“Be a Man!” : Manliness as Christian Perfection

“Be a man!”

How many times have you heard this phrase used to try and convince boys, teenagers, and even adult males into doing what is right, shaming them into becoming responsible or courageous? The technique is not unique to our society. It has roots, way back, in many cultures.

But have you ever wondered why girls are not equally challenged to become women—as if by becoming more womanly, it meant they were becoming better human beings?

To “throw like a girl” has a long history of NOT being a compliment, even if media campaigns are trying to change that. But I’ve never been encouraged to “throw like a woman” either…


When we tell boys to “Be a man,” what we mean is

“Be good, strong, confident, mature, virtuous.”


When we tell girls to “Be a woman” (if we ever say this)

…it doesn’t usually mean the same thing.


When did manliness become associated with not only strength but virtue?

I don’t know about every culture, but in the West, it goes all the way back. Plato, Augustine, the Church Fathers, the Reformers… After all, in Latin, the word virtue was said to come from the Latin word for man (vir)—man as in male, not man as in human (which in Latin is homo).

But if virtue = manliness, what does it mean to be a virtuous woman? In the minds of too many of our Christian and cultural forbears, a “virtuous woman” was considered an oxymoron, something unnatural.

In these days when many are calling for a return to “biblical manhood” or “biblical womanhood” or hoping for a perfected masculinity or perfected femininity (as Stephen Holmes writes about as he interacts with my book), it’s helpful to have a little historical perspective…

So I thought I’d pass along my recently published article in Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought, entitled “Gender is not a Virtue.”

The theme of this issue is gender and theology and has several articles which are well worth your time.

Happy reading!

(originally published 9/3/15)