Of That Which We Don't Speak...

I've never been someone who readily identifies with or lovingly accepts expectations of my behavior or identity. I've spent the entirety of my life operating under the assumption that in trying to be a decent human being, and doing the best I can at it, that's going to cover all of my most important bases. My definition of what that means has changed, and some maturity helped give me some immunity to the kinds of insecurities that are the greatest obstacles on that road, but that journey really doesn't end until I end. Most of the socially expected and/or accepted ideas about this aren't necessarily completely meaningless to me, but at least in my life as an actual adult, they tend to fall so far down the ladder of importance as to basically not matter. It's been a good long time since I've fallen quite far enough in a sense of who I am that I had to use those creaky, dangerously weak rungs on the ladder of my priorities. 

One of the things I've always thought was good about feminism has been that in destabilizing the feminine roles, it automatically destabilizes the masculine roles since they're more or less dependent on each other to give them some kind of meaning. If there are no roles, then neither exists, essentially. I don't think that's going to happen quite yet (though I think that's as good a solution to gender bias of any kind as there is), but it does seem to be that, for many reasons, it's time to start having some conversation about what defines masculine or masculinity in a 21st century world. Feminists of every stripe have been having this conversation about the feminine and femininity for a few decades already. The conversation about the masculine has been happening to some degree, but nowhere near the necessary scale for it to have anything resembling a profound effect.
In many ways, having one conversation without the other is counterproductive. If one is redefined, both need to be redefined. That doesn't and can't happen in a vaccum. Even if it does, that's not the most beneficial way to make progress. That vacuum is the reason that "Mens Rights" advocates exist. Without a positive, relatively open discussion being had, and without intelligent, interested and genuine voices, it leaves the space open to be occupied by people of questionable logic and motives.

Being a male feminist or a male who supports feminism isn't enough anymore. There has to be a positive and productive conversation about a new definition for the masculine and new ideas about masculinity. Otherwise, all the good will and support on earth aren't going to make a difference as far as progress being made in creating a world where the most dangerous thing to women isn't men. As men, people who identify as male or however it is you want to put it, we have to begin having this conversation with each other and amongst ourselves and looking at what it is we're passing on to the generations we're raising and that they'll raise. 

Boys and men are in a kind of crisis right now. The younger the demographic, and less white the demographic, the more we're falling behind in just about every financial and social indicating category. We're graduating high school and college at lower and lower rates. We're not living significantly longer, even as medical a science progresses. We're more likely to suffer emotional and psychological difficulties. Left without any answers, the likes of Mens Rights activists blame a false preference toward women/girls. This seems too simple an answer, because the ways that women are still behind men wouldn't still be our reality either. They wouldn't be paid 30% less, they'd be paid 30% more. And still, in the 21st century, the thing most likely to cause injury or death to a woman on this planet is men. If for absolutely no other reason, it's important that feminism exists and has a strong voice. If you disregard many other good reasons for its existence, this is still a more than sensible, reasonable, rationally self interested reason for women to speak and fight about issues related specifically to gender.

The argument that hasn't been made (at least among what we can for now call "traditionalists")  is that men/boys are falling into many of these positions not because of women or feminism, but because of men. While there is no actual realistic basis for an argument that men are in this situation because of women, because as men, we're not presenting them with an alternative, it's understandable that young men and boys may be feeling they're under a constant criticism or a constant vigilance about what they can't do or say, who they can or can't be. As the sayings go, feelings aren't facts, but perception dictates reality. Whether or not, as a man, you may like it, equality has made serious strides that are not going to be turned back without an upheaval of your entire life. Turning back the clock isn't an option, so it's time to start dealing with the reality we live in on a daily basis and creating the kind of masculine identity that can be a positive, participatory ideal. Those who are at the forefront of attempting to turn back the clock are going to be crushed by the weight of time marching forward without them. We're going to look at most of them in much the same way we've just looked at the late Fred Phelps, a sickening, disturbing, pathetically twisted failure. There is so very little that really needed to be said about his death because of just how spectacularly he failed and that within his own lifetime, the cause to which he dedicated himself was legally and socially destroyed. This isn't to say homophobia does not still exist and that there aren't still areas of the country where it has the levers of power within its grasp, but it is to say, there is no one, not a single objective mind that can look at the state of anti-gay movements and mentalities and think they have any real future. Time is going to so significantly wipe them away within a generation, that they're ability to wield power will become essentially extinct.

This leaves us both, men and women, in a precarious position. We're stumbling forward in attempts to either realign or completely do away with gender roles and at least as men, we have only a few alternatives to look toward in order to have some kind of guiding principles toward creating a sense of masculinity and manhood that is both more in line with the reality of contemporary society, but that also gives us some room to grow into a society that's more equitable. Gender equality has come a very long way from where it was even 100 years ago. That still doesn't change the sad truth that the most dangerous thing in the world to women is men. We're still the likeliest cause of injury and death a woman faces in her life. That should give us pause as we consider who it is we want to be, where it is we see ourselves going and what the answers to those same questions are on a larger basis for the whole society.

This, to me, is what something akin to an actual "Men's Rights" movement would look like. It would essentially be creating place in social structure where men can create their own identities, free from the traditionalists who seem to be unable to admit that the reality is still that men are the most dangerous thing women face on the planet and that a good deal of that reality is supported by the traditional gender roles they often support, even if it's a de facto support that's more the result of trying to "take feminism down a peg," without the actual motive of supporting those roles.

