Divided & Conquered: Men’s Role In Modern Society
Toxic, natural, traditional, patriarchal … masculinity.
Let’s clear some things up. Masculinity refers to the natural and widely shared characteristics of both men and boys. While overused and almost always misunderstood, Toxic Masculinity is a superiority complex that results in a hyper-fixation to unequivocally be perceived as “real man” by societal standards, not one’s own. The phrase was originally never meant to shame men for their natural masculinity. Rather, define the difference between an organic, lived gender identity as opposed to an exaggerated and performative identity. It’s often not men’s fault they react this way at one point in their lives after experiencing feelings of gender inadequacy.
It is unnatural to feel the need to constantly prove that you’re a man. However, it’s often a vicious cycle many learn early in boyhood. Let’s acknowledge that our notions of “traditional” masculinity have been narrow and exclusionary for far too long. There is no global standard for what a man should be, and there’s no need to fear or disregard those who don’t fit into society’s false concept of being “a real man.” Our true monstrosity lies in perpetuating systems of superiority and believing that we deserve more simply because we align more with societal norms.
The American Man
The commonly accepted qualifiers for “traditional masculinity” in America were formed in a patriarchal, homophobic and historical context. We’re not living in the past and the context has changed drastically. Yet, society often still compares men to an outdated expectation: never show emotion – except anger, be aggressive, be a leader, be stronger, work harder, provide more, protect even if it means sacrificing your life. Love and acceptance are no longer be something men and boys should be required to earn through harmful self-sacrificing. Especially since the advancement of women has relinquished so much pressure and responsibility from modern men.
It’s critical for American men to acknowledge The Civil Rights Movement’s effects on American culture. The shift in gender equality is still only newly explored. In 1941, The National Service Act allowed women to legally work. However, only unmarried women in their twenties. Solely because we were at war, not as an act of equality. The marriage bar, prohibiting married and widowed women from the workforce, wasn’t be abolished until 1964 with The Civil Rights act. Still, it would be another decade before The Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974 allowed women to have a bank account without the signature of a husband. Less than 50 years ago.
What Does This Mean?
This means that most of our mothers were actually the first generation of American women who had the opportunity to live “equally” and independently without the legal requirement of a man’s approval over their personal decisions and finances. Women now in their late twenties and thirties are only the second generation of independent women America has ever seen.
Many men, also in their late twenties and thirties, are only the second generation of men to navigate the new climate of equal rights of women, minorities and the LGBTQ+ community. Still, they are usually only offered antiquated advice from a crumbling patriarchy. Left wildly unprepared for the beautifully complex and intricate culture shaping around us. Previously, men were taught to divide themselves from others. Men were taught that separation would make men superior. Now the divide just creates lonely men.
Defining Modern Masculinity
Modern masculinity is not a call to undergo some profound transformation and challenge traditional values. It simply recognizes that masculinity is not a monolithic concept, but a diverse spectrum of identities and expressions. It’s a fact that American culture has changed drastically since our grandfather’s day. So, it’s illogical to think you won’t be met with resistance when perpetuating an antiquated ideology. Society will continue to evolve. It’s self-sabotaging to fight a natural progression that has and always will be out of your control.
Defining Natural Masculinity Clearly
Starting off strong with integrity. A state of being whole, undivided and having strong moral uprightness. This is not the same as ego, pride or self-assuredness. Do not allow yourself to be put into a box. You don’t need to be labeled. Differentiators are distractions keeping you addicted to external validation.
Men are generous. Through history, men show countless acts of genuine generosity. Giving compliments and praise freely, chivalrously opening doors and holding umbrellas, consistently showing up for friends and community members in need. Not out of a sense of duty or to generate indebtedness from others. Generosity is an innate gift and the true quality behind the “provider” and “protector” mindsets.
Having a strong sense of self. When someone asks you to tell us a little about yourself instead of answering with your achievements, answer with your personality traits and beliefs. You do not have to achieve anything in order to be deserving of acceptance.
Decisive decision making. Often confused with courage or risk-taking, men and boys both often display decisiveness through actions, even if they struggle with it verbally. Many men have the ability to put one foot in front of the other and learn quickly through doing.
Masculinity isn’t toxic. But using gender as an excuse for remorseless behavior and stunted emotional intelligence is. Many of us haven’t identified what natural masculinity means to us. Educating ourselves and determining that on our own can be hard, so we’ve curated reliable resources.
Ryan Authier is a licensed professional counselor here in Austin with over 10 years of experience in mental health. Recently, Ryan started hosting a new group aimed at helping self-identified men unlearn instilled toxic and patriarchal messaging. Everyone is welcome. Ryan offers single visits and long-tern support. Dismantle societal expectations of dominance, power, and control, and delve into the realms of love, sex, intimacy, and sexuality. Sessions are every other Tuesday from 4-5:30 pm GMT, and participation is available via Zoom.
Resources Recommended by Ryan
The Mask You Live In is a documentary by The Representation ProjectÂ that follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Watch the trailer here.
The Will To Change by Bell Hooks – Hooks challenges the patriarchy and men-hating feminists. Cheering for natural masculinity and teaching you how you can too.
Boys Wont Be Boys is a Tedx Talk by Ben Hurst. Hurst rejects patriarchal masculinity as natural. Addressing the negative impact of violence and hyper-sexualization being associated with young men.