Tuesday, 24 February 2015

What price a man?

What does a young modern British man feel in the 21st Century? From some accounts you might think that, in the maze of demands made upon him by feminism and other pressures he might well have a core that is cowed, unconfident and even depressed, not knowing how to express the time-honoured qualities of masculinity that seem to be in conflict with these modern expectations. Depression, about which we hear so much these days, can result from natural spirits being repressed and turned inwards. At times it can seem that simply by virtue of being the owner of a Y chromosome and infused with testosterone, modern man should be in a permanent state of apology. How do men, and particularly, young men react to this? What are they to do with a physical make-up that predisposes them to a certain form of assertiveness?

They try, perhaps desperately, to assert their innate masculinity by indulging in beer-swilling boorishness. Or they go in for bullying young women into sexting and the imitation of subservient porn-star roles. Then again they might assert their masculine “strength” by being aggressive, abusive, threatening or even violent to people around them. In recent times one conduit of their frustrations, in some communities, might include the option of becoming a warmongering jihadi with a subservient wife overseas, far removed from our more conventional surroundings.

Of course, all of these attempts to assert strength really reveal weakness. They are one side of a coin whose other side is impotence or even depression. We all know the commonplace idea that bullies are really cowards. The unpleasant assertiveness listed above is an extreme at one end of a spectrum that has weakness at the other and is really the same thing. The solution to this unfortunate situation has got to involve bringing both the violence at one extreme and the weakness at the other back towards a more normal centre.

What would we find at that healthy centre? Well, let’s remember that this centre is the place where an adult male resides. You don’t solve the problem by dissolving or erasing the natural qualities that an adult male has, through no fault of his own. These qualities have to include the physical assertiveness that goes with being infused by testosterone but without the menace and violence. Strength without threat. They have to be channeled into normal social interactions appropriate to a male. They have to involve a replacement of apologetic attitudes for what males are by an enjoyment and celebration of the same thing. At present, in our strangely unbalanced society we have small pools in our week, such as the weekend rugby match, where men can let out their masculinity unconstrained as long as they revert the rest of the week. Why can’t men be men all week round without causing any harm and perhaps whilst forming one half of a sound society?

It is interesting to note that the state of being conflicted about masculinity exists amongst women as well as men. One moment a certain type of feminist will insist on the erasing of masculine qualities of assertiveness. The next moment she will be waxing lyrical about dangerous, hunky fireman or paying good money to see a “powerful” man practising ritualized pseudo-abuse on a compliant woman at the cinema.

Perhaps the answer is that we need to accept once more the basic goodness of the, to use a religious term, creation with which we find ourselves endowed. If we start from the point of view that assumes that both femininity and masculinity are, essentially, good things rather than being conflicted in our attitudes to them by believing one moment they are good and the next despising or apologizing for them.

What does this mean in practice? It means that a young man puts aside all the crutches that one uses to get by as a modern male – the alcohol, the drugs, the apologies, the pseudo-religions. Then he simply exists in the present moment and lives by the natural instincts that arise within him and spring from his masculinity, trusting that whatever those instincts are, they will not be bad. Being still during social interaction, respecting other humans, making proper and sustained eye contact with them and listening to everything they say, he should trust his reactions to what others do or say and trust his desire to challenge or accept those things, to agree or disagree in ways that are constructive rather than destructive. He should assume that if he feels a desire to challenge very strongly occasionally that is because what he is challenging may deserve to be thus challenged strongly. He should also believe that when one is still and listening and engaging one’s masculinity does not evaporate. It is always there and will come into play naturally without the need to assert it consciously.

Strength does not have to be threatening. It can be channeled into gentleness and goodness but it cannot and must not be erased. Testosterone engenders assertiveness and has to have an outlet in normal life and social interaction. To remove normal masculine assertiveness or to brand it as wrong is, precisely, to emasculate.

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