As #MeToo rumbles through society and radicalism infects disaffected young men, it seems clear that, while women are asserting themselves, many men are feeling increasingly emasculated. The old make roles of family breadwinner, provider of strength and protection, being unemotional, putting up with/sacrificing one’s life for the family are going or gone. #MeToo is a reaction to unequal power – physical power, sexual power, aggression. Men have more of these.
As horizons expand for women, they are seen to be contracting for men. Why will men accept equality, when men want to be aggressive, have the power to be aggressive? If we want social equality, how can we breed out, train out or control these innate male characteristics? What role does a man have when a woman is better educated, can earn as much, can hire strength, buy protection and live alone – with or without children, with or without a man, let alone a husband?Aggressiveness is in men’s genes
Tim Winton has written a beautiful, raw, direct article, arguing that misogyny shackles men to a toxic, sexist masculinity (‘About the boys: Tim Winton on how toxic masculinity is shackling men to misogyny’, The Guardian Australia, 10 April 2018). He observes it when surfing, even with young boys. Teachers and parents see it daily with boys, particularly in groups. We can argue about the ‘causes’– internet porn, a sexually permissive society, social media, loosening community standards and more – but I’d argue that some of it is in the genes. This is how boys and men actually feel. They want to be aggressive. When they feel a sexual urge, it leads to a desire to take action to satisfy that urge and that action will be towards women or a woman, whether desired or not.
Personalising this, I’m not patient. I want solutions now. And when I get a sexual urge, I’d like to action it. But, because of my upbringing, training, values, I rarely do… But I think it…and I don’t tell anyone because it’s not politically correct. It would be alarming for many women and it would be inaccurate to think I would behave that way.
And then there’s fantasy. Boys and men fantasise about sex, particularly in groups. Locker room talk and worse. Overheard, it sounds horrible. But perhaps, between one man and one woman, such ‘dirty talk’ might be just what both want, what turns them on.
So men fantasise about women, they talk about it, they are strong enough and have enough sexual urges to want to take sexual actions…but in 99% of cases, they don’t. Result: frustrated men who frighten women.
What are the elements of a new model for being a man?
Winton’s article is great observation and analysis…but there’s little on what a new model of life for men would look like. One that is based on gender and sexual equality, which implies rational consideration of others before the satisfaction of oneself. But one that recognises that men are powder kegs of aggression, living in a sexualised society that values sexual satisfaction? Here are some possible elements.
A first element is active physical engagement. Men who use up their physical energy at work or play, haven’t got a lot left to impose themselves on others. Sport, physical working on community projects and hobbies spend time and gain satisfaction, reducing available time for the unhealthy urges and power surges that cause problems. But these activities must be seen to be meaningful. Seeking improvement in sporting ability, winning games, developing skills, contacts and friendships are all desirable societal outcomes.
A second element is active engagement with groups of women. Engagement leads to education, understanding and appreciation – so that’s how women think, that’s what they are interested in, that’s what they value and some of them are actually quite nice and interesting. There’s a strong danger of cliques of same sex groups forming, with resulting clichés and taunts from one sex to the other, leading to reinforcement of the very stereotypes we are trying to block out. If girls are increasingly able to stand up to boys then, too, boys need to stand up to inappropriate girls behaviour too. Calling out girls’ manipulation, posturing, enticing is just as appropriate as when girls complain of boys’ boorishness, aggressiveness or lack of consideration.
A third element is that boys need to see that they have a responsibility to make the best use of whatever talents they have, that excellence is valuable, that excellences requires effort and that effort will be rewarded, in time. This is a heroic idea! Boys don’t see this, or value it. Our society doesn’t value it. Our role models are short-term sports heroes, instant business millionaires, inheritance-based rich families, media celebrities or You Tube stars. We don’t value the innovators, scientists, researchers, teachers, public servants, community social workers, volunteers that make our society so good. Why would a boy want to be unknown for 10-20 years while becoming an expert in something, when the society values the here and now?
A fourth element is to manage daily thoughts, behaviours and language. When we see a girl/woman, we think how pretty she looks. When we see a boy/man, we think how strong/confident/ knowledgeable he looks. We need to adjust our thoughts, behaviour and language to downplay the focus on ‘beauty’ for women and increase the focus on their accomplishments. Boys need to see girls more as valuable citizens of society and less as sex objects (they will still have that fantasy in their minds, but it’s not being supported).
A fifth element is to encourage men to show their feelings. Men are crying and hugging a lot more now, but still not nearly as much as women do. If we’re depressed, say so. If we’re uncertain, say so. Showing feelings helps others to understand you, to empathise, to help. Men are not the superheroes we are supposed to be. But we are not idiots either. Men’s massive array of inventions are responsible for many of the wonderful aspects of our daily living which we enjoy and take for granted. Men are very capable, but we are also shy, insecure, scared and embarrassed by what we don’t know.
The sixth element is to be honest and open. Boys aren’t very honest to each other, or to girls and women. We’re full of bravado. Let’s face it, we don’t even know the parts of a woman’s body and how it all works (Women know all about men’s bodies). We don’t want to admit we have no idea of how to do sex well (Women know very well how to do sex well, for men and for themselves.) We don’t want to admit we are depressed or uncertain, because its unmanly (Women are very quick to say they are depressed or uncertain, and look for cures or solutions). We don’t want to admit we don’t know something, so we bluster and talk loudly (Women admit they don’t know something and ask others or google it). Being honest and taking responsibility for that would be a big breakthrough.
Summarising the future model for men
So the future model for a boy to be a man might be something like this:
– Grow up using your physical energy and power to do things. Doing things which are valuable to the community is better than just doing things.
– Strive for excellence in what you do. Use your energy to become more excellent.
– Spend a lot of time with girls/women so you understand them. Girls are better at some things. Boys at others. It’s a trade. We need both.
– In your thought, behaviour and language, treat girls/women equally.
– Allow your feelings to come out, acknowledge them and deal with them openly. Help will be forthcoming. You don’t need to be isolated about whatever your fears or issues are.
– Be honest as much as you can (No one is completely honest and honesty is not always the best policy.)
– Be open, be transparent, be inclusive, let others in.
Be more feminine! It’s enjoyable.