I've spent a lot of time the last few years thinking about masculinity. More specifically, what is intrinsic to masculinity once you take away the anger, violence, and aggression that so many are taught constitutes being a man.
Then I saw this posted by someone I like:
Well, this pisses me off because it's not a war on masculinity. It's a war on things that have harmed women. There's a ton of wonderful writing that outlines all the ways that the socialization of women not to make waves and the socialization of men to see women as liars has caused harm so I'm not going to go into that here. (I will point you to one wonderful piece - The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck. Read the comments too.)The only thing that has pissed me off on twitter recently is the war on all masculinity.I'm all for the Me too movement and have supported it from its advent but lately anything that has been viewed as remotely masculine has been coming under fire.Sick of it.
Which got me back to thinking about masculinity. I thought the way to get there is to look at how to define a good man.
I think there's a standard that we all agree on. The man who treats everyone with respect, who stands his ground for the things that matter to him, who does what he believes is right, who makes a contribution in some way - whether that's working for those less fortunate, building a business, creating art, pursuing athletic endeavors, actively participating in a loving home, etc. Someone who is there when you are in need, someone you can trust to keep their word, who is authentic in all interactions.
I have not seen any of these qualities being disparaged in the current discussion. I see a lot of pleading for good men to stand up for women, to treat them with respect and help them when they are in need. I see women longing for men they can trust unreservedly. I see a lot of questioning of what matters. what is right, and what is worth standing your ground for. These discussions are necessary. Women started having them about femininity during the sexual revolution and it's made a huge difference in the lives of women. The discussion is still ongoing and it needs to be.
Men have had the privilege of going about not having to look at the impact of their words and actions. Women have never had that luxury. A woman always has to take into account how her words and body language is being perceived by the men she's interacting with to make sure that men don't get a message she doesn't want to send. (It doesn't always work and sexual harassment ensues.) It makes me sad that asking for men to do the same thing we have to do is making them so angry. I get it isn't easy but don't you want to make the world a better place? Don't you want there to be clearer signals between the sexes? Because all the mixed signals you complain about women sending are because she doesn't feel safe and is trying to protect herself.
Thankfully, I've been blessed to know a lot of men over the last few years who have been doing this work, who have been moving towards a more authentic masculinity that allows men to have access to their full range of emotions without shame or diminishment, thus reducing angry outbursts because of repressed pain and frustration. Creating support networks where men can talk about what being a man means to them. Organizations that teach men how to listen and speak to everyone with respect, how to be assertive without being aggressive.
It's going to be messy. Everyone's going to make mistakes. Some are going to exploit this to abuse others and sadly, one needs to be vigilant about that. Some people from all sexes are going to mock and belittle those undergoing that process. But I believe at the core men are protectors (which for some men manifests as nurturers and that needs to be honoured) and builders and those qualities need to be honoured and given space to thrive without the expense of women having to deny their own protector quality. (Have you ever watched a woman protect her child, for instance? This is why there has always been women warriors. And this is why #MeToo has become a potent force.)
If we can give men just as much a range of ways to be a man as women have fought to give women, this world will be a much better place. That means listening carefully to what's being said right now instead of perceiving it all as an attack. It means recognizing that some of the ways women have created to keep themselves safe are hurtful to men. It means everyone working together to find ways to relate where people feel safe and heard and able to be themselves, to make sex something that is open and pleasurable to all instead of the fraughtness it is to so many. (I highly recommend reading The Female Price of Male Pleasure - the research she pulls in is eye-opening.)
We can define masculinity and femininity in a way that feels true yet incorporates respect for others and a desire for their safety at the core. I'm really hoping what is happening now is leading us that way.