Men have a complicated history. The idea of manhood and masculinity is continually evolving along with our society, how we live and how we work. The feminist movement allowed women to begin to analyze their societal roles, their emotional inclinations, and their future possibilities. And from a sociological perspective, men haven’t really experienced the same collective surge of awareness. Don’t men deserve a breakdown of modern “masculinity” and a good hard look at why guys are the way they are? I think it’s already happening.
Tony Porter’s “A Call to Men” talk at the TED Women’s Conference is a really heart-felt and progressive approach to modern masculinity. His willingness to address men’s emotions and to reveal their fears and pressures feels like an amazing secret that is being let out. Why don’t we hear more voices like his?
Of course there are positive things associated with masculinity: strength, power, courage. But lust, aggressiveness, and objectification are also attributed to male behavior just as frequently. If you take a look at the Wikipedia page for masculinity, you’ll see the same sort of confusion. Even though the word masculine literally means, having qualities similar to a man, the definition of it has become a composite of many different characteristics attributed to men, or more interestingly, expectations of them. In a quick scroll down, Wikipedia tells us that the Ancient Greeks were concerned with laws dictating masculinity requirements, that hegemonic masculinity encourages men to one up each other for dominance, that in current psychological studies objectification of both sexes is on the rise (I blame the media), and lastly that men have less testosterone these days, less sperm, and smaller balls. Shit. It seems like masculinity is experiencing a major overhaul, whether we like it or not.
As an MRA, I’m in a community of men who are part of this redefining movement. Feminists don’t always understand that there is much more to male communities than bashing women. Maybe it’s threatening to them to think that men aren’t just thugging around thinking with their dicks but that they are questioning on a deeper level. We are fighting to redefine our own gender roles too and maybe it doesn’t involve power over women. At least, that’s what I think.
Porter uses the term “Man Box” or the collective socialization of men, which historically and dangerously encourages men to treat women like objects, sexual objects, and lesser human beings. The Man Box doesn’t allow enlightened thinking, empathy, and equality because they are signs of weakness and fear. Men are strong, women are weak. Men are superior, women are inferior. Women are of less value. Both genders are trapped here. And don’t these seem like really outdated ideas?
This is what I call “Toxic masculinity”, when the trappings of masculinity meet up with our natural sexual urges and women become sub-human. And if a man refuses to think with his penis all the time and refuses to objectify women as sexual objects, he is considered a wimp or less of a man. The expectations of men are sometimes unintelligent and unfair so why do we cling to something that is so bad for us, so toxic?
In my life, I have recently become sort of spiritual. When I say spiritual, I do not mean religious. I want to treat all people as worthy human beings like the golden rule says, ”Treat others as you would like to be treated.” This is a whole new attitude for me about women. I no longer wish to view women as sexual objects. I no longer want to think with my dick but with my heart and mind when it comes to women. There is humanity there, not just a body or a conquest.
The other day I was at work and a young lady came into the office. She was, objectively, very sexy. She wore a suggestive blouse showing her cleavage. My first instinct was to focus on her chest, like it was an automatic setting for me in the Man Box. But I took a moment and thought about who this person was, and who I was. Somewhere in my brain a bell rang and I shifted my gaze up from her cleavage and looked straight into her eyes. I saw her humanity. I saw that she was a human being on this earth with problems, ambitions, or hobbies, just like any man. I talked to her and asked her about her interests. She said she loved aquariums, fishing, boating, and loved to travel with her boyfriend. It was a truly different experience for me. I saw a whole person in that body as opposed to a sexual object. I figured out something for myself and I still felt masculine, a more evolved man, thinking with my head and my heart.