I am a man. I grew up a male, and I’m certainly not unhappy with who I am. However, I am very disturbed about how males are viewed and taught how to be.
I wrote this letter to my grandmother regarding my strong dislike of today’s concept of masculinity. Given that she is from another generation, this assumes that I am talking about heterosexual men; some of what I say here may apply less to queer men; however, even so, I think all men feel the pressures I outline here.
One of the things I’ve come to feel strongly about these days is that the way we as a society train our men to behave and think is rather disgraceful. I know, partially because I was trained in much the same way, but also because, now that I have gotten a chance to come outside of myself and find my oneness with the world, I see what little is expected of men, and the excuses that people make for them, especially women.
It is said sometimes that if women ruled the world, we wouldn’t be such a warlike species. I don’t think it’s that simple; however, the thought does resonate with me, for it is true, women are, generally speaking, much better at finding ways not to fight and get into conflict—because they are so trained.
In this wonderfully transformative past year, I have made–and recovered–lots of good new friends. Lots of wonderful friendships and connections. Dozens of them! People I can trust, with whom I have shared my life details, the sordid as well as the splendid. And you know what? ALL of them are women, with three exceptions, and those three are definitely exceptional among men, that’s for sure.
I wrote the following in an online discussion group I belong to:
Certain things are typically considered “feminine” things:
* Taking a non-competitive mindset, as opposed to a winner-loser one
* Letting go of control
* Subtleties…things like tone of voice, the way one carries oneself, light touches, etc.
* Tolerance of/comfort with ambiguity, as opposed to “either-orism”
* Deep listening
* Looking pretty
* Making a real effort to come off as gentle and nonthreatening
* Being friendly, approachable, and OPENLY compassionate
* Steadfast, silent patience and devotion
As young girls, women get a full education in these fine things. Guys don’t. As a result, guys tend often to be harder around the edges, more one-dimensional (at times, I said!), less able to let go of control, more impulsive, etc. I need the subtlety of not always having to think of everything as “foreplay” if it doesn’t involve intercourse. I like spending lots of time on subtle things, things like whispering in your ear, caressing your shoulder and neck, feeling the touch of your hand on my back, watching how you look at me… most guys my age (late 20s) have no clue in this department. It’s all a rush to explode.
This extends to social stuff. The black-and-whiteness of many guys’ mindset forces me to quickly define an interaction as either sexual or not sexual, RIGHT AWAY. With women, once they see that I am not like this, I find tremendous comfort, such that, if it’s right, I can hug and hold a woman, maybe kiss her a bit, without us ever having sex or even having to talk about having sex. Just a nice, intimate moment, all the clothes remaining on. THAT is why I generally pick female company first…a more open mind, more possibilities for more kinds of good interaction, physical or not, without having to think of “penetration!”
The reason I wanted to share this is to perhaps give you a window into the raison d’être of certain people of my generation such as myself–queer people. “Queer,” among us, is no longer a slur–it’s a state of mind, and to us it’s actually a positive term. Anyone can use it, unlike the N-word, for example. “Queer” does NOT mean “gay,” though it generally encompasses gay and lesbian culture. It probably most simply means “anything but completely straight.” There is a movement in modern music called “emo,” short for “emotional,” which emphasizes, among other things, the concept of men being openly emotional, sad, and “not together,” unlike social norms dictate. [My cousins] will be able to tell you more about emo if you ask them.
I have found that, among folks of my generation who are much more conscious and aware of the world around them, there is a desire to break out and be your own person. To shed the cruddy teachings that permeate and infest our brains with habits we will later come to regret deeply. But we don’t always know how… especially the men out there.
Isn’t it a shame that men are always suspected of being threatening? You know what I mean, right? Where I work, in the Pediatric Clinic, ALL of the nurses are women. There are NO male nurses… only doctors. Why is that? What are we teaching our children about men? What are we teaching our boys that they are destined to become?
Even in these modern times, young men are left thinking that this is masculinity:
* Being egocentric: a defect generally, but in terms of masculinity this is considered a healthy attribute as long as the male is intelligent as well. Society is now more accepting of women being this way than before, but this is still something that men actually learn growing up that women do not. Women who live more egocentrically get there on their own.
* Being ambitious: this goes in line with egocentricity; it’s more or less ok for a woman to be ambitious, but not encouraged the way it is for a man.
