Masculinity and patriarchy are closely connected, but they are not the same. There is such a thing as conscious masculinity. There are ways for men to be masculine and true to our nature in ways that actually serve society.
I am asking men to help me develop a course on conscious masculinity. I’m currently calling it “the better men project.” What is it that we have to learn in order to make this a culture that is safe for women The group targets cis-gender, heterosexual men in committed relationships - simply because that’s what I am, it is what I know, and so it is the best place for me to start.
I am currently holding 15 minute interviews with men that are open to doing this work. I want to systematically speak to men who might consider this group, and learn as much as I can about how they define the need and the problem.
If this speaks to you, please sign up below.
It is too easy for the work of dismantling patriarchy to become an arena of “competitive wokeness.” A well developed analysis can actually shut down curiosity. We tend to hold it as a fundamental truth. And the work becomes about grandstanding. Everyone wants to get it right. To let others know they have it right. And to enforce what is right. I call it movement fundamentalism.
I have nothing against what is right. But I do have a problem with spaces that make us afraid to get anything wrong. The fundamentalism that underlies “competitive wokeness” can paralyze us with fear. No one wants to get it wrong. No one wants to be exiled from the tribe. A primal fear hijacks our thinking. And fear is how possibility erodes.
One of the key findings from my first round of interviews is that men don’t have enough intimacy with other men. Those who are in a relationship may tend to burden their partner with emotional labor. Or they may opt to shut down instead.
But bringing men together in ways that facilitate vulnerability and intimacy opens the door for the sort of healing that is all about taking responsibility. It is the most fundamental work. The work we have to do is to turn inwards and love ourselves. It is by making this choice that we are able to choose our own healing. It is by becoming responsible for our own healing, it is by becoming whole, that we can find our way to conscious masculinity.
Interviews for the Better Men Project confirm that many of us want to do better. It is also clear that we do not always know how to. We know how to be better than Weinstein or Cosby. Some of us have learned tough lessons about the impact of our own behavior.
But being a good man has to mean more than "don't be bad."
George Yancy invites an #IamSexist movement. He refuses to let any of us off the hook. It is not enough to not be bad. What matters is that we are men in a culture that holds ideas of masculinity that are dangerous and toxic. He quotes bell hooks:
Learning to wear a mask (that word already embedded in the term ‘masculinity’) is the first lesson in patriarchal masculinity that a boy learns. He learns that his core feelings cannot be expressed if they do not conform to the acceptable behaviors sexism defines as male. Asked to give up the true self in order to realize the patriarchal ideal, boys learn self-betrayal early and are rewarded for these acts of soul murder.
After too long a stretch on the road, I am finally back to interviewing for the Better Men Project. I am riveted by the pattern of pain and responsibility that keeps showing up in these talks with men.
I did manage to make time for a heart-centered overnight ceremony with a cohort of men. These were lawyers, accountants, and big time financiers. Men who live and work outside of the “woke” discourse. The men that I’m trying to reach. The work works, the heart opening is real, and it gives men access to parts of themselves that have been shut out by patriarchy and its conditioning.
“The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.”- bell hooks
The most consistent statement that I’m hearing in my interviews for the Better Men Project is that men lack access to the full range of human emotion. This lack of access leaves us baffled in light of the deeply vulnerable experience of being human. We don’t know what to do. We do know what we are expected to do. And so we ignore the longings of our souls and move single mindedly in the direction that is clear, and that we understand - even it takes us nowhere.
Who better to speak to the redeeming aspects of masculinity than people who have had both experiences, the experience of being assigned female at birth and the experience of transitioning to life as a man. I write with Felix’s permission and with his eyes on these words.
Felix spoke to the challenge of finding ways to be in solidarity with this #MeToo moment. Felix was assigned the female gender at birth, he can certainly point to painful experiences in his past that would allow him to use the hashtag. But today he walks in the world as a man, with all the privileges that entails. Felix speaks eloquently about double consciousness, and about the trans experience of being Man2.0, a man with the somatic memory of walking the world perceived as a woman, a man with an intimate understanding of the feminine experience.
The Better Men Project is a way to take responsibility, a way to step up. We are in the midst of an important purge, a purge that must continue as truth and the implications of toxic masculinity are brought into light.
I come into this work in full acknowledgment that patriarchy is part of my constitution. And that I am part of the problem. I have been conducting interviews for the Better Men Project and I am made hopeful by what I’m finding.
Men are reflecting on our shortcomings, our blindspots and mistakes, and what it means to show up as a man in this culture. Some of us are ready for accountability, the restoration of justice and the responsibility of working with each other to build a culture that is safe for women.
The #metoo campaign is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever seen on social media. It is absolutely devastating. And it is also liberating. Silence, shame, hiding - these are the tools of oppression. I am disturbed by the masculine silence. Are you a man struggling with how to show up? Let's talk about it.
I have truly had to face the ugliness of my own patriarchy. Because I have taken leadership positions my mistakes and blind spots have had larger, messier impact. I’ve made a commitment to transform myself,to truly be a better man, not just someone that doesn’t hurt others and avoids messiness but someone that shares my learning to help others grow.
Over the years I’ve realized a crucial error in my thinking: I equated patriarchy and masculinity. I made them one and the same. And in doing so, I sought to erase the integral masculine part of myself.