Real Men and Women


The other day I found myself standing outside a public restroom holding Rita’s purse.  She is always apologetic about asking and concerned that it will make me uncomfortable.  I’m not bothered at all, and it started me thinking about what we often see and hear in this culture about what it means to be a “real man”.  It seems to revolve about protecting the world’s view of one’s masculinity in some way.  Real men don’t eat quiche.  Real men don’t let women boss them around.  A man should have his “man cave” in which nothing could remotely be construed as feminine.  A few years ago there was a flurry of activity and some attempts for men to reclaim their masculinity.  I believe that Fr. Richard Rohr wrote a book on the subject and led some retreats for men.  I was interested until I discovered that most of these activities seemed to focus on the “manly” pursuits of being in the company of other men, telling stories of interest only to men and sleeping in the woods.  When I talked to other men about it that seemed to be the immediate understanding about how men could reclaim their masculinity.

I don’t find anything wrong with that approach, as far as it goes, but I think it falls woefully short of being fully a “real man”.  The following statements are my attempt to convey some of the flavor of genuine masculinity as I see it.  The order has no particular significance.

A real man:

Holds his wife’s purse while she is in the restroom and is not uncomfortable doing so.

Buys feminine products for his wife without embarrassment.

Is a man in his daughter’s life with whom she will always feel loved, safe and accepted, no matter what else is going on in her life.

Has the confidence and courage to walk away from a fight and does not have the need to “prove” his masculinity.

Will put himself in harm’s way to protect others.

In a contentious situation, will always look for a peaceful solution and will consider violence only when there is no other option.

Never participates in discussions where men are disparaging their wives.

Always shows great respect for his wife and carries that over to all women.  Teaches his sons to do the same.

Will not compromise his personal integrity in the face of ridicule.

Is willing to display emotions other than anger.

Can show tenderness and caring in the special moments of life and can shed a tear in times of sadness or loss.

Doesn’t accept that some things are “women’s work” and doing them compromises his masculinity.

Is confident in his masculinity and doesn’t worry about what others may think.

I could go on, but I hope you get the idea.  Let me know whether I’m way off on something or have missed something you think is important.


As we continued walking and discussing the topic, I also began to talk about and I thought about what it meant to be a real woman.  I immediately thought about the commercial of the woman saying she could bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan.  That might be part of being a woman but there are some other things that came to my mind.  Like Bob, I share them as random thoughts.  I’d like to hear more ideas from you.

A woman can put gas in her own car but appreciates it when he does it for her.

Can healthily be aggressive and submissive when the situation requires it.

Knows when to speak and when to be quiet.

While recognizing that she needs a feminine ear from time to time, she is careful not to use her friends to disparage her husband without having any discussions with him.

Can nurture and care for the needs of her children but can allow her husband to care for their emotions at times as well.

Recognizes and accepts that she can’t have and do everything

Can allow her husband to be part of what happens on the inside of the home as well as the outside, whether it is decorating, hosting a party, cleaning and doing laundry.

Doesn’t keep secrets.

We hope you enjoy this and that it gives you something new to discuss with each other.   Looking forward to hearing from you.


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About Rita & Bob Boeke

Rita Boeke has experience teaching scripture and with her husband Bob has experience in enriching marriages through workshops and retreats. They post a weekly blog at and co-authored Forever and a Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage that Lasts a Lifetime.
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