Monday, 27 November 2017

'Yes but, what do you mean by "masculinity", anyway?'

The very question of how to define masculinity goes hand in hand with the modern dogma that ‘gender is a construction’. By that, most people mean that it is not real. However, this is to make sweeping generalisations that in any other context would be rigorously challenged.

Gender may well be something that is distinct from sex. It may well be a cultural phenomenon. It is ironic, however, that in this age of treating mental illness as being as important as physical illness, and placing human rights on a foundation of cultural identity, that ‘culture’ should be talked of in such dismissive terms.

Gender may not simply be a biological fact. It is probably more accurately described as the cultural expression of biological imperatives. This would account for the apparent consistencies of gender roles over variant cultures, and also the differences across those variations.

Shiva is a the God of consciousness and creation, the male principle. Source - and

In any case, to say that ‘gender is a construction’ is as crude and ignorant a generalisation as saying that gender is programmed into the biology of a human individual. It also indicates a philistine’s world-view, as it reduces culture to some political interpretation. Culture is a complex concept. It does not lend itself to scientific precision. Broadly speaking, we might say that culture is what emerges when biological imperatives meet environmental variables.

None of this is rigorously scientific, and none of it is precise. It is not meant to be. It is merely a sensible working model, which accounts for common experiences.

Masculinity, then, does not need a precise definition. It it is a fool’s errand to try and formulate a definition, and nothing much would change even if we had one. What is observably true, however, is that certain virtues are esteemed higher by the majority of men, and that certain challenges present themselves to people of the male sex.

The question of how to define masculinity is a secondary question to the practical questions around men’s sense of meaning and purpose in the world; how they relate to women; what it means to be a father, and - most importantly - how men take responsibility for their emotional hygiene.

For anyone interested in the challenges men face today, the innovative work of poet and male coach Rick Belden is a good place to start. His articles in the Huffington Post on the unique challenges facing men, can be found here.

In this blog, I refuse to answer the question ‘yes but what is masculinity?’ It is a quibbling distraction. Masculinity, like jazz, can’t be defined, and if one has to ask, one will never know.

The purpose of this blog has always been to evolve knew forms of expression for the ancient imperatives of masculinity. Science is irrelevant here. What matters in this context is culture. And anyone who wants a definition of culture will have to look elsewhere.

This refusal to make definitions is not ignorance disguised as defiance. It is a rejection of a model of discussion which I believe drives all philosophical ideas into paralysis.

The question of what a term means, is not the search for a final truth. It is the jumping-off point for wider discussion. However, in modern discussions of ideas, the quest for definitions is really a desire to shut discussion down.

Modern philosophy is incapable of being of any cultural value because it is not interested in being of value. It’s only purpose it to dissolve mystery. However, ideas are by nature mysterious. They are necessarily incomplete.

The central question of this blog then, is not to answer abstract questions of masculinity, but to offer a range of possible answers to the question I believe men need to be asking themselves: How do I express MY masculinity?

Sex drive is always a good place to start, when you are faced with some typically entrenched pseudo-academic challenge about ‘what does masculinity really mean anyway’.

Most men you meet will be struggling with how they manage the primal, vibrant imperatives of their sexual desire, in a cultural and moral context that is wildly different from that of their forefathers’.

One of the many confusions young men experience today is the sense that they have to hide their natural powers, for fear of being seen as some kind of violent and archaic patriarch; while at the same time knowing that they cannot attract a mate, without showing the teeth of this very inner animal.

Being a man today, is a complex psychological challenge. It means being intimate with a violent and dangerous power - Whitman’s procreant urge - while at the same time adopting nurturing and empathic behaviours that would have been foreign to men of previous generations.

This is why I focus on Marlon Brando so much, and have been fascinated by his acting style for years. Brando, for all his faults, used a peculiar spectrum or emotional range to articulate complexities that were never seen before or since, in Hollywood heroism.

Watching Brando, one gets a sense of competing and complementary forces in the male psyche, forces which are equally primal, but which create layers of friction, mystery and difficulty.

The challenge we face then is how to evolve knew cultural forms that capture such complexities and frictions. This is a huge responsibility, and science is of very little help. We need art, creativity, beauty and mythology to navigate these dark, deep waters.

