A little over a week ago, as Christine and I stood in line at the Nairobi airport, I noticed something strange.  There were almost no guys.  Anywhere.

It was the beginning of August and many groups of young Americans were making their way home after summer missions trips.  Nairobi is a major hub for East African ministries and missions organizations, so it came as no surprise that the whole airport was buzzing with the loud and excited chatter of American teens.

What was a surprise, however, was the fact that the vast majority of them were girls.

Seeing this made me think back over the groups of Americans I’ve seen abroad.  The Midwestern youth group I saw getting off a bus in Kibera. Girls. The team of Texans I bumped into in rural India. Girls. The ubiquitous gang of college-age teens walking through downtown Nairobi.  Girls.

Even my World Next Door correspondence reflects this trend.  I get about one or two emails a week from people interested in volunteering, applying for a job or signing up for next year’s internship.  And even though I absolutely love hearing from everyone, it’s puzzling that almost five times as many girls have written in than guys.

It’s really made me wonder… Why?  Why are so many girls writing me?  Why are so many girls thrilled about what we’re doing and eager to get involved?

Well, I think I’ve narrowed it down to two options.  Either one, I am absolutely smoking hot and these girls will do anything just to be close to me, or two, there are more girls involved in social justice issues than guys.

As much as I wish the first one were true, I am starting to lean towards option two.  Plain and simple, there just aren’t as many guys involved.

Now, since realizing this basic fact, I’ve started asking other people what they think about the whole thing and I’ve discovered quite a few interesting theories as to why this is the case.

Where are the dudes?  Ok... that's not fair.  A dude took this picture.  But still!

Where are the dudes? Ok... that's not fair. A dude took this picture. But still!

Theory 1: Girls are hard-wired with the maternal instinct.

One popular theory is that girls have a generally more compassionate spirit due to their latent maternal instinct.  With the advent of globalization, American females can flip on the TV or surf the web and discover whole communities of hurting children desperate for a mother to care for and hold them.

It definitely gives some perspective to the reason so many girls are willing to fly halfway around the world, to brave discomfort and illness and to give up their summer vacations.  Something inside is compelling them to act, to reach out, to help.

But what does that say about us guys?  Does that mean we’re simply not a compassionate gender?  Am I supposed to believe that natural selection has somehow given men a “get out of compassion free” card?  Or that God designed us to care more about ourselves than others?

Theory 2: Guys are immature.

Here’s another theory I’ve heard tossed around.  Teens and twenty-something guys are simply not as mature as girls.  By the time men are mature enough to care about issues of injustice, they have jobs and families and responsibilities.  They can’t just drop everything to travel around the world and help the poor and marginalized.

Ok, I hear the point, but ouch!  Granted, guys (even 26 year old guys like me) still have way too much fun blowing things up and hitting things with sticks, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the capacity for maturity, does it?  I’ve known quite a few guys my age who were mature well beyond their years!

It's hard knowing that this child doesn't know when his next meal will be.  That's not a problem with a quick fix.

It's hard knowing that this child doesn't know when his next meal will be. That's not a problem with a quick fix.

Theory 3:  Men steer clear of problems they can’t solve.

One possibility has to do with the overwhelmingly huge odds stacked against those fighting for social justice in the world.  Perhaps guys are afraid to work for change when it seems like there is nothing that can be done.

This is definitely something I deal with.  I’m a problem solver by nature.  I approach the world with a “duct tape and a screwdriver” mentality.  Every problem has a solution.  So it is difficult and uncomfortable being surrounded by problems like poverty or hunger or homelessness… problems that can’t be fixed with a little elbow grease and ingenuity.

But is that really the reason so few guys are involved?  Because it’s hard?  Seemingly insurmountable odds don’t seem to stop male football players, business CEOs or mountain climbers.  Men like tough situations, don’t we?

Theory 4: Guys don’t think helping the poor and marginalized is manly.

I doubt many men would admit to this, but if you ask most guys to imagine someone helping orphans in Ukraine or feeding hungry refugees in Kenya, they’ll picture a female.  Nurturing hurting people just doesn’t seem very manly.

Guys would much rather be discussing sports while roasting bison meat with flamethrowers, right?  Let’s leave the compassion to the lady-folk…

Well, apart from being overtly sexist, the whole “manliness” argument is based on some seriously outdated stereotypes, don’t you think?

There have got to be some men who love making a difference in the lives of the poor, don’t there? Just as there are surely women who love bison meat…

A different kind of manly

Well, I’m sure there are plenty of other possible theories out there for why so many more girls involved in social justice than guys, but the question still remains… Where are the dudes???

