What makes a man a man? And what makes a woman a woman? I’m not sure I know the definitive answer (is there one?) but if you don’t mind, I’d like to think out loud for a bit.
I’m not really talking the physicalities. I’m making the assumption we’ve worked those bits out fairly well. The human race is still here – and multiplying – so generally we’ve figured that bit out. Though I appreciate the mechanics of creating life have become a lot more complex, as medical research has tinkered with the processes.
But as a bloke, what makes me a bloke, apart from chromosomes? On the one hand, I am a fairly typical specimen of the male fiftysomething. I like football, watch it frequently and will sing daft songs while cheering my team on. I enjoy a beer, and am partial to a regular blast of loud, noisy guitar-based rock – though my musical tastes are far wider than that.
So far, so gender-stereotype. And yes, I can see you footy-loving, beer-drinking rock-loving readers gesticulating at the back. I know you’re out there.
On the less ‘blokey’ end, I write poetry, quite enjoy shopping and, given the opportunity, will happily take photos of cloud formations and dew-bedecked spiders’ webs in the garden, and make a fuss of next door’s cat.
The hunter-gatherer in me generally gets most excited about a good haul of old records from the charity shops or the local car boot.
Don’t try engaging me in an animated conversation about cars or Formula 1 – I couldn’t be less interested. If pushed, I have watched an episode or two of Top Gear, but only if I’ve got something else to do while it’s on.
My heart doesn’t sing while wandering around a DIY superstore (my other half is a far better decorator) and I’ve never harboured a deep-seated desire to disappear into the woods, shoot wildlife and build bonfires.
I’m a little confused these days about who it’s appropriate to open doors for, or give up your seat on public transport for, who to help cross the road, and who to assist with heavy baggage, buggies and the like. But if you’re a pregnant octogenarian I’ll probably risk it.
Actually, my policy these days on the delicate subject of where chivalry becomes patriarchal insult, is to assess where someone looks like they need some help and try to offer it, regardless of gender, age or tattoos. I haven’t been punched yet.
The older I get, the more I begin to see that while you can spot types, or people who look, speak or act a bit like someone you know, God really has made us all unique. And here’s the key bit – human.
We are gloriously diverse, yet our humanity draws us together. So many things can be different from one man to another, from one woman to another, yet that spark of the divine infuses us all.
Have you ever wondered why you instinctively get on with some people? How you meet people who you haven’t known for five minutes, yet feel like you’ve known them for years? It’s that something in the human makeup that recognises a kindred spirit – whether male or female. It could be a shared sense of humour, a love of the same kind of music, an outlook on the world or something harder to define.
And that’s why I think we’re getting to a healthier place where both women and men feel less constrained by the old gender expectations imposed by society. Our cultures, depending on where we grew up, can be very constricting. Yet our God-given uniqueness demands that we are free to become everything we were created to be.
Yes, the Bible gives us guidelines and patterns, but there is a lot that isn’t laid out in chapter and verse. God wants me to be a good father and a loving husband, but there isn’t much about road rage, computers and reality TV.
A lot of the patterns our society has imposed over the years have economic, political and cultural drivers behind them. It’s easy to assimilate these without realising.
The reassuring thing for all of us is that we’re works in progress that God is shaping into people who reflect Jesus. We can’t achieve that by trying hard or trying to fulfil what our church thinks a man or woman ought to be.
The master craftsman will finish his work, however much we might feel like unfinished lumps at the moment. And he’ll use us, if we’re available, however often we stumble and get it wrong. Here’s to the job of being human – we’re all still learners.
+ Russ Bravo is a record collector, runs Matt’s Comedy Club and has a signed photo of Groucho Marx. He lives in Worthing with his family and edits Inspire magazine www.inspiremagazine.org.uk