What does it take to be a man, Part 3: How many masculinities is too many?

In a previous post, I discussed the idea of masculinities. In it I mentioned that masculinity should really be masculinities because there is not one standardized way to be a man. A followup post focussed on masculinities in the Philippines, an area of significance in my own life. In the comments, Mike Swalm and I chatted about the extent of these masculinities looking at the question of how many masculinities is too many? Mike pointed out a key issue with an infinite amount of masculinities and wisely says, “we move toward negation of corporate meaning. Why even talk about masculinity if it has such malleable and infinite meaning? Doesn’t that remove the very nature of the concept as something that is definable as a category, giving us no real ability to say it is “this” and not “that”?”

I thought I would take the opportunity of Mike’s question to discuss where masculinity studies is in this seemingly infinite continuum. As usual I will take a Bakhtinian approach.

Monologue. Revisiting Connell’s concept of hegemonic masculinity, we realise that even though there may be any number of variations on the masculinity theme within a given context, there is one that predominates the discussion so much that it drowns out the others. Interestingly enough the predominant theme doesn’t necessarily have the most supporters — it just predominates. Bakhtin called this “monologue.” Even though Connell’s insights have opened the door to other masculinities as being acceptable, masculinities more closely associated with patriarchy continue to predominate.

Dialogue. Obviously dialogue is better than monologue because it allows another voice to provide balance. We actually prefer a dialogic point of view because we enjoy dividing things up into to opposing parties. It is this recognition that leads from singular masculinity to plural mascuinities. In reality, however, things are rarely as black and white as we might like. In fact, they are often greyscale.

Heteroglossia. But there aren’t just two voices in dialogue — there are a multitude of voices, each seemingly clamouring for attention, each contributing to what it means to be a man. This moves us beyond greyscale into millions of colours. It’s actually this final idea that creates the question Mike asks because it seems to leave open the possibility of an infinite number of potential masculinities.

At the risk of oversimplification, on a practical level, there aren’t an infinite number of men in the world; the world is at least divided into males and females. That means that give or take 50% of the worlds population isn’t male. That means that the first line of demarcation is the male-female.[1]

A second line of demarcation is society itself. Society creates a framework for the conversations surrounding masculinity. Sometimes these societies are monologic in nature but quite often they provide limitations on the range of acceptable meanings within that society. For example, in a study I did in my community, where men had a variety of religious experiences and influences, I was surprised to discover that the conversation centred around only a couple of common themes. There is no limit to the horizons of epistemology in Bakhtin but the conversations still revolved around a few key clusters, including the importance of the wants, needs, and input of wives and families and seeing Christianity as central to their faith. Perhaps this means that cultures as a whole exert influence on the boundaries of dialogue that make it difficult for conversation to move beyond those points.

A final aspect of Bakhtin’s idea provides another level of demarcation. Bakhtin wasn’t really looking for that one unifying, universal answer to life. His purposes in developing his framework were not so that we could necessarily make sense of this crazy world we live in. Rather he seems to be giving us a way to recognise and embrace the messiness of this world we live in.

How does all of this work? Let me try an illustration from sports. For me, there is only one hockey team. When I refer to this team I will use the word “dynasty.” I will refer to their preponderance of Stanley Cup wins. I will refer to their aggressive style of play. Yup, you guessed it. My team is the Montreal Canadiens (How ’bout them Habs?). In many ways my allegiance to the Montreal Canadians is monologic. When we were kids we would argue about who we liked best. But through thick and thin it was Montreal for me. I know that other teams exist but what’s interesting is that I am not sure what you could do to convince me to cheer for another team.

But I do have to admit that Montreal is not the only team that exists. After all, they do need teams to beat 😉 The National Hockey League provides the fodder for the Montreal machine. It started with the Original Six (who some believe are the only real teams), then expanded to twelve in 1968, then to eighteen in 1974, twenty-two in 1992, and finally to the current thirty-two teams that take to the ice each week.

What also happened during these years is that hockey expanded internationally. What begun as an almost exclusively Canadian sport now has teams and players from all around the world. I remember watching a recreational team playing in the Philippines’ only ice rink a number of years ago. A friend was a part of a team in the United Arab Emirates around that time as well. Hockey has indeed become a heteroglossia.

