Liz Plank, author of For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Mascuinity, studied gender relations in London where the professors and the classes were comprised primarily of women, with a couple of men seated in the back of the lecture halls. As she considers the current definition of masculinity to be the greatest threat to humankind, she has taken it upon herself to advocate for men around the world.
The current definition of masculinity, she terms as testosterone poisoning depicts a kind of backlash to feminism, and we heartily concur.
The absence of men at women’s conferences, (“Oh they should show up and shut up!” as she reported hearing that specific quote when attending a woman’s conference and the fact that
research illustrates men drive much farther than women (because they/we will not ask for directions) and that
men do not recycle nearly as much as women
men lose their jobs over the last couple of decades much more frequently than women…
these data points, while true, and useful for conversation and for stimulating interest in a subject that men have been resistant to exploring in any meaningful, thorough, and penetrating manner, are part of a contemporary snap-shot. The use of guns, the politicization of all public issues into zero-sum conflicts, the insouciance about the existential threat of global warming and climate change…these too are relevant to the discussion about contemporary masculinity.
So too are the panoply of scenarios, addressed previously here, that dig and then plant a masculine footprint indelibly into the foundations of western culture, although not necessarily with a malignant or narcissistic motive. Our culture’s appetite for the sociological/political/gender politics menu of current affairs is legion, and it is especially voracious in the United States. In a culture so highly individualized, competitive, addicted to the latest ‘thing’ (fad, star, theory, invention, innovation, song, movie, television drama), what tends often to get lost is the broad and long sweep of history. Occasionally, a public statement will surface which evokes another public statement from a previous public figure, and certainly comparisons are being made to the numbers of deaths that resulted from the Civil War, the Korean and the Iraq/Afghanistan wars with the loss of life resulting from COVID-19.
The span of the last three-quarter of a century, dominated as it is by the rise of feminism and the concomitant turtling of probably the more healthy examples of masculinity along with the insurgency of a toxic and even lethal masculinity, to both genders and to their families coalesce in the emergence of an author/scholar such as Ms Plank. For her eloquent, detailed, empathic and challenging advocacy for a ‘mindful masculinity’ all men are rightly grateful. Men can be ‘faulted’ for many things, one of them being the resistance to talking about ourselves as a group and, unless covered by confidentiality, even about ourselves. There are, fortunately, some men who have resisted this reticence, in a manner similar to our’s.
Also, as previously noted in this space, some of the “work” being conducted to seed, nurture and celebrate health masculinity by men, focuses on a return to a rigid “morality” of promise-keeping while holding to the heroic images of war, athleticism, competitive bread-winning and corporate mergers and take-overs. This masculinity is also at the core of the climate denial, gun-toting, capital punishment advocacy, gay-hatred, racial bigotry, immigrant blocking, populist nationalism energies that have moved from creeping to “power-walking” in many centres around the globe.
Domination of anything or of anyone depends upon a limiting of the boundaries, possibilities, a constriction of the mental images, the imagination and the ‘frightening’ prospect that others, regardless of political ideology, or religious belief, or ethnicity may and even do have ideas as good as and likely even better than those we are propagating. Both left and right, in the political spectrum of North America, share responsibility for the current state of national and geo-politics, the failures to work more collaboratively on many issues that, taken together pose challenges for which many argue current systems and institutions are unprepared to confront.
On the gender issue, it is not only the right (Republicans, nationalists, populists, racial and ethnic white supremacist bigots) who have set the table for the formal and informal study of a process whereby equality and equity of genders might foresee a higher potential for international even global co-operation, in the interests of something as significant as human survival. On the left, too, has been demonstrated such a narrow, perfectionistic, judgemental perspective, including policies, processes, accusations and decisions that have literally ruined lives.
One can see a convergence, for example, of the corporate (masculine-dominated) culture’s definition of human resources as little more than raw materials for the increasingly sophisticated and chemically/synthetically/engineered production machine. Link this lethal mind-set to the notion that men, individuals and even more collectively, abhor seeking and accepting and then acting upon reasonable, supportive and especially corrective counsel from any source, especially from medical professionals. And then, that a mind-set that encompasses the parameters of a bottom line (in any enterprise, revenues, expenditures, profits, losses, and probabilities envisaged on the bases of these rather short-term benchmarks), and it is far too easy to envision a controlling, dominating mind-set of immediate gratification measured by literal, empirical, and most often fiscal numbers.
Those whose functions are considered “costs” are naturally deemed much more expendable than those functions deemed “revenue generators” without even a reasonable appreciation for the need of the latter for the tasks and the performers of the former category.
In processes where “people” are allegedly the “raison d-etre” for the existence of the enterprise, like education, religion and worship, social service agencies, health care and even in the last resort, treatment of individuals who are judged to have committed crimes, in prisons and purported rehabilitation, all of the professional who serve are “costs” in the sense that without their contribution, the agencies would cease to exist. Nevertheless, in America, the corporate, for profit, (cost-based) equation not only operates, it dominates in those organizations. The unhealthy masculinity that prevails among those whose responsibilities include the healthy management of such institutions, based on a cultural perspective that seeks first the ‘trust fund’ development, sustainability and cost-based operating budgets can and will barely bend to include such reasonable supports as employee assistance programs. Workers’ associations, unions, and conditions of employment are considered exclusively as “costs” and rarely as requirements, even though lives have been lost in previous historic fights for labour rights.
