Emotional & Masculine.
Reading the news over the past few years, I think it must be an exciting time to be a woman. There’s a movement going on, and it’s gaining momentum. Women’s Marches are internationally declaring the united mind, power, and will of men and women who are tired of seeing women taken advantage of, abused, and controlled. #MeToo has become a tidal wave of empowerment through which victims of sexual abuse and harassment are speaking out in unprecedented volume to reach one another, the masses, and- eventually- the courts.
But then I pause and think… it must be an infuriating time to be a woman.
I mean, there’s a need for Women’s Marches and #MeToo.
The world today and the systems governing it need reminding- and more often persuading- that women are equal to men and should not be harassed, raped, or paid less. And as feminists- of every skin colors, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, culture, and socio-economic standing- plea in one accord on behalf of these convictions, there meet a shouting opposition, screaming that their experiences matter too.
It is a disarming, confusing response. Instead of engaging with the original movement for safety and equality, it redirects the conversation, making them the subject. It happens in almost every polarized debate; one side argues on the X-axis while the other shouts on the Y. I can see the movements in most issues: one side argues safety on the streets, the other argues for their own rights. One side argues for the worth of an unborn life, the other argues for the the right for a woman to make decisions over her own body. But in this particular issue, I confess, I am confused. It seems to me that no one’s experience was invalidated by the plea for women’s safety and equality; except, by implication, the experiences of sexual criminals, rapists, and sexist, discriminatory positions of power.
And here I am struck with a second confusing thought: I don’t know what to call the other side of this exchange. I don’t like naming anything by their opposite or what they oppose; it seems tacky to call them “anti-feminists.” But, then, what else do I have? Though they support many ideals of what feminists have named “the Patriarchy,” there are few overt Patriarchists, and most would refuse to be labeled as such. But then, what is the name? I’m not always sure what they stand for. I am only sure- from violet cheeks, furious eyes, and well-attended protests- that they sure don’t like what the feminists have to say.
All of this is only my experience, and I am no scholar or exceptional advocate. I have found my place standing on the front lines of the battle- not as a claim to glory or a demonstration of my reckless abandon- in order to arbitrate, to implore both sides that we should perhaps be saying “and” instead of “but.” For it is terrifying to be a man in a world where the accusation of sexual misconduct can be damning and it is terrifying to be a woman in a world where at any time a man could take advantage of an empty office, or make a case of “implied consent” at a party, and get away- innocent or never accused- with physically and emotionally traumatizing a girl or woman for the rest of her life. Both fears must be welcomed, validated, considered and worked on.
One sided issues do not polarize a nation or last centuries. When both sides bear validity a debate becomes heated, fragile, and unimaginably intricate. Yet we are not without mentors. Dr. King & John Lewis, Ghandi & Frances Kissling, all demonstrate that empathy for both sides- however vile- and positions of compassion are possible even under unimaginable opposition and pressure. We have more in common with activists who choose love as their means and end than we do with warmongers who align with our issues, and it is with these lovers that solutions are born.
As a white, male, feminist, I stand on battle lines against an opposition that does not understand why I’m here, alongside some teammates who- understandably- scowl to see me on their side for my resemblance to someone who deeply hurt them, or who share my unasked for privilege. In my daily life, I operate with innocent intentions and unceasing paranoia of how I am perceived. With no intent to ever harass or rape a woman, there would be a Wiley Coyote like smoking silhouette in the wall of any room where I was alone with a woman. Leaving work, many times I have made intentional wrong turns for fear that a female co-worker may think I am following her in the night.
As a white, male, feminist, I stand on battle lines against an opposition that does not understand why I’m here.
And to anyone who would advocate for me, to anyone who would say that an innocent man with no false intentions should not have to behave in these ways, perhaps you are right. In the fantasy lands of what ideally “should” be, I whole-heartedly agree. But let us not live in fictions. We all wake up to almost daily headlines of harassment and rape, of scandal on the streets and penthouse board rooms and government offices. We all likely know someone who has been raped, abused, or harassed (whether we are aware of it or not). And scariest of all, none of us can tell one another’s intentions.
I know there are real men in the world that women are safe with, and I know there are monsters who look just like us.
It’s confusing to look in the mirror and shave with these thoughts; it can be confusing and profoundly isolating. I do not remember working to build my empathy muscles or ever choosing “Human Decency” as a fringe elective. My culture tells a silent narrative where all men, in puberty probably, face a fork in the road where they have to choose between having a penis or having feelings, but I’ve never been there, and- whether from strength within or love from without- I was never tempted to mask my insecurities or doubts with ‘machismo’ in the form of violence or sexual conquest. I have searched, but I find no binary disconnect between masculinity and sincerity, between being male and being understanding, save for one: the isolation I feel for being an exception against a cultural tide of toxic masculinity.