What is interesting is that regardless of the level of the sport — from the NHL all the way down to shinny on the street in front of your house — the sport is still hockey. The nuance hasn’t changed that. What this has done for the sport is to make hockey better. I recall as a child reading about how Team Canada defeated some hapless international opponent 50-0. That wouldn’t happen today. In fact, international hockey is incredibly competitive, at both professional and amateur levels. The result is the reality that a team like the Montreal Canadiens cannot dominate the sport any more because other teams are able to join the conversation. Rather than a single dominant team, what we see is an entire sport that is played on an almost infinite number of levels. And the sport is better for it.

In a similar way, a deeper understanding of masculinities can only make those masculinities better. We need to move beyond the idea of a singular approved masculinity into a better set of masculinities.

What contribution are you making to the masculinity conversation? How are you making your voice heard? Please feel free to leave a note in the comments below to let us know.

Remember sharing is what friends do.

Missed the previous posts on this subject? You can read them here: Part 1 and Part 2.


[1] The 2SLGBTQ+ conversation is still going strong, and is still undergoing development. What started out as simply “straight” or “gay” has exploded into a seemingly infinite number of options as heteroglossia in that area develops. The male-female demarcation that I use here is not intended as a rejection of those voices but merely a recognition of the fact that, one, the voices are still sorting themselves out and, two, that I don’t understand them enough to place them into an easily-explained framework.

Image by Andrew Wulf on Unsplash.

How can an alternative reading of Ezra-Nehemiah help us relate to the world in a way more in line with what God wants?

I read the last chapter of Ezra the other day & I must admit it’s stuck with me since then. This passage has always raised a lot of questions, the most important being its connection to missions. My seminary Old Testament professor, Dr. Vernon Steiner, taught us that when looking at the canonical structure of the OT, Ezra should be the last book of the Hebrew Scriptures. However, because it’s always better to end on a high note, the editors/compilers put Chronicles last. Having said that, how do we interpret the events that happened in Jerusalem so many years ago in light of the Great Commissioning? Are there limits to going into all the world?

If you are unfamiliar with the story, here is the basic outline. The people have returned to Jerusalem after many years of captivity in Babylon. When they return it becomes obvious that a lot of people have intermarried with surrounding nations – something that was seemingly forbidden under Mosaic Law. When this sin is realised, Ezra makes a call for repentance. Those who had married non-Jewish women divorced them and sent them away, including any kids born as a result of the union. The passage only mentions four people who opposed this action but provides no further commentary on the rightness or wrongness of this action.

Something seems right about this, doesn’t it? God hates sin and wants us to stay away from it as much as possible, doesn’t he? God wants us to maintain the purity of our faith, doesn’t he? God wants us to be separated from evil, doesn’t he? That’s why we have often just glossed over these parts as necessary evils as we keep on reading.

However, even though on some level this seems right, on another level what happens doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of Scripture. If it’s true that God “hates divorce,” how could Ezra’s actions be right? If it’s true that God loved “the world” how does can this mass rejection of the world — via both the wall in Nehemiah and the mass divorce in Ezra — be right?

Before we continue I need to clarify something. Divorce is one of those words that has a lot of baggage. One way to misunderstand this word is to apply our own 21st-century legal understandings of the concept to our discussion. We won’t get into all of those issues here and in fact this post isn’t as much about divorce per se as it is about automatically rejecting people from God’s kingdom merely because of their ethnic heritage.

Over the past couple of years, while stuck in Canada because of COVID-19 lockdowns, I have been privileged to join a men’s bible study at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Saskatoon, SK. One of the books we studied was Ezra-Nehemiah and as a result of our discussions I gained new insights into the book. In our discussions we tried to understand the book and came across a couple of resources that provided some alternative answers to what we were used to. The Bible Project has a great video overview of Ezra-Nehemiah. Tim Mackie, a key player at the Bible Project, has also done some other work on the books. Ray Lubeck, in his 2010 ETS presentationEzra-Nehemiah Reconsidered: Aiming the canon at Godly leaders,” makes some rather suprising comments about Ezra-Nehemiah that challenge the very foundation of what we like about the books. These books, and in particular Nehemiah, have been used as examples of Godly leadership in times of hardship. It’s certainly not hard to see that Nehemiah faced countless difficulties when building his wall.