The question ‘what does it mean to be a man?’ is a poetic question, it is not a scientific one. This means that each man must himself become a poet and deploy the full force of his erotic imagination, in order to carve a new path of leadership and heroism, to meet the demands placed upon him in the world today.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Creativity and masculinity: The friction of competing strengths

The apparent paradox of creative masculinity is brought hilariously and rather hearteningly to light by a story about Oscar Wilde in his schooldays. Apparently the future lord of London dinner tables was reciting his poetry in front of class, only to be mocked and sneered at by a boorish philistine in the back row. According to witness accounts, the large and burley budding aesthete pounced on the man and unleashed a pugilist power that surprises fans of Wilde to this day.

For a man so much associated with effete decadence and homosexual scandal, to say nothing of his dandyism and love of lilies, this story acts not as a counterexample against the cultural perceptions about maleness and creativity, but rather serves as an exception proving the rule, given the surprising violence of the story.

Creativity and masculinity are not supposed to go together. Male artists created the culture we enjoy, and yet, something about being creative and expressing yourself makes you less of a man, in the common perception.

Wildred Owen used poetry not only to cure his traumas but to transcend them and to become an unlikely warrior

It is true that for a man to be creative he must be in touch with femininity in a way that an athlete or political leader doesn’t need to be.

However, there is a presumption that being in touch with femininity somehow amputates masculinity.

This is silly, of course, because in all true healthy people, both femininity and masculinity exist together, and neither is repressed. That’s not to say that they are equal. However, they very much need to be balanced.

There’s a lot of posturing going around these days, that somehow it is now more acceptable for men to express their feelings; that gender is a construction, so what I am addressing here doesn’t matter anyway. After feminism, vulnerable men are celebrated and creativity is seen as being very masculine indeed.

This posturing is dangerously false. It is a kind of PR that people tell themselves about themselves, so they can bask in the glowing self-image of openness and tolerance.

It is the great falsehood of our age that eradicating differences somehow makes one more ‘tolerant’. If only we could get rid of gender, race, culture, borders, hierarchies, somehow we would become a more tolerant people.

It is baffling then that the very people who espouse this view, are often not very tolerant in practice.

Sex differences have a cultural impact. We could argue the toss about whether gender is a construction or not, but the reality is, for the large majority of people, sex differences manifest themselves in common behaviour patters. To deny this, is to augment reality through political abstractions.

One of those gender differences happens to be around the area of creativity. Expressing feelings, is still seen as being anti-male. And if it exists at all, it is a decadence. Creative men are aberrations of the norm.

One of the ways this manifests is through the jokes men make to each other about opening up their feelings, or through the default insult of homosexuality.

I remember myself, at school I was ridiculed for liking Jim Morrison, often on the receiving end of aspersions cast about my sexuality. I am no saint, either. I remember teasing other men for singing in the choir, likening them to girls, or saying they ‘have no balls’.

Women too, insult and degrade men for being creative or for expressing their feelings. Social scientist Brene Brown has recently studied the difference between how women talk about vulnerable men, and how they actually treat them.

My own experience is that women pay lip service to wanting to be around more sensitive and creative men, but in reality, they find such personalities disconcerting and uncomfortable.

Of course, these are generalisations, and there are plenty of artistic men and women who ally with other creative people, regardless of gender. The point stands, however. If we are not comfortable with openness and vulnerability, then we find it repellent in others, whether we admit to it or not.

It is tempting to explain away the distaste among men for vulnerability and creativity. We could resort to evolutionary speculation, and quite sensibly say that men needed to be tough to survive, that a certain amount of repression became instinctual and made normal, in order that men grew up able to kill in the hunt, and devastate in wars.

It is thought that violent rituals around manhood were ways of encouraging this toughening up in young men. Too much vulnerability and sensitivity then would be a liability.

However, this is too simplistic, despite making some sense. Another aspect of survival apart from resilience and strength, is adaptivity.

In conscious animals, creative thinking, the ability to innovate new solutions to unforeseen challenges is an essential tool. Terence McKenna, the psychedelic thinker, speculated that the role of the artist is a modern version of the role of the shaman - someone who serves his community by confronting the unknown.

