Special Guest Contributor
Is masculinity all washed up? In order to remain viable, is masculinity (i.e., “toxic masculinity”) in need of redefining for the new millennium and beyond?
In the opening chapter of Plato’s Republic, three philosophers of the day rise to Socrates’ challenge to define “justice.” Each definition improves upon the last, yet each is revealed as woefully inadequate. It is difficult indeed to trap so high and elusive a concept as justice within an airtight verbal box. But this failure to define justice does not erode Plato’s faith that justice is real.
Indeed, would we not be suspicious of any governmental committee whose stated goal was to re-define justice? Redefine it how … to serve whose purposes? So, here’s the distinction: Plato was attempting to define justice, notredefine justice. Humans can ponder the meaning of justice, and attempt to better understand and capture that meaning in words, but according to Plato, the word “justice” refers to something real and eternal, and humans haven’t the authority to redefine it.
So … is masculinity also something real? Does this concept also have some sort of independent meaning that lies outside the reach of human interference?
I believe that two million years of human evolution did indeed create something real, something that we label “feminine” and “masculine.” As is true of justice, we struggle and largely fail to contain these concepts within tight verbal boxes called definitions, but that, in itself, should not erode our confidence in their reality. The question is, are our definitions of feminine and masculine accurate? It seems to me that where gender is concerned, powerful psychic forces (including instinct, chivalry, Eros, sentiment, myths and mythos) tend to bias our perceptions and overpower reason. Masculine and feminine are real I think, but, at present, only imperfectly understood.
So I’m all in with efforts to improve our imperfect definitions of masculine and feminine, but I regard current efforts to redefine them (or deny their existence) with suspicion.
Masculinity in particular is judged in the worst way. In some circles, masculine is synonymous with “macho” and widely regarded as the source of all evil: destructive, violent, false, immature, inferior, unnecessary, redundant, even “obsolete.” The prestigious American Psychological Association has officially declared “traditional masculinity” as “harmful” and advocates “Redefining Masculinity.” “Redefining Masculinity for the Modern Age” intones the Daily Beacon. The International Boys’ Schools Coalition is all for “Redefining Masculinity: Helping Boys to be Better Men.” Even the ManKind Project (an organization that I’ve been part of since 2000) is on about “Redefining Masculinity for the 21st Century.” With women rising and men in decline, the temptation to “redefine” and “fix” masculinity that it might better fit in with modern realities, is a temptation that runs deep.
But I resist that temptation for a number of reasons.
First off, it would seem that every redefinition of masculinity heads in the same direction—less masculine, more feminine.
But then, how could it be otherwise? There is only yin and yang, anima and animus, male and female; there is no third direction. If masculinity will undergo a shift, then where will it go; will men become more dolphin-like? One reason I’m suspicious of redefining masculinity is that I see nowhere else for the masculine to go but toward the feminine. I have no problem with men and women choosing to be balanced, but that has nothing to do with how we define masculine. Is shifting our definition of masculine toward the feminine a step toward redefining masculinity or a step toward negating masculinity? Does feminizing masculinity create a sustainable model of masculinity for the future or does it only take us a further step down the road toward male “redundancy” and “obsolescence”?
I find these questions troubling.
Another reason I’m suspicious of redefining masculinity is that it seems all too closely aligned with feminist agendas. I think if feminists had their way, they would redefine “masculine” as safe, compliant, selfless, obsequious, sexless, and obeisant to every female complaint. As always, men would remain responsible for policing and succumbing to the dark side of the world and human nature. Men will perform those tasks most harsh and hazardous (battlefields, mining, sewers, firefighting, construction, etc.) Males will be 16 times as likely to die on the job, but men will ask for nothing. Men will have no perspectives of their own, claiming only feminist (i.e., “female-ist”) perspectives for themselves.
Well, I happen to think that men have gone too far down that road already! Maleness redefined in a manner that best serves feminist purposes, that’s what I’d regard as the worst-case outcome here. You know, women everywhere look around them and insist, “There are no men!” How feminized are men supposed to be?