However, Lubeck posits that Nehemiah’s intense focus on building the wall was in fact misplaced. He looks at how Zechariah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel all talk about the importance of the Gentiles in God’s Kingdom. He then says, “Since these passages precede Nehemiah and his ministry, he should have known that Yahweh’s plans for the gentiles did not exclude them, but offered them full participation into the worshipping community of faith. Indeed, walls meant to exclude are the antithesis to the Isaianic vision of Jerusalem following the captivity.” All of this is interesting, especially given our love for seeing the leadership skills that Nehemiah exhibits in the book.

What of the mass divorce that takes place at the end of Ezra? Is this action to be lauded or condemned? It’s commonly assumed that God’s command to not marry outside of Israel is behind the mass divorce. The problem is that God’s command not to intermarry is specific to those peoples found in the Promised Land when Joshua and the 12 tribes invaded. This is a list of seven specific peoples, namely Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites (Deuteronomy 7:1-3). Later on (Deuteronomy 23:3) Ammonites and Moabites down to the tenth generation as well as Edomites and Egyptians for three generations are added to the list. What is interesting is that in Deuteronomy 20:10-18 Israel was allowed to take as wives the women of some of the cities they attacked and in Numbers 15 we read that aliens are allowed into the community and can relate to Yahweh. It’s clear that while some specific groups may, for a time, unsuitable marriage partners, the vast majority of foreigners are perfectly acceptable.

It’s also important to realise that marriages with outsiders — or foreigners — are key in the Bible. These include Joseph and the Egyptian Asenath, Moses and the Midianite Zipporah, Salmon and the Canaanite Rahab, Boaz and the Moabite Ruth, Bathsheba and the Hittite Uriah, and Esther and the Persian Xerxes.

When we get to Ezra and Nehemiah we see how these commands were modified by the people to include “all who were of foreign descent” (Nehemiah 13:1) who “mingled the holy race” (Ezra 9:1-2).

In the end, Lubeck makes six key points, a few of which are relevant to our discussion. Ezra-Nehemiah “exposes how very wrong it is when God’s people seek to hoard his grace as if they own it, refusing to share it with ‘outsiders;'” “teaches us that misguided religious fervor and zeal cannot compensate for misusing God’s Word;” and “teaches us to prioritize family commitment and fidelity;”

What I found interesting was Lubeck’s final comment:

“As a sobering reminder of the gravity of these lessons above, we should note that the Pharisees, whom we know so well from our New Testament, consider Ezra to be the founding father of their movement. Did they pray? Read Scripture? Fast? Take their faith seriously? Expect others to conform to their standards? Assiduously work at keeping every command? Exclude all outsiders? Deem themselves as better than others? Add their own rules to God’s commands? Were they sincere? The answer to all these questions is, of course, yes, just like we find in Ezra-Nehemiah. And rather than seeking to replicate this kind of “godly leadership,” we should seek our positive role models for spiritual leadership elsewhere.”

What are your thoughts on Ezra-Nehemiah? Do you think we need to change our interpretive focus when it comes to these books? Do you think that they represent poor examples of how to do ministry?

Please leave your comments in the box below.

Remember sharing is what friends do!

Image by Steve Johnson on Unsplash.

What does it mean to be a man, part 2? Masculinities in the Philippines

In a previous post, I introduced the idea of masculinities. In it I mentioned that masculinity should really be masculinities because there is not one standardized way to be a man. In this post I will expand on that in talking about how crossing cultures also increases the complexities surrounding the subject. Our specific focus will be on masculinities in the Philippines.

Masculinity in Filipino Popular culture.

Filipinos love to make puns and while humour is used to make people laugh, there is generally a hidden truth behind the humour (Maggay 2002). What is interesting is that the majority of these puns define men based upon their relationships with others, primarily with their wives (see Angeles, 2001, pp. 2-3).[1]

Some of these terms, such as Padre de pamilya [“Father of the family”] and Haligi ng Tahanan [“Pillar of the home”] refer to the key strengthening roles that men play in the home. While men may provide the strength within the home, the mother, as ilaw ng tahanan [“light of the home”], provides the spiritual direction. Does this imply an inherent spiritual role that mothers play that isn’t considered a part of the father’s role?