Whatever these theories amount to, it is clear that there is a friction inherent in being a male artist. Competing kinds of strength exist in creativity and physical survival, and both can’t exist without the other.

Artists like Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Hunter S Thompson and Jack Kerouac are extreme modern examples of this friction being barely managed and eventually being badly handled.

The strength needed to confront physical challenges can often conflict with the strength needed to face the challenges of the psyche. There is a reason that the contemplative and the warrior led different lives throughout history.

However, there are civilised traditions where those two kinds of strength are brought together. Disciplines in which imaginative courage and physical courage are married.

The Samurai tradition of Japan, and all eastern martial arts, at their most exquisite, manifest this paradox of vulnerability and monstrous violence.

The Knights Templar lived like monks, turning their warrior training to the service of a philosophic idea.

The Renaissance ideal of the Courtier, the civilised man, is often thought of as slightly effete, however, the courtly Prince was required to be as much a swordsman as we was a lover and a scholar. To be civilised also meant being ready and able to defend that civilisation from the all too real threat of barbarism.

Vulnerability, and a capacity for beauty, are not non-masculine traits. However, they do exist alongside physical strength and warrior sensibilities, with a certain amount of friction.

One of the most striking examples of how an artistic personality can exist in a warrior context, is the story of Wilfred Owen. Not only did the practice of poetry help him to heal his PTSD and the trauma of being a sensitive, Keatsian boy thrust into the bloodied hell of the trenches in World War One, it actually facilitated a transformation of the aesthete into courageous leader of men.

Owen, once cured, insisted on going back to the trenches to lead his men and to carry out his duty. Had it not been for his work as a poet, this transformation would not have happened.

On top of that, Owen has left us with a body of work which to this day is a portal into the horrors and trauma of one of the most shameful humanitarian disasters in civilised history. If it wasn’t for this marrying of the poet and warrior, our culture and countless schoolchildren every year, would be markedly ignorant of the full implications of modern warfare.

The platitudes about men opening up and being more vulnerable, and this being a kind of strength, are generally false. They tend to be uttered by people who in practice exhibit a quick and fierce disdain for that same vulnerability in men.

Creative men are celebrated, but they are not celebrated for their skills and their imaginative capacities, so much as their successes and triumphs of social status.

Regardless of these uncomfortable truths, masculinity and creativity are intimately linked, and creativity clearly manifests itself differently in men than it does in women.

To be creative and vulnerable is not to be any less a man. It does however, present an ongoing challenge for creative men to negotiate a psychic diplomacy between their imaginative inwardness and their ever strident physical instincts.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Time for snobby women to stop whining. Men will no longer be shamed for their sexuality

Men are sick of being lectured to about ‘toxic masculinity’. Men are sick of the endless preachings from Huffington Post, Oxbridge debutantes about ‘privilege’, and the implication that every or any sexual advance is a form of harassment until proven otherwise.

Have men been abusive towards women in history? Yes. Has this often become a cultural rule of thumb? Of course. However, theories about ‘the patriarchy’ and ‘rape culture’ demonise men by painting in dangerously broad strokes.

Speaking personally, I grew up thinking that my sexuality and my masculinity were dangerous and pathological. Before I could put such feelings into words, it was clear to me, given the messaging of the times, that to be a man, was to be bad.

The only hope was for a man to emancipate himself by becoming more like women. Listening more, understanding women’s struggle more and amputating his testosterone urges in favour of reaching out across the gender divide.

The phoney language of gender ecumenism is really just a PR front for a brand of feminism that is itself obsessed with power.

As Nietzsche warned, every revolution carries with it the danger of ‘resentement’ - the process of turning the tables of power, only to replace the old regime with a new one built of former slaves.

That is what we have happening across the western world right now. Women are being bred to be entitled, tyrannical and nasty people, and they are told that behaving in this way is ‘empowered’.
A culture of vain, pathological femininity is dominant. Men are being told that to be good and moral, and to be loved and cherished as men by women, they have to convert themselves from their natural proclivities.

Masculinity is now defined by the most extreme pathological behaviours. To the point that being a man itself is considered something to be cured. A religion of ‘progress' exists around women and femininity, as if to be born with a vagina is to be born a beautiful and perfect madonna.

