What is the alternative to toxic masculinity?
A week from now my baby boy is due to arrive in the world.
It’s a world where Donald Trump is the leading America and MeToo hashtags are exposing the extent of the most toxic forms of masculinity.
At the same time, it’s a world where women are increasingly being celebrated for their leadership qualities. Where a 38-year-old woman become the Prime Minister of my country, gave birth to her first child, and returned to leading our country six weeks later — demonstrating and role modelling the increasing choices women and men have for configuring work and family life.
Jacinda Ardern is a woman who is warm, compassionate, decisive, strong and seems genuinely driven to improve the wellbeing of New Zealanders.
From my vantage point, I see strong women everywhere. Most of the inspiring leaders I’ve worked with have been women. Today, a Guess Who style board game that features women who have changed the world popped up on my newsfeed.
And the lovely thing is, I’ve never felt I’ve had to hide my femininity to achieve. I can even use the word “lovely” in a piece of writing and expect to still be taken seriously. I’ve learned to use my softness to work with people and drive things forward. Traditionally feminine characteristics like emotional intelligence and humility are becoming increasingly valued in the workplace, and women are brilliant — as always — at getting shit done.
On balance, I find this inspiring and think it will be inspiring for a daughter I might one day have. And I am grateful to feminists before us and today who have steadfastly created — and continue to create — a landscape with greater opportunities for women and greater recognition of our contributions.
Of course, there is still a long way to go. Despite evidence of female leadership everywhere, men still dominate the upper echelons of the workplace in formal leadership positions (for many reasons). A man who talks about grabbing women by the pussy is in power. Women and girls continue to suffer at the hands of men.
These things aren’t good for women, but it’s not exactly like they’re good for men either.
What makes me worried for our son is how we get the rest of the way towards equal treatment and whether we are doing that in a way that’s constructive and healthy for — and valuing of women, girls, men, boys — humans.
Because our son is arriving in a world which seems to expend a lot of energy talking about things like manspreading, mansplaining, and manflu.
Is the rhetoric around man-Xing supposed to encourage men to reflect on their behaviour? I feel like I hardly see these words used in any way other than to put men down, and I wonder what the net effect of that is.
What I want to know is — what is healthy masculinity, exactly? Should my partner and I actively raise our boy to embrace his (non-toxic) masculine or feminine qualities, or both, or should we just be raising him to be a good human who contributes positively to the world and treats people with respect?
This week I had a first-hand experience of manspreading. It was at my Tuesday meditation group, and I had to sit with my legs well apart to accommodate the humongous bump protruding from my middle.
Physically, it was much more comfortable to sit like this than in my usual lady-like posture. Psychologically, it wasn’t. I initially felt domineering towards the others in the group and had an uncomfortable sense of power that women traditionally haven’t been allowed to feel.
But then I thought, okay let’s go with this. I changed the story. I knew I had no intention to dominate. Probably no one noticed how I was sitting or gave a toss, and if they were noticing, at best they might be seeing a proud, upright and strong woman, or maybe just a heavily pregnant woman just trying to achieve some semblance of comfort.
And then I let go to the psychological discomfort and embraced the power pose, and felt these amazing surges of energy and heat being released through my body. It was certainly a different meditation experience than usual and got me curious about getting more familiar and comfortable with what would traditionally be deemed masculine qualities to complement my feminine ones.
Regardless of gender, being present in our strength and power is good for all of us.
I hope my son feels comfortable standing with pride and strength. I hope he sees men and women role modelling this. I hope he never uses his strength and power to exert dominance over girls, women, or anyone. And I hope he grows up in a world where men don’t use their stature or other methods of power to express or exert dominance and control over others. I hope that we raise up girls and women not by cutting boys and men down. I hope that others — including girls and women — don’t use their power to belittle him.
I hope my boy grows up in a world where we learn to address toxic masculinity with humanity.