Other terms clearly depict the struggle for power within husband and wife relationships: Ander de saya [“Under his wife’s skirt”] describes a henpecked husband. Kumander is a common term used by husbands to describe their wives. For example, when asked if he would like to do something, a man will often reply, “Di ako sure kung pwede ako. Magpaalam muna ako kay Kumander.” [“I’m not sure that I can do that. I need to get my Commander’s permission first.”] Machu-machunirin [“obedient to his wife”]. This is a play on words based on “macho” and “masunurin” [“obedient”]. Rubio and Green (2011) see these puns as evidence of the greater-than-equal status of women in Philippine cultures.

Others connect masculinity to the ability to perform various tasks or act in certain ways. When performing certain tasks, particularly where strength is required, men will often be told, “Nakasalalay ang pagkalalaki doon” [“Your masculinity depends upon you being able to complete this task”].

One of my professors recalls that her mother would ask, “Wala ka ba’ng bayag?” [“Don’t you have any balls?”] of her brothers when they acted afraid. On other occasions I have heard mothers telling their crying sons that, “Tumigil ka. Hindi umiiyak ang mga lalaki” [“Stop. Men don’t cry”]. This provides some evidence that mothers share in the responsibility in constructing the pagkalalake of their children.

Formal pagkalalake studies in the Philippines.

One of the first studies of pagkalalake in the Philippines was Santiago (1977), who studied men in a Philippine village in Bulacan. Santiago identifies three ideal measurements of pagkalalake: lalaking-lalaki [“manly man”], tunay na lalake [“real man”], and mabuting tao [“good person”]. Lalaking-lalake identifies those few who achieve the katangian [“characteristics”] of pagkalalake, tunay na lalake identifies those few men who achieve the kakayahan [“ability”] to do the things men do, and mabuting tao identifies those few men who achieve goodness as humans.

She identifies three categories of pagkalalaki, namely “mga katangiang panlalake;” [“male characteristics”], “kakayahan sa pagganap ng tungkulin na initas sa mga lalake o inaasahan ng lipunan ng kanilang gampanana” [“Ability for men to perform the roles that either they or society expects of them”]; and “mga kilos at ugaling sekswal” [“sexual activities and behaviour”] (p. 168).

Santiago divides the measurement of pagkalalake into four areas, namely “ang dapat mangyari, ang mangyayari, ang hindi dapat mangyari ngunit nangyayari, ang nangyayari noong araw ngunit hindi na umiiral.” [“Things that must happen, things that happen, things that shouldn’t happen but still do, and things that used to happen but don’t anymore”].

She identifies three categories to pagkalalake as follows: “Mga katangiang panlalake.” This includes those thoughts, actions and emotions that are not seen in women. “Kakayahan sa pagganap ng tungkilin na initas sa mga lalake o inaasahan ng lipunan ng kanilang gampanana” (p. 168). This includes the ability to perform tasks that either he identifies or society identifes as male tasks. “Mga kilos at ugaling sekswal” (p. 168). Santiago admits that she didn’t gather a lot of information about this aspect of pagkalalake. She identifies two possible reasons: because 1) she, as a woman, wasn’t able to gather this information, or because 2) she didn’t have enough time to devote to this aspect of pagkalalake. She suggests that a male researcher may be able to gather more information on this category because “higit na palagayang loob ng mga lalake sa kapwa lalake” [“it’s easier for a man to open up to a man”] (p. 168). Note that Santiago’s study does not delve into the area of religion or spirituality.

Tan (1989) identifies fathers in the Philippines as either procreators or dilettantes. Procreators neither enjoy nor spend much time at fathering because their understanding is primarily biological. Tan identifies this with the Philippine understanding that all children have utang-na-loob [“a debt of honor”] to their parents merely “for giving them life” (p. 34). Thus, siring children is enough. The dilettante, while having a positive fatherhood experience, is not very “active” as a father. Tan identifies OFW fathers as fitting into this “… supporting role to the main caretaker, usually the mother” (p. 30). Note that Tan’s study does not delve into the area of religion or spirituality.