* Being in control: men are supposed to always “keep it together,” always in control. If a male admits his insufficiency to control a situation before anyone but God or a VERY good friend, he will be perceived as being unmanly. This is STILL true, by and large.
* Being impatient: again, this is not generally desirable in a human, but in men it is thought of as natural, especially if the impatience is refined. Men can be “patiently impatient,” whereas women are supposed to wait and adapt and consider everyone else and be silently patient.
* Being strong, mentally and physically. Nothing wrong with wanting to be strong—but why is this a “male” thing? Moreover, the masculine idea of strength fetishizes it: yes, men are human beings and as such they are weak, but they’d better not be publicly weak! So, when they feel weak, rather than letting go and say, weeping about it or talking it out, men try to continue featuring strength through showing rage, raising their voice, commanding, competing, etc. The message is, yes, you will be weak sometimes, but don’t ever actually act weak. And men should not generally be threatening, either, but it is considered more masculine to have a [potentially] threatening disposition than to look weak.
* Looking at women as pieces of meat: masculinity norms accept and even welcome thinking patterns that objectify women, and it’s not because men watch porn or have some innate boy gene that makes them act like horndogs, but rather the other way around: our culture encourages men, as part of the “men are aggressive, men are egocentric” acceptance, to think of women in the most simple, objectifying ways. It’s not like women don’t ever get these fierce, animalistic thoughts… it’s totally natural to feel that primal sexual instinct no matter who you are. The thing is that, women are taught how to temper this primal thinking, whereas men are pretty dumb to any such notion. Sometimes they know they should hold back, but they are never taught how. Even warm-hearted, nice guys usually have little to no idea, and it goes in line with the fellow masculine ideas of egocentricity and ambition that it’s ok for men to be like this, because boys will be boys. Rubbish, I say!
So—from the above, what we can see is that there is no room for softness in masculinity, even now. A more even-tempered, more sophisticated hardness is ok, but not actual softness, weakness, submission, vulnerability, letting go, things like this.
This damages men. It also damages the relationships men get into, and the people they love and those that love them. It’s a terrible imbalance, and one that is not easily rectified when the entire society takes this imbalance as being normal.
All of us can benefit from being soft and working on the so-called feminine qualities.
The greatest change I have been able to make in my life recently has been the acceptance I have of my wonderful feminine qualities. Now I am able to listen, to take on a healing, nurturing tone, to be vulnerable and share vulnerability with someone. I don’t have to always keep it together; sometimes, I can be light and airy… and submissive. I can let go. I can cry. I don’t have to act “like a man” or dress “like a man.” I can be handsome, but I can also be pretty, too, and I rather like being pretty! Yes, I look and feel good in a skirt, and while I won’t be showing up at work like this for obvious reasons, every now and then it’s nice to put one on and dance in it. Not to “cross-dress” or pretend to be somebody I’m not, but rather, to give myself the chance to be all of myself. That is what queerness is all about, and it’s beautiful and liberating.
I never knew it was ok for me to be like this. Now, there is no other way for me to be.
It’s nothing that my family did. I had wonderful parents–parents who were very open and rather undogmatic regarding my development. It’s just that—this is what seeps into a growing boy’s consciousness, no matter what parents he has. This is what he sees all around him, that is taken for granted. The one-dimensional, narrow-minded, thudlike, uncouth, jagged, grating idea of masculinity and what a “man” is.
There is a Supremes song that has a line, “why don’t you be a man about it, and set me free?” Setting free involves letting go, which is a feminine quality. In order to “be a man about it,” the man has to fight with his emotions and hold them down in order to let her go, rather than harmonizing his loving emotions for her with her happiness and giving her what she is asking for out of love. See how screwed up that is?
We men risk getting trapped in this straitjacketing concept of what we should be, and it’s a damn shame. It’s no wonder men commit the majority of violent crimes and rapes… we are never given the full set of tools as children and young adults to deal with ourselves properly. Wouldn’t it be so much better if we relegated this antiquated, repugnant concept of manhood that we still abide by to the dustbin of history?
I want to make one thing clear here: I am not against all concepts of masculinity. I simply feel that today’s version of masculinity is very often detrimental to developing loving, positive energy, because it is modeled around exclusion and lack of openness. I have also written a more positive, less rant-based post on what I think men and masculinity truly should be.