Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Recovering the masculine heart

It's funny how things in life seem to line up. This last week, in a Public Administration class at Oregon State University, we were discussing postmodernism and feminism. And our weekly class discussion focused on, at least in part, the relatively recent feminization of men. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), I'm finishing up reading a wonderful book about masculinity, "Wild At Heart" by John Eldredge. And I'm excited to start reading another book on men and masculinity, "The Will to Change: men, masculinity and love" by Gloria Jean Watkins (better know by her pen name bell hooks). What follows are the original questions asked of the class and my blog discussion post/reply:

"What role do men and women play, respectively, in creating a culture  of gender equality? How does each group act to perpetuate or sustain  the status quo? Do men have a larger role to play, as the status quo  is itself masculine? Do men need to undergo a revolution of thought about themselves and  their own gender identity in order to create general gender equality? Men have a very narrow gender identity, one which creates limitations  for society as well as for women (see men who do not believe they are  capable care givers, and therefore women must stay home with the  kids). The male socialization process is responsible for patriarchy,  violence and harassment, and limited opportunities for women, but is  also responsible for the current state of young men in this country. 
Check out these TED talks. Incredibly interesting. Lots of good  stuff in here about men and women (mostly men). First one is really  good and relevant. The end is especially powerful: "My liberation as a  man is tied to your liberation as a woman."
Tony Porter's "A Call To Men" TED talk. Philip Zimbardo's "The Demise of Guys?" TED talk.

I appreciated Tony Porter's take on stepping out of the (masculine) "man box". Parts of it resonated with me (e.g., get in touch with your tenderness, put yourself in the shoes of others, show emotions, etc.). On the other hand, men and women are both biologically and physiologically different (testosterone and estrogen and their derivatives cause us animals to do wildly different things and respond in wildly different fashions; but that's a separate post in and of itself). Not one better than the other. Just different. And in these differences, diversity (something we embrace in our culture). Why not embrace these differences while instilling in our children and those around us that we are all still very much human, each and every one of us, all part of the same species? All part of the same struggles. And that in uniting our differences, we are stronger.

Recent Twitter discussion about the masculine heart

Conversely, the differences in dropout rates that Philip Zimbardo discusses cannot wholly be tied to simple differences in how we raise our children, living in a patriarchal society, or the perpetuation of the men/women stereotypes. Indeed, Philip argues these differences are hardwired in us - boys respond to stimulation (in this case, arousal) differently than girls. That's not good or bad or better or worse. Just different from each other.

I believe part of the problem lies not only in domination differences between the sexes but also in societal efforts to transform men and women into some amorphous statistical norm (neither man nor woman but somewhere in between). In essence, encouraging men to act less masculine (and women to act less feminine). I'm not alone in this thinking. There's a growing movement of men seeking to reclaim a masculinity they feel they've lost. Not a masculinity in the sense of domination over others. But a masculinity in the sense of finding what resonates with their hearts, and pursuing that. For some, it's a sense of adventure. For others, it's the desire to be heroic. For others still, it's the simple act of doing something out of the ordinary - daring. A perfect example: walk into any church, synagogue, office building, factory, etc. and look around. What do you notice about the men (and women, too, for that matter)? Mostly, (women and) men that are bored. Bored with their jobs, their families, their stimulations, their routines, the daily humdrum of life. Men (and women) that no longer dream or yearn for something else - or if they do, they do not act on it, do not explore beyond the comforts of routine daily life. Why? Because they've been taught to buckle down and do what you need to do to provide for your family (i.e., work the 8-6 dead-end job that doesn't make them happy but pays the bills). 

In this sense, I agree with Tony Porter in that we need to step out of the "man box". But not by ignoring our masculine qualities. Rather, in putting ourselves in others' shoes, trying to understand the differences between us, and acting out of that understanding. Not acting in the androgynous Saturday Night Live "Pat" sense, but acting from our true heart (whether that be masculine, feminine, or some mashup of the two as I think is most often the case) and out of love and compassion for others (and ourselves). For me, John Eldredge, in his transformative book "Wild At Heart: discovering the secret of a man's soul", captures the essence best when he says "Let people feel the weight of who you are..."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

River teeth, reaching out and the resilient heart

Much like a sculptor chips away at and reveals the true beauty of an object or a water-tumbled river tooth - a branch that's been churned in a river, stripping away all the outer layers until what's left is its true core, the heartwood, the strongest part of the tree - the peeling away of the layers built up around our heart hurts something fierce. But the tumbling of our heart, and the stripping away of the scars from all the injuries - while it hurts incredibly bad and exposes our vulnerabilities - also leaves us with a much stronger and resilient heart. Throughout this process, the process of letting them feel the true weight of who you really are, our friends will be reminded of what it means to be truly alive. In that reminder, true friends will reach out to you in support, compassion and steadfast love. And the healing will come.

Young river teeth.
You may think you're connected, plugged in, friends with many. But there is no substitute for actual, real, face-to-face communication and connecting with others (no, not Facetime or G+ hangout or Skype or...). It can be a simple, friendly touch, a brief hug, a raised eyebrow or smile, a kind word or a deeply-connecting conversation. The spectrum is beautiful. And the act truly powerful. So reach out to others. Like the ripple from a pebble tossed into an expansive, glassy pond, you may never know how much of an impact your reaching out - that simple, caring act - will truly have.