de Castro (1995) follows the common gender discussion of distinguishing between sex (physically male) and gender (socially constructed) but also moves into the ethical aspect of the gender debate. According to de Castro “ang pagkalalaki … ay walang aspetong etikal. Wala itong kinakailangang implikasyon para sa dapat at hindi dapat; walang itinataguyod na tama o mali” [“masculinity … has no ethical aspects. It has no necessary implications for what should or shouldn’t be; nothing is right or wrong”] (p. 141). de Castro proposes introducing the term pagkamaginoo in order to achieve the ethics that are missing from the other terms. Ethics seems to mean proper interpersonal relationships between people, regardless of their gender: “ipinamamalas ng magulang na naghahanap-buhay, nagtitiyaga sa pag-aalaga ng kanyang mga anak, nagmamalasakit para sa kanilang kapakanan at nagpapakita ng katagan sa oras ng kagipitan o sakuna” [“this is demonstrated by both parents in working, they both patiently take care of their children, they both care for their interests and show stability during times of emergency or disaster”] (p. 141). While this does provide perhaps a glimpse into how maka- Diyos might fit, it is a primarily theoretical argument based upon imprecise data.[2] This study wants to find out what Filipinos actually believe rather than simply exploring possibilities of what they can believe. Note that de Castro’s study does not delve into the area of religion or spirituality.

Aquiling-Dalisay et al (1995) identify three categories of Filipino males, namely pagkalalaki [“manhood”], tunay na lalaki [“real man”], and ganap na lalaki [“perfect man”]. Note that Aquiling-Dalisay et al’s study does not delve into the area of religion or spirituality.

Pingol (2001) perhaps comes closest to identifying Filipino masculinities. In a series of fifty interviews in Ilocos in 1997, she develops a Filipino notion of male identity, which she categorizes as “Prominent,” “Ideal,” “Other,” and “Lesser extent.” Prominent among the responses were: the “Ability to provide for the family” and “Success in the workplace;” the Ideal responses included: “being a good leader with intelligence and expertise, being principled, being helpful, being decent, being law-abiding, being trustworthy, and being understanding;” while the Other” responses included: “virility, physical strength, and good looks; and the “Lesser extent” response was: “the capacity to take risks, as in gambling or illicit affairs, and yet remain responsible to one’s family.” (Pingol, 2001).

What is disappointing is that she then applies Connell’s (2005) concept of hegemonic masculinity to the Philippines rather than using definitions drawn from her interviews. Pingol does, however, go on to discuss two sub-aspects of Ilocano masculinity, namely kinalalaki and malalaki. Each is seen as a culturally legitimate way of gaining masculine power in society but kinalalaki does this by means of the “ideal typical traits of the responsible husband” while the malalaki does the same through “the machismo of rogues and daredevils or malalaki” (Pingol, 2001, p. 4).[3]

Filipino Male Spirituality.

While some studies have been conducted on Filipino masculinity very few if any have been conducted on the connection between masculinity and spirituality. “Ang Manifesto ng Tunay na Lalaki” [“The Manifesto of a Real Man”] declares that “ang tunay na lalaki ay hindi nagsisimba” [“a real man doesn’t go to church”] (Xyxo Loco, 2009).

Filipino Male Spirituality plays a rather small role in Pingol’s study. I was surprised to initially find a rather negative tone to her comments. At one point, after describing how she had to politely decline the religious advances of three “evangelists,” she commented, “I had to make them feel that their religious mission was as valid as that of others” (p. 23). Her conclusion, however, points to the help that some of her informants, both male and female, did receive from their religious beliefs as they sought to reshape their masculine identity. She does note, however, “[t]urning to the Bible is not something men in the locality automatically do in times of crisis” (p. 252). I was further puzzled by the discovery that when she did a similar study of female migrants in the Middle East that religiosity was front and centre in her study. Does this indicate that perhaps religiosity is not part of Filipino male identity but is a very large part of Filipina identity? Or perhaps it indicates a change in the researcher herself.

In spite of the dearth of information on male spirituality or religiosity, there were some evidences of husbands following a moral code that helped them cope with the departure of their wives. The men interviewed showed varying abilities to cope with the changes brought about by the migration of their wives. In her discussion on changes in the sexual dynamics of the relationship, Pingol refers to a “masculine code” that some of the men chose to keep that ensured the marriage bed would be kept pure (p. 228). She connects this “code” with the concept of kinalalaki (p. 105).

