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Too often, men are not allowed to be themselves.

Men are not allowed to be expressive, have empathy, nor to nurture. Men cannot be colorful or beautiful, compassionate and comforting, creative and vulnerable — those qualities belong to women. What men are left with is aggression, lust, dominance, hardness, and anger. Our society only allows men to display masculine characteristics in order to be considered ‘real men.’ But in a fast-changing world, men and boys need a new way ahead — because the road they’re on is leading to ruin.

Deep down, a lot of men know this when they see news of the latest school shooting or see their friends get divorced after losing their job (which to them erased their identity). Our decaying economic order, the disruptions of globalization and automation, and the lack of opportunities have left many men feeling lost.

It is time to quit talking about men as being the sole proprietors of the masculine and women as the sole owners of the feminine. They belong to all of us and we all are a mix of the two, just as Carl Jung believed that everyone contained aspects of the opposite sex. The animus — the masculine aspect in women — is responsible for reason, action, and result. The anima — the feminine aspect in men — is responsible for empathy, creativity, and nurturing. We lose too much in these discussions when we conflate “feminine” with female and “masculine” with male.

In her excellent new book Down, Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, Dr.Kate Manne describes misogyny as the law enforcement branch of the patriarchy, keeping women in line. But what keeps the men in line in that same system?

To answer that question, we must look beyond simple misogyny; it’s broader than that. We’re talking about the hatred and devaluation of the feminine in women, but also in men and even in nature. There is no precise term for such a state right now, but by combining Greek (miso = hatred) and Latin (femininus = feminine) roots, we arrive at a word people can understand — “misofeminy”: the hatred or intense dislike of the feminine in men, women and in nature.

Men are taught as boys to reject the feminine in themselves; to bury it, to burn it away. Being anything other than pure masculine is a step down in society’s hierarchy. So is it any wonder that those same men have less respect and sometimes even contempt for women — who are seen as the living embodiment of the feminine?

In our society, women bear the brunt of misofeminy in the form of misogyny but misofeminy also impacts gay and transgender people, and any man who does not adhere to an acceptable level of “masculinity.” If they fail to correct this “flaw,” they are demoted down to the level with women, gay, and transgender people. This impacts all men who live in fear of accepting and expressing any feminine aspects, lest they be “sent down.” But if men can quit rejecting and mistrusting the feminine aspects of themselves, we can end misofeminy and with it, misogyny.

Every human being is a combination of the feminine and the masculine, but in this hyper-masculine culture we live in, so much of the anger seems directed at women? Why?

Perhaps it’s the after-effect of the economic crash that put millions of men out of work, leaving them struggling to deal with new roles they did not choose but were thrust upon them. Perhaps in a paradigm where a man is defined as a wallet; a provider of financial support and little else, being constantly in fear of losing your job means the constant fear of being left with no value in this world. This may be why male suicide and homeless rates are so high.

Perhaps it’s a side-effect of being at war nonstop for the last 17 years, with ninety-nine percent of men never fighting in those wars (and feeling like wimps for it), while some women did. Since 9–11 and the beginning of the Global War on Terror (GWOT), everything in American culture became more macho. American movies are mostly violent tales of vengeance; someone was done wrong and a violent form of justice must be meted out.

When one reads internet comments from angry male trolls these days, when not making death and rape threats against women, they are attacking men who see women as equals and the vocabulary they use is very telling. A man who shows empathy or believes in equal rights is a “soy boy,” a “cuck” or he has been “feminized.” What has left these men so impotent in their everyday lives that they become monsters when hidden behind the anonymity of an online persona?

“Real Men” is a slur used by men and women alike. It is used by men to define and enforce the boundaries of the man box (more on this below) and by women who support the current social hierarchy by rejecting men who are not playing their expected role in it.

Women’s liberation allowed women to liberate their masculine side — and by integrating it within themselves, they could go out into the world and flourish. It allowed women to lay claim to who they are and what they will be — and its defined in choices, freedoms and rights. They’ve fought hard for years to make progress on all fronts, though much remains to be done.

Men on the other hand have made no concerted effort to redefine themselves and their place in the world. For women, liberation was seen as a step-up in the societal hierarchy. Men see any change from the current paradigm as a step-down (instead of a step up for everyone else). So instead of finding freedom, there has been a retrenchment into “traditional” male roles and norms in response to women’s changing roles and growing power. And strangely many women who prefer the old ways are cheering them on (Mad Men anyone?).

