|Photo by Brad Kinney, 2006|
Ironically, even though we're sitting on the couch gaining weight as we watch them, Americans worship the Jack Bauers and James Bonds of the world, those heroes who can kill a man with their pinky as quickly as they can get a lady to go to bed with them.
While we err on the side of bullet-proof bravado, Chinese society seems to expect a softer man. In traveling to the country over the past eight years, I've met many demure guys with wet-fish handshakes and designer man purses. In educational and social gatherings, I've seen men stay in the background while the more outgoing girls steal the spotlight.
A New York Times article today discussed how boys are being left behind in China's education system. Girls in urban areas, perhaps thumbing their noses at society's preference for sons, are outpacing their male counterparts in a variety of subjects and on the all-important gaokao, or college entrance exams.
Tasked with carrying on the family name, boys in China are squeezed by the pressures of growing up as "little emperors."
On one hand, they're coddled. But the investment in their development raises the entire family's expectations for their future. Immense pressure to achieve leads to countless hours of study starting at a young age. With all this on your shoulders, who has time to ponder things like masculinity?
Apparently, 16-year-old Wan Zhongni does, and he's not liking what he's seeing.
“I should have used my free time to play sports, to play basketball. I think I lack masculinity. I need to improve," the NYT article quoted him as saying.
The piece goes on to enumerate reasons for the gap in male/female performance, but I couldn't get past the honesty and uncertainty in his statement: "I think I lack masculinity." How many of us could say the same thing?
It struck me that whether it's Chinese guys spending days immersed in Internet games or Americans collecting tattoos, deer heads or polo shirts, their problem is the same: Manhood in each culture is a moving target. No one is defining it, and few men in either society are inviting boys into a higher calling for their masculinity, which should be focused on submission to God and sacrifice for neighbors.
Where are the Chinese fathers? Many of the rich send their kids off to the best schools, while the poor go to find work in the cities, leaving their sons to be looked after by grandparents in the villages. Divorce isn't as prevalent as in the U.S., but Chinese families are practical. They will split up if it means better careers and more money for kids' education and parents' care.
Where are the American fathers? Many are parked in front of the TV, while some sit staring at computers in the offices where they spend 60-plus hours per week. Others left minutes after their child was conceived and never came back.
In America, it's well-documented that kids from fatherless homes are more likely to commit crimes and drop out of school. Many Chinese are worried that their country is losing its moral compass and sliding into materialism.
In both countries, it's going to take men defining manhood for boys like Wan Zhongni to avoid rough sailing ahead.
For a clearer view of manhood, read "Making Men: Five Steps to Growing Up" by Chuck Holton, which I edited. I've also found the teachings of Robert Lewis helpful. They're encapsulated in the book "Raising a Modern-Day Knight".