Patty Beach and Roger Toennis discuss the power in embracing the positive masculine traits while releasing the negative.
The Feminist movement was about ending stereotypes and opening more options for women. While Feminism made many gains in diminishing negative stereotypes for women, it did the opposite for men and actually accentuated anti-male sentiment. Just walk through the aisles of any card shop or open Facebook and you will find a surprising number of pithy man-bashing statements that effectively equate to the message: “men are assholes”.
Meanwhile, there are also a significant number of videos and blog posts where male apologists are publically acknowledging the collective historical damage men have done to women and mankind including rape, pillage and genocide. With all the damage done, one might think it’s time to just wipe masculinity off the face of the earth. Yet another solution to the “problem of masculinity” is to redefine masculinity to include more traditionally feminine traits like nurturing and emotional sensitivity. But this approach is no different than if people didn’t like the primary color red and added the color blue to get purple; but still called the new color red! If that were to happen we would lose the language to accurately describe both red and purple. Not only is it confusing, redefining masculinity to mean “a combination of masculine and feminine traits” doesn’t solve the problem of undesirable masculine behaviors.
We would like to suggest another approach, that of returning to the core of masculinity as expressed in the masculine archetype and recognizing that while masculinity itself has a positive intent, it can be expressed in both positive and negative ways. If we can distinguish positive masculinity from negative masculinity we can throw out the “bath water” of negative masculinity without throwing out the “baby” of positive masculinity.
The Masculine Archetype
In it’s most essential form masculine energy is all about focusing on the part while feminine energy is about focusing on the whole. All humans must do both to survive and while men tend to be more masculine, women can also be masculine. When we focus on the part side of the equation we are differentiating what something is from what it is not. Examples include competing (my team vs. your team), clarifying goals (shooting for this goal not that one) and defending territory (this part is mine). The symbol for the masculine archetype is the sword used to slice things into parts and the shield used to protect and defend.
Separating the Baby from the Bath Water
Focusing on the part has many benefits. By focusing on my self, I become independent, self-actualized and able to fight foes and obstacles that threaten the existence of the parts I affiliate with. Positive masculinity occurs when I work hard in service of my self and my tribe. Like Teddy Roosevelt, John Wayne, and Joan of Arc positive masculine characters have a strong sense of self. These characters are often in pursuit of fulfilling a mission or reaching a clear goal. They know what they are fighting for and sacrifices happen for survival or for the greater good. Other positive masculine characters include the devoted father and the hard worker. These characters work to support and protect their family, company and community. They know what their part of the pie is and how to keep it secure.
Negative masculine characters like Hitler, Lord Valdemort and Nurse Rachet share many similarities with positive masculine characters. Both character types are self-assured, strong and relentlessly pursue clear goals. Where these two character types differ is that the positive masculine character pursues goals in a conscious manner that acknowledges the needs of the whole (e.g. neighboring tribes) and works to minimize net losses. In contrast, negative masculine characters pursue goals in a destructive manner with no consciousness that the needs of other parts of the whole matter. In short, the masculine (focusing on the part) must co-exist in a conscious way with the feminine (focusing on the whole) to stay on the positive side of the equation. Masculine energy absent feminine energy turns the admirable act of building something great into the selfish act of greed.
The recent killing of Cecil the Lion by an American big game hunter gives us the chance to examine negative masculinity in a longer historical context. At one point in history, the act of killing a lion was a needed to protect life and limb from a predatory pride that threatened the village. Killing a lion was a positive symbol of masculine strength and courage. But times change. In our modern time, killing an endangered animal of any kind for sport makes no sense. There is no part (e.g. tribe or life or limb) to be defended and this kind of act now puts the whole (the planet) at risk of loss of the African Lion and the ecosystem it supports. What isn’t good or bad is men, hunting or masculinity. What is bad is any act by any one that puts self above the needs of the whole.
We can all reclaim the positive power of masculinity when we see it as a force that ensures survival, growth, protection and self-actualization that has a light (positive) side and shadow (negative) side. These two are distinct but separated only by a small shift in attitude from “only my needs matter ” to “my needs matter AND your needs matter”. When masculine energy (focusing on the part) is balanced by feminine energy (focusing on the whole) our faith and hope in men, masculinity and manliness is restored.
Photo credit: Flickr/larry