Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Inner Experience of Masculinity

Here is one facet of post-feminism that must be examined and I take it from my own experiences. If you are anything like me then you have been educated about your masculinity, not in some coherent myth, or ritual handing down of knowledge; nor have you been given the experience of your masculinity through the guidance of your elders.

You became a man, by seeking to imitate that with which you identified. From movie actors and school bullies, to teachers and preachers. You looked to athletes and performers, even the terseness of the written word. Whatever masculine energy you had boiling in your heart, it could not find a channel, other than the variant and contradictory expression of a distracted culture.

A result of this of this default education is that we come to understand our emotional reality by objectifying ourselves. That is, there is rarely a context in a boy's life where he is able take the lead from somewhere on his inner experiences. He develops a sense of himself through identification with exterior objects.

This is not unfamiliar to the Feminist. She knows all too well how suffocating it is to become identified with an exterior ideal. How much beauty itself can become an insidious tyrant. Men are not burdened by this kind of objectification, and I would make no claim to understanding just how poisonous it is. And for the record, I completely recognise the responsibility men have, given that their masculinity is actively guilty for the enslavement of women in this way. That our demands literally create femininity, in the socialised sense.

That's a major reason why this blog exists. In deconstructing masculinity, perhaps we can deconstruct the forces of constriction around femininity. In fact, there is no “perhaps” about it, that's what is going to happen.

But men themselves are objectified in a very similar dynamic. And just as men are responsible for the forced construction of social ideal of femininity, women are also responsible and must hold themselves equally accountable for their active and continued part in constructing masculinity. That's another reason for what I am doing here. It works both ways, and this really shouldn't be as controversial as it sounds. Its just that I happen to be writing all this from within the smokey cloud that is post-feminist culture.

What I mean by “default culture” is really no culture at all, in the healthy sense of the word. In terms of the masculine emotional development, we grow up between two never-clearly-stated ideals. One is the “solid guy.” The other is the “caring protector.”

Whereas the female objectification tends to happen through too many rigid and particular ideas about what it means to be beautiful, men are enslaved by a lack of coherence in the ideals that are thrust upon them. On the face of it, the problem is of the opposite kind compared to that of the woman. However, ultimately the process is the same. It is objectification, in the sense that the inner experience of the individual remains unrecognised by culture itself.

Let's examine these ideals a little further.

The ideals are not clear for men. Perhaps one could say that they are too clear for women. But they are not at all clear for men. Men are constantly caught between two ideals of what it means to be a man. We are supposed to be dependable. Yet we are also required to be emotionally articulate.

In practice, these two ideals are nearly impossible to marry, certainly within the current culture. A clear example of this, is how men are supposed to treat their sexuality, and the sexuality of women, in the post-feminist world. We have been taught that we must abandon the aggressive and domineering sexuality of our forefathers, and it is clear why. It is a fucking abusive way to treat anyone, to force one's sexual energy on someone else.

Men must now exhibit a sensitivity to the feminine experience and those who do not are culturally redundant. If they want to get more sex, they must understand what a woman wants in bed, they must be willing to explore the layers of the female orgasm, and the sensitivities of the feminine body.

However, too much sensitivity is simply not attractive. If a man exhibits too much vulnerability, then he also risks a cultural redundancy. He must be sensitive to the woman's needs, but he cannot be too sensitive.

Men are still required to be men. Men must still be, in the eyes of the woman, a provider and protector. And I don't see any chance of these ideals being abandoned, Feminism or no.

And yet where this cultural contradiction leaves young men is in a permanent state of conflict. They must access their own femininity. Yet they must maintain the performance of an archaic masculinity. They must be willing to embrace the sensitivities of the feminine, but not rely on women to understand their own sensitivities.

Modern men are schizoid. Because our culture is default. It is not considered. It has tried to marry two realities that ultimately cannot sit together in a healthy way.

Now I am sure there are those who would try o argue that these two realities can and must sit well together. That I am making everything too simplistic and professing doom without considering the possibilities etc., etc..

Well, maybe. I am not saying that it is not possible for a man to exhibit and experience a balance of strength and sensitivity. Of course not. In fact, I would go as far to say as this is exactly what it means to be a man.

What I am getting at is that there is no way a man can get to this space of finding this emotional balance if the culture itself is caught between rigid ideas. If the culture remains unreflective and intransigent around masculinity. The problem is that these ideals don't reflect the subtlety of the masculine experience.

I think a lot of men would like to strike a better balance between their sensitivities and their testosterone. Its no mystery either, why a woman would want to see more of that balance manifested.

What pisses me off about the post-feminist culture is that it makes such demands, without leaving any space for the complexity of such an ideal. If men are to strike the balance, then we need to create a culture in which men are able to explore the tension between their hormonal drives and their vulnerabilities. As it stands, we have no mythology or coherent culture to provide for this tension. In fact, I frequently experience post-feminism as a culture that has active contempt for examining masculinity at all.

It is a question of educating young men to achieve such a balance, and giving them the emotional tools to straddle their basic human sensitivities while providing leadership and an ability to father the young. Unlike most people in the post-feminist malaise, I am happy to face the reality of social roles forming around gender identity. In fact, I think it is essential, of we are to avoid cultural burn-out.

What we need though, is a cultural environment that reflects the inner experiences of being human, one that recognises that being a man is not as simple as fulfilling certain ideals of strength, or that being a woman is not just about care-giving and beauty. The kind of culture I am talking about, would reflect the inner tensions of what it means to love – the feelings of wanting to play a role, but wanting to be an individual. Of wanting to be a man, but desiring to be more than one's masculinity.

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