In a time when many wonder about the future of gender, Dan Griffin doesn’t believe that manhood is going anywhere.
This piece is part of a special series on the End of Gender. This series includes bloggers from Role/Reboot, Good Men Project, The Huffington Post, Salon, HyperVocal, Ms. Magazine, YourTango, Psycholog
Positing an idea and looking at it from all sides has value. As such, it certainly has been interesting reading the various opinions from the Good Men Project contributors that have been posting recently about the end of gender. But I’m not sure I buy it. The end of gender? The end of masculinity? Seriously? I’m sorry but don’t be ridiculous.
One of the primary instigators of it all: Hannah Rosin. Hyperbole and a bunch of nonsense hiding a few good ideas. As so many have already said: can you imagine how a man would be pilloried if he ever had the audacity to write an article (or book) entitled The End of Women?
But this is part of the double-standard that has developed as a side effect of a very imbalanced feminism. Don’t get me wrong—this imbalance is almost entirely the responsibility of men, simply because we have not been there along with women trying to define for ourselves what female liberation meant for us and our relationships with women and other men. I consider myself a feminist, but at a very simple level: I believe in the inherent equality (and differences) between men and women.
But some women have sculpted a lot of their ideas out of anger and an implicit and even explicit judgment that men are bad and have been responsible for all of the problems that women have faced, in addition to all of the dysfunctions of both genders.
I used to be a gender abolitionist. In 1998 I completed a master’s degree in gender studies where all we ever did was talk about the social construction of gender, race, and the other categories in which we tend to place our fellow human beings. The classes were amazing and so were the discussions. It was so powerful to be able to step outside of the boxes that so many men and women live in—not even realizing they are in them and that they have a choice whether to remain in them or not. The emotions of the women (I was often the only man) were palpable as they cycled through anger, sadness, acceptance, unity, excitement, and any other number of feelings.
Clearly there was space for outrage, given the limitations that so many women had grown up with. But there needs to be space for men to have our own feelings and ideas form, and it is rarely the case that this is so. I certainly engaged as best I could—never knowing when it was actually safe to talk about men or my experience as a man if it somehow did not constantly validate the experience of the women—as I cycled through my own feelings about it all.
It was easy in those classes to dismiss the folks who believed that biology is our destiny, because they often completely dismiss the idea that culture and society impact our ideas of gender; our past experience of gender was our future experience of it (also referred to as biological determinism, in case you care). And, it was far too easy to believe those that suggested that the differences between the sexes, reflected in the categories of gender, were for the most part all made up. These folks far too easily eschewed the obvious biological and physiological differences between men and women. But that is a big part of my point—it is easy to reject this aspect of human relationships when you are coming at it from a primarily theoretical and intellectual approach. When you begin to truly live in the real world and navigate relationships—marriage or committed partnerships, raising children—it becomes a lot harder to maintain those beliefs and that point of view. But not just difficult—undesirable. At least I have certainly found that to be the case.
First, let’s start with the very basic differences, as stated by a young sage in Kindergarten Cop: “Boys have penises and girls have vaginas.” As obvious as this is, it means that from the very beginning boys are different from girls. We also know this difference is influenced by and influences us genetically and hormonally. Menstruation, anyone? The production and release of semen? Menopause?
Even with the recent acknowledgment of a male menopause, it is far from the same that a woman experiences—we, men, for instance do not lose our ability to procreate. These fundamental differences in our makeup influence us throughout our lives. The truth is we have no idea how it works at this point. How much are the chemical and the hormonal—and possibly even genetic—actually influenced by our thinking and behavior? Meditation is showing us that brain development, information processing, and healing from diseases are all influenced by the simple act of conscious breathing. Do we honestly believe, though, that those fundamental biological differences do not have some indelible impact on our existential experience of life?
What about only one sex being able to have children? What about the imprint of thousands of years of how men and women have lived? What influence does that have on our lives and how we express ourselves as men and women? How we parent? How we approach relationships? I am not saying that there is not room for improvement or modifications with these differences in gender, but that should not lead us into throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. There is a fundamental difference that is real—and beautiful—and what truly makes us men and women.
While by no means am I an expert on Eastern philosophy, I have a rudimentary enough understanding of the principles of Yin and Yang to be able to relate them to this conversation. In the concept of Yin-Yang, one part is not better than another but they are inherently different—it is all about balance. However, each part is essential to the other. There can be no light without darkness; no female without male. Every scientific breakthrough for conceiving children still requires an inherently male and an inherently female component. In Eastern philosophy the Yin is associated with femininity, softness, passivity, etc; Yang is associated with masculinity, hardness, aggression, etc. They fluctuate and show up in different degrees at different times in different contexts. But they are real and should be acknowledged and respected.
So, the problem here is not gender. We have made being a man better than being a woman in some ways, and being a woman better than being a man in other ways. But one gender is not better than another—though we may as one group do things better than the other. As many men have pointed out on the Good Men Project—we have gone overboard in some areas regarding the disproportionate treatment of men in almost any area having to do with being a father.
Do I want there to be more equality between the sexes? Absolutely. Do I want males and females to feel complete freedom in expressing who they are, devoid of the restrictions often caused by gender socialization? Again, absolutely. If we lived in a world where “male” was not considered better than “female” would the “end of gender” even be a consideration? There will always be those who push against the boundaries—and that is a good thing. We all need to be a little more relaxed about gender and stop taking ourselves too seriously. I am proud to be a man—traditional in some ways and non-traditional in others. I love my wife and the parts of her and her character that are genuinely feminine—as our relationship strives for greater balance and understanding with each passing day. I will raise my daughter to be the woman she chooses to be, but I know that she will be distinctly feminine no matter what she does.
Why is it so hard for us to honor the similarities and celebrate the differences? The end of gender inequality? Yes. The end of the gender battles? Yes. The end of gender? No way. The end of men? Never.
—Photo Jason Pratt/Flickr