What is healthy masculinity?
Whilst pondering healthy masculinity recently I had a telling conversation with a young man.
He was a father with a 4 year old son, who was struggling with commitments of work, family, relationship, sport, money etc.
He was struggling with all the usual things that impact most young family men at some stage. Things which are becoming aggravated by covid, the rising cost of living, and the national housing and rental squeeze. This is particularly so in flood impacted areas locally to where we live.
During this conversation, we discussed a lot of things. I knew there was an difference in age between us, not realising until later that the difference was nearly 40 years.
My perspective on these issues was very different to his, and this was because of a lot more than just age.
That conversation highlighted for me, the vast changes that men and masculinity are currently going through. Yet very little credibility is given to this necessary process of cultural change.
I was born during the fifties, into a very conservative rural background, into a very stereo typical family, or so I thought.
My background could be described as patriarchal, misogynistic and very unemotional. I thought this was normal, yet something in me still felt uncomfortable and awkward around it. Hence my resistance to, and questioning of it at that time.
My father shamed me for this, calling me weak, no good and saying I wouldn’t amount to much in life.
I still occasionally feel this today, until I catch myself.
Creating a safe space gives permission
My conversation with this young man incidentally, was held sitting on the side of a road whilst he was having his smoko. I could feel his uncertainty and conflict in finding his masculine role and direction. It was a big thing for him to take a risk and open up emotionally. Especially in such a male dominated industry. I validated his willingness to do so.
It was easy for me to talk with him and share my views and experience on each of his issues. Particularly when we unpacked each of his concerns.
It felt good to ask him about some of his beliefs. To question if they were real, or from bullshit patriarchal conditioning. Asking him too, if it is bullshit, what would YOU really like to do?”
I could feel his walls drop and he opened up about what he really wanted for himself.
The bottom line for him was to simply “go home and have a heart felt conversation with his partner.” Because if she can feel your emotional commitment and involvement, her fear will drop away. Which is exactly what happened and was a new experience for them both.
He hadn’t considered asking her what she wanted or felt. Not because he didn’t care. Because he was sucked into believing that he must have all the answers. And that he must do the hard yards on his own.
Ending the shadow aspect of patriarchy
I said this is part of the patriarchal bullshit conditioning that men suffer from. Men are also victims of patriarchal conditioning, as much as, or more so, I believe than women. This is because they are still largely caught up inside it without realising it. Men get the benefits of entitlement without realising the damage being a rigid thinking patriarchal man does to them.
There are still patriarchal pockets deeply embedded in our society, usually in male dominated workplaces. They easily trigger and negatively influence men into their own masculine insecurities and self-doubt. Largely because it is accepted and not talked about or questioned, as women have had to do.
Men and women rising together
I believe the feminist movement has achieved amazing things for women. As a man, what is missing is not a reprieve from feminism. It’s a rise of healthy masculinity to meet, and to rise with this tide of rising femininity.
I hear the phrase toxic masculinity being bandied about. I see men living in shame and disempowerment because of it. I always stop and ask “why the f..k don’t we have toxic femininity..?” Why do we have one (so I am told) and not the other…?
Yet my interest in this particular debate has absolutely nothing to do with naming who is toxic and who is not. It’s about our lack of healthy masculinity, our lack of healthy masculine role models.
My conversation with this young man was simple (for me) and had a significant impact on him. He rang me a couple of days later and thanked me for our chat and said that he had the chat with his wife and they have developed a plan to move forward together. He is happy with that.
Healthy masculinity is that simple.
You might even call it positive patriarchy.
Direct. Focussed. Getting to the heart of things. Finding a solution that benefits all and taking action on it.