Thursday, June 09, 2011

On Maleness

Oxymandias has a Most Excellent blog posting entitled: “Who Cares About Men’s Rights?” at:

that is insightful, well-thought out and just incredibly good!

I’m guessing that she is a relatively young woman. Being male and 60, my vision is different I think in some small, but perhaps significant, ways.

I think that we are in agreement about most of what is said in such a clear deep way.

As a man I grew up learning that it was a “mens’ world”, but fitting in with that world was inevitably tricky. Conformity to norms I didn’t clearly understand was enforced as a relatively young boy by the threats of getting beaten up by three older boys, who probably were getting beaten by their fathers. In school there were pressures that I never understood, growing up in an atypical household and being an awkward loner. As I grew up I still lacked the social skills to see beyond the upper-middle class, White, Jewish male goals of academic achievement and intellectual success.

Some years ago I saw a small group of young girls (with several younger brothers in tow) playing in the courtyard of our townhouse complex. They were acting out together “a verbal fight”, discussing how things should go in the “play fight”. They were cooperative in a way that astounded me. My son Ben, when their age, was playing with things such as toys and balls and similar with and around other boys. He was not engaging in dialogue as part of a social world based upon active, substantive (in my mind at least) discussions.

The “community” that I’ve experienced amongst White Men largely focuses upon shared experiences relating to areas such as spectator sports and similar. Commonly we are in a world of peers where our foci generally are within our own generally narrow boundaries. As Het Men in the 1980’s we did not focus upon AIDS because it was a “Gay Issue” and thereby not relevant to us. Before we become parents (if we become parents), we commonly have little significant concern and involvement with fathering issues.

Where there are significant “men’s issues”, we care about them when they seem relevant to our lives, but otherwise have little connection to them. Most upper-middle class White Men have little connection to the issues of poor, young Men of Color who are incarcerated, killed and seriously wounded in great numbers. Support and advocacy work for male survivors of childhood (sexual and non-sexual) abuse, who are estimated to be at least one in six of us, are generally left to the survivors themselves or support services staffed and oft times aimed more at women. Prostate cancer can be a big issue for many of us as we are in our 50’s and 60’s and older, but seems ignored by most younger men.

As Oxymandias so amazingly described, we have plenty of reasons to be concerned about both ourselves and other men. What is not explicitly stated, though many causes are noted is that we men are “the weaker gender”. From birth onward, males have a higher mortality rate than females do. While it’s easy to see the differences peak when we are roughly between the ages of 15 and 30 – when “maleness” seems most a handicap to our survival, we die more readily as babies as well. (See my blog entry of November 10, 2008 at: for specific data – for the U.S.) .

While I do Not believe that most men are rapists or batterers or abusers of children, I do believe that we tend to be “infested” with “maleness” which is harmful to our general health. I think that the biological differences that we have are compounded by socialization which harms us both physically and mentally.

In terms of physical violence, we clearly injure and kill far more men, boys, women and girls than women do. Psychologically I would argue (though some might dispute this) that the pressures to conform to norms of our “maleness” come disproportionately from male peers and older males as well.

Women commonly have reminders which make denial of their “realities” difficult, if not impossible. Menstrual cycles, pregnancy and the threat of various sexist violence from male peers and older boys/men can be reality checks that are difficult to ignore.

The worlds of boys trying to fit in and grow up have their own complexities and traps. Commonly they relate to “maleness” whether it is potential gang violence or the needs to be “the best” in competition in various areas.

Some of us attempt to help other men change in positive ways through our connections to feminism (as well as through our understandings of racism, classism, heterosexism, etc.).

Despite our efforts in recent decades, the positive changes that have occurred have oft times been matched or exceeded by scary negative changes. The internet has ended the emotional isolation of many, while also endangering others’ lives and well being for example.

I find it hard to believe that Major positive change will occur in both:

1.) Ending – rape, domestic violence, stalking and other related violence of boys and men and:

2.) Boys and Men – succeeding (substantively more) in various ways spoken of and alluded to by Oxymandias

until a significant minority of men understand that “maleness” is harmful to us as men. It will then also be necessary that such men are motivated to work to change what being “a man” is for all of us men. Men will need to start seeing how we can be happier and healthier, and how we can live longer, happier lives through positive change.

IF – we can move to such a dramatic change from current reality, men are likely to really be able to take in the positive teachings of feminism (and hopefully of racism, classism, …etc.) and really relate to and support the struggles that women and girls have been through for a long, long, long time.

A far easier path which is a trap is for men to take a “best of” approach, rejecting the worst of “maleness” while being narrowly “self” focused. One example might be that while plenty of devotees of Robert Bly and the Mythopoetic Movement are wonderful, evolving Men, it is relatively easy for White, Upper-Middle Class, generally Heterosexual Men to self-segregate with their drums and rituals in a world which does little to connect them with others who may be substantively different from themselves. (Lots of White “liberals” somewhat similarly Did Not continue the Civil Rights work of the 1960’s into the necessary Anti-Racism work amongst White People into the years and decades beyond the times proximate to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr’s deaths.)

I see the problems of “gender” being primarily a “maleness” problem. Women have struggled and done a lot of excellent work related to Male Violence, gender roles and much more from the 1960’s through the present. While individual men and a few groups of men have done some incredible work, their numbers and influence have been far, far too small to bring about substantive change. While women can certainly support men in serious efforts they may make, they can‘t do the work that the men need to do (and aren’t responsible for waking us men up).

I am trying with: A Men’s Project - - to help men find useful resources to allow for easier networking and building of positive change. Other men are doing far, far, far more than I am in the actual work of helping to change “maleness” and ending the violence and pain.


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