[photo by Drop the Label Movement]
To honor: to hold in high regard, to give great respect to.
Men are still far too concerned about “who wears the pants” in the family. Our cultural norm today still says the “head” of the household (or business, government, etc.) is a man. The man makes the final decisions, rules the roost. But, we are not roosters. It dishonors women to treat them as hens, to treat them as lesser than men are treated, as subservient.
My wife once showed me a photo book of ‘porn for women’. It did not feature naked guys with six-pack abs. It didn’t even have photos of tough looking guys holding guns, driving big trucks, or hanging off the side of a mountain with one hand. Instead, there was photo after photo of men doing everyday household and family duties like sweeping the floor, caring for the baby, washing dishes, and doing these tasks with a smile and genuine attitude of service. This, I learned, is a turn-on for women; men gladly doing what women have been told they must do, and often can only do.
At the heart of honoring the feminine in humanity – the very core center – is seeing and treating women as equals to men in all regards. If you are unable to do this, you probably can’t honor women and respect the feminine nature of the world because your foundational beliefs will always sabotage your actions. The belief that a real man doesn’t do traditional womanly things, and that a woman can’t or shouldn’t do traditionally male things are limiting beliefs that keep us all stuck down in our own trenches.
Years ago, early in my marriage, I remember being caught in my own trap of “who wears the pants”. Our 2.5-year-old was in diapers and had recently been joined by her newborn sister. There were suddenly a lot of diaper changes. It was one particular day I had come in from working outside when my wife, who was busy with several other tasks, said both daughters were in need of a change and could I please take care of it.
At that moment it flashed through my brain that, being the oldest child in my extended family and having observed many cousins as babies, I had not seen any other man in my large extended family ever change a diaper (though, they may have – I had never witnessed it). At that moment I balked. I feigned ignorance. My cultural influence was saying to me, ‘this is something the mom should do’. My wife, exasperated, said, “So, you are telling me that for years growing up on a farm you were fine with scooping huge mounds of stinking animal manure, but you can’t deal with changing two tiny diapers of your own daughters?” She had a good point. I changed the diapers.
I waited. I wasn’t suddenly – “poof” – made into a woman because I changed baby diapers. Continuing to do a share of household duties has not made me less of a man. Why? Because, there isn’t anything inherent about diapers or baby poop that says men aren’t capable of dealing with them – or with any aspects of caring for children (except breastfeeding). There is no reason why men shouldn’t share household duties and child-rearing with women. Lesson learned: let go of the “who wears the pants” straightjacket and embrace an “equal partners in all things” way of living.
With the future of humanity literally at stake, it is to our collective advantage to make sure men are living with women as equals on all levels. Women are at least as capable, if not more so than men in many regards (see for example The Natural Superiority of Women, by Ashley Montagu). In intelligence, decision-making, verbal acuity, business acumen, reaction time, and overall endurance women often best men. The only area where men are superior, on average, is in pure muscle strength and speed. We also tend to be quick to resort to aggression and violence, where women rarely do. These traits helped humanity survive over the eons, but they are traits incompatible with evolving a civil society and the future of our species.
I’ve heard and read of too many stories recently of grown men and fathers who fear for their “male domain”. For example, a father refusing to allow his four-year-old son to have a butterfly painted on his cheek at the county fair – because butterflies are pretty and cute and for girls only – but in reality he is afraid that others will think he is less a man for having a young son with a butterfly on his cheek. Or, another father getting upset because he thinks a shirt color his baby boy is wearing is too “girly” (something apparently grandmothers and mothers are also very anxious about these days).
Another story I heard about from research conducted by social scientist Brene´ Brown: A middle-school aged boy who is a gifted artist drawing incredible pictures that are displayed on the family refrigerator overhears his visiting uncle remark to his father as the uncle points to the pictures on the refrigerator – “I see you are raising a faggot artist”. The father walks over and removes the pictures from the refrigerator. The mother remarks, “I guess it is kind of feminine”. Years later this man painfully described how that was the last day he ever produced art of any kind.
Sometimes it is the mother or grandmother that re-enforces a suffocating narrow male stereotype, but the father and other family men lead and set the example about this phenomenon of shutting down their sons’ and nephews’ range of emotions and abilities.
Boys and young men are growing up today in a culture that tells them loud and clear that the only acceptable emotions they can publicly display is being angry or shut down. They will learn the only acceptable way to be in the world is to display stoicism and to conquer and “win”.
Men, we must face this crisis in our society by mustering the courage to work our asses off at becoming better human beings.
Our primary goal should be about becoming wholehearted men capable of expressing a full range of human emotion, and embracing our better half – the women in our lives – as equals.
