sitting in a sports car in reverse
We males are more a product of our environment than antique social stereotypes would have us believe. In Britain we are experiencing a fragmenting of our role in society, but also a growing sense of freedom. As women have been liberated from their long-standing role, the same is happening for men. We aren't as used to coping with change as women. However, a 21st Century Western male no longer has the luxury of a guaranteed life-long job and partner, nor a socially accepted role model upon which to base his behaviour...
This lifestyle change doesn't come without a struggle. The birth of the male lifestyle magazine coincided suspiciously with the first recorded incidence of eating disorders in males. Men are realising that women can be judgmental about how they want their men, and the beer-paunch has vanished in a flurry of six-packs and sensitivity. Research suggests that anorexia is an attempt to control some element of one's life which feels out of control. This is something that slotting into a pre-formulated `man' model would have done for us in the past.
Now, as we burst through puberty, snapping the familial apron strings in our wake, men are required to understand what they are. Previously men had to identify what they weren't (i.e. how they differed from the social model)--a far more restricted way of being. Change has been in the air since the radical break from traditional roles in the 1960's. The 80's heralded the gentle `New Man', able to express his `feminine side', consider (though not really assume job of) house-husbandry, and be proud to work as a nurse. Thankfully this alternative to macho-male seems to have bitten the dust. So what is our legacy?
When we examine what lies beyond the shoulder-slapping and awkward hugs, we see a more complicated creature than we think. We are complicated, proud and frequently arrogant, often insensitive, but no longer so self-assured about the future. How can we be? Women can reproduce without us now, and the glass-ceilings in the workplace are melting. Moreover, they understand each other better than we do. The `subjugated female' has all that is needed for 21st Century survival, and suddenly men have to earn their place in society, not just assume it.
Does this leave us terrified or challenged? Perhaps a bit of both. And what do we do about it? Aged 21, I finally gained some control of myself. Looking somewhat shamefully at my adolescent life, I came up with my first self-appraisal: shallow, rootless, rudderless and failing. I was perfectly capable of having fun, but this wasn't enough of a platform on which to build self-esteem. Having met the `fit-in versus stand-out' battle and fought for both camps, I still had little idea of who I was.
Two-thirds of the way through an Arts degree, I found a large part of myself missing. I undertook a `pilgrimage' to find wisdom. It's a long slow road, but it leads to decisions that carry between jobs--even countries--which are firm enough to build on. Faith was one of the outcomes, which can feel like sitting in a sports car in reverse, since revelations usually come in the form of realising how little you understand. But you have to stay firm in the surety that you know a little more than yesterday. It has helped me know myself better.
That men now have to `invent' themselves means we are unlikely to believe we fit the traditional stereotype. I don't know anyone who fashions themselves on Arnie, and even James started showing his weaker side in the latest 007. I take much pleasure in undermining people's preconceptions of how men should act. Challenging the accepted norms can help us understand who we really are.
Does all this introspective deliberation help? Though biologically less important than before Dolly the sheep, men will fashion a renaissance. I'm not convinced we know quite what we've got but brawn, however if all we are good for is labouring, we'll go sensitively, if not quietly.
Nick Foster, UK
I am a First Nations man from Tsuut'ina, near Calgary. The problem with today's man is the loss of integrity--we have forgotten our word. For my ancestors, their word was how they survived. If they agreed to meet at a given place in three mornings' time, for example, and someone didn't show up, they would know something bad had happened.
We wonder what we can do to safeguard our children's future. Since first contact (with white settlers) we have started to lose our humanness. As men, we need to say enough, to stand in our own power and not ride on others. I am a father who truly loves his three children and isn't afraid to show it. Or to clean the house. I make sure my wife has everything she needs, including someone to talk to.
I am a warrior. My name is Iron Soldier--a man's name, meaning one you can count on to do the hard things. I hunt in camo, but also wear a suit--it all depends what I'm going after. Contracts or game, same thing I figure.
Above all, there has to be balance--spiritual, physical, emotional, mental. It is important not to pollute your mind-body-spirit with toxic things: booze, dope, bad food or even poor spiritual advice.
As men, the ego can predominate. We sometimes act like rutting bucks. I have seen men caught in a lifestyle that is not productive. To humble myself--to see the vastness of life and the love that makes it work--I have gone through the Sundance ceremony. Sundance is a community event, a healing, and is for all people. We believe that the only thing anyone truly owns is one's body, and even that is on loan.
