Snapshots of The Best of Masculinity

I have been thinking about examples of individuals that are not the obvious choices from history and from current prominent men in the media whose behaviors exemplify the best of masculinity. Two come to mind that I came across in my travels.   The first example was a display in the Jewish Museum in Sydney Australia which described the following.

At a time when Aboriginal people were denied citizenship in Australia and other basic human rights, William Cooper an elder in the Yorta Yorta nation was moved to action when he heard news of Kristallnacht.  On December 6, 1938 aged 77 and in ill health he led a delegation of the Australian Aboriginal League to the German consulate in Melbourne.  They were refused entry but Cooper’s petition on behalf of Aborigines of Australia protesting against “the cruel persecution of the Jewish People by the Nazi government of Germany” was made public that same day.

On several dimensions, Cooper’s actions were the best of masculinity. He used his King to take come up with a value driven  plan of action.  His Warrior non-violently in word and deed confronted the horror of Kristallnacht with the only resources he had at his disposal.  His Lover was profoundly in display in his compassion for a people that had little direct impact on his life and lives of the aboriginal community.  I am cautious about using the word hero or heroic.  It is so often glibly applied to the point that has lost its meaning.  However for me William Cooper is truly a hero.

The second example came from an action that I witnessed when visiting China.  As the aphorism goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words” so I have included the photograph below.

What I witnessed and photographed as you can see is a Russian naval officer leaning on one knee while giving a Chinese street musician/beggar a donation.   What impressed me most was the body language of the officer.   By lowering himself to one knee instead of merely dropping some coins from above he demonstrated respect and compassion for an individual clearly less fortunate then himself.   Given the hyper masculine stereotypes we associate with a military officer his behavior was in sharp contrast to the stereotypes and demonstrated both his Warrior and Lover behavior in the light.   He set an example for his sailors by modeling compassion and leadership in responding to an individual in need.  I don’t believe he expected external validation for what he did.  It was just a spontaneous gesture that reflects the best of masculinity. 

I am certain that there are many examples of men displaying the best of masculinity in their everyday lives and it is extremely important that we recognize these men to counter the notion that our masculinity is an outdated artifact of male privilege. 

Red Pill

I was surprised to learn about a “Red Pill” group that inhabits a corner of  cyberspace with a loose ideology akin to the misogynist ideologies of the manosphere and beliefs consistent with toxic masculinity.  According to Wikipedia, “the red pill and blue pill is a meme representing a choice between taking either a “red pill” that reveals an unpleasant truth, or taking a “blue pill” to remain in blissful ignorance. The terms are directly derived from a scene in the 1999 film The Matrix.”

The Red Pill grinds away at the real and imagined confusions about masculinity that younger  men in particular are experiencing.  Red Pillers are responding to what they consider as the unpleasant truth that contemporary women have financial and sexual power over their own lives and bodies.  In addition, they believe another unpleasant truth about female power that was expressed in Briffault’s law.

“The female, not the male, determines all the conditions of the animal family. Where the female can derive no benefit from association with the male, no such association takes place.” (Robert Briffault, The Mothers. The matriarchal Theory of social origins, p21)

Red Pillers and their fellow travelers are unable to cope with the duel reality of modern feminism and the matriarchal perspective. Unfortunately, they respond in the deep shadows of masculinity.  Their ranting on line about how women have rejected them, ignored them and used them for financial gain is their justification for objectifying women and rationalizing their own failures in life. In addition to their self inflicted misery Red Pillers play into the hands of the extremists in the feminist movement who assume all men are Red Pillers at heart and that only through feminization of men can women truly achieve equality.  

Masculinity in the light, the framework with which most men embrace, accepts and champions those aspects of equality – equal pay, freedom from harassment, eliminating any form of gender discrimination – but maintains a masculine identity that embraces the positive aspects and differences between masculine and feminine energy.  Men do not have to be more like women and women do not have to be more like men in order to achieve a gender equal society. 

Real Men Wear Masks

I have become increasingly disturbed  by the images of crowds, mostly men, protesting against wearing masks and the shutdown rules.  The backlash over masks has even led to several cases of violence being committed by men who were told to put on masks in order to enter a business establishment.  What are the underlying reasons that led this group of men to behaving this way?

I wonder what part of the shadow side of masculinity can help us understand what is going on?  One explanation might be a reaction to fear.  In other words the fear of contracting the virus and the fear of how the pandemic is disrupting lives creates the need for a distorted version of “Man Up.”  In the shadow this becomes a stereotypical macho display of “Warrior” bravado that reinforces the denial of the vulnerability created by the pandemic. 

