On Being a Man

In the book The Wimp Factor, psychologist Stephen Ducat wrote that the most important thing about being a man is not being a woman. Psychologist William Pollack echoed the same sentiment in his book Real Boys: Rescuing our sons from the myths of boyhood where he writes “being masculine is defined as avoiding the feminine. Being a boy becomes defined as in the negative: not being a girl.” I think this shackled meaning of masculinity, this femiphobic perspective, needs redefining, something long overdue.

In the 80s when women flooded the workplace, they had to prove themselves man enough for the job. Women went so far as to look more like men:  padded shoulders, a certain kind of suit and tie, forget dresses. One Iron Butterfly told me that one day when she showed up for work on Wall Street in a dress, the receptionist told her to go home and change.

 Although there was a bias toward favoring the masculine way of doing things and at the same time diminishing and devaluing feminine skills like inclusion, empathy, and collaboration, women did have an opportunity in this environment to develop their masculine skills and potentially have both feminine and masculine resources at their disposal. But what about men developing their feminine side?

We fought for equal rights for women in the workplace, how about equal rights for men at home? Men have a nurturing side too. Women often connect to their feminine side when they become mothers, why shouldn’t men connect with their feminine side when they become fathers?

Redefining what it means to be a man is an essential act in this social transformation that is underway. For one thing, men embracing their feminine side can help in speeding up the process towards greater work/life balance in our society. And Sweden is leading the way. 85% of Swedish men take paternity leave. The effect this has on companies is that they learn to expect leaves regardless of gender and at promotion time, they don’t penalize men for taking time off. Historically, women have and continue to suffer professionally for taking time off. Men taking time off can ultimately help women in more ways than one.socia

I think many men are questioning what it means to be a man because the current meaning is so restrictive. Why is it necessary for a man to go to great lengths to demonstrate and defend his masculinity and often doing this by putting himself at unnecessary risk? Why does a man have to suck it up? Why is it okay for men to have angry outbursts but not okay to cry? Why do they have to pretend they are invincible when they are vulnerable like everyone else? At the very least we can allow men feelings of vulnerability that every woman has experienced.

It’s time for a more humane, expansive meaning of manhood.Let’s embrace the “whole man” in our lives.




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17 Responses to “On Being a Man”

  1. Iflycoach says:

    I can’t remember if it was in Louise Kaplan’s Female Perversions (she’s another Freudian) or in a book (by a male author, maybe?) that is linked to Kaplan in my mind, but whichever Freudian it was pointed out that on trouble with dichotomous gender roles is that it restricts what virtues a person can practice.

    As Ducat says, sharing *any* quality with women provokes anxious masculinity. Therefore, if feminism lets women cultivate intelligence, anxious men must act stupid. If some women are prudent, men must be reckless. If women do well in school, men must do badly.

  2. Eric Kane says:

    Speaking of Kaplan, one of her most interesting ideas is “homovestism”: getting a sexual charge out of dressing up as a member of one’s own gender. I think this explains a lot about what fashion means to many women.

  3. Ragu says:

    I’m a poet and I love hearing men read their stories and poems aloud, revealing themselves so intimately. Thanks for reminding us that men’s emotional lives are just as deep and complex as women’s, they’re just shaped by different experiences… and different hormones. That final quote is a great stinger, and it’s sticking with me: “…patriarchy is harmful to men, too.”

    Your writing is great. I’ll have to make it a goal to read more of it!

    • Thanks, Ragu. You know, studies show that boy babies are actually more emotional than girl babies. Too bad society beats it out of our boys, but hopefully no longer.

  4. Timothy McNeill says:

    Birute, your post is really enlightening. And interesting, too!

    Wish new, more humane ways of thinking masculinity, will spread.

  5. ABSTRAKTUS says:

    Yes, the patriarchal notion of what it means to be a man in our society has been so harmful to men as well as to women. What a fantastic event. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  6. Trekster says:

    To be a man, means to live YOUR life according to YOUR standards, by YOUR OWN ideals and not by what others and society tells you to.

  7. Sandra Middleton says:

    Since the dawn of civlization the males of the human species have been the laborers, putting their natural physical strength to work hunting animals to feed their females, or, alternatively, breaking the soil with ploughs and mastering herds of animals. Indeed, men have always been close to the earth, out in the blistering sun and the pouring rain, working hard, sweaty and dirty. Men built the bridges, ruled the nations, and fought the battles. Brutal, physical, dominating, powerful, aggressive, primitive, coarse is what they are. With the rise of feminizing civlization, men have had to resort to indirect outlets for their primal energies, such as an obsession with sports, action movies, vehicles, and perverse sexual activities. Psychologists have explained it all succinctly: men are achievement oriented, deriving much more pleasure from victory; men are systems oriented, preferring to work with cars and motorcycles than feelings.

    • Adding to your comment, women provided 80% of the food in hunter/gatherer societies. Today’s outlet and modern day battleground for some men are found in the business or political arenas, such as with merger/acquisitions deals.

  8. Louis Rollins says:

    Homer’s gay steel mill – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icIwKaci3MI – that says it all!

    • That is so funny! My concern is that whenever we talk about a feminine side in men it always seems to go to the extreme of gay. Isn’t there some middle ground there? I bet that gay steel mill has a great safety record though!