This distinction between two categories of masculinity, however, while not pointing directly to spirituality, at least hints at a kind of morality that makes behaving properly worthwhile. Is this perhaps a hint of Filipino male maka-Diyos?

Rubio and Green (2011) develop a psychological instrument for use among Filipino men called the “Filipino Adherence to Masculinity Expectations scale.” Based on a study of students at St. Louis University in Baguio City, their instrument “takes into account indigenous and non- Western conceptions of masculinity in the Philippines” (p. 78) To this end, they identify seven “Filipino masculine dimensions,” namely Responsibility; Family Orientedness; Respectful Deference to Spouse, Women, and the Elderly; Integrity; Intelligence and Academic Achievement; Strength; and Sense of Community (p. 82). Once again there was no component of this masculinity framework that included maka-Diyos.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you recognise the unique features of the masculinities within your own cultural milieu? If so, what do they look like? Please put them in the comment box below.

Remember, sharing is what friends do.

Read Part 1.


1. There are several popular conceptualizations of pagkalalake in the Philippines. Both Aquiling-Dalisay et al (1995) and Rubio & Green (2011) provide good overviews of the discourse surrounding Philippine masculinity, both from the perspective of psychology.

2. de Castro has apparently no hard data to show that this is what Filipinos actually believe. See his use of “halimbawa” [“for example”] with no citation (p. 142). Even his use of “ayon sa ilan, tanda ng tunay na lalaki ang pagtupad sa pangako” [“according to some, the sign of a real man is carrying out his promises”] (p. 142) is supportive of a constructed masculinity that is at odds with what he is proposing.

3. There does not appear to be an equivalent Tagalog gloss for these two Ilocano words. The closest might be perhaps pagkamaginoo and macho.


Angeles, L. C. (2001). The Filipino Male as “Macho-Machunurin”: Bringing Men and Masculinities in Gender and Development Studies. Kasarinlan Journal of Third World Issues, 16(1), 9-30.

Aquiling-Dalisay, G., Nepomuceno-Van Heugten, M. L., Sto. Domingo, M. R. (1995). Ang pagkalalaki ayon sa mga lalaki: Pag-aaral sa tatlong grupong kultural sa Pilipinas. Philippine Social Sciences Review, 52.

de Castro, L. D. (1995). “Pagiging lalaki, pagkalalaki, at pagkamaginoo.” Philippine Social Sciences Review, 52.

Connell, R. W. (2005). Masculinities. 2nd Ed. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Pingol, A. T. (2001). Remaking masculinities: identity, power, and gender dynamics in families with migrant wives and househusbands. Quezon City: UP Center for Women’s Studies.

Rubio, R. J. & Green, R. (2011). Filipino men’s roles and their correlates: Development of the Filipino adherence to masculinity expectations scale. Culture, Society & Masculinities, 3(2), 77–102. doi:10.3149/CSM.0302.77

Santiago, C. E. (1977). “Pakapa-kapa: Paglilinaw ng isang konsepto sa nayon.” In R. Pe-Pua (Ed.), Sikolohioyang Pilipino: Teorya, metodo at gamit (pp. 161-170). QC: Surian ng Sikolohiyang Pilipino.

Tan, A. L. (1989). Four meanings of fatherhood. Philippine Sociological Review, 22(1), pp. 27-39.

Image of Jose Rizal by Jim Stapleton on Unsplash.

What does it take to be a man? An introduction to masculinity studies.

For the past year I have been promising some posts on masculinity. Masculinity is in its most basic sense the “possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men” (OED) or “the approved way of being an adult male in any given society” (Gilmore, 1990). While these definitions may seem simple at first, there is a lot to unpack.

As you may guess, the first issue arises with the two phrases: “traditionally associated” and “approved way.” Note that both phrases are preceded by the definite article: “The.” This implies that there is only 1 way to be a man. But is that true? I talk more about this below, but in reality, there are several different masculinities in any given society. We also need to ask who does the approving and who makes the associations referred to in these definitions?

