Thursday, 2 September 2010

Your masculinity is fundamental to your identity, but it is not the whole truth about who you are.

I don’t care what they say, but these are the facts as I see them. Part of what it means to be a man, is knowing how and when to express our masculinity, and how and when it is appropriate. This is not easy in a time when we have been overly sexualised. As long as the male principle is objectified, and I mean it is us who objectify ourselves (the greatest tragedy of patriarchy in my view), then we will persist in failing to express the sensitivities we are entrusted with. We will be cut off from depth, from a sense of sacredness and value, and ultimately from love.
The education we get about sexuality is at best confused. At worst, it is self-destructive. We become nothing but robots. Everything we do, whether it is to talk with friends or make love with the woman of our dreams, becomes a competition with an imaginary sense of perfection, some polished ideal of who we ought to be that never actually fully shows itself, but remains veiled in the fog our cultural bombardment.
“Men are simple creatures.” I don’t think there is a phrase more insulting to a human being. To me this is the gender-biased equivalent of saying “women are evil,” or “women are stupid.” Men are not simple creatures. I have never met a simple man. I have, on the other hand met men who have sought to hide their complexities behind the mask of simplicity, and in each an every case this hiding has become a psychosis. Without the real depth of expression in male emotion, we risk perpetuating aggressiveness, rape, war and social decay. A culture that refuses to let its men venture out of the realm of competitiveness or shallowness; that makes aliens of any man who seeks to express his emotional and sexual self as anything other than a form of dominance; is a society in disintegration.
In my view, the longer we perpetuate this idea that men are somehow functional robots – an insidious myth that then spreads to all areas of the human experience, including sex and companionship – then the longer we can expect to see the suppression of women by ever more manipulative means. The differences in gender become battle lines upon which we play out a pathological paranoia of anything that digresses from these turgid cultural expressions. We fail to realise that we are in fact deeply resonant strands of the same instrument. That whatever differences we have are in fact prisms through we which we discover a common humanity. This is as true for race relations as it is for sexual relations, it is just that in the case of sexuality, we are all victims of prejudice. None of us is above the crippling objectification of the other. All of us are compelled to suppress our individuality for the sake of a ill-defined cultural ideal. And none of us will ever live up to an ideal that is never actually made clear to us. We will always fall short of our “masculinity” or “femininity.” We will always be sinners in a world that implicitly demands that we become something other than what we actually are – complex, volatile, changeable and creative animals.
We now have the chance in our society to disengage the world of sexuality from rigid forms of individual expression. I think it is dangerous to fall victim to a complete post-modernisation of the body, whereby we disconnect ourselves from any identity with gender or sexuality. In fact, the bottom line is that this is a form ignorance. Your gender is part of who you are, but it only one aspect of a complex human being.
The liberation of women is starting to show us that an individual can be at once a physical expression of a mother, a woman, a nurturer of life – while at the same time this person can be a professional, a poet, a fire-fighter or politician. Our sexuality is crucial to our identity, but is not the sum total of our individuality. It is in this fact, that I reckon the infiniteness of the human experience can be found.
Why shouldn’t a man be allowed to be a healthy, assertive sexual creature, while at the same time be a nurturer and caretaker in other aspects of his life? I may be a “man” in sexual terms, but why can’t I be a “woman” or “mother” to my friends and family – or even to myself! I don’t think gender is arbitrary, I just think it is part of a bigger picture of human experience.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. "A culture that refuses to let its men venture out of the realm of competitiveness or shallowness; that makes aliens of any man who seeks to express his emotional and sexual self as anything other than a form of dominance; is a society in disintegration."

    I couldn't agree with you more. How do you link this individual-level psychosis with the group-level (or societal) phenomenon?

  3. I guess I see it as a feedback loop, or a vicious cycle. I think, actually, the origins are social. Men are the material resources of the society. Their use determines their value. I think any psychologist would agree, that value in the community is central to the development of the individual. So this way of validating young men then creates the psychosis, which then becomes a social psychosis. Both men and women need the validation of their peers, I think. So when the qualities that are validated are narrow, this will create a psychosis on a social and individual level.

  4. Interesting. So, in your view, would it follow that responsibility needs to be claimed on both levels, since there is a feedback loop between the two? I'm curious to know whether you think this sort of frustrated, thwarted energy gets expressed in similar ways by men and women, or if this too breaks down along gender lines.

  5. On the question of responsibility, that is actually a really tough one, and it kind of goes to the heart of any political or social philosophy. My answer is both. Or, you can't have one without the other. But I would say this - society is to blame, but individuals are responsible.
    On the second point, I actually do think we are very different in terms of how we respond to this problem. I think it is very clear. If you look at the figures for depression, for instance, on paper, the rates are significantly higher for women than for men. However, I would argue that the different genders have different ways of dealing with the problems that lead to depression. Whereas, women respond to oppressive cultural expecations by directing the violence inward, leading to what we would normally characterise as depression, men direct it outward in pathological behaviors. These behaviours are so common, however, that they are acceptable (just look at the way most men interact with each other). In my view, though, these are different responses determined by chemical differences between the genders. Sexual compulsion, over-drinking, binge-eating and violence as a conflict solution, are actually what I would call signs of male depression. The scary thing is that they are just thought to be signs of being male, period. So, women live lives of quiet desperation, while men live their self-destruction in public in order to mask an emotional reality. Both are seen as normal, but both are hugely damaging forms of a social disease.