The Mask of Masculinity

Over the past week, my thoughts have circled around three topics —

  1. the state of masculinity and male conduct,
  2. the social conundrum of when and how to intervene in another person’s life, and
  3. the one simple action I can take to make a big difference for boys and men.
Image courtesy of artur84 FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of artur84 FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This summer, my sister and I attended a little boy’s birthday party held at our neighbourhood water park. As all children can, these boys ceaselessly found creative ways to enjoy playing collectively among the various water fountains. I was thoroughly captivated on my park bench until a five-year old boy shouted, “Don’t throw it to him, he throws like a girl.” My bliss balloon burst, and with a sinking heart, I immediately stood up ready to defend female honour. I wasn’t perturbed by the fact that the child was right, most girls do not know how to throw a ball with strength and skill. I was disheartened that at such a young age he had already learned how to humiliate another boy by comparing him to a girl — cruelty, exclusion and sexism all wrapped up into one insult.

What dismayed me even more was not one of the 30-something parents intervened to correct the child’s behaviour. Alas, this generational pattern that I, and my 50-something male counterparts, grew up with is being continued today. Such comments as “Be a man.” “Stop being such a fag.” “Grow a pair.” “You’re such a girl.” “Man up.” are commonplace for little boys and men to hear from their loved ones. When we resort to training our male children with humiliation, cruelty, exclusion and prejudice, is it any wonder we are now contending with such realities as:

  • 30% more boys drop out of school
  • suicide by adolescent boys is seven times more prevalent
  • boys under the age of 17 drink more than any other age group
  • boys and men commit the majority of violent acts
  • boys rarely hear the words “I love you” from their fathers
  • boys and men typically don’t let people see their pain — tears, loneliness, anxiety

If I was to say what is the major emotion of American masculinity, it is anxiety.
Why? Because you have to prove your masculinity all the time.     
Michael Kimmel

A cursory review of underreported statistics on violence perpetrated by boys and men left me aware of how radical a transformation we require. Bringing forth and balancing the best of masculine and feminine energy in both genders means a massive re-education locally and globally. For feminists like myself, it means dissolving our anger toward men into forgiveness and compassion, reclaiming our personal power as well as sharing equitably the home responsibilities for living with and raising a family — still over 80% of women do 80% of housework and parenting.

Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.    Buddha

For men with machismo, it means relinquishing aggression, intimidation and humiliation as the means to gaining power over others. In the process of learning to share power with others, boys and men will discover tears are a more valuable commodity than money when building personal and professional relationships. Of course, this holds true for females as well. Just as bathing cleanses and strengthens the body, shedding tears cleanses and strengthens the soul.

Not unlike men, I had to grow my feminine energy in the process of balancing it with my masculine side. That journey was a voyage from the head to the heart, which led me to know myself intimately (in-to-me-see), to understand my passion and purpose and to meaningfully contribute my gifts to the world. In addition, accepting that tears are a sign of strength and compassion was one of the valuable lessons encountered on the way. Another lesson was understanding that “if it is meant to be,” it is up to me to act on my values no matter what situation arises. So, when each of us witnesses a social injustice such as a little boy or man humiliating another little boy, a simple statement of “Please do not say unkind things to each other” suffices. I would follow it up with “What kind thing can you say about each other instead?” Children of all ages know what kindness looks and feels like, and given the choice will opt for feeling happy and cared about instead of alienated and shamed.

As a Way Shower, this five-year old boy inspired me on two levels. He rekindled my awareness of how limiting and damaging imbalanced energy is whether we are masculine or feminine dominant. He also inspired me to create and internalize a compassionate way to act out my values (peace, love and joy). How about you? What conscious act of loving kindness can you practice every day for the next week? Month? Year?

For more about loving kindness tools and meditations, read Creating Space: The Practice of Transformation, Vol. 1.

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