Like it or not, we are granted and hold many privileges in this society. Looking at politics, corporate america, media ownership, economic power structures and also the dynamics of gender, men hold a great amount of power to make things better, to make things worse, OR to leave them as they are; to HEAL, to HURT or to TURN AWAY.
In the early history of our species our genetics gave us physical strength greater than that of the female. Because of this strength, certain roles became men’s roles. We protected our tribes and clans, we hunted, we made war. We did dangerous things, and paid with blood. Today, 40,000 years later, we still have greater physical mass than women. But today that physical power has few benefits for our evolution. Our roles in society generally require little of us physically, machines do the hunting and the war-making. So why then, are there so many men in our society today working at building their physical power? Why does our mass media, which at some level we create, show us men who are big, strong, physically dominating? Why is popular culture infused with the MACHO image of man, when today there are few in our society who need this physical strength to succeed?
I believe the imperative to physical power is fear of the unknown. Fear motivated early man to survive, to fight against the wild animals in the dark. Today, fear and uncertainty are inherent in a society that is too complex to understand, the darkness is the unknown in our own minds, the unknown future, the unknown fate that we wish to control. We seek power to reduce our sense of powerlessness. And this power-seeking creates ecological disasters, the culture of violence, racial tension, rape and domestic abuse, child neglect and economic instability that we see all around us, every day.
The cultural systems that we live in still bear the marks of their inception – men hold the roles they do because physical violence has insured that they will keep the power they have taken throughout history. At the institutional level, some is simply the result of inertia, things go on the way they always have in a subtly regulated way. At the interpersonal and personal levels, physical violence is still the trump card in relationships. Dating violence by men continues to increase and the perpetrators and victims get younger, domestic abuse by men continues to plague our cities and our rural towns. Men continue to kill each other in record numbers in our cities. Friday night at the bar isn’t complete without a fight between two men, neither of whom have much to lose.
There is no arguing that some things HAVE changed. The Women’s movement of the 70’s-80’s balanced some of the inequities in our culture, but led to a tremendous backlash in the 90’s, fueled by the increasing insecurities of men who began to view not only MEN as competition for resources and power, but women as well. Men have taken on a greater number of PASSIVE violent techniques, subtle manipulation instead of physical abuse, huge increases in the availability and violence of pornography, addiction to drugs and alcohol instead of FEELING, perpetual war to assuage our persistent global insecurity.
Women have also begun to display levels of violence unknown in the past, as their own sense of SAFETY in our culture has eroded. With men now seen as competition as often as partners or protectors, women are now in the same dark tunnel that men find themselves in – with similar results. Families and children suffer. In many minority cultures in the US, as men have lost their economic footing, women have stepped into the role of provider for the families and children, adding to the high insecurity of the male role in the culture. The women now in the provider and nurturer roles pay a heavy price, and often their children suffer as well.
In our culture the drive for a sense of personal power, in the face of a rising sense of powerlessness, often leads down a dangerous road for young men, and increasingly for young women.
Physical power now implies domination on an individual level rather than a necessary trait of species survival. And men still pay in blood, in widespread violence against each other, against families and communities, against the women and children that we were genetically designed to protect. Our physical power is a weapon that more often HURTS us than helps us. But the urge for physical domination cannot simply be erased from our psyches. It is not a switch to be turned off.
To take a line from Spidey’s uncle “With great power, comes great responsibility.” (this is an adaptation of a Winston Churchill line, addressed to Harry Truman; “For with primacy in power is joined an awe-inspiring accountability for the future.”) My belief is that men’s work; men taking responsibility for our actions and discovering our true talents and gifts, is essential to the larger work that will help our society evolve and realize social and ecological justice. Until men become willing to face the sense of powerlessness that is a core part of our culture, and learn to STOP acting out from that place of powerlessness, our cities and towns and villages will continue be places of violence. Mistrust and threat will be the common bond shared between isolated groups fighting each other for control of resources and control of the future.
As MEN, I believe the urge to protect our families and loved ones is inherent. The urge to control our fate is inherent. The choices we make about HOW TO DO THAT, are up to us. Nurturing our families, creating close communities, developing healthy relationships with women and men is the most effective way to PROTECT our society from the unknown. Creating vibrant, sustainable and responsible coalitions based not on FEAR, but on HOPE and TRUST is the surest way to regain control of our fate on this planet.
I have read many authors who argue for the overthrow, the destruction of, the masculine. Who say that the masculine persona (maleness) is the cause of our troubles – and that eliminating this factor will fix the problems faced by society. I would argue that we will never change anything in our society by denying (repressing) its existence. Masculinity, for better or worse, is HERE. I do not believe it CAN be done away with. I also do not believe that the physical distinctions that separate man from woman are causal factors. I think that our traits are evolutionary adaptations to a fundamental law of the universe … CHANGE. All evolutionary shifts are responses to a changing environment. Right now, I believe our environment (and our culture) actually encourages more destructive “MASCULINE” traits as a fitting pre-rational response. This goes for MEN and for WOMEN. I attribute the growing level of female violence as a natural adaptive response to an environment where choices seem increasingly limited.
Going against this “lizard-brain” response to this overwhelming and truly frightening reality requires a concerted effort and ongoing CHOICE to react differently than our pre-frontal cortex is telling us to. Masculinity is not the problem. The choices that men make, based on the available data, are the problem. Men’s work is about making different choices, rewiring our reactivity, to respond to the environment in a way that actually goes against what a core part of our brain is telling us to do. And to do so does not mean that I am no longer A MAN, it simply means that I am a man CHOOSING how he responds, rather than being driven by my unconscious fears.
Nothing can be destroyed. Nothing can be WILLED into non-existence. It must be looked at, explored and integrated. Masculinity is an evolutionary response to a certain stimulus combined with a specific set of physical traits. We built a culture around this response, the culture will change as the men in it evolve. The choices we have made in the past are no longer appropriate, and will no longer support our evolution. REAL MEN GET TO CHOOSE HOW THEY RESPOND. It is said that you can’t fix a problem using the tools that created it. This is often used as a rationale for destroying the masculine. I would assert that it is the subtle frontal lobe of man that is the tool for the job, having relied so long on the blunt force of the lizard brain, and that telling a man to stop being masculine will inspire the reaction you least want to see.
Why a men’s group? Because I want men to have MORE DEFINITIONS of what it means to be a man.