Empathy and compassion, two things we sorely lack in today’s society, are both seen as feminine traits. So is it any wonder why our society has become coarser and less compassionate, considering the only emotion and personal expression men (the ‘dominant sex’) are left with is anger?

In many spiritual paths, anger is seen as meaning you want something to change — and the ways angry men have been using to seek change have been increasingly unhealthy and in some cases, deadly. But why are so many men angry in the first place?

Perhaps it is because they can’t see any other future except the empty promise they bought that one day they would be John Wayne, James Bond, Bruce Lee, or Hugh Heffner — or all of them rolled into one. They would have money, power, and respect and women falling at their feet — and all with not much more than a GED. In return, they would have to bury their feelings, accept and dish out cruelties to prove their manhood, and never be allowed to give voice to their own deeply felt emotions and experiences. The only permissible emotion for men is anger, and our culture has glorified the expression of anger though violence.

So for men raised on this set of promises and who gave up their own emotional growth as part of the deal, what is left is a feeling of being duped and cheated. And lacking the emotional development they have been denied by their families and society, they lack the tools to address it in healthy ways. So instead they turn to what they know; hitting the bottle, escaping into video games, anger, and in too many cases — violence. And that anger and violence is often aimed at women or at the place where they just lost their job (where 30% of mass shootings take place).

Instead of blaming the societal hierarchy (i.e., the patriarchy) for the situation they are in, too many of these men opt to blame women. Being emotionally stunted (through no fault of their own), these men lack the empathy to see that it’s not just men whom this system has given a raw deal — but everyone.

Stuck in the “Man Box”

I get it — the word “patriarchy” is loaded; it packs an emotional punch (almost universally negative) for nearly everyone who reads it. In fact, a lot of men stop reading any article the moment they see the word patriarchy crop up — since they have been conditioned to feel that they’re about to encounter a personal attack on themselves as men, fathers and brothers; but not on a system in which we live. The patriarchy is not just something that hurts women and girls, it’s literally killing men too. They may recognize it in their lives as (what Tony Porter has dubbed it) the Man Box.

Rules of the Man Box:

  • You must always be solid as a rock — no rest for you! Do your duty and, if you buckle and break in the process, you’re weak; you’re not much of a man. (And maybe that is what she said when she left you.)
  • Don’t feel and don’t you dare cry! You are only a wallet. Make money and don’t talk about your feelings. Bottle those up, then drink them or smoke them away. Ulcers are part of being a man.
  • Don’t discuss your feelings and emotions with other men. If you try that once or twice, your friends will ditch you. Being a man means being an emotional orphan so stick to talking about sports, cars, and money.
  • Women are beneath you and if they are better than you at something, you are a failure. In running road races there is even a word for it; getting “chicked.”
  • You must always be the Alpha and always be in control— anything less…even for a moment, and you’re not a man.
  • Your man card is in constant danger! It can and will be revoked unless you maintain constant vigilance.

Isn’t this an exhausting way to live? Is it any wonder why men die young? Who made these rules anyway? Yes, being a man in our societal hierarchy is exhausting — which is a big reason why men so often bristle when called out for their “privilege” within it: because to them it sure doesn’t feel like privilege. That privilege comes at a high cost — a short, unhappy, and lonely life.

So why do men hang on so tightly to this role in our system? Is the privilege of holding onto the man card so valuable? Is it worth it?

A lot of men freely admit that it’s killing them, but they fear social exclusion and a loss of standing if they quit the man box. They would love to be able to relax and not always try to dominate, but they fear they’ll lose their jobs, their spouse and their friends. Too much of men’s lives are filled with moments of being forced into hyper-competitive “king of the hill” situations (with each other) and it’s exhausting. And being constantly told by society that your only worth as a human is in how much money you make does not lead to a fulfilling life.

The only way to win is not to play.

The Fragility of Western Manhood

Manhood in western culture is fragile. It’s like a glass of pure clear water and, in the patriarchy, it only remains valid if not a drop of the feminine is to be found in it. Adding anything else to the glass of masculinity makes it no longer masculine. It’s like dropping a bit of orange dye into that pure glass of water — it turns orange and in the eyes of most men; it’s no longer manhood, it’s tainted and corrupted. But as we’ll see, in order to be healthier, happier and more resilient — men need that orange dye (and more).

