Graham Phoenix tries to figure out what makes him a man.
I am male, and I am a man. The first is biological and undeniable; the second is in my character. To understand myself as a man, I need to look at my behaviour.
In my early 50s, I was the Design Principal of a practice based in London. There were eight of us—four men and four women. The firm was owned and run by men, including me, but the main design leaders were women.
After we finished our part in the re-design of theatre in the West End of London, I was invited to a gala re-opening night with the Prince of Wales. There was a performance of Mamma Mia and a champagne party afterward.
I chose not to attend with my wife; my marriage was in a bad way. Instead, I invited the lead designer, a single female, much younger than I was.
We hated the show and stayed in the bar, during the second half, drinking the free champagne. We drank far too much and networked with everyone who was there. At the end of the evening, I put her in a taxi, and I went off to get my train home.
We loved our time together being strong as a man and a woman. We enjoyed ourselves, but took it no further.
That night, as a “man,” I fulfilled a number of different roles:
- Husband: No matter what our relationship had become or what I felt about my wife, I was married, and my wife depended on me. I had developed all the earning power and that gave me a responsibility toward her.
- Father: I had two sons, who, although grown up, looked to me as a role model. As a father, I always influence my sons, positively or negatively. I take this relationship seriously.
- Employer: Here, I was in a position to subtly influence the situation in my favour. I had no intention of using this dominance to achieve anything other than success for the firm.
- Colleague: This involves knowing your colleagues as people and knowing their needs. In this case, my date had left her previous employer due to sexual harassment.
- Male: As a male, I was fully aware of how attractive she was and fully aware of the potential for a very enjoyable evening. I pursued that, but not by indulging any lust I felt. We showed that we could have a great evening without either one of us dominating the other.
- Mature Person: As an older person, I have plenty of experience in relationships. I have learnt that they only work if dominance and exploitation are not a part. (Well, unless it’s by mutual agreement, which is a different situation altogether.)
- Fun Person: It has always been important that I enjoy myself and that others enjoy themselves with me. I know I can have a great time with women if I honour and respect them. This strengthens me as a man and them as women because we can fully open ourselves up with trust.
- Businessman: I had created a respected and strong business because I employed respected and strong men and women who did not see exploitation having any part of it.
It is in the level of personal success in these varied roles that I judge myself to be a man.
Being a man is not about being better than anyone else, whether it’s another man or a woman, it’s about being a fully developed example of the potential you have inside and the potential you have gathered in your life.
To me, masculinity is about my ability to be fully present with my abilities, talents and skills, my ability to focus and direct them, and my ability to do this with love and compassion for others.
Beyond this insular view, I believe that to be a man I need to look at the social context and apply the principals I hold for myself. I do this by living my life openly and by speaking up about what I believe in.
I write about men’s ability to live and fulfil their own masculinity, and I work to help men achieve it. This often puts me into conflict with others.
There are those who don’t believe that masculinity and femininity exist. They believe they are just social constructs created to support dominance by those in charge: generally, privileged white males like me. These constructs maintain others, especially women, in subservience. To these people, we are all the same, other than the matter of our biological sex.
In my experience, I have found that the differences between masculine and feminine are very real, even when they don’t align with male and female.
These differences have been, and continue to be, exploited for the benefit of the dominant race/class/gender. And that just means we have to work harder to separate the differences from any concept of power or superiority.
There are feminists who work to open up society for women and rid it of male dominance. They argue that the qualities I mentioned can be equally true for women.
My being a man in no way denies the ability of a female to be a woman using the same qualities I pursue. She can use her ability to be fully present with her abilities, talents, and skills, her ability to focus and direct them, and her ability to do this with love and compassion for others to create her femininity.
By all means, criticize privilege and dominance, criticize the way men use it to their own advantage but remember we need each other. Women need the support of men to break down the barriers of privilege and men need the support of women to change their concept of masculinity.
I am male, and I am a man, and that does not deny the strength and power that women seek. I believe that we have many differences inherent in our own personal masculinity or femininity. I believe that by celebrating these we can create equality by working for it together.