"In order to realize the Self, renounce everything. Having cast off all, assimilate yourself to that which remains." - Annapurna Upanishad
Let's borrow an idea from the Vedas. The foundations of my notion of masculinity are spiritual. That is they concern the notion of materiality and value. How value, or consciousness, manifests itself in the world of the material.
The ideal of renunciation is misunderstood. The yogi is one who has let go of his attachments to his experience. He is not one who lives out a virtue ethics through strict suffering. Yoga is not puritanism.
Nor for that matter, are the many great traditions of the East, that required their men to overcome their senses in some way – whether Samurai or the Brahmin.
As men we could be said to have a particular challenge to face. Our hormonal charge is vastly different from a woman. That means our sexualities and our egos are experienced as different. You could argue that they are more intense.
Much of what we call gender is cultural doctrine, socialised traditions. But on this point men are distinct. Their senses could be said to be more inflamed than women. Whether this is true or not, is not really important. The experience of being male, is one of constant wrestling with one's primal urges, against one's human impulse to evolve, grow and live a fulfilled life. Yes, it is the human experience, but it is a challenge that meets men in distinct ways.
In a modern context this primal struggle is experienced as the conflict between Patriarchal ideals of power and competitive gain, versus masculine ideals of sustainable leadership. Such ideals obviously transcend gender. But what I call masculinity could simply be called humanity. And what I call humanity is the struggle to manifest more creative and higher forms of consciousness in a material world. In short, it is about overcoming the basic, the impulsive, in order to manifest a practical and effective way of life.
Women do this, men do this. Men simply experience much of this as a result of their compulsive sexuality.
When it comes to the basic and most primal aspects of male sexuality, it has to be said that it is far simpler and brutally driven than that of a woman's. Men are not going to be tied down biologically. Men are driven only to spread the seed.
What Whitman called the procreant urge, is the compulsion to have this need met. Male biological function is to spread the seed around. It's an urge, because it is urgent. It is survival and it is as simple as that. The urge to manifest this function so basic and so necessary that it has almost always subverted other less gender or physical-orientated desires.
Having said all this, the facts about male biology are not the facts about masculinity. I use terms such as “masculine experience,” or the “challenge of men in a modern context,” because it is my observation that men have always faced the challenge of being human, or maturing into holistic creatures over and above their basic desires.
Contrary to the ideals of Patriarchy – and I include the consumerist, post-feminist representations of men in popular culture in my idea of what Patriarchy is - men are not identical to their basic desires, or their primal sexualities.
The ways in which men are misunderstood, and more importantly, the ways in which they misunderstand themselves, can probably be reduced to this distinction. You know how much I go on about the distinction between Patriarchy and Masculinity. Well, that distinction is grounded in this picking apart of men and their most fundamental biology.
The male experience, is the experience of coming to terms with a sexuality that is compulsive and which always threatens to override all other compulsions, desires, needs or high moral ideals. It is a unique spiritual challenge, in that it reflects the wider human struggle of manifesting value in a world of living and dying.
This is why I think that the process of becoming a man, is always the process of letting go, in the truly Vedic sense of that. And as I started off saying, this letting go is not religious self-effacement for it's own sake. It is the process of understanding our nature, our basic urges, and not necessarily overriding them in the way that almost always have overridden us, but in accepting them, like one must accept death.
The point is is that it is our shame and fear around the power that our sexualities have over us and our consciousness, that keeps us attached and bound to them.
This is why I rant and rave about the post-feminist culture all the time. True feminism aside, we live in a time when the shame around masculinity seems to be increasing. That the very fact that one has a desire for a woman can seem criminal, or offensive in and of itself. We live in a culture where it is fashionable to diminish male sexuality, to make men the butt of jokes, and all of this is done under the guise of female empowerment.
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying anything one way or the other about female empowerment. True fulfillment comes through the transcendence of gender.
What I am saying is that the backlash, and it is a mainstream, insidious backlash, is entrenching Patriarchal tendencies. It is deeper than “reactionary masculinity.” It is reinforcing the primal compulsiveness of men. I said that our shame and fear of our sexuality is what makes it so powerful over us.
I believe this because I happen to believe that this is one aspect of the wider human struggle. That we must learn to let go of our primitive fear, and therefore our primitive attachments, and only then can we evolve as a species. And evolve we must.