The Warrior – takes action, confronts, commands, motivates. 

                        Light (I do)– change agent, protector, disciplined, assertive, leader

                        Shadow (I take) – violent, bully, uses aggression as primary strategy

It seems clear that the demonstrators chose to ignore discipline and protection of themselves and their families, the warrior behaving in the light, and instead chose aggression and bullying tactics to advance their agenda of being mask free and in opposition to the guidelines issued by state governments.  

The protestors overt message is that government can’t tell them what to do and should not impinge upon their freedom.  Given that we follow the many laws and mandates of government every day without too much grumbling it seems that the mask requirement must feel like an even more pronounced attack on personal freedom. We all have the need for freedom and we have a choice on how to meet it.  There is little doubt  that the Co-vid 19 pandemic seriously limits our ability to meet our freedom needs.   Filling this need by choosing not to wear a face mask is a choice that on the surface feels like freedom.  This seems to be especially true for those men who see their gender as giving them the right for unchecked freedom from societal norms that they don’t agree with.  Every choice has consequences.  Choosing to gain freedom by not wearing a face mask puts others in jeopardy. The mask is intended to keep a non-symptomatic individual from spreading the virus to unsuspecting individuals.   The freedom to put others in harm’s way is not truly freedom because it robs innocent people of their freedom to be safe from the thoughtlessness of self centered individuals. 

My message to the anti-maskers is to rethink what freedom means and how they might meet their need for freedom that is not at the expense of others.   Real men meet their needs in a responsible manner with a clear understanding of the consequences of their choices and along with harnessing their warrior in the light they are living the best of masculinity and are defining “Man Up” in the most positive way.

Domestic Violence

I just presented a webinar on the impact of the Covid- 19 pandemic on domestic violence (DV).   I became alarmed when I read a variety of media reports that indicated the rate of DV has increased throughout the country.   In addition, most experts in the DV community feel that the increase in complaints and calls to hotlines is not capturing the true frequency of abuse because during the shutdown many women are unable to call for assistance because the abusive partner is at home monitoring her activity.

The focus of the webinar was to try to gain some understanding of why a man who had no previous history of DV would become a batterer.  Before I began I made clear that understanding does not mean excusing.  DV is abhorrent and reflects badly on masculinity.  My journey started with a review of the literature about the impact of natural disasters on DV.  I found that after every recent natural disaster (hurricane, tsunami, earthquake) the rate of DV rose dramatically.   Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the pandemic would produce similar and potentially even more dramatic results than a natural disaster.   The loss of jobs, the length of the shutdowns and the uncertainty of when life will return to normal exacerbates the stress level beyond that caused by a natural disaster.  The next question for consideration was, “What is it about a disaster that would trigger a man to become violent to his domestic partner?”

 My thoughts turned to a book I had read some time ago.  The book “Stiffed,” by a prominent feminist Susan Faludi, was an attempt by the author to explain which societal changes have led men to become  DV offenders and the increase in the generalized feeling of despair among men.    The section of the book that most resonated with me were her extensive interviews of men who had lost their jobs, both blue and white collar, as a result of the collapse of the defense industry in southern California.  Many of these men became DV offenders and were court ordered to attend Batterer Intervention Programs (BIP).  In her interviews of these men Faludi found a common theme. The loss of their jobs created a sense of  loss of identity and emasculation which ultimately led to violence against their partners.   The loss of control over one’s environment engendered by the loss of a job and the inability to have any influence on the outcome of a disaster results in a diminishing of personal power which often leads to anger.  As we know, when men get angry they can easily become violent while women tend to respond to anger verbally rather than physically.  The loss of perceived control just might be the precipitating factor that has lead to the increase in DV.

In the next phase of the presentation I introduced the archetypes of masculinity illustrating them both in the light and shadow.  It was an attempt to demonstrate how a man can behave in the light of an archetype rather than the shadow and still embrace his masculinity.  This is especially true for the warrior archetype.  Finding ways to empower a man’s warrior that does not lead to physical violence and bullying would help a man who has assaulted his partner or who has come close to a physical response to change his behavior and still feel he is harnessing his warrior energy.

I continued with a brief discussion of communication principles that would foster feeling empowered instead of feeling angry.   Validation and understanding before being understood go a long way to avoid conflict.  I closed the webinar with some recommendations of how BIP and anger management programs could increase their success rates.  Not viewing all offenders as “one size fits all” and seeking new therapeutic approaches like Action and Commitment Therapy (ACT) could help reduce recidivism among offenders and pre-offenders.