Is masculinity ‘the best a man can get’!?
Is masculinity ‘the best a man can get’!?
How many of us have felt uncomfortable at some point with a boy crying, treating them more harshly than we would a girl, or teased a mate because of the ‘feminine colour’ of his clothing or called him soft because he feels cold? Who decides such things are okay anyway – the drawing of the lines of acceptable male behaviour, where liking dolls or dance, enjoying flowers and cooking or being clean and orderly in the home are all a bit peculiar and questionable?
There are many more examples – subtle, obvious, calculated and dismissive – that typecast men and boys. Judgement delivered by both men and women, injecting the poison of masculinity whenever we don’t foster men to be more open, less guarded and less throttled by the expectation of what being a man is. Many men and women seem threatened and/or make fun of men who act with gentleness and display their sensitivity. Are they disturbed by men who have a level of self-care beyond our chosen normality? This judgement can lead to a crushing of those who act with tenderness.
This is the toxicity that drives men towards an untrue masculinity, an inescapable, protective identity.
Over the decades men’s less than acceptable behaviour has been packaged up and labelled with many different names – one you may be familiar with is Toxic Masculinity. This movement, or public shaming, triggered a multi-national razor company to jump on the bandwagon and create an advert on the subject as their way of appealing to consumers. The advert, much like the whole coverage on this topic, seeks to point out what is wrong, offers solutions of how men should put a stop to toxic behaviour by other men, highlighting the bullying and ‘man up’ culture and calling men to account for this aspect of male culture.
On one level it seems a positive idea, yet it’s a one-dimensional approach to the issues surrounding men. It’s a paradigm where we wish to address toxic behaviour with the usual male solution-based approach by more doing, but never addressing the being. Do this and the problems are solved. Yet this misses the problem with our overall view of masculinity. It offers no support for men to shine and be tender, free from the identity that men get bound up in from a young age.
On the topic of masculinity, what is exposed here is the overall way we approach this issue, where the true man gets hidden as it becomes about men being better and solving problems. If you look at any comments on social media in relation to toxic masculinity, you see it creating more division and separation as we seek to shame men into changing. You could argue that any discussion on toxic masculinity is a step in the right direction, yet our attempts to address errant masculinity aren’t uplifting or confirming of who men truly are underneath the protection, so they can’t possibly initiate the wholesale change we wish to see.
So, time and again the men we seek to reach go into hiding or are boxed into being defensive, a scenario where no one wins. In this approach it’s much easier for these men to dismiss as overreactions the rationale that wishes certain male behaviour to change.
Yes, men should call out another man’s behaviour, always!!! But that’s not “the best a man can get”. We get closer to the best (no perfection) when as men we behave with deep love and tender care, celebrate the beauty of showing our sensitivity and sit comfortably with being vulnerable and fragile. Allowing men to act on what they feel, not be governed by the pressures of society. It allows men to be immensely strong in a knowing of who they are, and it further allows men to support others to feel safe and also drop the mask.
There is a deep-rooted malaise that is being exposed of how certain men have and do continue to behave, highlighted by the #metoo. From this there is reaction from both sides who camp up against enemy territory, one side arguing that men are too heavily criticised, the other that they have got away with so much for so long and need to be called to account. It’s a highly emotional, toxic battle of right and wrong.
Most of the counters to poisonous male behaviours come from this guise of right and wrong. Of course men shouldn’t be abusive in any form and we need to call it out, but we really need to look much deeper than just changing the surface level behaviour of what is being called “toxic masculinity”.
We need to unfold a new model of man, free from masculine ideals. Up to now we have all had responsibility for raising boys to become the men they are. They are raised by messages that tell them what is okay and how they should be to fit in and be accepted, but a lot of these messages steer men towards confusion and anger, resulting in shutdown. On one hand they are asked to be warriors, and on the other to display a tender side. Which behaviour do we make acceptable, as these expectations are not compatible?
Ask yourself how many men you know who are uncomfortable being vulnerable or displaying their feelings without feeling inadequate and judged, and then sit deeply with where that comes from.
There is a belief that if we just call out the bad behaviour, everything will be solved – except it won’t because we haven’t changed the foundational issue, that boys are not raised to just BE, with unconditional love. They are raised to develop competitive instincts, constantly told that this is their natural way, a survival of the fittest mentality, progression at the expense of another. Sensitivity is not cherished and celebrated, it is crushed; dominance and aggression are rewarded. We don’t confirm the gentleness of who men are at heart and become reactive when certain men take their discomfort with this rejection into extreme behaviours.
There will be no unfolding of men until we start to role-model gentle expression, and when women realise and accept their own power to demand complete respect in relationships with men and discern when they too have subtly encouraged the errant ‘man-up’ consciousness. No lines need be drawn, it’s not a battle of the sexes, it’s about understanding our inner qualities and how we have come to pollute them.
Only encouraging the natural gentleness in little boys and grownup men will allow us to develop and enjoy the unfolding of loving, caring men… free from the harm of the toxicity that is masculinity.