Masculinity in America, part two
The need to redefine masculinity is imperative. Part of this is the necessity of removing patriarchy from masculinity. More than one man has noted the common interchangeability of these words, though they are very separate concepts. Many of the more traditionally negative aspects of masculinity are in fact a function of patriarchy (aggression, domination) and not of inherent masculine energy. Patriarchy may represent the unbalanced expression of masculinity, and the purpose of redefining masculinity is to free man from the shame of patriarchy’s historical tyranny and the resulting fear of deep masculine experiences.
Women are not the innocent pawns in this game, however. We are all in the quagmire of strange gender interaction (a whole other essay), and women lack a masculinity to refer to and can sense that same lack in men, leading to a frustration that is nobody’s fault but will not correct itself without conscious effort. “The destructive friction between men and women-our failure to attain a mature communion-may underlie the various global political and socioeconomic crises afflicting our world.” (D.Pinchbeck, 2007)
Some have asked why we even need masculinity? Why not transcend the whole thing and throw off the chains of gender roles? I have also heard it said that the ideal situation may be to live in a genderless society, and that using the terms masculinity and femininity only enhances the sexism that already exists. Though it is nice to think about a time in the future when men and women are secure enough in their psyches that they can interact in a solely human way, I don’t think we can progress to that place without a few steps in between. I could describe masculine ‘characteristics’ in the context of just what makes a good adult human, but for now, it seems that the traditional dualism of masculine and feminine are, in my opinion, more pressing. The discord between the sexes cannot easily be brushed aside, and must be consciously shifted, thus the importance of addressing these qualities head on, from a perspective of power. If we remove the unconscious control the media has on our cultural definitions of masculinity and femininity, the power is in our own hands to do with it what we will. If that means using it to transcend gender so be it, but to deny that there are dualistic dynamics is mere lotus eating of the future and a rejection of the present. We must not shy from our own complicity and responsibility in the creation of masculine and feminine identities.
First we need to grow up. Only adults who are not in the throes of subconscious patterns, who are present, conscientious, and disciplined can evolve into more enlightened states of being. The main issue in North America is that many men are not grown up, and many women are not either. Having a way to define what it means to be a man in effect defines an Adult (hence the need for rites of passage). The difference between biological maturity and the maturity of the psyche are distinct, and what constituted an adult in the society of early man was not the same as what it constitutes now. With the advent of civilization and the social contract, new aspects of adulthood emerged, along with new rights and responsibilities.
Right now in America, there are only a few ways a man can define his masculinity. The military is perhaps the only opportunity for a right of passage within the constructs of the dominant culture. The training is intended to break one’s ego down. The other path is that of money. Most men who have been asked responded that finances figure highly in how they assess themselves as men, which seems appropriate as it is directly related to the provider imprint that cannot be easily shaken (nor, perhaps, does it need to be). The Xer generation (those age 27 to 47) is the most abandoned generation perhaps in history, and more children grew up without fathers than ever before. Talk about the feminist revolution stripping men of their provider role. And without a new definition of masculinity, men had no idea how to act in a broad cultural sense, and made it up as they went along, many times leaving their families financially and emotionally (perhaps as a punishment for attacking their identities). There seems to be no debate any more as to whether this is good for a child. It is not. So when an entire generation of young men grow up without fathers, or strong masculine role models, and a greater culture does not pick up the slack, we have the hyper-male myth of the military hero or the rich man archetype, both unrealistically expressed in the culture today.
But back to reclaiming the definition of masculinity:
There a few ways to go about this, and the following list refers to brainstorming sessions with a few bottles of wine over a few nights with varied company. To be balanced, I include a list on femininity.
Integrity, accountability, supportive, courage, protective, strength, assertiveness, determination, will, high regard for love, power, energy/active, physical, sexual, present, trustworthy, fierce, raw
intuitive, flexible, tolerant, compassionate, creative, emotional, nurturing, capable, practical, graceful, gentle, sensual, receptive
To be clear, this is not a list of how people should act. Women need to be assertive and men need to be compassionate. Some men behave in feminine ways, some women in masculine ways, and there is nothing wrong with this, as long as one does not judge these individual qualities as better/worse. Every person carries a unique balance of these energies, and the key is to not restrict them or judge them. In the traditional eastern Yin/Yang symbol, it is shown how in each dual pair there is always the aspect of its opposite, or even, that trying to identify each idea/concept without its ‘opposite’ is only possible philosophically, as they are inextricably linked in this world.
The negative reaction I have elicited from some people using archetypes and dualism as semiotic base references come from what I believe to be cultural connotations that incorrectly reflect the true meanings of these concepts, and how they relate to the subconscious and the psyche. In America, dualism seems to popularly have taken on a zero-sum nature. It is exactly the interactions of dualities that I refer to, the description of reality in a manner that relates reality to itself. Though it could even be seen in greater american culture, the desire for zero sum duality; that there is only love, no fear. Only light, no dark. At least marketing seems obsessed with the idea. That if only we could escape that darned dualistic nature to life, and achieve a purity of experience, we could be happy. All happy, no unhappy, that is. This is, of course, impossible.
So how do we extricate the masculine from the patriarchal?
By understanding that patriarchy is the weakest form of masculinity, and represents its extreme misuse.
The weakest expression of power is tyranny
The weakest expression of assertiveness is aggression
The weakest expression of protectiveness is war
The weakest expression of accountability is control
The weakest expression of determination is stubbornness
The weakest expression of strength is violence
The weakest expression of will is domination
The weakest expression of sexuality is rape
and so on.
What needs to happen is the reclaiming of the powerful aspects of these qualities as masculine, the distinguishing of these qualities from their extremes. All humans are capable of all qualities, and it is the choices we make and the areas we focus on that define us as individuals. But we do not make these choices by ourselves. Our parents and our greater culture inform us. Right now, young men have mostly the old patriarchal expressions of masculinity to aspire to, or a form of gender passivity. What we need are grown up masculine role models within our cultural context, and a clear path on how to achieve these goals.
Two of the benchmarks on the path may be these:
1. A rite of passage
In which the old self passes away and a new self is allowed to emerge, which may or may not necessitate meeting one’s death.
2. Cutting ties to the mother
In which the proverbial apron strings must be severed both emotionally and financially.
Part three to come soon…
If anyone can think of anything to add to this, please comment.