For all of the great advances women, in particular, have experienced thanks to the Women’s Movement, one of the consequences, intended or unintended, is the confusion between “equal” and “sameness,” or the misunderstanding of differentness. Understandably, because girls and women were so far behind in the 60’s and 70’s, it was important to stress that girls and women were not only equal to boys and men, but that they could also do anything boys and men can do. Equal, however, came to mean “the same.” Any differences between boys and girls, men and women, were downplayed, ignored, or denied.
In the 1980s and 1990s, this began to play itself out in the androgynization of boys and girls—i.e., trying to make them the same. What were seen as stereotypical male traits—aggression, hyperactivity, antsy-ness, fighting, etc.—were written off as bad. Many tried to remove gender stereotypes by attempting to get boys to play with dolls rather than guns and by telling stories that were more relationship-oriented than action-oriented. The primary images of young men in magazines were of the soft, effeminate, chest-shaved model. In other words, making boys and girls “equal” all too often means making boys more like girls.
The “de-stereotyping” or feminizing of children continues today. In 2011, a story ran about a school in Sweden that refuses to use any gender-based language with the students. No more he or she, him or her. No longer referred to as “boys” or “girls,” the children are introduced as “friends.” Colors and toys are chosen so as not to promote stereotypes. A Canadian couple made the decision that they would not disclose the gender of their newborn baby. They didn’t want anyone treating the child in a gender-biased or stereotyped manner.
Pastors even use Scripture to back up the equality=sameness mantra, quoting Paul’s verse that in Christ there is neither male nor female…” (Galatians 3:28).
Equating equal with sameness, however, holds boys and girls captive to the tyranny of sameness, a tyranny that robs them of the Image of God male and the Image of God female.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)
This theologically rich passage offers far more than this post can unpack. But consider these two over-arching observations:
- Male and female were created in the Image of God—Boys and girls are equally in the Image of God. We need both male and female to get a full picture of the Image of God.
- God created humans male and female—Although we are equal, we are different.
Those called to pour themselves into boys will want to hold both of these truths in equal tension. Emphasizing one over the other results in the following tyranny of sameness:
- By overemphasizing the differences, girls and women often end up feeling less than equal to men (or, as in today’s society, boys and men feel inferior to girls and women).
- By overemphasizing sameness at the expense of differentness, we create the challenges boys are currently facing in an educational, work, and church world now skewed to the way girls and women are wired.
Boys are created in the Image of God as boys. They are different from girls. Take off their clothes, and we see the physical differences. Take the clothes off of their brains, and we see the differences. For example:
- There are over 60 identifiable differences between a girl brain and a boy brain.
- The primary shaping hormone for boys: testosterone—an aggression hormone.
- The primary shaping hormone for girls: oxytocin—a bonding hormone.
While well-intentioned, these attempts at making boys and girls the same end up robbing boys of who they are and of who they were created to be. And I would suggest that robbing boys of their boy-ness robs girls of their inherent girl-ness.
If we want to call boys to follow Jesus into compelling manhood it’s imperative that we understand how their Creator created them—how their brains work, how their brains process information, and how boys are wired to follow Jesus differently from girls. It’s vital that we disciple them as boys—created as boys in the Image of God male.
(By the way: Galatians 3:28 is not a gender verse, i.e., that there is no physical, emotional, and mental difference between males and females—this is an inclusion verse. A Jew doesn’t lose her Jewish-ness nor does a Greek lose his Greek-ness nor does a male lose his male-ness or a female her female-ness in Christ. They are different but equal before Christ.)
(Adapted from Searching for Tom Sawyer: How Parents and Congregations Can Stop the Exodus of Boys from Church, WestBow Press)