“We are suspended, rudderless, between our long history of male privilege and the newer, more diverse masculinities emerging from decades of social and economic upheaval.”
Over the past few weeks I have been talking to a lot of men about men’s issues. About gender relationships, about the need for an acknowledgement of the unique issues that men face as a result of their upbringing and the social expectations placed upon them.
I have had the opportunity to listen to the stories of many men, their struggles their sadness and their fears. Beneath male anger there lies a whole lot of fear and it’s not easy to watch.
It is clear that our masculinity is killing us (suicide, destruction behaviours, ill health) and others, which is why this conversation has to happen. If not for us, then for our sons, daughters and partners
We are all (not just men) responsible for the damaging culture of manhood we live in and we must be willing to play our part in putting things to right. It’s going to be uncomfortable and men don’t deal with discomfort and uncertainty very well. We have been conditioned for generations to simply suppress our emotions and leverage the authority bestowed upon us by patriarchy.
But men don’t find power in patriarchy. Instead we find social and emotional isolation and respond in the ways that we know best: anger, alcohol, drugs, bullying, put-downs, rebellion and self-destruction. Locker-room talk helps us to maintain our dominance and control over women, the last true bastion of traditional masculinity.
When you see all of this, you see into a man’s true fear. You see into an upbringing of being taught to hide vulnerable emotions that imply weakness, like sadness, loneliness, fear and pain.
“We shame and bully our adolescent sons into giving up their loving friendships in order to prove a destructive and isolating set of negatives. … rather than focusing on who they are, they become obsessed with who they are not, they are not girls, little boys nor, in the case of heterosexual boys, are they gay. In response to a cultural context that links intimacy in male friendships with an age, a sex (female), and a sexuality (gay), these boys mature into men who are autonomous, emotionally stoic, and isolated.”
But none of this is the exclusive domain of men. Many women hold onto the same fears, or face the same struggles, as a result of their own upbringing or because they find themselves in an aggressive relationship with a man that is trapped by his own masculinity.
We can heal, but it’s going to take time, generations. After generations of men being raised to stay disconnected we need to learn to connect with each other in different ways. When we learn to connect and to share our stories we no longer feel alone, sometimes for the first time in our lives, we become family, tribe and community.
We must stop the sexist attitudes, the bullying, the put-downs, brinkmanship, the locker-room talk and be willing to lean into the discomfort of becoming what a man could be, not what a man should be, because that discomfort isn’t going away anytime soon.
I am willing to try. Are you?
Oh, and for any women who have read this far. You need to be a part of this too.