Prince Harry sold 1.5 million copies of his autobiography Spare in a single day. It is a startling level of success by any measure. Spare is Harry’s response to years of vitriolic hate aimed at Meghan Markle and himself by a British tabloid press that is besides itself with anger at the choices these two have made.
Alongside visceral and thinly veiled racism, another major part of the anger we’ve seen aimed at Harry is born out of our dominance-based culture of masculinity. It is hatred of a man who unabashedly loves and collaborates with his female partner. Unable to fathom equity, men in dominance-based masculine culture are convinced he’s “her puppet.”
Like all men, Prince Harry is subject to bullying the moment he steps outside the rules of our dominance-based culture of masculinity. These rules for being a man were first listed in the early 1980’s in what Paul Kivel conceptualized as the “act like a man box.” Tony Porter made the Man Box world famous in his TED talk titled A Call To Men. Equimundo’s research confirming these rules is summed up in its report titled The Man Box. The rules of Man Box culture include: don’t show your emotions, be a breadwinner not a caregiver, be heterosexual not homosexual, don’t talk to other men about anything deep, and this one: have control over women and girls.
The rules of Man Box culture are anxiety inducing and isolating for boys and men. We are bullied, beginning at an early age, to hide our emotions, give up close friendships and begin modeling dominance as the only way to validate our masculinity. Niobe Way’s Deep Secrets and Judy Chu’s When Boys Become Boysdocument their research on these cultural drivers of boys’ crisis of connection.
Our dominance-based culture of masculinity enforces a dog-eat-dog, hyper competitive, rat race culture of competition and distrust. It’s this culture that cuts our young sons off from expression/connection and slots into bullying dominance hierarchies in every aspect of their lives. It is a recipe for isolation, depression, health problems, violence, and suicide.
While many among us might say, “Why should we care about the British royal family,” here’s why we should care. When I do my men’s work, it is a challenge to long standing notions of masculine culture, but when Prince Harry, a member of the British royal family, does it, it is an existential threat to our dominance-based culture of masculinity.
Given the daily bullying and trauma men are subjected to over the course of our lives in Man Box culture, by the time we even consider doing some self-reflection, some kind of men’s work, it can feel like looking down into a dark well with no bottom. The prospect of beginning this is work deeply challenging. Imagine the courage required to break out of the Man Box at the level of the British Royal family. Harry is doing the challenging emotional work that faces millions of men, and he’s doing it in a glaring, hostile spotlight.
Prince Harry has directly confronted the generations old cultural forces that bully and silence men into lives of isolated disconnection. He and Meghan have wrested away control of their narrative from a massive British tabloid machine. They continue to fight a terribly hard battle. A battle we are all witnessing in real time.
I started this article by saying “Alongside visceral and thinly veiled racism,” as if we can talk about racism OR sexism. They are not separate. All forms of bigotry are intertwined and intersectional. Which came first? Our sexism or racism? All forms of bigotry arrive with dominance culture.
This is because once we teach our sons that boys should have control over girls and women, that girls and women are less, it takes very little to teach them that Black people, LGBTQI+ people, immigrants, people of other faiths, other nationalities are less. Dominance culture is bigotry.
Thanks to Prince Harry, Justin Baldoni, Tony Porter, Ray Arata, Charles Matheus and many others, millions of men are coming to understand that true freedom isn’t about winning the dog-eat-dog competition for status and power. Men and women with plenty of both continue to display all the indicators of trauma and distress, lashing out and attacking those around them. Real freedom is found in authentic human connection and relationships. It’s in the freedom to belong among and be human with each other.
We are reaching a tipping point. Men, alongside the women and non-binary people in our lives, are creating a healthy masculine culture of expression and connection, ending generations of angry isolation. Harry and Meghan are helping us reach that tipping point. They are fighting the fight for healthy masculine expression and connection alongside all of us.
The work we do with male leaders, both in individual coaching and in workshop settings, is summed up in this video from our new book, The Relational Workplace. Learn more about The Man Box Choice Point: https://youtu.be/ZNmme6caO7c.
Contact us to learn how organizations can address Man Box Culture in your workplace.
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