Why we should still respect physical strength in men.
Samson was strong, Delilah, emotionally astute—they both sought to serve their communities using their unique talents and, while Samson and Delilah took their qualities to extremes, it remains true that men tend to be physically stronger than women and often seek to use their strength in protecting others. I am not saying women cannot be strong and protective, but when my luggage overwhelms me or I dial 911, more men than women come to my aid.
Masculine strength has gotten a bum rap this century. Stories of males abusing their might to injure the weak—be it through rape, child molestation, or domestic violence—dominate the news. Even the term “strongman,” which was once used only in reference to athletes, is now used in reference to brutal (male) dictators.
Back when life hinged more on survival than self-fulfillment, to be a strong man was categorically good—Samson, remember, is a hero in the Bible. Men built the family homes, chopped wood, and fought off lions while women gave birth, lactated, prepared life-sustaining foods, and formed social bonds for resource-sharing to carry the tribe through in lean times. Anyone who’s lactated or given birth knows they are physically demanding tasks, though in a completely different way from, say, felling a tree. Anyone who’s formed social bonds for resource-sharing can attest that it’s taxing work, requiring a complex set of skills quite unlike those needed for fighting off large animals.
Successful division of labor has always been critical to human survival. Sure I could shovel the driveway, but my husband can do it five times faster and with far less pain. My husband relies on me to coordinate our family’s healthcare and our child’s education, but when we hear a strange noise in the basement at night, he goes downstairs with the bat and I wait with our child and the phone.
In the last hundred years though, life, in the developed world anyway, has grown less physical and more cerebral. Lion attacks have dwindled. Gas and electricity have replaced wood stoves and fireplaces. Women give birth less often and under safer circumstances. Lactation has waned.
Gender roles have been under review ever since. And Samson seems obsolete.
Women learn professions and lead countries. Men change diapers and cook. Dual-income families are the norm. Hooray!
But men still build most of the houses. They also don most of the police, fire-rescue, and military uniforms. And that’s just the big stuff.
Under more mundane circumstances, men use their brawn to shovel snow, move large boxes, and carry heavy bags—even for total strangers—often with no incentive beyond protectiveness. Once, when my son was a baby, my mother accidentally un-anchored his car seat. It was ten degrees outside, and she and I had wrestled vainly with the stubborn buckle for fifteen minutes, trying to re-anchor the seat, freezing, while my son’s cries grew more and more piercing. A man came along: I told him the problem and he re-anchored the seat in two minutes, “No problem, Ma’am.”
“Thank you, Sir,” whoever you are.
I am not saying we should go back to hunter-gatherer times or that gender roles should not have changed. Men’s new involvement in childcare and housework and women’s involvement in government and breadwinning give our society a broader, more flexible talent and experience-base from which to draw leaders and raise the next generation. What I am suggesting is that it would be foolish to devalue the specializations our species has spent so long cultivating: Samson’s attitude may be obsolete, but his physical power still wields hero-potential.