“We can be redeemed only to the extent to which we see ourselves.” – Martin Buber

Last week I had the opportunity to facilitate a call with corporate leaders on “Awakening a New Masculinity.” It is a topic I feel passionate about, and like my feminism, sometimes hard to discuss.

I feel like every conversation on this subject needs a disclaimer stating:

  • Patriarchy and misogyny both exist and are destructive
  • There is more diversity in gender expression than a binary of male and female, man or woman
  • Masculine and feminine are not captive traits to men and women respectively – they are principles

It’s confusing, I know. Just as it is confusing to be a boy growing up in our culture right now. As I wrote at the beginning of my Men’s Group,

I see a quiet crisis in the world of men. The violent silence and silent violence continue to cycle through generations. Boys are growing up feeling trapped between conquering and apathy.  I see confusion – what am I supposed to be doing? Who am I?

I have read books, spent time with men, played with frameworks and roles, and made a fool of myself trying to push out my chest and prove I was worthy — to prove I belonged in the company of men. And now I am left with few answers, only that growth is learned through experience. And that manhood is not something to be figured out, but lived.

In her 2010 book, The End of Men, Hanna Rosin asks what it would mean if “modern, post-industrial society is better suited to women.” Newsweek’s cover story two months later was titled, “Man Up!” and stated that the traditional male is an endangered species” and that it is time to “rethink masculinity.”

We know the male breadwinner is vanishing. Males comprise 80 percent of suicides and 94 percent of prison inmates. Boys, more than girls, are struggling in school. Boys are more likely to have ADHD, drop out of school, and choose not to go to college

Caught Between Extremes

Boys in many cultures are growing up with a direct experience of patriarchy both crumbling and being defended. New identities are emerging, but the transition is tense within this dialetic. There is corporate greed, cage fighting, and rollin’ coal. And there are “soft males” and ambivalence.

The synthesis is starting to become more evident in younger generations, and in movements like The Good Men Project and #HeForShe, I initiated a Men’s Group because I wanted to have honest conversations about these issues, and because I recognized that I needed intimacy with men. But I didn’t know how.

Transitioning from Roles to Principles

Intimacy between heterosexual men is not always an acceptable role. We are not supposed to show our “weakness,” doubts, or feelings. But intimacy requires all of this vulnerability. Stratified roles lead to soul trouble, and this one is no different. Bound by the concept of what it is to “be a man,” we sacrifice our own uniqueness and integrity in order to gain acceptance.

In order to move away from prescribed roles and the generational cycles of inheriting them, we need to embrace something different. Viewing the masculine as a principle, rather than a role or trait, allows anyone – man or woman – to embrace and embody the principle when needed in accordance with who he/she is. This provides freedom because it doesn’t need to look a certain way.

Transformative Axis

Tantric teacher Rudolph Ballentine brilliantly illustrates this principle with an added dimension. Masculine and feminine each also contain a yin and yang element. The transformative axis of the yin masculine and yang feminine balance the stabilizing axis of the yang masculine and yin feminine.

Transformative Axis Ballentine

Why is this significant? Our communities need these energies, and all of them exist within each of us. We don’t need balance as much as we need awareness. Boys need to learn the diversity that is within them rather than what it means to be a man.

Neither women nor men need men to be “men.” They need people who can be aware of the situation, aware of themselves, and aware of what energy is needed that derives from these (and many other) principles.

Accepting it All

I closed my reading from the inaugural Men’s Group with this:

For me, now is not the time to sit silently or disappear.

Now is not the time to let anger brew within me, a slow boil until there’s nothing left.

Now is not the time to let the power games and violence that men have brought to the world to continue to define who we are as men.

Now is the time to accept it all – the dark, the light, the masculine, the feminine – everywhere and within me.

Now is the time to acknowledge my fear, and lean into it bravely.

Now is the time to redefine power as that which brings life and well-being, not money and glory.

Now is the time to sit here with you and not have the questions answered but be willing to ask them.

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