Gender and the New Masculinity

ashes-sitoula-32553I was always closer to my mother than to my father. I also have four daughters and, though I have been divorced, a strong and respectful relationship with my wife. I feel very strongly about gender equivalencey and I think I have, in part, earned the right to post the thoughts below.

Other than dad, who was quite distant, I haven’t had many male role models. Most of the men I have observed (and I am a keen observer) suffer from what I consider to be over-amplifications of maleness. The penultimate expression of this maleness can be summarized in a scene from “This is Us” where Jack’s friends try to teach him that golfing is an excellent excuse to get away from your family. I see a lot of men avoiding their families in through pursuit hobbies, football, and work.

Men also don’t talk about their feelings and have developed strong avoidance strategies (see football and well, careers) to ensure we don’t get stuck doing so. We aren’t supposed to have feelings, or cry, or worry about whether we look fat in these pants. As with women, there are many stereotypes about masculinity — many of which make me ashamed to be a male.

Similar things can, of course, be said about women but I have no direct experience with those. Of course, I do have direct experience with my mother, sister, wife, ex-wife, and four daughters. I definitely see that male and female-ness is different. Sometimes opposing, sometimes similar, yet different. And not always consistent, but predictable enough to be a thing. Maleness and femaleness are different.

But they are not, in fact, polar opposites. I do think one can examine male and female responses to a given scenario or stimulus as being different points along a continuum, however. For example, a male may choose to pick up a stick and pretend it’s a gun whereas a female may pick up that same stick and pretend it’s a magic wand. Different, but not opposing.

And the advent of more gender flexibility allows us to see these differences as continua rather than being opposite or at odds with each other. Maleness and femaleness are becoming less mutually exclusive and more similar. And isn’t it healthier to focus on our similarities than to obsess over our differences?

Things are changing, but when I think that the women’s suffrage movement started in the late 1800s, I wonder why they are changing so slowly. Of course, the past ten years have seen what may be the highest rate of change in gender issues certainly in my lifetime. So things are happening.

From my perspective, that of a heterosexual male, I am thankful more men are embracing and talking about their ‘feminine side’. Simultaneously I question whether the male-ification of women is good or bad. Mostly I believe we are still in a transition. Women have been becoming more masculine for quite a while (over 100 years I would argue) whereas men have been becoming more feminine for only a few decades at most.

As a father of four daughters I often hear from young women that their dad stayed home with them. I assume I hear about these rare instances more often than the average person. But this suggests to me that there have been men taking on more traditionally feminine responsibilities for longer than I/we might believe.

Nonetheless, the male to feminine transition is relatively new and the female to masculine transition fairly old. Men are in the honeymoon phase where it is almost cool to be a stay-at-home-dad or to have a wife as primary breadwinner. Compare this to women who still make 25% less than men in the same job yet are delaying motherhood and having to be supermom to achieve familial goals.

I have lost jobs to seemingly less qualified women (former career in STEM) and have had female supervisors who were woefully underqualified for their jobs. I have witnessed first hand some of the repercussions of what I still refer to as the ERA movement (equal rights amendment). As the pendulum swings to the far extreme I see women essentially trying to be men in order to be successful. That is lame. I’m pretty sure that’s not the point of gender equality: for women to become men? Please.

So I wonder what lies ahead for men becoming more feminine. I know for myself I went way overboard, my pendulum swung so far to the opposite side that I lost myself and became a proverbial doormat to my ex-wife. I overshot my target by way too much. I tried to become more like a woman than a man rather than trying to embrace the best feminine qualities I felt I needed to be primary caregiver.

I listened to a podcast recently by Ryan Daniel Moran where Jordan Gray was discussing how masculinity affects our lives. He suggested that the ideal ratio was for a man to be 80% masculine and 20% feminine. I don’t know what that means exactly or whether it is accurate but I think we can use relative percentages to discuss this phenomenon.

I think the women’s movement has led to a lot of women trying to become more like 80% male. This is the pendulum swinging too far, in my opinion. Pant suits, aggressive work behaviors, fighting the rats in the race. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable to suggest that some, maybe many, women are searching for success in a man’s world by acting more masculine. Certainly a viable strategy, but one I wish we’d abandon.

Because this approach doesn’t change any of our values. Being selected for top positions because you’re masculine (i.e., aggressive, militant, and willing to put career before family) doesn’t change the qualities necessary for being at the top. I would much rather see us try allowing more feminine qualities to the top and see what happens. To me that’s more to the point.

I’m not sure what the ideal percentage is and I’m sure it varies from person to person, couple to couple, and job to job. I’m not even sure if it’s a reasonable metric. To me, the idea of men becoming more feminine and women becoming more masculine is not about us embracing the exact behaviors or values inherent to the opposing gender endpoint. Rather, I think it should be about us opening up to understand our partners, bosses, and coworkers. In embracing other perspectives we can be more empathetic and incorporate new ideas into our own.

In my own gender-bending adventures I have learned to appreciate the experiences traditionally assigned to women or mother-role caregivers. I understand what it’s like to not be defined by a career. My life is void of a job that defines me. My answer to the question “what do you do” is anything by typical. I know what that feels like.

It isn’t a lot, but I probably understand the feminine perspective better than many men. Certainly better than most alpha-male rat racers and career oriented men. But I have not become ‘more like a woman’ in the process. More feminine, perhaps, depending on how you define that. If I started at 80/20 I’d say I’m 65/35. But it hasn’t changed my masculinity as far as I’m concerned. It’s a bad metric.

I have just become more aware. More sensitive. More empathetic and sympathetic to ‘other’ gender roles and concerns. I have been out of the traditional masculine box and walked in those shoes. It left an impression on me. It suppose it changed me, but I don’t think that’s quite accurate, either.

I guess I wonder what our world would be like if we all could experience other perspectives. The single-minded, traditional masculine and feminine roles and characteristics are so limiting. Why would you want to constrain yourself to a limited human experience defined by your gender identity? I don’t get it.

Not sure where to leave this other than to say I think I have tapped into something important that I hope to continue to develop. Let me know what you think.

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