A third reason to distrust “redefining” masculinity is that I don’t trust that humans are wise enough to take control of such a thing. Redefining is not defining; it is social engineering. And who do I trust to take charge of this social engineering? – nobody!
No human entity can be trusted to redefine “justice.” And no human entity can be trusted to redefine “masculinity.”
Lao Tzu, Jesus, Leonardo, Shakespeare, Bach, Einstein . . . how did we ever allow ourselves to be brainwashed into believing that the masculine has no redeeming virtue?
A fourth reason to distrust “redefining masculinity” is that it is born of misandry. It is born of seeing the masculine shadow, but not the masculine gold; and seeing the feminine gold, but not the feminine shadow. It is gender bias and bigotry. It is sexism. It is an outgrowth of the escalating notion that masculinity is a defective anachronism that is at fault and to blame for all things bad, but cannot be credited for anything good. The urge to redefine masculinity is an urge to purge men of their masculinity, a “toxic masculinity” that has already been redefined in the worst way.
The fifth and final reason to distrust redefining takes us back to where we started. I believe that, like the concept of justice, the concept of masculine has an independent reality. Unless or until we are prepared to alter human DNA, we can redefine the word “masculinity” as we please, but the truth of masculinity will not be altered. We can defame and malign the masculine into ever greater levels of dysfunctional shame. We can undervalue the masculine contribution in parenting to the point that fatherless sons become the norm. Oh yes, we can certainly undermine masculinity, but we cannot change what masculinity is.
Authentic masculinity’s not the problem. But how will fatherless boys learn authentic masculinity? The true “problem” with current masculinity is that it has been – and continues to be – undermined by powerful cultural forces, forces that result in male academic and economic decline plus a generalized contempt of the masculine. Yes, women are rising and men are in decline, but those in the know, know that females are so advantaged and males so disadvantaged that it could not be otherwise. Sadly, however, it feels simpler and a whole lot safer to lay all the blame on male defects than to respect woman enough to hold her accountable as equal partner in the human system.
We don’t need a redefinition of masculinity; we need an improved understanding of what masculinity truly is – an understanding truer perhaps than any prior understanding of masculinity – an understanding divested of stereotypes and misandry.
What is authentic masculinity? I would struggle to define it. But I believe that qualities such as drive, honor, obsession, fairness, wisdom, integrity and accountability live at its core. These qualities are timeless. They add up to a definition of masculinity that is sustainable into any future – a masculinity that can never be rendered “obsolete.”
This is not the masculine redefined as feminist doormat; this is a strong masculinity – a masculinity that demands … wait for it … justice!
I believe that the distinction between defining and redefining masculinity is crucial. To define masculinity is to respect masculinity as something real, something that we are endeavoring to more deeply understand. To redefine masculinity is to assume that masculinity is purely a social construct with no reality and no meaning beyond what we arbitrarily assign to it. And therefore “masculinity” becomes a mere plaything for would-be sociologists, feminists, and special interest groups to re-define at their whim.
So I’m all in with efforts to improve our imperfect definition of masculinity, but efforts to redefine masculinity are not to be trusted.
Tim Goldich is an author who has devoted the last thirty years to researching, pondering, and writing a four-book series on gender issues. The first book—Loving Men, Respecting Women: The Future of Gender Politics—was published in 2011 and is available on Amazon.com. The second book—Equal Partners: The History of Gender Equality—is due out in 2023. He has also created a series of YouTube videos under the umbrella title of “Man Against the Wall.” He is a board member of both The National Coalition For Men and of The ManKind Project, two organizations that variously support men politically and emotionally. He is NCFM Vice President and President of the Chicago chapter of NCFM. He was one of the editors of NCFM’s Transitions: A Journal of Men’s Perspectives (the longest running journal of its kind). Goldich facilitates the personal growth work of men on New Warrior Training Adventure weekends, and of men and women on personal growth weekends called Path To Spirit. Tim’s primary focus is on Gender Equalism: Transforming gender political space for unity, fairness and forgiveness. Goldich is the author of – Loving Men, Respecting Women: The Future of Gender Politics.