You could get into a long debate about the many adjectives we’ve used to describe manhood in order to decide which are really the greatest characteristics of masculinity.
The truth is far simpler.
To answer the question, “what is good about masculinity?”, we need to remind ourselves that:
- Masculinity doesn’t exist. At least not in the way we think it exists. There is no timeless definition of manhood. It varies from culture to culture, era to era. It’s simply how we define manhood and how we define the relations of power among men and between men and women.
- That means that masculinity (like femininity) is a collective hallucination. It’s as if we’ve all taken the same drug and walk around imagining that masculinity is real. We might assume it is biological, we might think it comes from being male or female, but in truth, each culture makes it up.
- Our contemporary ideas of manhood simultaneously do two things: First, they help individual men cement our roles at the top of social hierarchies. They help individual men take advantage of enormous privileges that men as a group enjoy. So, if you’re raised to be assertive, strong, and decisive, if you’re trained not to experience (let alone show) weakness or pain, you’re more able to lord over women or other men in the home, at work, in sports, in politics, in fights, and at war. The ways we raise boys to be real men is basic training for a world of (relative) power and privilege. And, when you don’t have power and privilege, you stoically accept your lot and don’t complain because obviously it’s you who are the problem, not the system.
- The second thing it does is this—and here’s the great paradox I’ve written about for the past three decades: the very ideals that confer and represent power and privilege, are a death trap for men. They are a source of enormous pain, isolation, and fear. The reasons are many: To demand that any human not feel or express pain is impossible. To push boys (and men) to ceaselessly prove we’re real men leads to a constant dialogue of self-doubt about making the masculine grade. It leads many men to hide their authentic feelings and to fear closeness to other men lest they discover your supposed weaknesses. No wonder men are more likely than women to kill ourselves, be addicted to alcohol and other drugs, and fail to get physical or emotional help when we need it. No wonder we die younger.
Which takes us back to the discussion on what’s good about masculinity.
The answer is very simple: Pretty much everything. After all, to be courageous or emotionally strong, to be dedicated to a task, to be physically strong, to see yourself as a sexual creature, to provide for others, are all, simply, human attributes and ones shared by women and men. All of these (and more) are part of our human birthright. All are important for our survival.
The Devil, Though, Is In the Details
Devil One are the qualities that got voted off the island. All those things a given culture associates with femininity get denied to men. Men mustn’t over-concern ourselves with nurturing activities. Men mustn’t show weakness or vulnerability. Men mustn’t show love for other men. Men mustn’t be too empathetic. By denying such things (and more) men rob ourselves of huge parts of our human birthright. We become half the men we really could be.
Devil Two is that men learn early on to obsessively pursue the attributes we associate with manhood and avoid the things associated with femininity. Too many men become driven. Too many live in fear (especially when we’re teens and young men) of not being a real man. Too many men learn to disassociate ourselves from many things we feel and to obsessively pursue an iron-plated masculinity. In other words, masculinity isn’t just a gender definition, it is a fear-based construction.
Devil Three is the assumption that women don’t share the positive qualities we associate with manhood. Furthermore, male-dominated cultures have denigrated and belittled the qualities we associate with femininity.
So, rather than talk about what’s good about masculinity, I’d rather encourage both boys and girls, men and women to do two things: To celebrate and nurture the human qualities that are good for us all. And, secondly, to allow for true individuality: yes, some of us will be more one thing or another. Let’s let our boys and girls be those things without wedging them into the miserable world of pink and blue.
ORDER NOW FOR YOUR CAMPUS! Amidst national outrage at campus sexual violence, sexual harassment and rape culture, now you can effectively reach campus men. This booklet talks about communication and consent. It will help men create good relationships and make sure that dating violence has no place in their lives. Serious yet entertaining, intelligent yet accessible, challenging yet fun. Click here for more information and to download a complementary preview copy of ManTalk.