The second issue arises with the phrase “in any given society.” This means that not only are there various masculinities within any given society, but also that the number of masculinities increases when one crosses cultures. For example, when I was a child in Canada I often heard it said that the husband was responsible for taking care of the finances of the family. I remember one new widow who had absolutely no idea about the family’s finances when her husband died — it was quite a learning curve for her to figure it all out. On the other hand, I would challenge you to find a family in the Philippines where this is the case! Rather, the husband brings his salary home to his wife who is responsible for budgeting and spending. I will talk a little about some cross-cultural features of masculinity in a subsequent post on Philippine masculinities.

Finally, we need to realise that when making definitions is that there are often 2 levels of rules, one Formal and the other non-formal. In her 1985 study of air traffic controllers in Los Angeles, Normita G. Recto noted that even a field as precise as air traffic control exhibited this two-level formal vs non-formal system. The same can be said of subjects such as masculinity.

How do these questions help shape our understanding of what it means to be a man? What follows is an attempt to introduce us to the complexities surrounding masculinities.

According to Mackie (2019), the field of gender studies is more complex than simply talking about men and women. There are layers of meanings encompassed in different pairs of words. On the simplest level, society has both men and women. Sometimes these people are categorized based upon their sex, which is either male or female, although those in the medical field also recognize that there are other types of biological sex identity such as hermaphroditism (F. D. M. Caube, personal communication, 15 November 2016). Sometimes these people are categorized by their gender, which moves into the realm of social and cultural construction and is characterized by words like masculinity and femininity. Gender can be expressed culturally, such as through “desirable models of dress, deportment, language, behavior, occupations” (Mackie, 2019). It can be expressed structurally, such as through gender relations order. It can also be expressed metaphorically, such as “a primary means of signifying relationships of power” (Mackie, 2019).

The fields of men’s studies and masculinity studies are subsets of gender studies (Mackie, 2019). In line with the constructed nature of gender, masculinity and femininity are also cultural constructs. This means that they are not natural but are acquired (Tylor, 1871). It also means that there are completing models of masculinity and femininity. Connell (2005) is a major contributor to the idea of plural masculinities as opposed to the traditional singular masculinity as a field of study (see also Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005). The model was developed in opposition to the concepts of gender traits and gender roles. She uses the term hegemonic to indicate the form of masculinity that is the norm in the cultural psyche, even if this norm is not actually the normal masculinity when it comes to practice (Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005).

Several have written about the intersection of religion and masculinities. The gender debate is not restricted to the world outside of the church. Gallagher & Wood (2005) talk about the variety of understandings of masculinity that came out in the 1990s among protestant evangelical Christians in the USA. Even a group that is known for seeing the Bible as the central authority has a variety of different ways of understanding gender in general and masculinity in particular. Gallagher and Wood discuss different approaches to masculinity in two movements in the Protestant Evangelical church in the United States, namely Promise Keepers, and John Eldredge’s bestselling Wild at Heart.

Promise Keepers was a men’s movement in the 1990s that focused on getting men to make and keep seven promises that would help them to be better men. The promises exhibit a “breadth of gender perspectives,” that include helping men have better communication and connection with their families, more vulnerability, participate in racial reconciliation, and be responsible in providing, loving, teaching, and protecting their families. Eldredge’s 2001 book emphasized a different approach that emphasizes the themes of “desire, passion, and following one’s heart” (Gallagher & Wood, 2005).

The authors draw several conclusions, including that there is a much broader range of both beliefs and ideas regarding gender – and understandings about those beliefs – in evangelical churches than one would assume. Additionally, it seems that evangelicals have two basic components to their epistemological system, “personal experience and the bible” (Gallagher & Wood, 2005). I was involved in the Promise Keepers movement when it first came out. I have also read and enjoyed several of John Eldredge’s books, including Wild at Heart. My experience supports Gallagher and Wood’s conclusions that there are a variety of perspectives on gender and masculinity within the evangelical church and that authority is practically measured both through the Bible and through one’s own evaluative efforts. I think it’s also important to point out that, while Promise Keepers and Wild at Heart might represent opposing perspectives, neither of these perspectives is monolithic. Areas of belief and practice like this are often eclectic in the evangelical church.

Gerber (2015) also talks about masculinity in the Evangelical Christian church, particularly among groups that belong to the so-called ex-gay movement. This movement seeks to change “sexual orientation through a mixture of therapeutic and devotional techniques.”

