I recently wrote a piece on my personal blog that highlighted seven men who are transforming masculinity, and I was blown away by how well it resonated.
It shattered all of my daily hit totals and is still bringing in a strong number of people to the blog on a daily basis.
In reflecting on the post, I realized that it was so popular because it touched on an unfilled need.
We need more resources that teach men how to transform masculinity to make it more responsive, less violent, and more inclusive of the tremendous diversity of masculinities that can exist.
And though I detest most everything I see coming out of the Men’s Rights Movement for the ways it is dripping with misogyny, this is one area where I agree with many of its activists: We need a new masculinity!
We need to talk about what a more inclusive masculinity could actually look like beyond “Real men cry, too.”
Now, I rarely agree with those MRM activists about what that masculinity should look like, but in my experience in social justice work, sometimes you have to look for growth points wherever they exist. At least we agree on something!
So let’s start there.
If masculinity needs to be transformed, in what ways can we change it so that men can more fully realize themselves without hurting others?
Here are a few of my suggestions.
This one is really hard for me.
I preach listening all the time, but I often struggle to practice what I preach.
If other male-identified people received the same conditioning I did, they were told to make sure that their voices are heard and that they have the last word.Don’t worry about talking over people (especially women). Just assert yourself and your voice!
So a simple way that men can begin to transform masculinity is to listen more.
Obviously it makes sense to start by listening more to women and trans* or genderqueer people, but really, we must do a better job of listening to allpeople.
Hell, we could use to do a better job of listening to all beings: the earth, animals, plants, as well as people.
The point here is that when we are constantly asserting ourselves into space and conversation, we have no capacity to learn.
When we are constantly asserting ourselves into space, we are constantly in a state of vulnerable power, one where we exert power over others to hide the fact that silence and listening can be terrifying.
After all, listening might mean that we have to actually hear people and thereby change ourselves and our practices.
God forbid that we open ourselves up to learning from the experiences of the world around us through listening.
That might mean that we don’t, in fact, have all the answers, as we were taught from the earliest of ages!
Show More Loving Affection
I remember writing an essay about myself in seventh or eighth grade, and in that essay, I boldly proclaimed, “I still cuddle with my mother!!!”
Then something changed.
I got the message.
You do not cuddle, especially not with your mother.
Now, obviously the messages we receive in middle school and early high school are some of the most extreme, boiled down messages about our identity that we can possibly receive, but the message has stayed with me.
There aren’t many spaces in my life where I share loving affection with people outside of my partner.
Men, particularly in the United States, tend to have a complicated and fraught relationship with touch.
We don’t really show affection to women who we are not in a relationship with or who are not immediate family members, and we almost never show loving affection for other men.
Thus, men have a responsibility to change this. And doing so will be tricky.
After all, we have to consider all of the people who may not want our touch at any given time because of legitimate (fear or triggering of sexual violence) or less legitimate (homophobia) reasons.
So we must start with our most inner circles and move out.
We must tell the men who we love that we do, in fact, love them.
Whether through hugs or pats on the back or even a simple hand on the arm of a friend, we must find a way to show those we love that we care about the healing power of touch.
We must find ways to extend loving affection beyond our partners or immediate family members.
Make Enthusiastic Consent a Daily Value
As I came of age in my sexuality, I was taught that consent was something very specific: If she (because it was never taught in a gender-neutral way) says no or stop, that (probably) means you don’t have consent and (probably) should stop.
Needless to say, my consent education was—well—lacking.