For the first time since 1885 (due to colonial ignorance towards our form of prayer) we are finally bringing a Sundance to our Nation Lands. The Dance is four days of fasting with prayer, in the July sun. As men we need balance, so we dance grounding ourselves to the Earth. Women dance too, but they don't lift their legs because they are already grounded. This, I find, is very humbling.
Daniel Crane, Tsuut'ina (Calgary, Canada)
this strange murky world
Manhood by Steve Biddulph is a book that helped me see that I am not actually doing so badly when it comes to being a man. I have a job I love, have devoted myself to a lifelong partnership, and have a positive relationship with my father--things that many men find extremely difficult. However, it also articulated some of the things that society and family have unwittingly imposed on me, and that I am struggling with now.
The core message we are given about being men is to be unemotional. This is a talent I have in some abundance. It has meant that I have been able to achieve things in the outside world of work--which is, of course, how we as men today are defined. I have managed not to be brought down by criticism or to develop too much of an ego when things have gone my way. This means I have continued a steady and productive pace of work.
However, I have no idea how my emotions work and it is this strange, murky world that I am opening up at the moment. How is it that I can feel several things about an experience all at once--aren't I supposed to feel one clear thing? Emotions pop up when I am not expecting them; stuff I thought I had dealt with long ago--anger, confusion and even uncertainty.
Some months ago I made a decision to explore this world and joined a men's group. It is a slightly awkward place where we try to talk about our emotions, and a range of other topics we feel are relevant. Most of the men there are older than I am. They are showing me that older men feel many things--good, bad and ugly. As a youngster no one told me this, so I had no idea how relationships worked or how to deal with difficult situations--I had to make it up as I went along! That is why men so often get it wrong and why women feel frustrated by our lack of sophistication in relationships. Imagine if our fathers had explained to us how their marriages worked--how they had to challenge their assumptions or anger, and work out how to love in difficult times. Listening to others in the group talking through the issues they are facing helps me know I am not alone in my fears and gives me some idea of how to tackle these problems.
Feminism is supporting women in making it in the world. We, as men, are on an inward journey to our hearts. However, we are not just here to become touchy-feely creatures. It goes beyond that. There is something in male power (and I am still working out what it is) about focus, cutting through indecision, and a compassionate assertiveness and discipline that is part of the essence of what we have to offer. But we must make the journey through the heart in order to get there.
Sandy Hore-Ruthven, UK
is this parenting
For me, to be a man is to be fully human. It is to get to a point of accepting myself physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. Before I accept myself, how can I accept others? To be fully a man is to say, `this is who I am'. No denial. No mask. No bullshit. This is me in all my nakedness; my ups and downs, my loves and hates. It is terrifying to live this way, and I'm not very good at it, but it is honest and alive.
Men are sexual beings. Confusion arises when we have to pretend that we are not. As a result we have to learn about our sexuality behind the barn or by peeking in books, rather than having confident men, comfortable enough in themselves to teach their sons honestly. How can sons trust fathers who cannot tell them the facts of life? How can we trust each other when we cannot acknowledge each other as full human beings? And men, how can women trust us if we can't trust each other with this wonderful (and I mean `full of wonder') part of ourselves? I am not a man who can put my sexual self somewhere and pretend it doesn't exist. By acknowledging and truly loving that aspect of myself I am a more balanced, happy individual. If I deny some aspect of myself, it will come out in ugly, unwanted ways. This is why we have `sex crimes' and why men are drawn to pornography.
When my son was nine, he surprised me one afternoon with a question. I can't remember exactly what it was, but he and I were alone and I realised this was an opportunity I had never had with my own father. I decided to risk it and have `the talk'. We spent the rest of the afternoon talking about sex. I was amazed at how nervous I was at first, and then how wonderfully easy it became. I was quite frank, but also selective in what I thought he was able to handle. I also tried to gauge when he'd had enough. Children are wonderfully satisfied once they feel they have received an honest response to their curiosity.
When I took him home to his mother's house (I had recently divorced), I escorted him to the front door. He rushed inside as he usually did, then stopped, dropped his things, turned round and ran back out the door. He gave me a huge hug and said, `This has been the most important day of my life.' I nearly fainted. I thought, `Could it be that I did something right? Is this parenting?' My son (now 23) and I continue to be very honest with each other. But had I denied his question years ago--something so basic, so much a part of our humanness--how could he have trusted me with anything else?
Jack Lynch, USA