The phrase “Be a man” is not as common as it once was, but there is still some sense that manhood must be earned. Every adult female is a woman and is entitled to respect as such, but many cultures withhold respect from the males until and unless the lads prove themselves. This is of course tremendously useful for the culture, because it can set the terms by which males earn respect as men, and in that way it can motivate the men to do things that the culture finds productive. ("Is There Anything Good About Men?" Address to the American Psychological Assocation, 2007)I'm quite happy to uphold this traditional understanding of what makes a "man" if we uphold the traditional understanding of what makes a "woman" ... thus rolling back many of the economic, political, and social gains that women have been given. But seriously, I think that if we have made progress in how we treat women, people of color, etc., then surely we should make a little progress in how we treat the "disposable sex." What makes a man? Who gets to answer that question? How about the One who actually has made man?
What does the Word of God say in Genesis 1:27? It says, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (KJV). Here's something to note from this passage: To be a man or a woman is not to merely state one's sex, but to affirm one's humanity. Value judgments about what a man or a woman should be are ultimately subordinate to how the Creator has made us. He is made us "male and female." Webster's dictionary defines a man as an "adult male human." A man is distinct from a woman, a child, or an animal. Even a man who is a eunuch is still a man.** To be a man, in essence, is a matter of God's creation, not social conditioning.
Throughout the ages, "real man" talk has been used by people to shame men into compliance with social norms. Even feminists with all their bravado about "equality" and freeing men from "restrictive sex roles" are not above using this type of language as a bludgeon themselves. That woman do not receive similar treatment is indicative of the sickening disrespect modern society has for men. It's "lifeboat feminism" at its worst. And yet, the talk of "real men" persists, even among those who profess to be Christians.
When someone denies that I am a man, he denies that I am a male human being created in the image of God. This denial of my humanity suggests that my soul is not valuable and that my life is not higher than an animal's. Such a willful denial is an act rooted in hatred. No one who claims to follow God can hate his fellow man: "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him" (1 John 3:15, KJV). Look, you may not like what a particular man is doing. I may not like it either. But neither you or I have any right under God's throne to deny that man's humanity by declaring he is not a "real man." Religious pundits and commentators do not get to exercise some special prerogative in this matter, either.
I suppose I have may have used the phrase "real man" or "real men" in the fashion I described. We all slip up, but I think we need to change our language if we going to endeavor to be a civilized people. Self-respecting men should balk at the phrase "real man" the way women balk at the phrase "dame" or "broad."
What should we say of those who still use the phrase "real men" or "real man"? I may, at first, call into question their understanding, but if I've already warned them, then I am forced to call into question their integrity. Indeed, there a lot of "real women" and "real men" who don't have it.
**In the Greek text of Acts 8:27, the Ethiopian eunuch is a called "a man" (aner). That logically presupposes he had all the essential characteristics of a man. And yet, he was a literal eunuch [see Darrell Bock, Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007), 341].