Like the dangerous sexual sublimation of Catholic priests, men now find themselves in a double bind in expressing their sexuality. Either they express it and risk being branded a ‘creep’ a ‘harasser’ or a threat of such a kind; or they suppress it, dislodge themselves from sexual culture, thus thwarting their own development.

The horrifying irony of this is that the double-bind is far more likely to create ‘toxic’ behaviours than a compassionate and honest cultural examination of the nature of masculinity would do.

Men of all stripes must rebel against this crazed, oestrogen hegemony. It’s time to put these sexual tyrants back in their place. Not through identity politics, but through a shameless sexuality, a shameless expression of male erotic power and a creative and cultural male renaissance.

Let us invent new idols, let us delve deep into the heritage of our mythic heroes and dredge up a new, powerful masculinity that serves to exalt the better angels of our masculine potential.

And let us not listen to the PhD, teacher’s pets and sneering hipsters who would slander our masculine entrenchment as some kind of reversal of equality.

A truly emancipated woman wants to see the men in her life live fulfilling and productive and meaningful stories. She wants them to be reliable and loving, strong and kind.

A truly free and self-empowered woman will not seek to demonise the men in her life, or castrate her male allies. She will take time to understand male sexuality, see the mysteries in it, the hidden powers that it provides for her and her tribe.

For too long the public discourse around gender and sexuality has been dominated by damaged, resentful and angry women, women who exhibit psychological pathologies and who seek to project those wounds onto every nuance and challenge in sexual relationships.

The result is a culture of demands and superior elitist proclamations that bear no relation to ordinary, balanced women, and which alienate young men and teach them to apologise in advance for their sexuality.

Shaming men, even those men who have never abused their sexuality and that of others, for the actions of the fringe extremes, is leading to a deeply repressive sexual culture. It is also going to increase loneliness, isolation and give an extra charge to the rampant nihilism of our age.

All of this because a bunch of over-educated women are ill at ease with their own sexual power. Feminism has taught women that they have no power. No wonder then that when young women intuit their sexual powers they feel rage and shame about not being able to express them.

A whole ruling class of snobby, snotty and entitled princesses - whose chief weapons are in the mainstream media - are taking out their dissociated sexual guilt on men.

It stops here. It’s time for this generation of women to grow up. Men will no longer shoulder responsibility for female unease about sex, or for the fears they have of their own desires.

Time for women to do some deep work on a culture-wide level. Time for women to examine themselves, to look beyond the lies they tell themselves about their own victimhood and powerlessness.

Most men today understand that an acute self-awareness about their own urges and desires is necessary to remain balanced in a civilised world. More than ever, men are cautious and think deeply about their sexualities and physical drives in the context of a free and emancipated culture.

It is time for women to stop glossing over their own problems. It’s time for women to meet us men half-way. The industry of self-congratulation that now passes for feminism is boring, dangerous and it is destroying human relationships.

Until women start to take responsibility for their own sexual anxieties, their own horror at the power and erotic charge of their own desires, feminism will amount to nothing but a corrupt and toxic sham.

Do men still have work to do? Yes, of course. But women have not even begun to examine themselves with the same honesty as men. Instead, we now have a culture of elitist, superior zealots, using shame and rage to deflect from their own sins.

This is a message to all those resentful, boring furies out there, confident in their own righteousness: the game’s up. No progress will be made unless you too get down in the psychic mud and do your own fair share of self-work.

Otherwise, expect a riot. Expect the palace walls to crumble. Expect the ramparts to burn. You’ve been warned.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The modern woman needs the emotional leadership of creative men

As long as women are the ones burdened with childbirth, gender roles will exist. Nature herself is sexist, and we need to get used to it.

That being said, men's roles have changed. The modern man cannot afford to base his own existential certainty on his role as a breadwinner.

I do believe, though, that our masculinities provide a tonic to the moral panic of modern life. It is still our role to provide leadership and security for the women in our lives, and it is still necessary for us to demonstrate a fighting spirit alongside our sisters.

They still need us, despite what they like to say. And they need us for more than opening the jam jar and taking out the trash.

There's something important to note here about the exploration of masculinity in a post-feminist world. The uncertainty of men's roles is actually a godsend in my view, because it highlights the mystery and poetry of being a man – no longer do we depend on our careers, our egos and our material or financial value for a sense of self-worth.