Womanhood too used to be like that glass of pure clear water, but after more than 100 years of progress on women’s liberation and women’s integration of their own masculine aspects, it’s now more like a glass of strong fruit punch. You can add other ingredients to it, but it’s still fruit punch! Because of this, modern woman is not fragile — she is resilient. She integrates, grows, learns and only gets stronger. And, because of this, science tells us that it is women, not men, who are the stronger sex — they live longer, healthier and happier lives.

For the modern man to become just as resilient (and happy), he must become more flexible and less frightened of the feminine. In short, he needs to embrace and integrate those same feminine aspects that he spent a lifetime rejecting.

Becoming Whole: Integrating the Masculine and the Feminine

In Michelle Miller’s superb TED talk on femininity and how to integrate it into our lives, she describes focusing on the experience of things and less on their results (which is a more masculine approach). She recalled how women entering the workforce and women’s liberation freed women to embrace the masculine and become more results oriented but that something got lost along the way; the focus on the experiences of being alive.

Women’s liberation emancipated women to be more masculine, more assertive, more independent, freer in what they could do, what they could wear and how they could live. In short, women began to integrate the masculine and feminine en masse — and they became stronger as a result.

Men responded to women’s liberation by retreating even deeper into the masculine (at least in terms of its trappings) at the same time that traditional male jobs have been dying off.

In fact, everything about men’s response to women’s liberation has been a retreat. From making room for women in the workplace (often grudgingly) to retreating into “man caves” at home, into more sports fandom and the stony redoubt of the hypermasculine.

There are few rites of passage left for men and not many traditionally masculine jobs left either, except in a very few places such as the military, construction, police, firefighting, shipyards and mining (and women work in all these areas too). So today, most men cling to masculinity through the trappings of manhood — via sports (think of a man cave full of sports memorabilia).

They cling to it through a rise in cosmetic masculinity; big muscles, tattoos, loud music, loud cars; the “truck nut” aesthetic: “Look at me — I’m a he-man!”

Beards are another adopted symbol. Lumbersexuals; the affectation of being a lumberjack, without the long hours, aching muscles, and danger. Some men are even resorting to plastic surgery for a set of six-pack abs to be etched on them.

Men have not yet, in great numbers, moved into the space that has been open to them all along — quitting the man box and integrating the feminine with their masculine. Most men, after a lifetime of conditioning, are frightened of it. They think it will kill their manhood — they will no longer be a man. And there are plenty of privileged women who want to keep men in this man box too, because they are comfortable with their own high perch in the current paradigm.

To move forward, however, men need to be open to the feminine, embrace it, integrate it and honor it. When they do, everyone’s lives will improve. Men will stop killing themselves and others and sexual assault will become rarer. We’ll become a more civilized society full of happier people. And men who honor their own feminine aspects will in turn have much greater respect for women and nature.

None of this, by the way, implies abandoning the masculine. Arguing that men integrating the feminine means abandoning their masculinity is like saying you are abandoning the potatoes when you take a bite of carrots from the same plate. It’s a ridiculous argument.

An unspoken part of men’s fear of integrating the feminine is that women will not be attracted to them anymore. This is also something women feared and faced when they started wearing pants, taking jobs, and being more independent — and men are still attracted to them. Men need to stop being so scared since their liberation lies on the other side of the illusion that they cannot escape the man box. It has no walls and men can step out of it once they overcome their fear. And besides, any woman who is not attracted to a fully integrated man is not someone the integrated man will want to be with anyway.

This new vision of manhood requires more courage than the old one which relied on moral cowardice to perpetuate a system that serves no one. Some men, especially the younger ones, are not retreating. They are open to the feminine and are integrating it into their lives and persona. They have sincere empathy for others which guides their interactions with the rest of the world. They live not just for results but for experiences as well.

They don’t need to act like the big man all the time and they listen a lot more. They cultivate and develop meaningful friendships with men and women alike. In fact, some of their best friends are the girls they grew up with. Through these friendships, they’ve learned to see women as equals and seek an equal partnership in their relationships. They are not emotional orphans. They realize that by doing all these things they give up none of their masculinity.

They have nothing to prove. There is no longer a “man card” anyone can take away from them because their integrated sense of self is internally generated and does not require external validation.

These men are strong, secure, and resilient. They have no fear. These are the men who will live longer and happier lives than their fathers and grandfathers.

These men are the future. Be yourself, all of yourself — and you can be too.

 

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