Is “Traditional Masculinity” Pathology?

Feb 2nd, 2019 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

Recently, the American Psychological Association (APA) released its new guidelines, which defined “traditional masculinity” as pathology.  Psychoanalyst Erica Komisar argues that the APA guidelines “demonize masculinity rather than embracing its positive aspect.  In a press release, the APA asserts flatly that ‘traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful.’”  The APA clams that masculinity is to blame for the oppression and abuse of women.  The tough-guy ideal “encourages aggression and violence as a means to resolve interpersonal conflict,” and tempts men toward rape, drug abuse and suicide.  Komisar summarizes other salient points from the APA guidelines:

  • The report encourages clinicians to evaluate masculinity as an evil to be tamed, rather than a force to be integrated. “Although the majority of young men may not identify with explicit sexist beliefs, for some men, sexism may become deeply engrained in their construction of masculinity.”
  • The APA urges therapists to help men “identify how they have been harmed by discrimination against those who are gender nonconforming.”
  • The report also urges psychologists “to recognize that masculinities are constructed on social, cultural, and contextual norms,” but makes no room for any biological considerations. Komisar adds: “Another guideline explicitly scoffs at ‘binary notions of gender identity as tied to biology.’”

There is much more to these guidelines, but Komisar pleads with the APA to consider these biological truths:

  • The truth is that masculine traits such as “aggression, competitiveness and protective vigilance not only can be positive, but also have a biological basis. Boys and men produce far more testosterone, which is associated biologically and behaviorally with increased competiveness.  They also produce more vasopressin, a hormone originating in the brain that makes men aggressively more protective of their loved ones.”
  • There are also unique feminine traits such as nurturing and emotional sensitivity. “Women produce more oxytocin when they nurture their children than men, and the hormone affects men and women differently.  Oxytocin makes women more sensitive and empathetic, while men become more playfully, tactually stimulating with their children, encouraging resilience.  These differences between men and women complement each other, allowing a couple to nurture and challenge their offspring.”

Despite these obvious differences rooted in biology with the intent of producing a complementary whole, Postmodern society is too often derisive toward women who embrace “their biological tendencies, labeling them abnormal or unhealthy.  Women who choose to stay home with their children can feel harshly judged, contributing to postpartum conflict, anxiety and depression . . .  The fundamental reality is that women tend to be feminine and men tend to be masculine.  Why can’t the APA acknowledge biology while seeing femininity and masculinity on a spectrum?”  It is the larger Postmodern culture that is evidencing pathological behavior.  To tell a young boy that being aggressive, competitive and protective is a sickness is just as pathological as telling a young girl that her desire to nurture children is shameful.

The larger Postmodern culture has fostered an image of masculinity that is just as unhealthy as the APA diagnosis.  The media gods of the Hollywood-Nascar-professional-athlete-culture posit three lies about masculinity.    Joe Ehrmann summarizes these three lies:


  1. The first lie is that real masculinity is determined by athletic ability, which means that you must have the size, strength, and ability to compete against other boys or men and win. Those who have athletic prowess have higher esteem and therefore have more value and worth and are more masculine.
  2. The second lie is that being a man is all about sexual conquest. Using women for personal pleasure validates manhood. The more women a man “conquers” the more masculine he is.  This is what is at the heart of the playboy philosophy and the Cosmopolitan philosophy of Helen Gurley Brown, that magazine’s founder.
  3. The third lie has to do with economic success—the size of your salary and the power associated with job titles. The measure of that success and achievement then becomes the things one buys.  The man with the more things is the more successful man.


These three lies permeate our culture and define masculinity and manhood in the US.  But how does genuine, biblical Christianity counter both this cultural model of masculinity and the APA diagnosis of “traditional masculinity?”  The cultural model of masculinity and the APA conclusions both reject the fundamental cause—sin.  The distortions and dysfunction of masculinity and femininity in today’s broken world are explained by humanity’s intentional rejection of God’s clear directives in His Creation Ordinance (Genesis 1:26-27; 2:18-25):


  1. God created the human body and gender as a dimension of being in His image (Gen. 1:26-27)—“male and female He created them”
  • Gender is a specific, intentional feature of God’s creation.
  • Two complementary sexes (male and female) is the first mentioned fact in connection with the “image of God” concept.
  • In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus cites Genesis 1:27 as the normal pattern for marriage that God expects.
  • The Apostle Paul also cites Genesis 1:27 as the norm in Romans 1:23-27 and 1 Corinthians 6:9.
  • The Creation Ordinance and both Jesus and Paul’s citation of this Ordinance strongly imply sexual intercourse as a bond between a man and a woman brought together in a “one-flesh” union.
  1. God created woman as a complement to man in the marriage bond, Genesis 2:18-24
  • The importance of the term “helper” (‘ezer), which means she adds strength to the areas where the man is weak—and vice versa.
  • The result is a complementary union of two different human beings (“male and female He created them”), each with unique physical, emotional, and psychological characteristics. The result is a marriage bond in which both are stronger and more capable of serving God together in their integrity.
  • The One-Flesh Principle, Genesis 2:24
  • Genesis 2:22-24 connects the creation of Eve from a part of Adam’s body with the one-flesh sexual union between a man and a woman in marriage. Note the important term “therefore” in v. 24.  It is the union of two constituent parts—male and female— into a sexual whole.
  • Jesus stresses this connection between the two different sexes—“male and female”—when He addresses marriage in Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6-8.
  • The logic of sexual intercourse requires a sexual complement. The male is incomplete without the female and the female is incomplete without the male.
  1. God performed the first marriage
  • The result is Genesis 2:25—there is no shame, no self-centeredness or selfishness; only total innocence and other-centeredness. This is God’s ideal and His goal.

Finally, John Piper (based on Ephesians 5:22-33 and Colossians 3:18-19, both rooted in God’s Creation Ordinance) offers a definition of genuine, biblical masculinity and femininity:


At the heart of mature masculinity is a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.


At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.


The diagnosis of pathology that the APA proposes is wrong and denies the clear differences between masculinity and femininity that are rooted in biology—the way God created each.  The dysfunction, abuse and demeaning of women by men is due to sin and only Jesus Christ can take care of that.  In strength and dependency on God’s Spirit, men and women, as God designed them, are to function as a complementary whole; to love one another, serve one another and raise children in dependence on God and one another.  There is no other solution to the brokenness of the interpersonal relationships between men and women.


See Erica Komisar in the Wall Street Journal (17 January 2019); Ross Douthat in the New York Times (20 January 2019); Joe Ehrmann, “The Greatest Crisis in American Today: The Loss of True Masculinity and its Devastating Effects on Our Culture,” Veritas (October 2006), pp. 3-5; and John Piper, What’s the Difference?  Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible, pp. 11-22.

Comments Closed

One Comment to “Is “Traditional Masculinity” Pathology?”

  1. Arlie Rauch says:

    Thanks for this insightful article. My wife and I were just discussing how these inborn traits are manifested in our sons. It’s interesting that the APA attacks only those gender tendencies which are created by God; they do not attack the multiplied perversions which are constantly held before us these days. It is at its foundation a spiritual problem, not psychological, and we can see on whose side the APA is.