I want to make a call right now for guys to step up and get into the game.  Men, whatever your reasons for steering clear of these issues, the time has come for you to jump in head first.  No longer can your gender be an excuse for you to remain on the sidelines.

Now, I understand that I may not be the ideal spokesperson for men (I don’t really care about sports, I don’t know anything about cars and I don’t get very excited about bench pressing things), but I feel like I have discovered a different kind of manliness over the past few years… so hear me out.

When will the real men step up?

When will the real men step up?

Playing games with Kenyan orphans may not seem extremely manly, but living, sleeping and eating in a refugee camp can be.  Spending your life caring for the marginalized doesn’t seem very cowboy-ish, but what about risking everything to rescue child prostitutes in Cambodia?

A lot has been made of the concept that women crave security and men crave significance.  But what could be more significant than sacrificially spending yourself for the life, dignity and well-being of others?

At the end of your life, how much more significant could you feel than knowing you helped a homeless man find a job?  Knowing you helped a hungry person find food?  Knowing you helped an orphan find a loving home?

If you think about it, a life dedicated to social justice is one of the manliest ways to live!

Now, there are undoubtedly some guys reading this who already are involved… who have already dedicated their lives to serving the poor and marginalized.  To those men, I want to say thank you.

Thank you for being so sacrificial.  Thank you for risking it all for the sake of others.  And thank you for embracing a different kind of manliness.

And to those of you who have yet to take the plunge, what are you waiting for?  The world is hurting and it needs some real men to step up and answer the call.

Guys.  It’s time.  Let’s go.

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Next Steps
    • Do you have another theory about what's going on here? Leave a comment and share it with us!
    • Chances are, you know a guy or two who isn't involved in social justice. Ask them why they aren't involved.
    • Pray that something would change in the hearts of men and that they would discover this new kind of manliness!
    Next Steps

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

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Comments

  1. eness said... 

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    August 19th, 2009 at 11:16 am  

    This might be redundant to your point, Barry but I think a reason that you see more women involved in social justice (and ministry in general) might have less to do with our maternal, nurturing nature and more to do with the unfortunate reality that men aren’t stepping up to the plate…whatever the reasons. Someone’s got to do it and -if given the opportunity – I think women will take up the challenge. A willing heart, surrendered to God is all that’s needed regardless of gender. (I know, I know…preaching to the choir)

  2. Amy said... 

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    August 19th, 2009 at 12:18 pm  

    Spoken as one with pony-tail-holders full of chest hair. I’ll forward this to all the bare-chested boys (& men) I know.

  3. Andrew Znachko said... 

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    August 20th, 2009 at 12:19 am  

    Praise God, Barry! Your words are convicting, harsh, and full of truth.

    We have been raised up in and surrounded by a society that has a downright wrong definition of what a man is and also, on a sort of national level, a church that’s interpretation is not much better. The man of our society is one that is self seeking, pleasure seeking, vertical mobility seeking, and spineless. My society tells me that a mark of a man is my social network, my net worth, my general power, my trophy case (whether my trophies or those of my family), any my ability to dodge responsiblilty for failure. Though a true man may score high in some of these categories, this is not the mark of a man.

    The church tells me that a man walks after the Lord. Walking after the Lord means being responsible with my every day decisions, working to provide for my family, and being the leader of that household. My purpose is to be the provider and foundation for my household. All of that is wonderful and part of God’s calling for men, but I don’t think that is the definition of a man. This provides great answers to escape anything beyond this definition.

    Jesus’ disciples were taken from their lifestyle of provision, a man’s life in their day. He took them and transformed thier lives into a man’s life in His kingdom. These men became men of action, men of adventure, men of initmacy, men of compassion, men of God.

    Jesus was a man. He had the balls to look the Pharisees in the eye and tell them that they were snakes and told them that, surely, the prostitues and tax collectors would enter His kingdom before them. He stormed into a temple full of men at work and trashed the place. He was an intense man. At the same time, he had the balls to look upon a woman caught in sin and not lecture her and not let her be stoned. He saved her from her accusers and left her with freedom from her sins and the simple command to hold to that freedom. He found joyous company in the presence of children. He was a soft man. He wept at the death of his dear friend. He sweat bullets of blood in the face of adversity. He laughed with sinners. He was man full of emotion. Jesus was a man.