MICHAEL’S FACEBOOK PAGE
The Possibility of Dreaming on a Night Without Stars
First published by Viking/Penguin, now out as an eBook for Kindle, Apple iBook, Kobo, Nook, and other tablets. Click here to read reviews, download a free excerpt, or order today
Guys Guide to Feminism…The Talk
Yes, you’ve heard the rumors: Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling are teaming up with Steven Spielberg to make the movie version of this year’s indie-hit book. Ah, rumors… Which brings us to the reason for
"Guy’s Guide to Feminism … The Talk" because this is exactly how you’ll get co-author Michael Kaufman to your campus or community for an incomparable night of humor, serious conversation, story-telling, and hard-hitting analysis. Get in touch: email@example.com
- No public Twitter messages.
- Safe Spaces for Learning: Engaging Boys & Men to End Gender-Based Violence
- My Anger, Disgust, Sadness, & Feeling of Betrayal: The Accusations Against Jian Ghomeshi
- Women-Haters Spread Lies about Men’s Violence
- The Awesome Pleasure of Congratulating Malala and Her Family
- Galaxy Guardians guard harmful ideals of manhood
- There’s no such thing as a ‘real man’
- White Ribbon: Taking Action Around the World to End Violence Against Women – Part 5, Africa
- White Ribbon: Taking Action Around the World to End Violence Against Women – Part 4, Asia, Middle East & Caucusas
- White Ribbon: Taking Action Around the World to End Violence Against Women – Part 3, Europe
- White Ribbon: Taking Action Around the World to End Violence Against Women – Part 2, the Americas
- White Ribbon: Taking Action Around the World to End Violence Against Women, Part 1: Australia, NZ, South Pacific
- International Men’s Day: When 365 Days Just Aren’t Enough!
- Appalling Words the World is Saying About Our Daughters
- Fathers and the International Day of the Girl Child
- Breakthrough Report from Asia-Pacific Shows Staggering Levels of Men’s Violence … and Hope for Change
- Happy Pride Day to One and All!
- In Australia on the Path to Greatness
- The Real Republican Strategy: Crazy Like Foxes?
- Do Men Hate Women? (Talking About Misogyny)
- Education after Steubenville: The 4 Rules of Sexual Consent
- International Women’s Day….A Letter of Love From Men
- Thousands Gathering at United Nations With One Message: End Violence Against Women & Girls!
- Feminism: Helping Men Be Free
- Valentine’s Day: Flowers Are Fine, But Here are 6 Keys to Good Relationships!
- Men: Which Side Will You Be On? Sexual Violence in India
- Eight Steps to Presidential Greatness
- Republican Party Rape Advisory Chart
- What is Healthy Masculinity?
- Rape & Women’s Voice
- Saudi Arabia: How About a Segregated City for Men?
- Olympic Dreams, Olympic Myths
- LOCKED-OUT SYNDROME STRIKES WOMEN & MEN!
- My Message in the British Parliament: Women Should No Longer Stand Alone
- International Women’s Day…A Letter of Love From Men
- Men for Women’s Choice
- The Five Reasons Why Men Should Control Women’s Reproduction
- APOLOGIES (To Anyone Who May Be Offended By This Blog)
- Killing in the Name of Honor
- Why Are (Some) Men Still Afraid of Feminism?
- The Astoundingly Simple Truth About Masculinity and Goodness
- Men and the Search for Love
- White Ribbon: 20 Years, 1000s of Campaigns to End Violence Against Women
- White Ribbon Campaign: 20 Years Working to End Violence Against Women
- Occupy Minds, Not Real Estate! (And Set Up a Much-Bigger Tent)
- The 0-0-0 Plan for Ending Sexual Harassment!
- In Norway, Gender Equality DOES Extend to the Bedroom
- Occupy the Future! (The 8 Keys to Being the 99%)
- The Guy’s Guide To Feminism
- Soften Up, Men!
- The Two September 11s
- A Man With The Greatest of Hearts: Jack Layton, 1950-2011
- London Burning, Governments Cutting, Wall Street Plunging
- Terror in Norway: An Extraordinary Letter from Oslo
- Summer Sports: Women Rock, Fathers Weep
- 9 Steps to a REAL Father’s Day
- SlutWalk: Anger, Celebration & the Conversation We Need to Have
- Letter from Scotland
- The Stupification of America . . . and Beyond
- An Open Letter from God to Sarah Palin
- The Top Ten List You Wouldn’t Want to Be On