“Grow a pair!”; “take control!”; “support your family!”; “protect your family!”; and “if you fall short, you’re not a man!”
My God! What a burden our cultures over the centuries have placed on manhood! The standards are ridiculously high, a set-up for failure and perceived failure. They also beg for rebellion and a demand for relief in the forms of societal accolades and privilege. As in : “if I’m going to do all this, then I’m going to do it my way!”
Our definition of manhood, of what it means to be a man, is not working for us. Arguably, it has never worked well in any human culture because it is so deeply flawed. In my previous blog, I pointed out that women and men are equal partners in the creation of each new generation, yet our cultures have failed miserably in reflecting this equality as a fact of life. But we must keep in mind each of us is a part of our own culture and of civilization in general. While we may have accepted many of the definitions we learned from our predecessors, we have the ability to redefine any concepts which do not serve us well.
Our age-old definitions of “manhood” and “masculinity” have done human civilization a grave disservice. They have done so by generating patriarchal systems throughout our societies, therefore relegating women to the position of second-class citizens. The consequential effects of this are two-fold: first and foremost, utilization of the wisdom of half the people in the world is diminished; and second, the burden of the other half is increased to the point of break-down. In other words, we are using possibly 75% of the brain power available to us as a civilization, while depending on our over-stressed patriarchs to run the world! What could possibly go wrong?!
Yet it gets worse. The practice of patriarchy has, over time, engendered a formidable equivalency:
I see this as having evolved as “payback,” as a privilege men have come to expect for shouldering so much responsibility. But the actuality, the way it plays out in real life, creates backlash. And so it begins: men continuously seek ways to prove their worthiness, while women seek equality with men. We may laugh as we recognize our so-called battle of the sexes, but it is much more than that. And it is deadly serious.
Symptoms of the failure of our patriarchal societies are rampant across time, across cultures. Superiority of any group over another leads to oppression. It also leads to the desire to maintain power and control in an effort to preserve a particular status in society. Methods of control may easily become inhumane. On the other hand, those who are oppressed may at first be complicit and compliant. But at some point, they will likely become angry, rebellious, and manipulative. The cycles on both sides feed off themselves at the same time they are feeding off each other.
Recently, Steve Bannon, former presidential confidante, responded to the current “Me Too!” movement evidenced at the Golden Globes Awards:
“The anti-patriarchy is going to undo ten thousand years of recorded history. You watch. The time has come. Women are going to take charge of society. . . . . It’ll never be the same going forward.” Bannon went on to say that he thought all the women present would “cut off the balls of every man in the room if they had a guillotine!”
I fear his comments reflect the thoughts of many men. But all of them are wrong. Those who are oppressed- in this case, women, by patriarchal societies- do not aspire to become oppressors themselves. Nor do they wish to retaliate. They simply seek relief from the limitations imposed on them.
Our archaic definition of manhood must be changed to reflect the reality of our co-equal status as partners in procreation. Patriarchy has not only damaged civilization; it has prevented us from reaching our full potential as human beings in society with all others. The benefits it appeared to promise came at a higher price than we expected. We cannot continue to pay that price if we hope to find serenity and joy in our lives. We must aspire to create a life in which our children can thank us- not damn us.