It is not only that the “fathers” of medicine, law, engineering, science, governance, and theology are all masculine. The mind-set, the approach, the methods and the philosophies that undergird all disciplines that continue to dominate the academic curriculum today come from the minds/hearts/psyches/imaginations/vulnerabilities of men.
While many of the discoveries were, are and will continue to be laudable, highly significant for the survival of the culture, including the institutional structures, and humanity on all continents, including all religions, ethnicities, languages and reigning powers, in terms of the impact on individual men has also been enormous.
Mastering a “field” of investigation, documenting its findings and applications, and then seeking and executing methods of deployment and sustainability of each of the respective mine fields, all of them treasured and stored in vaults in archives around the world has undoubtedly taken a toll on individual males. Focusing on the “task” in front of him, (all of the thousands of “him’s”) has destroyed many families, the lives of many children and has imposed a set of standards, expectations and even rules and regulations that have also imprisoned males of all ages in cells of fear, anxiety, detachment, excessive ambition, heroism and highly complex and perpetually tied and re-tied gordion knots of gender relations. Individual, solo-flights, in private labs, garages, studies, attics, and even on street corners have generated many of the highly complex and deeply insightful observations, reflections, formulae, policies and road-maps (including the roads themselves) in whose pathways we continue to trod. There has even been considerable thought given to the notion that only by individuals’ thinking, speculating, observing, reflecting, writing and erasing, scribbling, sketching does anything new and worthy about the universe come to light. Committees, it has been argued, produce “group-think” which, according to this perception, does not achieve the depth, clarity and insightful vision of individual penetration of the cosmos, the physical, the biological, the anatomical, the economic, the scientific, the theological, the legal and the ethical.
Risk-taking, even that of risking one’s life, has always accompanied deep penetration into the unknown, given the human predilection of aversion to change. New discoveries, announced in whatever forum, will inevitably attract the most severe critics (and their often legitimate criticism) as well as the occasional cheer-leader. Similarly, on the battle-field, on the cusp of a new procedure in the operating room, as well as on the cusp of an innovative defence strategy and tactic, and with the proposition of a new theological/ethical/economic/chemical/pharmaceutical finding, the trapeze artist’s risk (without a net) is not merely implied but clearly evident.
Cutting-edge advances, based on an indestructible determination to explore the limits, for no other reason that the limit is there challenging the most “brave” (quixotic, naïve, impulsive, deluded, disciplined, heroic). Whether it is to climb the peaks of Everest, sail the seas of the Arctic Circle, lead the Crusades, discover “the” cure for X, Y or Z, design the economic theory of capitalism/communism/globalism, conduct the most original research design, design and execute the building of an empire, design and execute the destruction of an empire, men have been not only willing to step forward.
In many cases, they/we have plunged headlong into the challenge….often at our peril.
Icarus, son of Daedalus, in order to escape imprisonment, flies by means of artificial wings but fall into the sea and drowns when the wax of his wings melts as he flies too near the sun. Don Quixote, the literary character in Cervantes novel, having set out to restore chivalry, ends up tilting (fighting) at windmills for the mistaken reason that he thought they were giants oppressing the people. In fact, chivalry itself, a romantic ideal of masculinity, embedded itself into the psyche of Renaissance literature, including the model of platonic love as another of the several masculine ideals, modelling “high” and highly moral and ethical ways of being a man. And then there are the lengthy lists of male role models, each and everyone of them based on an achievement of some kind: Ghandi for his ethical witness, Einstein for his “messing around” with energy, Michelangelo for his creative paintings and his “messing around with design,” Solzhenitsyn for his courageous opposition to the gulag and the list fills many discs.
More recently, too, sports and athletic figures have attracted more than their share of attention and adulation with names of intellectual and scientific giants receding into the pages of academic journals unless and until there is some startling news about a discovery that could curtail scourges like cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes or aging itself.
Men, it seems, bear the gift and the burden of defining ourselves in our work. Our relationships with family, in many cases if not most, serve as a support for our life’s work. Bringing home the bacon, climbing the ladder of success, winning the championship, achieving Dean’s List honours, attaining a Rhodes scholarship, grasping the brass ring, (however that ring is envisioned in each family and community)….these are the mantra’s of millions of families in the west, (perhaps also in the East). And the supporting cast and system of announcing, promoting and then disseminating the good news about these achievements grip the heartstrings of every audience, reader, viewer and spectator.
On the dark side of this equation, where men take their own lives, where they live on the street, many veterans of foreign wars for whom restoration into the families and communities has been forgotten and/or forsaken by the rest of the community, where the lose their jobs and simply cannot tell their spouses so they rent motor homes with other “losers” to avoid sharing the guilt and the shame that necessarily come with firings…there is a collective abyss of really knowing how to address the blight on both our streets and our consciences.
Just today, The Atlantic’s feature story is dedicated to the concept that America is not teaching its boys how to become healthy, self-respecting men. And only yesterday, former President Barack Obama was reported to have told a Singapour audience that the world would be a far better, safer cleaner, and healthier place if women were in charge. “Women are better leaders than men!” ran the headline in the African edition of the BBC. While acknowledging women are not perfect, he declared that they are undoubtedly better than men as leaders.
This moment, today and this month and this year, to hear the former U.S. president declare such applause for women as leaders, is not to be taken as an indictment of men. It is rather to take note of the dominant traits of the feminine, when compared with the thousands of years of evidence of the dominant traits of the masculine.
