I'm a man, but I admit I don't know what a socket set is, let alone how to use one. My wife, on the other hand, knows a socket from a ratchet, and what to do with them. At our house, she's in charge of repairs.
Still, no one has ever questioned my manhood, at least not to my face. Having grown up in a blue-collar, coal mining town where team sports were revered, I inherited my share of manly traits. I count two knee ligament tears, two broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, a broken hand, a fractured cheekbone and a corneal laceration among my sports-related injuries.
But the truth is, the definition of what constitutes genuine manhood has changed. Back in the fifties—for good or for ill—everyone pretty much agreed on what made men men and women women. Then the feminist movement started blurring the distinctions, urging men and women to take on characteristics traditionally associated with the opposite gender.
Clearly, feminism went too far in denying nearly all inherent differences between the sexes. But now, with our society's infatuation with John Gray and his best-selling book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, I fear the pendulum has swung way too far in the other direction. I give him credit for taking the risk of being labeled a cultural heretic by arguing for clear distinctions between men and women. But who put him in charge of determining what those distinctions are?
I wonder this primarily because my wife and I fail to measure up to Gray's standards. When behind the steering wheel, for example, my wife is an incurable tailgater. And she won't stop to ask for directions unless someone's life is at stake, and the person in peril has to be someone she really cares about. In contrast, when I think I might be lost (which is just about every time I go somewhere new), I toss pride to the wind and pull over to ask for directions. And tailgating ranks high on my list of pet peeves.
For the record, some of our behaviors do conform to the stereotypes. She's the reader. I do the heavy lifting and investigate strange noises in the night. She cleans the house; I have no use for a needle and thread.
But I'm the talkative one at social gatherings, while my wife seeks out a quiet corner. I like to cook, and I've changed plenty of dirty diapers. What would John Gray make of all this?
In the introduction to his book, he acknowledges that men and women sometimes reverse their roles, but he attributes it to denial of gender identity. The implication is that something is wrong with us when we don't act as he claims we should.
Baloney! So what if when my wife and I have a disagreement, she retreats to the cave (like a Martian) while I'm the Venusian, wanting to talk about things? Does that really make me less of a man?
Conspicuously absent from Gray's book is any discussion of what causes the differences between Martians and their cohorts from Venus. Are their contrasting traits rooted in nature and therefore unchangeable? Or might your planet of origin be determined more by parental example?
I'm convinced my wife is good with tools because her dad is the ultimate handyman. My dad, in contrast, was too busy playing ball with us to worry about something as unimportant as a leaky faucet. Our differences in this regard have nothing to do with being male or female.
I'm not totally against Gray's book or others like it. Any resource that gets couples thinking about their relationship can be helpful. But when generalizations are granted the authority of absolutes, we risk losing sight of our own and our partner's God-given individuality. We may be tempted to believe that we—or they—are not adequately male or female, leaving them somehow "inadequate."
Let's face it. Every man and woman is unique. And when two unique people are joined in marriage, that relationship becomes one-of-a-kind. I believe marriages are better served by understanding and celebrating each person's individuality, rather than trying to conform to someone else's standard. I still don't know what a socket set is, and I don't really care. My wife knows her way around a toolbox, and she's okay by me.
Now if only I could get her to stop tailgating.
Randy Frame is an acquisitions editor for Judson Press in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
1998 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. For reprint information call 630-260-6200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.