Ross Douthat’s New York Times op-ed on is a thoughtful contribution to discussions regarding the new progressive man. It offers the powerful insight that there is much to be gained in revising existing models of being male instead of total reinvention.
I agree with his final statement that “adapting the older archetypes to an era of greater equality between the sexes” is a “difficult task.” But we must try. What would we be if we didn’t try?
Within every generation, there are men who have begun to wrestle with this challenge in support of women who have insisted upon a more equal place in our society. They offer a model of what the New Male looks like, and provide the rest of us with a clue as to how to tackle the problem.
There are seven steps that men must undertake to reframe the way in which we roll. They offer a road map for how we can get started in our search for “non-toxic manhood.”
1. Do an honest self-assessment of our own interactions with women, both good and bad. This may run the gamut from reflecting on how we express our love and are emotionally accessible, to the way that we anatomize women as sexual objects, and the negative impacts of the male gaze. My own journey down this path has been extreme: posing nude for a female photographer to experience a reversal and disarming of the gaze is not for everyone. However, it is essential that we men better understand and appreciate how terrifying the male gaze can be for some women.
2. Learn how and when to power down, allowing yourself to become open, vulnerable, and accessible when the situation requires. There are many forms of ancient wisdom on this topic (Ahimsa from the Hindu tradition, Aikido in the Japanese, the Sermon on the Mount from Christianity). We need to reintegrate that wisdom into our daily lives.
3. Become a better listener and a better partner. Go into a conversation with an attempt to learn to understand the views of others, and try not to “win” a debate. Create a neutral mental “space” where true dialogue can occur.
4. Commit to taking action all along the full spectrum where change is needed. It’s not enough to call out egregious, criminal behavior and follow employee guidelines at work if you then head to the gym and trash talk women.
5. Advocate for new sexual education programs in schools so that students actually practice the rules of behavior for New Progressive Men. Teach your sons and daughters that derogatory speech is not an acceptable way to cope with discomfort in learning how to build healthy relationships.
6. Accept the fact that reconfiguring old behaviors is at best an imperfect, iterative process that will only succeed if there is some forgiveness and mutual respect.
7. Trust that many men are ready and willing to tackle this crisis. While the task of reframing behaviors will necessarily fall on the shoulders of men and women willing to open up and frame a new dialogue of what is and is not working, I also think men must also do some heavy lifting on their own, in the company of other men, to brainstorm new norms in male behavior.
Finally, we need new ways for men to have a conversation about reinterpreting old models for the 21st Century, either in person or online. Digital forums such as The Good Men Project are a good start.
Let’s commit to getting the job done. Failure at this essential task is not an option.
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