Men Have A Default, But Not A Path

…nor a goal.

I’m inching my way toward constructive work in helping to create and define positive masculinity, which leads me to think about masculinity a lot, which is weird. The reason it is weird is that there is no healthy, established pathway for the thoughts, and many of the pathways being built that I am aware of are going the wrong direction.

A Google glance at discussion around masculinity reveals a few consistent threads, none of which are helpful, and some of which are harmful:

  1. Men are garbage and the source of every imagineable human problem, today and throughout history
  2. Men are the real victims of powerful Feminists and reverse-sexism, and must band together and swallow the Red Pill and double down on toxicity
  3. Men are innately hierarchical and aggressive, and are the victims of feminizing culture and unnatural restraints on their nature (compared to the good ol’ days); this one is related to the above but feels distinct
  4. Men are less and less employable in modern economies (see who has the jobs created in the last 10 years and who lots the jobs that were lost), less and less happy and healty, committing suicide more often and overdosing more often, but no one can figure out why. See above.
    1. At the same time men are utterly in control and have all of the power, all of the wealth, and every possible privilege. We fill the prison cells and the penthouse suites.

Or, you can boil it down to two main threads:

  • There is nothing positive about men, or
  • There is nothing questionable about men

Why is it so hard to say that there are positive things about men and also questionable things about men? Not only is that the only hopeful way forward, but frankly it seems to be the fact of the matter.

In trying to start constructive work here, I’ve been focusing on my Profiles in Positive Masculinity. As I said when I started the series, rather than coming up with a ‘theory of manhood’ or something at the beginning, what I wanted to do is to present what I thought were examples of positive masculinity in the form of living human beings. This is following along with the old Greek idea of the phronemos – the wise one who teaches wisdom by example rather than by formula. (True wisdom cannot be taught with words, but it can be recognized and emulated.) My hope was, and is, that even lacking a clear path to positive masculinity, we could intuit examples of it and hold them up, and then maybe later out of that comes a theory, and then a path.

The big problem is that men who want to be good men do not have a good path to get there. What we learn from our dads and grandpas is questionable – of inconsistent quality, let’s say, since their contexts were ones where men had more unquestioned power (we might have as much power now, but it is not unquesitoned). What we learn from media is created to make us insecure so that we buy shit we don’t need and fear people we should ally ourselves with – that’s the purpose of media, to be blunt, and using media for anything else requires persistent reistsance and careful discernment. What we get from culture overall is what Utah Philips called a “blueprint for self-destruction” and, along the way, a blueprint for the destruction of others. That’s the default – we are time-bombs that, ideally, never go off. Or, failing that, maybe we only hurt ourselves. (See falling white male life expectancy and rising white male suicide rates for example)

For all the privilege that comes with being a man, this is also a horrible situation to be in. We’re given undeserved power by a system that not only hurts everyone else but hurts us as well, and so if we realize what’s going on we want to dismantle this system. We look for alternatives, and what’s articulated is either we need to be forever restrained (nothing about men is good) or that we have been lied to and we are the real victims (nothing about men is questionable). There is a third option, that men are obsolete, or headed toward obsolescence, but I don’t see this one articulated as often as the first two. It’s out there, though, so we can say there are three bad options: a jail cell, a toxic Red Pill, or obsolescence.

We’re in the penthouse of a building, but the building is on fire and there are no doors or windows.

And yet, some men stumble into positive masculinity. It’s stumbling because either a man got lucky and got great advice from the other men in his life, or he abandoned the destructive script and made it up as he went along and it turned out alright. Either someone showed him a fire escape, or he smashed through a wall and jumped.

Most men will do neither, and instead, follow the default laid out before them by  society and other men. And men are not unique in this – it is rare for any given person to break from the mold, so to speak. The problem is that the mold for men is a destructive one, for men and for everyone else.

This is my post laying out the problem. I’m not going to move to a solution here. Rather, I’ll try to continue to do slow constructive work through Profiles in Positive Masculinity, and see what comes of that. I welcome discussion, and ideas, and suggestions, as I go forward.

 

Toxic Masculinity

I’ve fallen behind with my regular Friday updates to this blog, and I’m sorry.

When I post Profiles In Positive Masculinity on this blog, I’m contending with another kind of masculinity, generally referred to as “toxic masculinity.” Not that men are toxic, but that there are toxic ways that men are taught to be men. Toxic to men, and to women, and to everyone. Here is a video about it, because I have to get back to the other things that are eating up my life right now:

Detoxing Masculinity

Image result for male restroom sign

It’s weird to feel called to deal with masculinity, in its many current toxic forms, when I don’t see myself as very masculine to begin with. With the exception, maybe, of body and facial hair. But my adolescent experience was getting bulled and being called a “faggot” until I learned to defend myself with humor (and occasionally fists). My dad was convinced for a couple years that I was gay because I wasn’t dating and had a couple really close friends I spent all my time with. But on some level, his assessment also amounted to “faggot”, and that made an impression on me. (I don’t know that he ever changed his mind) Terrible at sports, short and never in good shape, not sexually active until well into my 20s, depressed, prone to anxiety and panic attacks, not good at fighting or fixing things, phobic of firearms because of a past experience – not anyone’s picture of masculinity. What was I into? Nerdy stuff, and theater, and and writing; lots of reading and video games. Maybe a couple of stereotypically male interests, but zero masculine interests.

And yeah, there’s a difference. I’m sure my dad or brothers would explain it to you if you don’t know. Me – male. Them – masculine.

I’m not a man that other men are drawn to. I don’t think I’m, like, repellent, but I’m simply not the sort of man that other men look to as an example. For my own examples, I look elsewhere, to other men who are quite different from me. I am, at the very best, male-neutral as an adult. But no one’s looking to me to learn what a man is and does – with the possible exception of my daughter, at least at this stage of her life. (Yikes. OK. Deep breath.)

This isn’t to say that I’m not acknowledging that I am awash in male privilege – quite the opposite. The things that female colleagues in my profession have to deal with are just ridiculous (not to mention black colleagues, gay colleagues, etc.). I would have to ignore everything they have ever said not to get it. I was born with the straight white male winning Lottery ticket, and it is my job to do what I can to dismantle that. Got it – I am in. But. I’m thinking through this, and have been for a long time now, precisely because I see the need to do my “straight white man work,” but the man part is the most challenging.

I’m a default participant in male privilege, but I am not an active participant in masculinity, if that makes sense. Nor am I gender-nonconforming. I’m just gender-blah. And there’s a part of me that has this intuition that Doug over here doing his due diligence as a man is a bit like Doug over here playing Dungeons & Dragons – it’ll have no impact on the wider world other than being another weird thing Doug does. And I could do worse, so I do some of my man-work over here. It’s just, let’s say, not a strength; not a clear path forward.

Even though I understand that male privilege can be experienced as monolithic, it gets complicated in that masculinity is not monolithic at all. And I know that part of the agenda of feminism, which I whole-heartedly identify with, is to enable the full expression of all of these diverse takes on gender. But…I’m not sure how to actually do that, and not just do that, but help the world around me do that too.

Feel free to roll your eyes and post a comment about the obvious thing I’m missing. I’ll keep slowly chiseling through my own baggage in this area and trying to do more good than harm, and maybe I’ll put it together.