Exhibiting real bravery means stepping out from the crowded old fortress of patriarchy and standing up for what it means to be fully human – embracing masculine and feminine synergy.
While we are at it, another important aspect of understanding the spectrum of gender capabilities is for our sons to see their mothers exhibiting their own full range of strength and abilities. And, for young boys to see their fathers doing the same; washing dishes, putting away clothes, cooking dinner, as well as remodeling the bathroom, lifting weights in the basement, camping out, going fishing, as well as standing up and defending publicly those who are disadvantaged or without voice.
True, there is now increasingly a wider spectrum of possibility and behavior for girls – a great and much-needed change in our society. However, there has been no such movement for boys. The box is now perhaps even smaller than at any time in our history where boys must fit in their emotions and views about themselves. From the few acceptable colors they can wear (starting now even before they are born, thanks to “gender reveal parties”) to what clubs they can belong to as kindergartners – girls are now welcome in Boy Scouts, but the reverse – boys being welcome in Girl Scouts is a thought no one wants to even whisper in kind company, as Sarah Rich writes recently in The Atlantic:
“To carve out a masculine identity requires whittling away everything that falls outside the norms of boyhood. At the earliest ages, it’s about external signifiers like favorite colors, TV shows, and clothes. But later, the paring knife cuts away intimate friendships, emotional range, and open communication.”
While girls are enjoying more freedom of the expanding continuum in society for who they can become, and what they can do, boys are even more harshly shamed for even thinking about stepping outside the narrowing band of what is acceptable masculinity.
Is it any wonder that young men perpetrate the horrific and tragic escalation of school and other mass shootings in our country? (https://www.statista.com/statistics/476445/mass-shootings-in-the-us-by-shooter-s-gender/ ) Or that the large majority of suicides are male dominated? (https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/ )
Psychiatrist James Gilligan, who directed Harvard’s Center for the Study of Violence, remarks,
“Whether it’s homicidal violence or suicidal violence, people resort to such desperate behavior only when they are feeling shamed and humiliated, or feel they would be if they didn’t prove that they were real men.”
This amounts, ironically, to misogyny. As Sarah Rich points out,
“When school officials and parents send a message to children that “boyish” girls are badass but “girlish” boys are embarrassing, they are telling kids that society values and rewards masculinity, but not femininity. They are not just keeping individual boys from free self-expression, but they are keeping women down too.”
How can we learn from and build a better future post-#MeToo? We need to participate in making sure boys, young men, and old men alike can all communicate openly with empathy, caretaking, and cooperation. Rich continues,
“But, let alone the possibility of boys expressing a preference for the other end of the spectrum – like wearing a dress – boys who express emotions that are outside of pissed off or shut down become seen as less than masculine, as weak.”
We can’t achieve our full potential if we are not allowed to become emotionally intelligent. We are each born with the potential to develop the full spectrum of emotional intelligence, yet our current culture with its narrow boundaries of masculinity is producing stunted men and suffocating our young boys.
The key lesson is that a man can be both strong and emotionally intelligent, both protective and kind. The ability to express the full range of human emotion does not mean a man will cease to have the capability of being strong, protective, or sexually masculine. This is a both/and possibility. Let go of the negative either/or trap. Work on becoming whole, for if humanity has a future at all it will be rooted in building a society of wholehearted human beings – men included!
Grammy award-winning folk music artist Carrie Newcomer says,
“This is the art of walking in the both/and. Our offering is the assurance that living and walking is rarely an all-or-nothing, either/or proposition. We can be the storytellers, the ones who remind us that the lungs know how to breathe in and out without our guidance, the eyes know exactly how to blink to clear our view, our heart knows exactly how to take in and let out what is life-giving and circular. We can be the friend that offers the quiet knowledge that something fine and true within us knows and remembers that our travels in the light and shadows (glorious and painful as they are) can be held in both hands, and given with a full and grateful heart.”
Do not mistake this calling by thinking that honoring the feminine is ‘hiding behind feminism’. That would only be another kind of mask to wear (a forthcoming topic in this series of articles). Instead, it is honoring the feminine by recognizing that the mountain has two sides; two aspects of life that give balance and make the whole.
In my own journey working hard to show up authentically and support my own and others’ wholehearted masculinity, I believe that honoring the feminine in humanity is a crucial action. I outlined aspects of this in Re-imagining Masculinity: Ten Powerful Actions to Transcend Conquest Culture and Embrace Compassion. Listening to Women is action number one (read Part 1 and Part 2), followed by this topic of Honoring the Feminine (also see Part 2: Honoring the Feminine Earth). You can read more about re-connecting the human spirit with wild earth at my blog, EmergeWild.com