allowed women to talk and share at church but not publicly teach. And men were told women are to raise children and to care for the house.

My family went further with this ideal. My mother was our caregiver. And she was expected to cook and clean the house. Dad would rarely take on duties of “watching us” for mom to do any other events. If anything, the older children got designated those duftites; filling in when mom needed help with the kids or house. Mom never had a job or role outside of the home.

My mother was also my teacher growing up. As we were homeschooled our whole lives. Dad would assist in these duties, but normally only during the winter when work was slow.

But my mother would get very little assistance on her “work” in the home. And she struggled to process her own past trauma (At least in my opinion. I’m not in my mother’s head). Spiraling into periods of depression. During those depressive periods she had very little emotional or physical help from my father. I often wonder how she was able to raise all of us (emotionally) alone, care for the house, and meet our physical needs.

Heterosexuality and Homophobia

I think most people have already seen the church’s view on homosexuality. And your average evangelical church is far from affirming. But I will go into several of my own experiences and mostly focus on the college I attended: Pensacola Christian College (PCC).

The college I attended had a highly anti-gay stance. You could not attend if you were anywhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. And any hint of that type of behavior would have you sent to student life to question you regarding your beliefs there. In fact while I attended PCC a young man was kicked out for the mere accusation of being gay.

Men would do anything to try to prove they weren’t queer or feminine. And anything even close to feminine dress would be mocked. This would include wearing pastel colors, floral patterns, or polka dots. Wearing the color pink was just inviting mockery.

The college wouldn’t even allow us into the community during the annual pride week in Pensacola. And if we were caught participating in a pride march we would instantly be kicked out. I’ve also spoken with a girl who attended PCC that got in a lot of trouble for displaying a pride flag in her dorm room. If you made any move to affirm LGBTQ people or acted like a LGBTQ person you would get kicked out.

“I had dreamed of traveling with the college ensemble groups so I auditioned my first year. I sized up the other pianists and considered myself a very worthy candidate. I was not chosen. Crestfallen, nearly two months later I spoke with the fellow in charge of the ensembles and inquired as to the reason of my not making it into the ensembles. I remember this clearly, I can quote it word for word—this is what he said to me. “You saunter when you walk, you speak through your nose and you bend your wrists too much. I had a problem bending my wrists too much and learned if I put tape around my wrists it would prevent me from bending them.” In essence, I acted “too gay” to be in ensemble. I was crushed, it wasn’t my playing at all it was me—I wasn’t good enough as me. What a gut punch! I “cleaned” up my act, wore more conservative clothes, practiced speaker lower, practiced walking “right”, practiced not bending my wrists. The next year I was allowed in and boy was I happy!”

From a PCC review at StudentsReview.com

If you are vaguely wondering about my wife’s experience with LGBTQ+ people. Well, her father openly told her that if she ever came out as a “lesbian” that she would be disowned. And she would no longer be welcomed at home.

Hypersexuality

This is a hard one as technically the evangelical church promotes purity. But in a way they do have a culture that promotes hypersexuality. This is mostly aimed at men. As women are not seeing as having a sexual drive. Woman are seen as emotionally motivated and men as sexually motivated.

The women in a dating relationship is told she needs to be the one that restrains the man’s sexual desires. The following clip is a summary and quote from the book datable.

He doesn’t actually love you. He just wants to have sex with you. “He wants to have sex with you because you’re a girl and you are willing” It’s not love.

“Dateable: Are You? Are They?”

The whole book is filled with this type of idea that men are just foaming at the mouth to have sex. And that women need to be a guiding force in the relationship that keep it pure.

Purity culture teaches that men are just eyeing up women’s bodies at all times, and how women need to cover their bodies to help their lustful “brothers in Christ.”

If he’s staring at you it’s probably because you are dressed easy. If you dress like a piece of meat you are going to get thrown on the BBQ. Dress how you want to be treated.

“Dateable: Are You? Are They?”

Aggression and Control

My wife experienced this more that I ever did. But even in my house their was a focus on a level of unhealthy control over the woman.

Masculine aggression was downplayed as a child. But my father was allowed to discipline or act out in aggression to discipline us in any way he saw fit. The most extreme example would be him rapping us (the kids) on the head with his knuckles at a meal if we got out of line.

My father expected his word to be taken as truth even if this contradicted my mother. And my mother for the most part complied with his requests / demands. My mom had so many books and magazines on biblical womanhood and submission. See Above Rubies if you want an example of that. The following is a bullet point from the linked article. Above Rubies was popular in the conservative homeschooling environment I was a part of.

  • Submission – How Does It Work?
    • Tell him exactly how I felt, one time
      • “Sometimes I think that surely anyone with two eyes could tell how I feel about this issue, but still I need to clearly tell him in words.”
    • Be quiet
      • “That’s it. Be quiet. I have told him clearly how I feel, and now I need to be quiet.”
    • Pray about it
      • “There is something about this three-step process of saying how I feel, being quiet, and praying that frees the Holy Spirit to work.”
    • Watch God Work
      • “It is simply astonishing what God can do when I do my part in obeying what He asks me to do.”
      • “I asked God to help me change if I was simply being too sensitive, and I asked Him to convict Paul if he was in the wrong. It was hard, but I resolved to act as if nothing had happened, not mention a word about he had ignored me, and let God handle it.”

“God designed and created man to have this authority. Therefore, when we obey our husbands we allow them to fulfill this part of their lives. We complete them. It’s a perfect fit. Not only are our husbands blessed, but they are then whole enough as men to turn around and cherish us.”

Above Rubies

I think I’ve quoted enough from this source to get the point across. Men are told they have complete authority over the home. And that the wife is to be in complete submission to the husband.

The following quote are more like the ideology my wife grew up in. Her father would read this book and quote it to my wife’s mom.

“‘Thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee.’ Wives must be subject to the rule of their husbands if they fit into God’s order of things. Does some wife who reads this find her heart rebellious against her husband? You do not want him to rule you? You do not want to obey? Then you feel just like all the criminals in the penitentiaries and jails feel. They, too, are rebels against God-given authority.”

Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers by John R. Rice

“How many Christian women have learned that the way to the greatest freedom and joy in the home is found in surrendering to obey the husband in everything!”

Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers by John R. Rice

See my purity culture post for more on my experience of these types of gender roles in college. As my experience with this type of ideology didn’t end after I left the home. And I also briefly touch on how it affected my post college life and marriage.

Conclusion

As someone who never measured up to what society, the church, and my family demanded from me as a “man,” I hope others can see the harmful ideas found in them. Society tries to mold men into this hyper-masculine man’s man, but it doesn’t work. It causes broken homes, poor mental health, and feelings of shame for those that don’t measure up.

In my parents marriage it lead to a depressed wife and a silent emotionally distant husband. And their relationship is unfortunately pretty well non-existent at this point. They tried their hardest to make traditional marriage roles work, and it didn’t work out for them.

My life and marriage are a lot healthier since I’ve tried to move out of “the man box” that was constructed for me. I encourage others to take a look at their own lives and see how society and faith may have molded how you think of manliness or masculinity.

Further Reading

You’re a Miracle (and a Pain in the Ass) by Mike HcHargue

Jesus and John Wayne

I linked the study in PDF form below if you wish to read it yourself.

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