New Masculine, Not So Masculine

Posted on July 12, 2012

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I’m terrible at editing my own work, so please bear with me if there’s typos.

I tried to distance myself from preformed notions as I read the treatise on “new masculinity”  at the aptly named postmasculine.com. It mostly worked. The writer brought up some insightful points that would be helpful for both men and women to think about. As a former anthropologist, I, of course, agree that there is no universal form of masculinity, as it manifest in a variety of ways cross cultures. I also agree that displaying certain traits will lead you to attract people of certain traits. But after these very good and real points, the article is overburdened with heavy self-indulgence and begins to fall short; specifically, it falls  further into the hole that Mark Manson had been attempting to climb out of.

Despite claiming to draw from the universal, the Manson really only speaks for white American, middle-class men of specific mindsets and limited within specific social and economic boundaries. His personal experience is far from universal and from what I can gather from his writing, he’s further limited by the fact that he doesn’t quite realise this. Even if we just look at the culture of heterosexual (even ruling out the bisexual) men, he cannot speak for the races and ethnicities that experience their own problems in addition to gender identity, thus negotiating masculinity from fundamentally different platforms. If we’re truly going to be post-modern, or post anything, we have to realise that there is no such thing as one voice when it comes to the human experience. That’s only the first oversight.

The second, and much larger oversight, is that the article falls victim to exactly the problem it’s trying to address. The author broaches masculinity from the standpoint of the immasculated (or once was) without a higher degree of self-awareness. As one of the posts in the comments section noted, an important trait in “traditional” masculinity (I find this is true in both Western and Eastern cultures that I’ve experienced first hand) is humility. And I would also add (which goes along with humility) a sense of self-assurance and fortitude. A man doesn’t complain endlessly. A man doesn’t feel entitlement, and thus endless victimization. A man does because it’s the “right thing to do” and he can do it. Yes, masculinity is a trait that is affirmed by other men, but there is a certain irony there. To truly achieve this affirmation, truly achieve autonomy, a man must operate as he if he does not need the approval of his peers. A must only receives approval when he isn’t consciously seeking it.

I find that self-security is a desirable trait in almost all forms of masculinity and femininity I’ve encountered. It’s a desirable human trait that’s strongly tied with sexuality. The catch-22 is that to achieve the elusive prize, that desirable state of mind, one has to fight our innate neurosis over our need to for acceptance. Think of the “masculine” men in history and pop culture. They were, and are, the rebels and leaders.They earned our approval and respect precisely because they don’t need it and they don’t pander for it. Approval and respect are feelings that another will never receive from us if it’s asked for. It’s something that we can’t help but give.

I think it’s great and very progressive that postmasculine.com encourages discourse on (post)modernity and gender. I agree that it’s time for modern men to redefine, for themselves, their own gender.  However, I also worry that Manson’s defensive tone and message tinged with self-pity will appeal to the insecure men feeling (mostly) misplaced anger towards feminism. In “A New Masculinity,” he repeatedly mentioned “independence,” which I’ve noticed that some on the comments section took to mean “independence from women.” That kind of thinking is both fallacious and set-back for gender relations. It’s not independence from women that define masculinity, it’s independence from other men. This does not mean an end to fraternity or brotherhood and that men (Men) bust be loners; it’s that true independence is having a secured sense of self, that a “real” man can define himself for himself.

No matter what, a man’s self worth should not be at the expense of women. I dislike extremest viewpoints where either sides attempt to alienate the other gender and focus on their “otherness.” Whatever your individual feelings are for the gender binary system, the reality is that it’s probably not going anywhere any time soon. If we truly want to be in a “post” anything society, we cannot be divisive. We have a chance to appreciate the pluralism that exists and work to reconcile the differences, inequalities and injustices of history.

Ultimately, Manson’s solution to the “problem” isn’t very helpful. I agree with his assertion that masculinity is not statement one makes and therefore is; it’s negotiated between multiples. His mistake is encouraging men to go out and prove themselves. The very advice falls back into the catch-22. Masculinity is inseparable from respect. One cannot receive respect by acts of request, so called proving yourself. That road rarely leads to self-fulfillment, just an endless cycle of dissatisfaction. Have you ever met that guy who tries too hard? Yes, you have. Don’t be that guy. To earn respect, you have to be self-contained. The very need to prove yourself to other men means you’ve already failed.

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