    Yes, we are called to provide and to solidify. We are called to make the most of our talents and gifts we have been blessed with. But those can easily be focused to glorify ourselves. That is maybe half of it. We are called to go. Called to make disciples of all nations. Called to baptize. Called to love with all that we have. We men find too many things that we can’t drop and are presented with too many purposes we are currently fulfilling, though they are pure and right, to be convicted to serve another cause. We are called to serve one cause, to be men of God that bring glory to His name. If we find ourselves going down one of the “You are a man if…” checklists that we have available to us, our hearts are in the wrong place. Society cannot define what a man is, the Church cannot really define what a man is in entirety. We have each been given this life so that we may live for our Savior. In doing so, we may not find THE definition of a man, but, certainly, as men, we will encounter how we are uniquely defined.

    Jesus has promised me a life of intimacy, with the All Powerful, and adventure, with Him by side, beyond anything I could dream. As a man, what more could I desire?

  4. Jo Nading said... 

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    August 20th, 2009 at 8:47 am  

    Awesome article. There are likely a multitude of reasons why guys don’t step up to the plate. And, there’s likely an organization that has been formed to study those reasons and generate data and to even launch campaigns and programs and education to turn all that around. Bottom line – social justice is not gender-specific on the soldier end of the fight. Sadly, I see (and perhaps naively so) that the cause of injustice is often initiated and carried on “generationally” by a “dude.” Governments in third world countries are not often run by women – actually, are they ever? But in the heart of an individual, God has placed a desire and passion to serve in a way that will most effectively further His kingdom. I would guess that a lot of men just don’t spend a lot of time figuring out if they are wired that way or not. So, I would venture to guess that whatever reasons a man is not signing up may have more to do with how society, in general, has trained his brain rather than how he is created.

    I hope and pray that you get young and old men alike who want to discover what it is like to bring comfort and hope and light into the darkness of even just one who has been unjustly “served” by his or her country, neighbor, family. Heck, Jesus was so tender-hearted – and he was wise and probably had his share of muscle building years being a carpenter. He endured pain of flogging and crucifixion that i seriously doubt anyone we know has experienced. But none of his change-agent tactics involved brute strength – complete with sweating and grunting and bearing of teeth.

    anyway – thanks for sharing your insights and observations and asking for the same from others. You are doing an incredible job Barry. Jesus is smiling down on you.

  5. Maeven said... 

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    August 20th, 2009 at 12:38 pm  

    Interesting-
    I echo Eness. Also, I’ve had multiple conversations with men in social justice positions and one commented a few months ago about the lack of men he has noticed, not only involved in social justice, but involved in family life, children’s lives, and society at large. He believes that a lot of young men today are stuck in a world of lust or gaming, and not stepping up to the plate when it comes to responsibility for family, much less the poor.
    But that’s not to put down guys- I know plenty who love social justice. Great call on behalf of guys, though, Barry.

  6. Sharon said... 

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    August 20th, 2009 at 2:46 pm  

    Great article, Barry. Much food for thought. I’ve been mulling this over since yesterday morning and I don’t have any real answers. However, I don’t necessarily think this is a new thing. When I think back being a kid on the mission field, there were missionary couples and families, of course, but there were also lots of single women. There may have been a few, but I can’t remember any single men on our field. Interesting…

  7. Dave Rod said... 

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    August 20th, 2009 at 3:46 pm  

    OK…so wow…Bar’ you hit a real nerve here. I agree with Andrew that it is harsh but certainly full of truth.

    And how about Jo’s insight that “dudes” seem to be the ones most identified with injustices. What a double whammy!

    And I have to ask, as Andrew posited, if indeed the church has perpetuated the “dudeless” problem. Hmmmm. How do we re-envison our young guys?

    So…let’s keep this conversation going. Hey Rob…you out there? What do you think?

  8. Andrew Znachko said... 

    Reply

    August 20th, 2009 at 7:37 pm  

    Dave, if I can respond to your question about re-envisoning our young guys, I know what has changed my life. I have independence wired inside of me, a need and desire for it and a fulfillment when I experience it. God has given me my independence in that I can choose whether I believe who He is or I don’t. By choosing to believe He is who He says that He is and who He is as shown through the Bible and life experience I have excersised my independence. That lead to crashing down on the realization that I am in desperate need of Him and that this life is best lived when I get my flesh out of His way for Him to do His work. Jesus moved when he felt the Father pushing Him, He spoke when the Father had something to say, He went when the Father said go and all of that lead to the most raw and manly life that has been lived.

  9. Curtis Honeycutt said... 

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    August 21st, 2009 at 11:37 am  

    I’ve definitely experienced this. I was vice president of my high school’s Key Club. I called it “girl club”, because I was literally the only guy out of about 50 members. I would invite my guy friends to get involved, but they didn’t care.