That much we can certainly thank the original feminists for. In freeing women, they liberated men also from a narrow, positivist definition of masculinity. We are now free to assert ourselves beyond language, and free from the symbology of capitalism.

The world is coming round to the idea that men are not ended, we are not defunct, and we are not extraneous, just because women too can be their own providers. The great news is that men are no longer defined by their use, or their functional value. And yet, the ladies can't live without us.

This is especially good news for the creative boys among us. The writers and the poets, the actors and dancers. More than a few times I have heard women mock creative men. The old-world, pre-feminist view that creative men are not real men, really does persist.

Let me just say that any woman, or any man in fact, who professes to be a feminist, and yet still clings to the idea that creative men are not real men, is a hypocrite, or worse, a fake. Their cherished views on emancipation only go so far.

So how does the creative man benefit from the more nuanced view of masculinity that is emerging?

Well, one of the key ideals of what it means to be a man is “a leader”. The modern, poetic male, offers a kind of leadership that the modern woman cannot live without.

As they become more independent materially, women are starting to experience the exhausting, existential angst men have always felt – the feeling of disconnection that comes from over-identification with our material value, our bodies and our egos.

Creative men are often mistaken for being feminine because their sense of self is not manifested in material ways. Their courage and their power is directed inward. It is contemplative, rather than physically proactive.

As women become more and more free to define themselves in ways traditionally associated with men, men too are free to go within, to nurture their spiritual strength and their visionary potential.

Women, now more than ever, need men who are connected to themselves, and who can offer a spiritual, rather than material, form of leadership and support.

So, guys, I say to you this: You are a leader. Your intuitive, non-rational, non-financial value, is exactly what women need right now.

Your leadership will not be political or economic. It will not be authoritarian, but visionary, a boldness born from facing your own demons and emotional conflicts.

As women face the challenges of being all things to all people, of being both the economic, self-dependent warrior, and the strong, nurturing mother – they risk losing their spiritual identities.

What they need now are men connected to their own purpose, fearless in the face of uncertainty, mystery and failure. Men who know well, and are unfazed by, dark nights of the soul. Men who can offer courage and leadership in the unseen battle of the human spirit.

So, it's time to hold the head high. Time to embrace your true value as a man. Time to embrace a less defined, less materially certain masculinity, and to harness that mystery to cultivate a new ideal of male leadership.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

We must celebrate masculinity not shame it

We live in an age when men's sexuality is guilty until proven innocent.

Until we deal with the shame and introverted rage of male sexual development, all of feminism will be worth nothing.

It could be domestic abuse. It could be “rape culture”. It could be the neutered maleness of the modern man.

Everywhere you turn the message is – men are failing women. We failed with the Patriarchy. And now we are failing by being too nice, too wimpy, too insecure; or the opposite, too aggressive, too sexual, to objectifying.

It doesn't really matter, as long as you are given to understand – you are failing.

Well, it's time to buck up, is it not?

Yes. I do feel that there is a problem with male culture. I do feel that the range of expression and avenues of emotional development for men are inadequate and, as a result, destructive.

However, apologising is not the solution. Feeling guilty is not going to help.

Shame and masculinity have gone together for too long. Since recorded time actually, and I think it's time to peel them apart.

I won't speculate about the evolutionary reasons why shame and male sexuality have gone hand in hand – suffice to say that shame serves a purpose in a state of nature.

I believe however, that many of the problems that women are reacting to, and what is generally called “toxic masculinity” - come from the fact male sexuality is wrapped up in shame.

Shame almost always means repression, and repression is the opposite of expression. But something as primal as the life force of human existence, cannot be repressed forever – right?

The longer it's repressed, the more unhealthy the ways that energy will be released.

Messaging around male sexuality is usually by example, and usually mixed messaging at that. Our life force, our sexuality, is both bad and good, strong and creepy, aggressive and vulnerable.

If you don't believe me – answer me this: when were you ever told by an elder, a potential date, or peer, that your sexuality was a force for good in the world?

Also, can you point to a piece of cultural messaging that tried to convey that idea to you as you were developing into manhood?