Gerber discusses godly masculinity rather than hegemonic masculinity as the key ideological factor among Evangelical Christians. Godly masculinity is defined as “idealized forms of masculinity that evangelicals use to articulate subculturally specific gender ideals, criticize hegemonic forms of masculinity, and vie for their own hegemonic positioning in the culture at large” (Gerber, 2015). It is similar to hegemonic masculinity in that it is both binary in orientation and sees masculinity as dominant. It differs in that “it operates by a different set of cultural rules and expectations, generating traits that can differ from those of hegemonic masculinity” including traits that fall into what Gerber calls “gender queerness.” Gerber identifies the specific differences between this new godly masculinity and hegemonic masculinity as “de-emphasizing heterosexual conquest, inclusive masculinity, and homo-intimacy.”

The result is a more fluid understanding of what it means to be a man. Rather than emphasizing the characteristics that make up hegemonic masculinity as the definitive maleness, this godly masculinity that is created from ex-gay ministries allows for men to express their maleness using both masculine and feminine traits.

Lomas et al (2016) talk about the “positive hegemonic norms” associated with hegemonic masculinity, rather than simply focusing on possible negative aspects. Their study describes the impact of a different form of religious activity, namely meditation as practiced in Communities of Practice, on hegemonic masculinity in Southern England. While meditation is a part of many religions, meditation in this case refers primarily to Buddhist-style meditation. The study showed that involvement in these Communities of Practice impacted the masculinity options that men felt they had, including “interpersonal intimacy, abstinence, and a sense of connectedness through spirituality.” The men in the study also felt, however, that hegemonic masculinity influenced both practices inside and outside of the Communities of Practice they were involved in. there seemed to be something to the fact that the meditation was conducted in community and not just alone in helping the men embrace some of these new definitions of masculinity. The reality that the men faced about conflicts between their old and new Communities is illustrative of the fact that theory and practice don’t exist in discrete realms but that these realms are constantly interacting with each other.

The discussion of hegemonic masculinities seems centred on masculinity as defined in the West. Certainly, on the surface, some of the issues that these religious takes on masculinity seek to redefine don’t need redefinition in the Philippine context. For example, the subject of men and touch is much different in the Philippines than Canada where I grew up. While men touching each other may be strange in Canada, certainly in the Philippines touch between men is an accepted form of interaction. I wonder, too, if the term “hegemonic” in and of itself creates difficulties in communicating the theory because it automatically leads one toward the negative? Lomas et al do present a good overview of the potential positives of hegemonic masculinity, but of greater use for our study will be what kinds of hegemonic structures men in Pingkian construct when looking at masculinity and what aspects, if any, of other hegemonies they redefine?

I am curious about your thoughts on the topic of masculinities. Is it true that there is more than one way to be a man? What impact does this have on how we work at shaping a better world? Please leave your thoughts in the comment box below.

Remember, sharing is what friends do.

Read Part 2 and Part 3


Connell, R. W. (2005). Masculinities. 2nd Ed. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Connell, R. W., & Messerschmidt, J. W. (2005). Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender & society, 19(6), 829-859. doi: 10.1177/0891243205278639

Gallagher, S. K., & Wood, S. L. (2005). Godly manhood going wild?: Transformations in conservative Protestant masculinity. Sociology of religion, 66(2), 135-159. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/4153083

Gerber, L. (2015). Grit, guts, and vanilla beans: Godly masculinity in the ex-gay movement. Gender & Society, 29(1), 26-50. doi:10.1177/0891243214545682

Gilmore, 1990, Manhood in the making: cultural concepts of masculinity, Yale University Press.

Lomas, T., Cartwright, T., Edginton, T., & Ridge, D. (2016). New Ways of Being a Man: “Positive” Hegemonic Masculinity in Meditation-based Communities of Practice. Men and Masculinities, 19(3), 289-310. doi:10.1177/1097184X15578531

Mackie, V. (2019, February 13). Gender and sexuality studies: Asia-Pacific perspectives. Lecture presented at University of the Philippines Asian Center, Quezon City, Philippines.

Recto, N.G. (1985). Cultural analysis from a native-view perspective: An ethnographic study of air traffic controllers. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. University of Southern California.

Tylor, E. B. (1871). Primitive culture: Researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, art, and custom, Vol 1. London: John Murray.

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