“Emotional & Masculine.”
I love the combination, the perceived and non-existent contrast; the alphabetic, semantic illusion. My culture reads the two together and sees a paradox, yet what puzzle pieces they are within me.
Yes! Ladies and Gentlemen, gather ‘round! Behold!
You can be both.
Do not misunderstand me reader: I am not anti-masculine. On the contrary! I long for brothers. I am hungry for friends. I dream of a generation of men who are free to be themselves, brave enough to couple vulnerability and strength, and who have the courage and tenacity to open themselves to new ideas and love of others.
I see the Masculine Identity hanging on a razor’s edge, and I fear it is losing the battle to mindless, unnecessarily defensive violence and entitled immaturity. And so I take my stand on the soap-box to break this here “fourth wall” and speak against the tide:
Reader, oh reader, if you have forgotten, if you stopped believing, hear me as I remind you, show you, try to convince you:
Men can feel.
Read the poets.
Men enjoy sex, love sex, and will survive without sex on any given night. Real men can even be mature enough to understand where a denied request is coming from and can encourage their partners in it. It is predatory and manipulative- not masculine- to annoy and persuade after being told “no.” And there is no such thing as a man who “could not help himself.” It is a child’s entitled excuse from someone who does not believe they are capable of exhibiting self-control or doesn’t believe they should have to. “I could not help myself” can, in this writer’s opinion, be translated to, “but it was hard and I didn’t waaaaaaant to!”
Men can be sexy as hell and not be creepy (c. Barry White).
Predatory insistence and one-sided sex is not sexy.
Intuition, respect, and confidence are sexy.
And hear this too, reader!
Blind entitlement with no regard for another is not masculine, it is sociopathic. We should all choose our words more carefully.
An inability to feel one’s own emotions is not masculine, but may be the consequence of trauma or a coping mechanism that once enabled survival, but now requires treatment. Men who cannot feel now can heal, and can feel again.
Racism and sexism are not masculine; they are racist and sexist. It is not typical behavior to refrain from sexism and racism just because women are around; it is cowardly.
Dependence on the validation of another- on a spouse, on sexual conquest, on a defeated opponent- is not masculine, it is the hiding place of someone too weak or too afraid to stand on their own two legs, who needs outside validation like crutches to support their worth.
Some of you look at me like I’ve just told you animals can speak. Some of you weep. Some of you shout. Some applaud. Some rally and cheer. I inhale and descend from the soap box, feeling all the come-down adrenaline.
None of these declarations are written in judgment or condescension. I state them as fact to a world that seems to have forgotten or lost faith in them.
And so men, I invite you to join me. Together, let’s show the world what men are like, what masculinity is, and let’s not surrender our identity to villains or adult-children. Let’s teach the world that there is a difference between masculine behavior and criminal behavior; make bold the line. Let’s defend the oppressed and helpless from anyone who would assault them.
You say you want a cause to fight for?
You say you long to defend the innocent?
Stand up for them. Speak up for them.
You say you’ve been hurt? You’ve been overlooked? You’re afraid?
Your pain matters. If you speak it openly and respectfully, you will find a place in the negotiating table and your needs will be considered too.
You say you want teammates?
We are here. I would love to have you alongside me.
You want to be macho? You want to be a man?
Fucking be one. One brave enough to face himself, to face doubts and let them run like a bull into the ring where you stand waiting to engage. Face the door of surface level living and be brave enough to open it to explore what’s on the other side. Encounter your darkness and your light, your strengths and your weaknesses, your glories and your fears, and feel it all.
You say feeling and thinking aren’t masculine?
History is littered with male minds and passionate, romantic men. When did we forsake them and trade our hearts and minds for anti-intellectualism and emotional atrophy? This article is my blue print for the heist. Join me in pillaging the vaults; let’s steal them back.
And women, you are invited too! Some of the most precious words spoken to me this year has been the word “teammates” from strong, feminist women in my life, whose fight is not against men, but who join real men in correcting and ridding the world of fallen, bent, toxic masculinity. Ladies, I implore you, for your sake the sake of my gender, never to settle for monsters or babies; hold out for men. Expect greatness from men and the strong, brave, and wise will rise to the call; even surprise you in surpassing it. And when you see injustice, choose your words carefully; call it criminal, not manly. Call it predatory, call it sociopathic, call it entitled, childlike, or immature; not masculine.
Instead, when you see men with you at the Women’s March, when you hear men growl and scream to see justice done, see men defend- in rallies and on dates- the inalienable control you exert over every nerve on your body, when you see a man listening and respectfully speaking his heart and mind, call that masculine.