Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How Do We Define the New "Real Man"?

While I think it's important that men embrace their maleness, within reason, it's equally true that we are more than testosterone and beard stubble.

Pip Cornall, at the Sustainable Masculinity blog, posted recently on constructing the new “real man,” to deal with today’s global crises. He rejects a lot of the programming men receive (dominance, stoicism, lack of emotional intelligence, and so on) as destructive not only to ourselves, but also to our cultures and our planet. I tend to agree.

Here is his take on things:
On my website and in previous blogs, I talked about how masculinity is a social construct. Since the old constructs of masculinity (dominator) are root causes of violence and limited thinking (reductionist), there is an urgent need to construct a new masculinity, one which will not hasten the end of humanity, one which is sustainable. The old male behaviours and mindsets are simply not up to the task.

Today, as never before, we all have an opportunity to shape evolution - to create the type of future that is best for all of us - and is best for the planet. This will take considerable and courageous inner work for a large and critical mass.

Males have an important role to play not only because much of our programming is so pervasive and harmful but because we are still predominantly in leadership roles in commerce and government.

No blame: As I’ve said previously, we (males) are not to blame for our programming but unless we make positive changes, we will wear the dreadful consequences - as will all those who are in relationship with us.

I cannot make that point powerfully enough - the programming is not our fault BUT unless we free ourselves from its effects - we will continue to harm ourselves, those we love while destroying the planet at the same time.

Yes it takes enormous courage to break away from the old male paradigm and the ”real man” mindset - yes at times we will be called names (usually a gay or sissie variant) and isolated from our peers who are yet to wake up.

However, unless a critical mass of males can make such changes, we will not be able to think outside the box, to think holistically enough, to resolve the looming global crises. We will just continue making war on everything.

The courage is necessary because ultimately, the only war is with ourselves. Embracing the partnership model is the new masculinity and that work begins as we adopt partnership principles in our mind, body and soul.

The danger is when we “don’t know that we don’t know.”

I'm all for embracing the partnership model (culturally: male and female power in balance), but this isn't as easy as it sounds. Men are agentic creatures -- we are about action and doing. The partnership model has a definite feminist, and feminizing agenda.

Riane Eisler has done more to promote the partnership model than anyone else. Here is a brief statement of the model's intent:
Partnership is a commitment to a way of living, it is a way of life based on harmony with nature, nonviolence, and gender, racial, and economic equity. It takes us beyond conventional labels to a future of flourishing untapped human potential.

It is part of our human nature to be caring, sensitive, and creative, to seek pleasure and avoid pain. During much of our prehistory, humanity was rooted in the partnership model. This is our lost heritage. Through a cultural shift, history became the familiar tale of violence, injustice, and domination.

We need to restore our Earth and renew our communities. We need social and economic inventions based on partnership. This is the mission of the Center for Partnership Studies. Based on the groundbreaking research and writings of authors, Riane Eisler and David Loye, The Center for Partnership Study offers everyone a new hope for the future.

Nice intent, but faulty history. Human beings did not evolve through prehistory with anything resembling the partnership model:
Much of the archeology that she relies on for her argument has been discredited by later scholars, particularly the work of Marija Gimbutas. Even in the case of Crete where the material evidence is suggestive of an egalitarian society, Eisler’s claims are grossly overstated. She makes far-reaching statements about social structure, the nature of Minoan religion, and the relations between the sexes essentially on the basis of a limited set of paintings, buildings, and figurines. In contrast to most contemporary archaeologists, who are hesitant to make any certain claims about the Neolithic due to limited data, here the speculations of a few now-discredited archaeologists are reported as proven fact. The lack of illustrations in The Chalice and the Blade prevents the reader from coming to her own conclusions about the artifacts on which so much of Eisler’s argument rests. Further, Eisler’s cultural history is both oversimplified and full of minor errors.
But that's OK, we are moving in that direction now.

However, I think that her views -- and those of those of partnership model folks -- are more than a little dismissive of men and male qualities. It all sounds well and good on the surface, but the more I read (and I have read Eisler's main books), the more I suspect that it's less about partnership and more about making men more like women.

I have to admit -- I went through this phase in my 20s, thinking that men are all that is wrong with the world. And we have certainly made our share of horrible decisions through the centuries. But on the other hand, we wouldn't have indoor plumbing, the internet, or the Corvette if it weren't for men.

So my question, then, is how do we honor the agentic qualities of men and the communal qualities of women (and there really is a huge overlap in these traits between men and women) without compromising either's essential being?
[Defintions: Agency manifests itself in self-protection, self-assertion, and self-expansion; communion manifests itself in the sense of being at one with other organisms. Agency manifests itself in the formation of separations; communion in the lack of separations. Agency manifests itself in isolation, alienation, and aloneness; communion in contact, openness, and union. Agency manifests itself in the urge to master; communion in noncontractual cooperation.]
This definition is a little biased. There is nothing inherent isolating and/or alienating about agenctic drives. Both agency (making distinctions, defining limits) and communion (group focus, inclusiveness) are crucial to men and women, but each has been identified with only one gender. Nearly all the defintions you will find of agency (and generally, agency = masculinity) make it seem like a negative trait? Why is that? Has feminism been that successful as a meme?

The new "real man" will be fueled by testosterone (the agentic hormone), but he will harness its use and power for more positive goals. Not war, but peace. Not dominance, but egalitarianism. Not conquest, but discovery. And so on.

He will also turn his gaze inward and develop the tender heart of the warrior. All that warrior energy that comes with being a man can be used to explore and soften our hearts -- to becoming sensitive but not weak, compassionate but not pitying, tender but not soft. We can be fiercely loving of those in out lives, and those around us, without losing our masculine nature.

What do you think will define the new real man?


Dustin Boston said...

Wow that was a really interesting read. I honestly don't think that there will be a new real man. I think there will be a revitalization of the old real man.

I think the real characteristics of a man are timeless and irregardless of culture or rule of law, they will remain unchanged. If they are stifled for a time (as I believe they have been) they will come back to center. If they become extreme in either of the qualities you mentioned they will eventually balance out to the core of masculinity. IMO.

Sweating Through fog said...


I'm glad I discovered your blog. You have lots of interesting stuff here, and I will add you to my blogroll.

I've always been a little suspicious of people like Robert Jensen that that claim that today's masculinity is somehow flawed, and that we need to define some new masculinity. The reason I'm suspicious is that they make claims about all men based on the pathological behavior of a few. This post is a good summary of my views.

So what will define the "new real man"? I think he will be a man who finds models of successful of men from the past to use as guides for how to live today. There are plenty of them. Nothing new is needed.

WH said...

Thanks for your comments guys, but I guess I disagree.

Human beings are still evolving, and with that growth, gender roles are also evolving. My concern is that men are being feminized too much.

I think we need to do better with our emotional and spiritual lives, but we don't need to give up being men.

I think this evolution will be a long-term process with a lot of growing pains, but it's necessary.