How we can evolve our perception and understanding of masculinity in today’s world.
I was so happy to recently have the opportunity to share some initial thoughts about The Five Stages of Masculinity with GMP readers. As I read through those questions and answers I felt there was much more I wanted to say. After some deliberation I have prioritized the first point that I would like to elaborate on. I have chosen this point because I believe it has the greatest potential to catalyze change, but it also has the greatest potential to generate controversy (a double-edged sword, for sure): That point is the role of feminism in The Five Stages of Masculinity.
To recap, Stage 2 masculinity is largely defined by people who believe masculinity should look a certain way, such as those who think in archetypes along the lines of King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover. Stage 3 masculinity is largely defined by feminism and reveals the way that masculinity asserts itself through power and domination over women and atypical men.
In this article I want to look at some of the two-way traffic between Stages 2 and 3 and provide some initial thoughts about how we can evolve beyond them. In short, that means evolving beyond feminism. A quick but important caveat: There is no singular thing called “feminism,” rather a range of feminisms that share some commonality, but which can nevertheless look quite different. So I am playing fast and loose with the term, but while you may be able to think of forms of feminism that counter my argument, I nevertheless believe you will get my drift.
Moving Between Stages 2 and 3
Stage 3 masculinity is having its moment. Many Gen X and Gen Y men have grown up taking the message of feminism seriously, and this is particularly evident in the media where Stage 3 masculinity is becoming the default. Many men have discovered that Stage 2 masculinity is a con, and that there is a brighter future available to them to be whoever it is they want to be. But there are problems at Stage 3.
Imagine a mindful young man: let’s call him Matt. Matt is 26, lives in social housing and is trapped in the low-paying gig economy. Matt’s father is unemployed and his uncle is on disability benefits. Matt and his family are going nowhere fast and feel thoroughly rejected by society. Scanning through his Twitter feed, Matt sees a retweet from Emma Watson talking about feminism, equality and how men should support women. As you can imagine, the call from a multi-millionaire young female celebrity asking for support rings false to Matt.
So who is right in this story? They are both right. Emma Watson is spot-on when she talks about how women are oppressed and that men have a responsibility to do something about this. But Matt’s reaction is also correct. His personal experience does not reveal him to have any power in society. Indeed, he feels oppressed. This is the difference between individual and systemic narrative.
However, Matt doesn’t really understand the difference between the individual and the systemic, and starts feeling resentful towards feminism. And if he speaks about this, feminism starts thinking Matt is anti-feminist. So he doesn’t speak. Indeed, any serious pro-feminist man is very cautious about voicing any concerns about feminism because he does not want to be yet another man who is speaking over women. He does not want to run the risk of being labeled anti-feminist. He does not want to be a mansplainer (it is an unfortunate paradox that the only men who take mansplaining seriously are already pro-feminist, with the effect that the only men who are silenced by this allegation are male feminist allies).
In short, Matt becomes increasingly uncomfortable with feminism because he feels it does not tell the whole story and that no one is really interested in hearing about his experiences as a man. There is then a danger that Matt feels like he has only two choices. First, stay silent and uncomfortable. Second, retreat into Stage 2 where at least there are people who want to listen to him, and something resembling a community where he is welcome as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. But of course, retreating into Stage 2 is regressive: it is bad news for Matt as he returns to a place where masculinity is regulated, and it is bad news for feminism because they have lost a friend who would otherwise have helped resist patriarchy. What other choice did Matt have?
The Promise of Stage 4
The Five Stages of Masculinity offers another choice: Stage 4. But first, let’s get one thing straight. Feminism is extremely important and has by no means achieved gender equality. Patriarchy is real and we all need to do our part in its destruction. However, feminism is not the endpoint of ethics, and it is possible to look beyond feminism (or to complement it) without being anti-feminist and dismissing it.
Stage 4 offers the ability to take all of the lessons learned from Stage 3 and feminism and provides a space where we can safely ask different questions, and reach different conclusions. Stage 3 requires some fairly rigid understanding of men and women, masculine and feminine, individual and systemic, and its understanding of power can lack nuance. All these issues, and more, are on the table in Stage 4.
Importantly, Stage 4 masculinity has no interest in telling you what masculinity should look like: it is not providing solutions, rather a space in which to create solutions. Stage 4 is about freedom: it is libertarian in nature, but with an ethic of care. This means we cannot gloss over the analysis provided by feminism. Put another way, if you reject feminism then you belong in Stage 2. If you accept that feminism has a totally valid point, but that it does not provide all the answers, you may belong in Stage 4.
If you’re interested in finding out more about The Five Stages of Masculinity, head over to the website http://www.masculinityresearch.com. On that website you can find a more detailed overview. You can also find a free tool you can use that will tell you which stage you are at, which should at the very least get you thinking.
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