In memory of Congressmen John Lewis and Amo Houghton
As the protests against racial violence continue to escalate, several compelling articles exploring the connection between systemic racism and white male privilege have appeared. In her recent essay for Medium, “The Racism/Patriarchy Connection, and How We Work to Address Them Both,” Karin Swann takes the argument one step further, drawing attention to the fact that racial violence is perpetuated by men whose identities have been shaped by white male privilege AND the edicts of the Man Box, the dominant set of rules and expectations of all men of any race in our society.
We cannot address the issues of violence and racist violence, without addressing the cultural norms for masculinity that create the need to dominate.
She ends her daring and comprehensive assessment of the cluster of issues that we must confront, with recommendations for men and women as to how we can move ideas into action:
- We need to reinvent the way we raise and educate boys.
- Progressives must risk an affirmative stand on what we need for partnership with (cis)men.
- We need to support organizations where men are already working on their own post-patriarchal transformation.
- We must give men more voice.
- Finally, women need to do more work seeing how we (sic) get embroiled in patriarchal masculinity…in the same subtle ways white privilege embroils us white women in racism.
It’s hard to disagree with her statements. They are consistent with the essays that many of us have written for The Good Men Project. I believe, however, that our broad, collective descriptions of the work that men and women must undertake do not go far enough. We need to dig deeper to formulate a specific set of concrete actions that men can take to effect change.
As a serial social entrepreneur in both my personal and professional life, I have now spent four decades in hot pursuit of two objectives: 1) how to be a “new” male in defiance of traditional models of masculinity, and 2) how to make big visions with social impact happen. A successful strategy for advancing social enterprise for me has been: a) gather expert information on the problem you are trying to solve from the broadest range of sources possible, b) consult individuals who are working on the same problem and make an inventory of their preliminary answers, and c) trust your personal experience, your gut (heart) for its own intuitive wisdom.
Using this three-pronged approach, I am creating some guidance for men, a program of activities for men that will distill the emerging academic and clinical research on masculine behaviors (real, actual behaviors not tribal narratives), the stories of men who have been on a path to become “new” males, and my personal experience. My goal is to offer a framework for men who are committed to making a shift.
It is important to note that the unit of change for the societal change that we are trying to make is actually the individual male, not workforce regulations or social mandates. Unless we rebuild masculine identities from the inside out with respect to all aspects of our being – physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, cultural, and even spiritual – we will never become or see the change we want.
As of this writing, I have identified seven areas for exploration and renewal work upon which men must focus.
- We must develop a healthier relationship to our bodies and its role as the cellphone of our lives. This will be hard work, as it will require that we erase the overwhelming sense of shame that we attach to our bodies. (The Tao of Getting Naked for Men)
- Men must recover the capacities that we are taught to reject as “feminine” within us. This is absolutely essential as these strengths and their wisdom are exactly what men need in order to heal from the wounds that we bear from the way we are conditioned to become adult males. (The Wisdom of Wild Mercy for Men)
- We men need to get out of our heads and move into our hearts. There are more neurons in our hearts than our brains, and yet men do not access this fundamental communication system. (The Incomplete Man)
- Men need to get real about male sexuality. The Man Box rewards men for being hyper-aggressive and hyper-heterosexual. The reality, as research increasingly confirms, is that men experience of a range of physical impulses. We need to acknowledge our own naked truth. (Rediscovering the Lost Language of Touch – Part 2)
- Whether or not we follow a particular faith or creed, all men need to develop a contemplative practice, not just to manage stress but to create an inner space where we can do the work that is required to become better men. (A Field Guide to Being a Spiritual Male in the 21st Century)
- Men need to make time for rest and retreat more of a priority. Because of COVID-19, we are learning to compartmentalize our lives and take a break from the 24/7 pace. Men need to take this lesson to heart and make the time to reorder our priorities. (Everyday Mystics)
- Men need to develop new definitions of wellness, happiness and success. The drive for money, power, status, sex, recognition is not serving anyone well. (The Myth of Quality Time)
These seven “steps” stand in direct opposition to Man Box culture. It will take a generation of very brave men to risk the personal, professional, social, and financial consequences of defying the traditional, archetypal models of masculinity that our society currently promotes. The good news is that the current pandemic has proven to men that fundamental change is not only possible but beneficial, as we explore new definitions of work and community.
To me, it’s clear that we men have to make a shift. We can no longer survive the epidemic of assault, anxiety, depression, suicide, and substance abuse that is the Man Box legacy. We know what we need to do.
Let’s stop talking about it and get the job done.