It also means we don't have to let our identities be shaped by the most strident and least humane voices in the least equitable corners of the feminist movement. The reality being that there are entities within the feminist movement whose motives are as specious as many of those in the Men's Rights movement. Every grouping of human beings is going to have them. That's not an attack on feminism in any way, as much as it is a recognition that there are always going to be some people within their ranks that any group should probably just ignore. Those men who feel threatened and accused by feminism as a whole are being asked to cross a great distance within their own perspectives to meet on ground that creates equality, feminism and feminists can cross some ground and accept the reality that not everyone who claims to be a feminist has the forward momentum of equality in mind. Some of them, just need to have a paycheck continuing to come in and like the most vocal aspects of the men's rights movement have realized that the more sensational and strident the attack, the more attention they're going to garner. Attention for radical, progressive (and not necessarily Progressive in the sense of today's current political speak, where it's a euphemism for traditional American liberalism), and forward thinking ideas ans perspectives is almost always a good thing. Sometimes though, those ideas can be held up to shield much more selfish ends that end up being detrimental to forward progression.

To put it extremely plainly, as free thinking, autonomous beings, we shouldn't let the crazy people take over the entire conversation about gender, no matter where they may fall on the spectrum of philosophy or beliefs. It's important to listen to the most radical ideas because they can be coming from a previously unconsidered, but ultimately useful, helpful perspectives, but it also doesn't mean letting the mantle of "radical" become a means to an end in itself. The worst result of this ends up being that the public discussion about gender ends up becoming an argument of extremes because everyone is looking for the opponents most extreme behavior or speech and holding that up as the example of the entirety of the opposition. This is all very straight forward in the world of public discussion and politics, every single area of our society that involves either of those is shot through with it. Personally, I don't want men's rights activists defining what my accepted role in society should be, but I don't really want Jezebel definining it either. There are galaxies of ground between those two, and that's something we should be exploring in order to help understand the realities of masculinity in the 21st century. At least amongst ourselves, we can start having a conversation about what those realities are and what new kinds of expectations we have of each other and ourselves in light of those facts.

There are a thousand questions to ask surrounding just the basic idea of what a new masculinity looks like. One of them is certainly, "Should we even bother with a concept for masculinity?" It's a perfectly sensible and reasonable question to which many people will probably respond, "No." The only response I can have to that sentiment is that humanity isn't anywhere near ready to actually embrace an erasure of gender roles altogehter. The path there, if that is the best end result to hope for, is incredibly long from where we're standing. Not to say it isn't a worthy goal, but it's the Jules Verne syndrome. It's thinking about space travel before we've mastered air travel with any real efficiency or capability for mass transit. We might be able to fly in one's and two's, so far as dumping gender roles is concerned, but we're not at the point of being able to handle mass transit. It's going to take an evolution of thought and attitudes that starts with figuring out how to move the ideas of the masculine and feminine in a more forward thinking direction. Beginning with trying to understand that direction has to happen before it can begin to be popularized and communicated to the sections of society that aren't interested in participating in the conversation yet. They may become interested, but it is good to recognize the reality that it's not the kind of conversation that's going to suddenly become a subject people discuss around the proverbial water cooler.

There are a few topics that are directly related to the traditional concepts of masculinity that can't be overlooked if there is going to be a revision or reevaluation of what masculinity as a whole can or does mean in the contemporary context. Exploring those in more detail is something I plan on attempting to do in the future, but they're also concepts that should be considered as part of a discussion. I'm obviously not someone with the training or the education to be best suited to unpacking and analyzing them in the most useful way, but I can participate from my own limited perspective.

Essentially, this is an invitation. Calling people out just doesn't actually change minds or attitudes anymore (if it ever did). The endless chatter and the endless number of topics people can choose to call others out on has created what's essentially an ecosystem over run with white noise. We can all go back to our respective corners and feel good about our self righteous moral superiority, but that really changes nothing and is little better than preaching to already loyal converts. An invitation and "calling in" as I recently saw it described, is something altogether different. There is a necessary reason and place for "calling people out." There is also a necessary reason and place for "calling people in." The difference being, in the most rudimentary sense, an attitude that says, "this is important, come sit down and talk about this with us," versus "you've done something wrong and you have to listen to what we say it is." One has an undertone of imposing discipline or punishment on the offender, the other has an undertone of exercising discipline within or on ones self.

The problem with all of this being that in the most real sense, I'm essentially no one, so my invitation isn't worth much of anything. On the other hand, that might just be a good thing. Maybe this invitation to join this discussion is really about anyone who might be interested in the conversation, whether or not they know me or think I could have anything worth hearing, asking others to join the conversation, and just getting it to begin in a larger way.

I'm going to continue trying to explore this idea, as time allows. I'll be posting here about more specific topics related to this discussion as I'm able to consider, write and edit them. If you're interested, contact me through this blog or any of the social media I've got listed under "Links You Should Click" in the sidebar. I'm only one person, with one perspective, and a limited one at that, so having some other people with some ideas about what masculinity is or can be as we move into the 21st century would be useful and helpful in being able to have an actual discussion, which is what it seems we all need.


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