    I think the problem is guys who are college-aged to pre-family stage of life care about themselves almost exclusively.

    There are DEFINITELY outliers…guys who don’t fit the mold, but, in general, guys don’t care about anyone who doesn’t further their own interests.

  10. Saskia said... 

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    August 21st, 2009 at 2:28 pm  

    It’s too bad men aren’t stepping up to the plate. It’s also too bad that men aren’t stepping up to the plate and while they’re doing that, are also (though not in a connected process) relegating women to the backseat in terms of power, voice, and decision making opportunities. This way the hypothetical orphans miss out twice.

  11. rob said... 

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    August 26th, 2009 at 12:53 pm  

    Excellent Bar! Yeah Dave, I’m all ears on this one and I LOVE Barry’s idea of creating a movement title something like the Justice League – moving men into social justice.
    As we develop teams to head out to Mississippi and overseas, we often find the teams a bit weighted on the female side (but not always!). When we do it simply takes an intentional effort on our part to invite men into the adventure. What do we find? They respond and step up to the challenge. I wonder if this reflects a general male passivity and life of distraction? I also wonder if the response to the invitation reflects the desire to be invited into adventure and invited out of need.

  12. David Byers said... 

    Reply

    August 28th, 2009 at 4:47 pm  

    I mentioned this to you Barry, but I will tell you all that our student ministries department has always had a HUGE imbalance between guys and girls. I agree strongly with your theories and would add that there is this ‘life path’ idea that is in guys’ brains of generally speaking how their life will play out. High school, summer breaks, college, career, girlfriend, wife, family etc….

    What was never placed in this ‘life path’ for guys was spending time getting involved globally (or locally even) with social injustice. Unless they overlap, (career, summer breaks) there really seems for no place to fit it in. Of course not all guys operate this way, and not all girls operate opposite, but I think this says something about the hesitancy for males.

    My point is I think that children (boys) should be raised with a healthy awareness of social injustice and responsibility to do something about it somewhere along the way on this ‘life path.’

  13. Fiona L Cooper said... 

    Reply

    August 29th, 2009 at 8:28 pm  

    This is something I’ve pondered for a long time in relation to missions. There are lots and lots of men involved in missions. Obviously. But there are far, far more women. I personally know lots and lots of married couples. And lots and lots of single women. Single men? Not one. Zero. Ninguno.

    I agree with David’s comment above about the “life path” idea that men have, into which social justice/missions work doesn’t normally fit. However, that is not just a male issue. Women also have a “life path” idea which involves exactly the same components – college, career, marriage, kids…

    The question is, why do women manage to break out of this pattern so much more often than men?

    I think maybe more women hold onto the life path idea lightly, so that they are more willing to give it up when called to do so by God.

    So the next question is, why do women find it easier to hold on to this idea lightly? Or why do men find it harder?

    Is it because society’s expectations of them affect men more deeply?

    Is it because men are more focused and determined with regard to their life path and so don’t hear or notice God calling them out of that into something new?

    Is it because men are more emotionally vulnerable, where women are more emotionally resilient, and so more men actually need the support of a wife in order to cope with life in a different country, while more women can cope on their own? (that’s dodgy territory, I know, but it is something I wonder… )

    I guess my biggest question is really this; is God actually calling some men, and they aren’t responding? Or is God really calling more women than men, for his own reasons and purposes?

  14. Linda Znachko said... 

    Reply

    September 3rd, 2009 at 3:58 pm  

    Barry, I appreciate your charge to men to step it up and be more present in their service to the King. I also appreciate your charge to men to “be men”. Our culture mocks men and their manliness on primetime nightly, and we need to fight back with a biblical view of man created in the image of God, our creator.
    Andrew, WOW, you sure put it out there…Jesus as a man. I respect that. I have thought about this all day and realized that we christians, are allowing the maleness of Christ to be stripped away and neutralized. The gender-neutral Bible is an example of this. I shutter when I read Rev. 22:18 and think that some of us are yeilding to the idea that God is either both male/female or neither all together.
    Genesis 1:27 “So God created man is his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

  15. Mary Ellen said... 

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    March 12th, 2010 at 1:12 am  

    As a woman, what can I do to encourage the men around me to step up?

  16. Jane VanOsdol said... 

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    September 24th, 2010 at 10:20 am  

    The younger men I know who aren’t married are singularly focused on school or careers and either don’t have the time to take off to focus on social justice issues or don’t have another important resource: money. I think they would go if someone took care of the finances, and they could get off of school and work without it hurting them.

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