The world is starting to realise that men can be left feeling short changed. Rosemary Hector reflects on how we can address the imbalance.
Holding high the iPad with the sound controls, he walks to the platform where musicians are tweaking their amplifiers. He nods, adjusts a socket, and returns to his base. He’s Paul, the man at the sound desk in our church. For many young men, and some young women, he has been a fixture in their lives as he has taught them how to operate the system. In addition, he gives a general training in audio/visiual and how to manage the sound at events.
But I suspect what they learn from him is something deeper and more profound. He’s a brilliant role model. In the way he deals with people (and some musicians can be tricky), in the way he addresses mistakes with kindness and without blame or scapegoating, and in his patience. The teenagers in his charge are receiving more than technical information.
Boys and men are not a problem to be solved.
You don’t need to be a psychologist or to read Caitlin Moran’s latest book What about Men? to recognise that boys and men are not enjoying a good press. For years feminism has given girls positive messages – “you can do it”; “the world is at your feet”, and “go for it!” There has been no parallel source of messages for boys.
This is not, of course, the only problem. But it is one we women in the church can help address. I acknowledge that for all sorts of historical reasons, women outnumber men in churches. We cannot reverse history overnight, and nor can we individually take on Andrew Tate and his like, but we all have opportunities with sons, nephews, and the boy next door. Equally, we probably have links with the local role models these children meet regularly. It might be counter cultural, but that’s the thing about being Christian – we often are. Boys and men are not a problem to be solved. They are as diverse and multifaceted as the other half of the population. And we can be of influence.
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For example, it’s worth going beyond routine thanks to those who stand for hours on the football field coaching, and refereeing, or the chap who gives a lift to youngsters after a concert, or the boy who helps with the creche. They are all opportunities to build up and encourage. Seek these role models out and be positive. "He really enjoys your coaching" is a better message than waiting to be critical after a dodgy decision.
"Thanks for giving him a lift. There’s a positive vibe in your car. I can tell he’s been happy."
"Thanks for working at the creche. That game you showed them was very inventive."
"You were so helpful when the team lost! Showed them how to cope with disappointment."
They are all opportunities to build up and encourage. Seek these role models out and be positive.
While it’s fashionable to roll our eyes and moan at how inept men can be, we must remember the principle of positive reinforcement. If we are constantly told something about ourselves, even if it is only partially true, we come to believe it. If we take seriously boys and men and their needs, and engage with them positively in order to encourage, we may be surprised. Just as it’s better to ask a girl what sort of day she has had than comment on her appearance, so we need to learn how to frame helpful messages to boys. They may not be into craft activities, or conversation, but as friends and neighbours it’s worth finding out what they like to do and encouraging them. Are they great at sorting sports equipment, or microphones, or rounding up small children? What do they know about? Someone showing an interest in them can go a long way.
Just as Paul unconsciously models respect with speakers and musicians, so a few sincere and positive messages from a real person after a real event can probably do more than we realise to challenge unhelpful messages from online role models.
You can buy Rosemary Hector’s book A Quickening (Muddy Pearl, 2019) here.