Team players from a very early age, as compared to young boys who themselves dream of scoring the winning goal (basket, touchdown), young women know deeply and intimately that they are dependent on other women, as well as on the men in their community. Men, on the other hand, incarnate that proclivity for solo-flights, for solo-accomplishments, for solo-experiments, discoveries, and the ownership of those discoveries, from a very early age. These solo flights, as a pattern, bring with them a fragility of the ego, an ego that seems to need the accomplishment of heroic deeds in order to justify an existence which, in his/our mind is continually being compared with other men.
Comparison with other men, is a phenomenon of career aspirations, social status, political and artistic/academic achievement; it is also integral to the notion of finding, and then attracting a partner. Stories abound about men who “played the guitar” because it attracted girls, or who signed up for the school football, hockey, basketball team because such “notice” garnered the attention of the female cohort in the school. The ostrich comparison, with bold black and white colouring to attract a mate, is no accident. When they are ready to mate, the male’s beak and shins turn red, and the female’s feathers turn silver. And the coupling motive, innate to both genders, seems to generate different behaviours and attitudes between men and women.
The physical difference in size, however, is never to be considered a “power imbalance”over the female in any other area, especially by the male. Intellectually, socially, culturally artistically and certainly from the perspective of enduring pain, women are more sophisticated and committed to the breadth of existence, their own and their children, than men seem to this writer to be. Ironically, paradoxically and often sadly, however, some women continue to consider physical size and muscular strength to embody an emotional stoicism of which they are neither capable nor envious. And, given the frailty of the male emotional infrastructure, men are loath to disabuse their female partners of that truth.
In fact, it is the male tendency to deny, avoid, defer from, distract from, obfuscate, and even lie about our insecurities, our fears, our anxieties and our failings that can be so self-sabotaging. And this includes our resistance to death: (quote from an elderly man at dinner on Saturday evening: “We were always told not to worry about getting old because it wasn’t going to last that long!) Charging into the enemy rifles, gas bombs, horse-guards and even into the enemy’s weakest Achilles heel (physical, metaphorically, politically, ethically, economically) has been and continues to be leave an indelible mark on both history and culture from which men seem incapable of escape. We avoid doctors like the plague, offering instead a plethora of rationalizations that only serve to underscore our fragility and our resolute determination to avoid having to face that integral component of our nature. It is thereby a double-whammy of self-sabotage: we deny our illness and we deny that we are denying our illness.
Not only will we not take the kind of care of ourselves, but we also resist the expression of care from our partners. So we do damage to the truth both of our physical (emotional psychological, spiritual) condition and to the relationship in which we are engaged. And this damage comes with a deeply quizzical and even frightened emotional response from our partners. They are not only unwilling to be complicit in our denial; they are also unwilling and intolerant of our resistance to their expression of care. “Like a bull in a china shop” is a phrase that describes many of our (male) attempts to accomplish whatever it is that we are determined to accomplish. And, bulls neither attract nor accept help!
Only through a resigned determination have many teams of executives taken form and succeeded in accomplishing their goals. Lincoln’s team of rivals, for example, is touted as an example of an America hero who was unafraid to wrap his political arm around his political foes in forming his cabinet. And his evolving integrity on the issue of slavery (from support, to doubt to opposition) serves as a rare example of an American male leader whose example has not been accessed by generations of succeeding presidents. In fact, the American public, so fixated on their lack of trust in a leader who changes his mind (“he was in favour of the idea before he was opposed” as the kiss of death for John Kerry, from the Texans who opposed his candidacy for the presidency), have made it virtually impossible for an American leader to evolve his position on any public issue of import. Obama’s evolution on same-sex marriage serves as a striking, and rare, example.
Locked into an image of an archetype, to which no self-respecting, honourable, integrous, ethical/moral, spiritual and ambitious male could attain, men are the victims of much of our own success: success in terms that the public notices and accepts, while at the same time, fails to acknowledge the “back story” of our Shadow.
In fact, even the academic community is averse to integrating the unconscious, emotional, spiritual aspects of the human being into the pursuit of truth to which it aspires. And it is our individual unconscious, as well as our collective unconscious that holds much of the influence over our beings and the ways in which we live our lives, both men and women.
The very fact that women are conscious and deeply connected to those unconscious stirrings within, while we continue to resist, gives them an advantage over us, in the pursuit of the fullness of their identity, as individuals and as a feminine community as well as offering an implicit and understated model of strength in the psychic, emotional, spiritual and political senses of that word.
The real question for men is not whether we are as “good” as women.
It is also not whether women are as good as men.
It is a question of if, how, when and whether men can finally remove the pirate’s eye-patch from both our eyes (metaphorically, psychically, spiritually, emotionally) and acknowledge both our strengths and our frailties as real, and as potential gifts. It is in the trap of our own fears that men have ensnared ourselves for centuries, and then surrounded ourselves with God, beliefs, perceptions, attitudes, philosophies and institutions that support our fear. And only if and when we come to face the full truth of our own doing can and will we free ourselves from that cage.
There is no God worthy of the name who insists on our captivity; there is no woman worthy of our partnership or her name who supports or insists on our captivity; and there is no political, philosophical, ethical, moral or legal code worthy of the honour of respect that is based on male (and human) depravity, fear, unworthiness and anxiety.
We are not made noble, honourable, worthy and respected by or through our false humility, our mendicant subservience to false gods, bishops and popes, or the pursuit of idols of our own making. And no uniform, armament, degree, accomplishment, corner office, billionaire portfolio, Muskoka mansion, chasabule or mitre can or will make us real men. Healthy masculinity is not a “suit” to be put on; it is an identity to be walked inside of and to share with all other men we meet, each of them struggling just to be real, as we are.