No. The message for young men is that their sexuality, their testosterone, is dangerous, toxic, something to be hidden, and only expressed in flirty codes.

Rather than challenge these suffocating memes, the so-called sexual revolution has served only to confine honest male sexual expression to the seedy fringe.

Despite the erotic hubris of modernity, sexuality has become generic and predictable, and the current gender discussion only serves to increase the shame of boys' sexual development.

A concept like “rape culture” is controversial case in point.

Rape is serious problem, most especially in cultures where sexuality is actively repressed. The more repression and shame, the more rape. Shame will not solve toxic sexual behaviours, it will only increase them.

However, rather than try to examine the role that shaming young boys plays in the growth of their primal, sexual energy, the modern gender dialogue is doing its best to repress masculinity in deeper subconscious shame.

Shaming men for their sexuality is not only counterproductive, it's creating a ticking bomb of resentment, helplessness and sexual paranoia.

The only cure for toxic sexuality is to celebrate male sexuality. We need modern fertility rituals that prize maleness, and the hyper-productivity of testosterone.

We need to understand that aggression and ritualised violence are part of our natures, and if they are not celebrated, they become toxic.

We will not deal with the problems of domestic violence, rape and abusive sexuality, by showering shame on men for expressing their sexuality.

We need to create new ways in which the mysteries of maleness are conceived, and the beauty and poetic fury in the masculine heart is unleashed.

The first port of call should be a creative exploration of male sexual desire.

Paintings, films, poetry, songs and photography – a relentless campaign of celebration that reminds the world that men are emotionally complex, irreplaceable and sexually innovative.

Instead of shaming people into being better, we need to free their better angels from the medieval trap of prissy puritanism.

All the challenges normally grouped under the evils of the “patriarchy” can only be adequately addressed by focusing on men and masculinity. Otherwise the battle for equality will only ever be half-won.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Being male makes you a force for good in the world

Sexual guilt. This is something ingrained in the modern man.

We cover it up either be acting in a thwarted, embarrassed way, or we smother it in sexual bravado, sex-addiction and misogyny.

The psycho-feminists are right in one regard – that nice-guy syndrome and misogynist ass-hole are flip-sides of the same coin.

However, these are not essential features of being male. They are not even signs of “toxic masculinity” (a phrase I used to use a lot, but won't anymore).

These two forms of neurosis are ways men negotiate their sense of sexual guilt in a world that has changed rapidly since their grandfathers and, even their fathers, were young.

Instead of evolving new ways to express wholesome sexual identity and communicate our sexual needs, men are in danger of retreating to neutered personae, or reactionary aggressiveness.

What we need is a new culture that captures the fierce power of male sexuality, but which embraces the fluidity of a culture transformed by women's empowerment.

It is essential that shame, guilt, apologetics and paranoia play no part in this new culture.

It is for this reason that I have been, and intend to be in the future, unabashedly critical of the campus feminist culture.

In the past, much of male self-esteem was based on a sense of rank and superiority over women, at least in the public sphere, in the political culture.

Now that has changed. Political and judicial equality have been achieved. What hasn't changed is the way men form their self-esteem, their sense of themselves.

A lot of people think going on about this is just “male tears”, and there is a sense in the Guardianosphere and HuffPostosphere, that “rubbing it in” for men is the solution.

Populist feminists think that they need to write books called “The End Of Men” and “Lost Boys” and drive it home to them that they no longer have the power.

As I have said before, I reject the Marxist subtext of the campus, Laurie Penny style of feminism.

Sexuality is not a class war. Gender is not a clash of economic forces.

In fact, one of the great achievements of second-wave feminism was to eradicate these factors from the arena of sexuality and gender.

If anything, we are now free to create a new form of sexuality and gender relationship, from the ground up. We have the great feminists of the past to thank for that. Men have been liberated as much as women.

We are in this together.

It is for these reasons that I wholly reject the nonsense headlines of pseudo-liberal newspapers that try to harness female grievance and turn it into a political campaign.

That is just a corporate trick. Grievance sells products. Black Lives Matter, campus feminism, and the rest of the victim-minded noise culture found on social media and the web in general, is making a lot of people very rich.

Time to ignore it.

For men, it's time to reinvent masculinity. Not to please the HuffPost feminists, but to reignite the critical, frictional and civilisational power of male sexuality.

