There’s a lot of talk these days about smashing the patriarchy and toxic masculinity. First of all, let me say that I agree with much of it. The patriarchy needs to be smashed (more on that in another post) and the masculine has veered directly toward the toxic in much of our society. Does this mean all men are bad and should be taken down? Of course not. Does it mean that women and gender queer folks are off the hook for it all? Ummm, no. Most of us play a role in this whether it’s conscious or not so it’s time to start identifying where we’re contributing to the problems and change our course of action. No need to feel bad about it or guilty. It was all set up before we got here. In other words, it’s a system we’ve been born into which makes it hard for us to even realize we’re a part of it. Yes, some of us are more conscious of the damaging things we are doing (ahem Trump) and will likely require learning a hard lesson, but all of us just need to put on our big girl pants and do the work. The more people who understand what needs to be done and start doing the work, the faster we can turn this thing around.
So what is masculinity anyways? Again, this is one of those tricky questions as much of how we define the masculine has been derived from the characteristics that have been traditionally embodied by men, but if we take gender out of it and turn once again to the Chinese system of the Yin and the Yang for guidance, the masculine embodies qualities like action, production, positivity, sun, fire, hardness, ascension, dominance. Extrapolating that to human behaviors we’re talking strength, assertiveness, power and control. Now none of these are inherently bad. There is a time and a place for all of them, but when there’s no feminine to balance out the masculine, that’s when it becomes extractive. Left unchecked masculinity turns toxic. In a patriarchal society where so many of those in power are exhibiting toxic masculinity, we are left with a world where war, starvation, poverty, oppression and inequality are the norm. The extractive nature of toxic masculinity is both destroying our earth and as well as her inhabitants. So let’s get on to healing it already.
Looking at how we raise our children, we now know that it hasn’t served us to tell our young men to toughen up, to not cry, to be strong. Boys have been hearing these messages for a very long time which has prevented the feminine from being nurtured within our men for a long time. Not that we have to go blaming our ancestors. There was likely a very “survival of the fittest” reason for men to be taught these things. How else would they have had the courage to protect others from the dangers that faced primitive humans? The good thing is that civilization has evolved. Most of us don’t need to have the type of courage it takes to fend off a Bengal tiger. Yes, there are dangers and bad people in this world, but there is no longer a need for the men of society to shoulder the burden of courage and protection. Men and boys should be allowed to feel their feelings and cry if they need to.
If you are reading this now and thinking, no they can’t, that would be weak and sissy-like…then I need you to answer the question, who cares? Really? What practical reason serves the need to withhold emotion other than ego? What does a boy face that is different from a girl which requires him to be strong? In fact it appears we got it wrong this whole time. It was the girls who needed to be strong to fend off the boys. A generalization and shift of responsibility, yes, but in the wake of #metoo we’ve learned a great deal about how women walk through this world in substantially more fear than boys. The reality is that we are all going to face the disappointment of lost love and lost jobs. Virtually all of us purchase our food from a grocery store versus having to go out and kill it with our hands. (Eating meat is a subject of another conversation.) Gender-specific roles are diminishing and the modernization of society has completely changed how we all live. There is no need to program our young men like this anymore.
Thankfully, there are many individuals and organizations out there doing the work to help educate men and boys about how to be better. Tony Porter and Jackson Katz are two people who are top of mind in this work, but there are plenty of others. Tony Porter is an author, educator and activist working to advance social justice issues. He is a leading voice on male socialization, the intersection of masculinity and violence against women, and healthy, respectful manhood and is the founder of A Call to Men, the Next Generation of Manhood. His 2010 TED Talk has been named by GQ Magazine as one of the “Top 10 TED Talks Every Man Should See.” Jackson Katz is an educator, author, and social theorist who is internationally renowned for his pioneering scholarship and activism on issues of gender, race and violence. He has long been a major figure and thought leader in the growing global movement of men working to promote gender equality and prevent gender violence. Jackson has several powerful videos that I implore all men to watch. If you, dear reader, are not a man, please take the next step and send these links to a man in your life. Do it right now, before you forget!
As mentioned earlier, we are all on the hook for this. Toxic masculinity can appear anywhere: in women or gender queer persons, in systems, corporations and in government. So how do we heal it in all those places? Same way. I recommend beginning with looking inward to the ways that we exhibit some of these qualities unchecked. Are we striving for power over another? Are we acting forcefully or aggressively in the absence of compassion? Are we trying to control others or exercise authority over them for our own self-serving purpose? Are we taking from the earth without giving back? Are we expecting the boys and men in our lives to be strong and avoid their emotions? Are we purchasing media that perpetuates these toxic masculine ideals? Are we educating others who we see exhibiting this type of behavior? It’s not always going to be easy, but dig deep into your divine masculine qualities, find your strength and take the action you are able to at the time. The work will be worth it. If we can help to heal the masculine in ALL, it will yield to the balance with the feminine, the patriarchy will cease to exist, and we’ll be setting the foundation for creating real equality for EVERYONE. Wallah.