The #metoo movement has made clear what many of us have known for a while: there is a problem with the culture of masculinity. In the past, it was debatable, it was ignorable. It can no longer be ignored and there is very little real debate about whether or not the traditional culture of masculinity is problematic.
Thank you women, again. Thank you for having the courage to do what we men could not do. Thank you for making it clear that something needs to happen.
Now that we agree that there is a problem, what do we do about it? There are both symptoms and the underlying causes. What is the symptom and what is the cause?
I read an Op-ed in the NYT that argued that masculinity is fundamentally brutal. I hear a lot of variations on this argument. "Male sexuality is fundamentally predatory". I see this perspective as neither accurate nor helpful.
This view leaves men with two choices. One, accept brutal and predatory nature, in a sort of "boys-will-be boys" and "that's just Locker room talk" sort of way. This leads to acceptance of brutal and predatory behavior. The other option is for men to repress the very nature of their gender experience and their sexuality. This leads to isolation, insecurity, and an inability to connect with other people.
In my more liberal community, I see a lot of the latter. In my experience, depression and anxiety come from repressing what is a natural part of the human being.
As a contrast, I believe that masculinity is fundamentally beautiful. I believe that male sexuality is a gift that can be offered when appropriate.
But people see men doing bad things and take the logical step that they are bad people. It's easy to look at the #metoo posts and assume that most men are sex crazed, unfeeling, assholes. But what if their behavior was actually a symptom of a deeper disease?
I think the deeper cause is an unhealthy culture of masculinity that shuts men off from their feelings, that objectifies and dehumanizes women, that is violently homophobic and misogynistic, that is entitled and addicted to power.
Men have grown up being told "not to be a pussy." We have been told not to cry. We have toughened up where we once were sensitive and it's no surprise that we have trouble reading the intuitive signs of an intimate interaction.
Men are starving for physical affection. We live in a world where all touch with women is sexualized and all touch with men is either violent or stigmatized as gay. Any biologist will tell you that humans need human contact.
Craving human connection, men turn to pornography where they get dopamine hits to the brain for over sexualized and dehumanizing portrayals of women.
Men are threatened, bullied, beaten up and forced to embrace violence as a means of survival. Often, the men who perpetuate abuse are people who have been abused but do not recognize it as abuse because it is normalized. So they perpetuate abuse unknowingly. As Rohr said, "Hurt people hurt people."
I say this not to let men off the hook. Quite the contrary, I say this to call men to action. Because, your conditioning may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility.
So many of these #metoo cases were committed by “regular guys” who didn't know better or who had become def to their own empathic wisdom.
Toxic masculinity isn't just "out there", it's right here. Like it or not, we are either perpetuating an existing culture of masculinity or evolving to the new context. Guess which one is easier?
I hear guys say "I'm married so this isn't relevant for me". And I say "Oh, really?" Because people can have different symptoms from the same disease. The same culture that gets in the way of men respecting boundaries is the same culture that keeps men from emotional vulnerability in relationship. It keeps men from full honesty and integrity in relationships.
Even after almost 10 years in men's work, I still catch myself holding the energy of disconnection and entitlement. I get in a group of men, with a subconscious fear of the violence in being on the bottom of the social hierarchy, I strive to be at the top. I compete and create an energy of disconnection from my brothers rather than an energy of non-hierarchical brotherhood. When I do this, I degrade others and I degrade myself.
Toxic masculinity isn't "out there,” it's in here. But I don’t want to stop the conversation there. I read so many articles and posts about toxic masculinity that I get tired of it. I catch myself focusing on what not to be rather than what I want to be. We know what toxic masculinity looks like, so what is the alternative? What does healing masculinity look like? What does beautiful masculinity look like?
To me, it looks like guys who are not afraid to hug other men. Beautiful masculinity looks like guys having close friendships with other men. Beautiful masculinity to me looks like men who are willing to hold each other accountable, able to support each other in hard times so that men don’t depend on women to do all the emotional labor of life.
Beautiful masculinity looks like men giving up power that is attributed merely for gender, so that others can thrive.
Beautiful masculinity looks like men who ask if they can sit next to someone. It's guys who can sense if someone is uncomfortable and can adjust their behavior accordingly. It looks like men who acknowledge power differences in relationship, and seeing power differences in relationship, they investigate if those differences would get in the way of full consent for intimacy.
Beautiful masculinity looks like men intuitively reading the energy of a connection and either moving forward or stepping back in order to honor everyone involved. It looks like men who are in touch with their deeper desire and can make clear requests for what they want. It looks like men honoring the "no", the "maybe" and the "YES!"
Beautiful masculinity looks like men who are curious rather than persistent.
Beautiful masculinity, to me looks like men who are not afraid to feel pleasure and feel love, to celebrate another's pleasure and love. It is men who allow themselves to be vulnerable and find the joy and power of vulnerability.
It looks like men who are able to hold someone else in their strong arms with compassion and caring. It is men willing to be held, willing to let go of control.
Beautiful masculinity to me is men willing to laugh, cry, sing, and dance.
But that is just my perspective. What does beautiful masculinity look like to you?