I take as a given that men and women are biologically different. Gender is not a construction.

On that basis, I see the peculiar male challenge as this:

To harness the raw power of our primitive sexual drive in such a way that it is not only compliant with civilised culture, but also acts as a driving force for its survival.

This is what our ancestors knew. This is what the Laurie Penny-psychos of the world can never admit.

You will find no apologies for masculinity here.

I take it as a given that masculinity is not only good, but that it is a distinct, beautiful, and a crucial ingredient in unleashing the expressive power of human potential. 

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Courage is your birthright!

Last week I sat with two friends of mine from school in a bar in Kensington. We talked as we normally do, about politics and ideas, sexuality and the memories of the crazy people we knew more than twenty years ago now.

I doubt if it takes long for any group of men to start talking about courage and respect, whether it's in terms of particulars or just abstractly, and that's where we ended up.

A friend of mine, who is gay and who has never been the macho type, talked a lot about his idea of courage. The older he gets, the more traditional his ideas of masculinity are, and he basically said a man must be ready to fight, to defend himself physically.

That was the high ideal of courage, and I suppose I would have to agree with him.

I love reading masculine writing, from Hemingway to Homer, there are great examples of fearless feats in the long history of western literature.

High risk masculine courage is revered, or was until very recently. All of this is for good reason. It should be obvious why.

The trouble I had is that it brought home to me that this kind of courage doesn't really speak of me.

For a while I felt ashamed of that. I haven't been tested like Achilles, or Muhammad Ali, or any number of young men who have grown up to defend themselves with their own hands.

Does that make me a coward? I felt for a few days that it did, and I felt like shit about it.

But today I went for a long walk, in one of my favourite parts of London, and I started chewing over this idea of courage.

I haven't abandoned the love of warrior energy that me and my friends were talking about. But it did occur to me that there are other kinds of courage.

This same friend, the gay one, came out to me when he was 19/20 – after knowing me for years.

I fully admit it now, I didn't take it well, and was shocked, felt something of the masculine relationship was lost (another blog post, suffice to say I am over it).

Coming out, to a friend that you know might not take it well – that's courage.

Gay men to me are the perfect examples of emotionally courageous men. What they have to go through a lesbian will never be able to imagine (get over it, it's a truth).

Since the Orlando shootings this special kind of dissenting, isolating courage, has come into sharp relief.

And there are other examples of male courage, that don't involve simple physical bravery.

Men who choose typically non-male professions – male dancers, male nurses, male child-carers and therapists. It takes courage to buck the trend, because as any man knows, masculinity is already fragile, you're not a man until you have proved yourself.

I write about all this, because I know I am not the only one who feels guilt about not being fucking James Bond.

What we forget though, is that most stories of courage and risk are designed to be unreachable fantasies. It's called catharsis.

I came to the conclusion on my long, very non-macho, walk today, that stories of great courage like The Illiad or For Whom The Bell Tolls, speak to us not just because we have excess testosterone.

They speak to us, because the great trial for a man is to be fully himself without losing his masculinity.

Masculinity depends a great deal on social standing, on virtue and leadership.

Very often the movement to be wholly authentic challenges the easy shortcuts society has designed for assessing these qualities.

If I look at the long list of male heroes I have, all of them are embodiments of a specific kind of emotional courage. Whatever physical prowess they have is really symbolic to me.

I admire and look up to men who have dared to speak unpopular opinions, who have challenged social expectations, who have chosen their own path and who have had the intuitive self-command to trust an inner voice over the external, cultural onslaught that we all get from family, school and peer groups.

I suspect that this is the real courage that men admire, and the courage we read about as boys and which still fascinates us in the cinema, is a cathartic reassurance of that inner, emotional courage we know we need.

Being a man is not about living up to social expectations – from women, family or anyone else.

It's something we have to discover and grasp with both hands, and very often the shocking truth about who we are does not fit in with the cultural memes we have grown up around.

It takes courage to discover your masculinity. It takes courage to choose it too.

To be a man, is to live with courage, even when the truth about your masculinity terrifies you.

So it's time we gave ourselves a break. Courage is an emotion, and we all have it.

Feels good, doesn't it?