The current dialogue in society would lead us to believe women are being consciously suppressed by the men around them. That is, of course, a subjective statement, and, to a large extent, your worldview will determine your position on both the title of this piece and the first sentence. In this article, I put forward an approach to this issue whereby, as humans, we collectively get our heads around the subtleties and nuances of a discussion that needs to be had but is commonly ill-served by oversimplification, generalisation, platitudes and implacable positions.
In the beginning…
Thousands of years ago, men and women were ascribed traditional roles in society that evolved from anthropological and historical realities. These roles have been handed down from father to son (patriarchy) and mother to daughter (matriarchy) for millennia. The advent of modern society has meant many of these ‘realities’ are no longer relevant, giving rise to an opportunity to redefine male and female roles in society.
One could argue that the only difference between men and women in the 21st century is that men cannot have babies! But on closer examination, we can identify a whole host of masculine and feminine attributes, many of which result from the patriarchy and matriarchy passing down not just genes but also cultural nuances siblings of the opposite sex are not always privy to. For example, genetics accounts for why I look like my father. But my sister looks like him too. What genetics doesn’t explain is why I act like him while she does not. Before you dismiss me as a misogynist, bear with me. I am not advocating for polarity. I fully acknowledge that a woman is not always more nurturing than the father of her child and that some men prefer to cook and shop than fix things around the house. I am raising a question: why can’t we simply treat each other as humans?
Let’s talk about humans!
The world today is not the result of men having been in charge, nor will our problems be solved by putting women in charge. In fact, it is ludicrous to appoint someone of either sex to a position of leadership and power simply because of their outward presentation or the way they identify as a man or a woman. If someone were to tell me, “the applicants were equal in every other way”, I would consider them lazy. No two people are ever exactly the same, not even identical twins. It is time we stopped looking at sex and gender altogether except perhaps where it serves the greater good of society or individuals to acknowledge the differences. Let’s talk about humans!
At this point, some of you may be thinking, “Well, that’s easy for you to say because you’re an old cisgender, hetero-romantic, heterosexual white man who has enjoyed privilege every day of his life”. The reality is, yes, I am! But to merely focus on the messenger would do a disservice to the message. And with all my privilege, if I am not prepared to have this conversation, then who will? Shall I leave it to the marginalised to champion equality? That hasn’t produced great results to date. Invalidating my decision to venture into an opinion presupposes that I don’t want change and that I support the status quo, which I do not. I want change, the kind of change that will propel society forward rather than repeating the mistakes of the past. Marginalising half the world’s human population wasn’t smart, and adding in racism and sectarian religion hasn’t exactly been a winning formula either. We are all humans. Let’s take a leaf out of the Dalai Lama’s book. When asked why he greeted the chambermaid the same way he did the President of the USA, the Dalai Lama is said to have replied, “I try to treat whoever I meet as an old friend”.
It doesn’t Serve to Be Dominant
The price of male dominance for men is manhood itself is under attack! The phrase “Toxic Masculinity” is bandied about in the press and conversation as if it has no real meaning other than “it’s a male thing ergo it’s a bad thing”. No man that I know would agree for a moment, truly toxic traits within men should be tolerated. I read into the history of “Toxic Masculinity” and discovered the phrase was created to describe aspects of its authors (Shepard Bliss) father’s ways of being that were not constructive and the result of a misguided understanding of what it meant to be a man.
Here’s the problem: when a phrase like toxic masculinity is misused, it becomes abusive towards men – particularly young men – most notably when it is used to describe them simply because they are male and want to do traditionally male things like climb trees, build things, go fishing or hunting, play or follow competitive or combative sport or be attracted to and interested in women. When dysfunctional men feel their masculinity is under attack and they believe they’re perceived as inferior, they will react, and society will bear the consequences. Then society will point to this as proof of the original claim of ‘toxic masculinity’. It becomes a vicious cycle. Wouldn’t it be more productive to talk positively about what’s good about men, their positive attributes and how they could improve on them?
We’re All In this Together
The concept that men, as a cohesive group of humans, want to control power is ludicrous. Sure, some men want power and pursue it ardently, but then so do some women. To think every man is a misogynistic, narcissistic megalomaniac is simply nonsense. The majority of men find the weight of expectations on their shoulders placed there by societal norms, often delivered and supported by their partners and family, a burden they, as men, are obliged to carry. They then resort to acts of invulnerability to live with this burden. This behaviour is exhausting and, unless interrupted, leads inevitably to burnout. We see repeated examples in the media of men who have reached breaking point snapping, with deadly results for them and, all too often, their loved ones.
Being invulnerable is impossible; if you are human, you are vulnerable. However, countless men go through life thinking this is what is expected of them. The net result is that being a man is not a good deal! Around 45 men are killing themselves every week here in Australia. Furthermore, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, men have a predicted lifespan of four years less than women.
Invulnerability, or the act of trying to be invulnerable, requires a man to be constantly and completely in control of everything in his life to the extent he becomes irresponsible around being responsible. When a man is controlling to this extent, he is stealing responsibility from loved ones and disempowering them in the process. In its most extreme form, these men are guilty of coercive behaviour towards their partners, sometimes leading to Intimate Partner Violence. Sadly, men often fall into a pattern of invulnerability in response to trauma. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and healthy, well-adjusted men are not this way. Through understanding their trauma and embracing vulnerability, a man can empower those he loves while also freeing himself from the huge burden of being responsible for everyone and everything.
Healthy masculinity is no threat to feminine empowerment, and real men are not afraid of women having power. They are afraid of a wave of ‘toxic femininity’ denying men – young men, in particular – opportunities and condemning them as lesser beings because of a perception that “men are the enemy”, “men have had it too good for too long” and “it’s a boys club”. They are afraid that the solution is to send the pendulum ludicrously careening in the other direction, for example, by the appointment of women simply because they present as women, and so we can call that diversity even if they are not the best candidates for a role. In much the same way, it makes no sense for women to reject men simply because they are men. When women do this, they are merely imitating the behaviour of the men they so revile. Whether it’s men rejecting women or women rejecting men, the consequence is the same – a stain on humanity. Isn’t it time we started focusing on humans?