Denying pensions, for example, to clergy for the first five years of employment, is a case in point, illustrated by the American Episcopal church, for all of its clergy. Similarly, for allegations, accusations, and negative reports, only the most cursory, superficial and pre-determined and pre-judged investigations are conducted inquiring among only those whose evidence will never unveil the full story. And the dominant and prevailing mind-set is one by men, who themselves, fail to fully explore and then challenge their own masculinity, and confront the kind of feminism that has so dominated the “gender issue” as exemplified in the women’s conferences conducted by women, in the absence of and silence of men.
Growing up in a house in which my mother was inordinately abusive, while my father was (also inordinately, passive and compliant, I have questioned, from a very early age, which “force” or “attitude” or “agency” or “behaviour” was more toxic, dangerous, threatening, and venal. And the question of deconstructing multiple situations involving men and women directly, including male suicides and their attempts, male dismissals often executed by men at the behest of women, male sexual improprieties often decades after abuse at the hands of their female guardians, female manipulations of men especially ensuing from previous hurtful encounters with other men….and the too frequent dismissing of whatever the biographies of both the accusers and the accused as peripheral or worse, irrelevant to the immediate ‘case’ is potentially another of the misguided, mis-apprehended, mis-evaluated and certainly mid-judged modus operandi, primarily by male decision-makers.
Whether the avoidance of complexities, ambiguities, costs, and the perplexing conundrums of most, if not all, encounters of conflict between men and women, and the responsibility of adjudicating their appropriate and measured and reasonable resolution, fairly, with equanimity and with a full knowledge and grasp of the complexities of human relationship, beyond the most superficial underlies these injustices is a question that requires brains and research more able and resourced than this one. One thing seems clear, however. The penchant for quick, easily-disposed and least costly dispositions prevails and such a model is more likely based on a masculinity that defers from wading into such swamp-like complexities.
The very fact of the social, political and cultural attempt to equate a business/corporate/for-profit model to a school, a church, a hospital or a children’s protective agency is, for this scribe, a non-starter. And yet, such an equation, however ridiculous, and however costly and certainly however ineffectual and wasteful of human beings, their creativity and their spirit, prevails, with the persistently held support of most men and many compliant women.
Would a more healthy and ‘mindful’ (to borrow from Ms Plank’s book) masculinity be more likely to ‘see’ and to consider and even to ‘accept’ the significance of a revisioning of this application of the corporate, for-profit model to their schools, their hospitals, and their social service agencies and perhaps even extend such thinking and modelling to include a vibrant mental health option?
In a more geopolitical perspective, would a more mindful masculinity be willing and able to begin to deconstruct the military behemoth, and the production of its mountainous and light-speed innovations of national security, in order to balance the legitimate needs of clean water, clean air and access to quality education and health care of the people of the planet? Certainly the very opposite is unfolding before our eyes, with examples of turtling by despots, opportunism in scamming process of purchasing and transporting needed medical equipment, in hoarding of needed supplies, in the imposition of the Defence Production Act to force workers in meat-processing plants to return to unsafe work spaces, to feed the uber-wealthy their filet-mignon.
A similar arrogance abounds among the powerful in many quarters (all of them men) in a seemingly impregnable defiance of smog, coal-fired generating stations, plastic suffocation of oceans and their wildlife and habitats, and the selfish, narcissistic pursuit of nationalistic “greatness” at the expense of ordinary lives and livelihoods. And, again, it is primarily men who stand in the way of urgently needed change, adaptation, collaboration and all of it can only be based on a level of compassion, empathy and even love for self and for other.
Unless and until men come to the place where love is released from the bedroom, the intimate cruise, the intimate and elegant dining room, the dance-floor and the elegant and exclusive designer shops and the infant nurseries, the mid-wives, the “obgyn” doctors and the eternal obsession with the pursuit and success of winning a female mate, then the love of all others, including the love and appreciation of the bounty of the planet will go blind to their eyes, deaf to their ears and dumb to their sensibilities.
It may not be rocket science, deserving of the next Nobel Prize, as will be the eventual winner of the race for a vaccine for COVID-19. However, a return of masculine, as well as already far ahead feminine, values, perceptions, attitudes and beliefs, to the verities that have sustained humanity for hundreds of centuries, that value respect, dignity, honour, and yes, love…is our only hope.
And any attempt to intellectualize, compartmentalize, Balkanize, and then to specialize and elevate the specialists to a sacred point of the social, cultural and political pyramid of value can and will only perpetuate a hierarchical, prejudiced, bigoted, unsustainable and seemingly irreversible division of a few who belong and matter and a growing and overwhelming army of ordinary, and likely displaced billions of people. We are already facing the largest mass movement (for it will not remain static or immovable) of displaced persons in human history. And the root causes of that impending collision between those of us who “have” and those of us who have nothing can and will increasingly be traced, legitimately, back to the root of the inordinate power of unhealthy self-sabotaging masculinity.
And the sooner men join Ms Plank in a collaborative and effectual chorus of change, the better off will all of our grandchildren be!