What is ‘Man’?

Man Standing in Front of Statue Photo

As mentioned in my last post, I attended a men’s group for the first time this week. I won’t talk in specifics because the point of such a group is that it is a safe place to share and discuss openly within the group. But I will vaguely discuss my own experience being mindful of the trust that other participants bestow on me by allowing me to take part.

You’ve heard it a lot, I’m sure. But we are incredibly lucky to live in the world right now. Social histories of the world regularly speak of dark, ignorant periods. Periods where our collective consciousness has been incredibly restricted. Perhaps we needed to go through these periods of development in order to allow a bit of light to seep in. But it seems that we now, as a global community, are starting to enter the adolescence of our collective development. Who knows how much further that growth may go.

Along those lines, we often hear of the oppression and abuse of women and their rights. The volume of the voice against men’s oppression is much quieter. Perhaps it is due to its more insidious nature. While men have traditionally been allowed (or even thrust) into positions of power to the exclusion of women, the flip side of this is the development of a very unbalanced view of what ‘man’ is.

Take a moment to think of what ‘man’ means to you. In particular, the “successful” man. How old is he? Maybe he’s classically ‘handsome’. Most likely, he is strong, confident and capable. What’s his sexual orientation? Perhaps your definition probably doesn’t extend past a big cock and rippling muscles… a fat wallet being a bonus. It could be that he is in touch with his feelings. But if you are honest, this is probably not to do with him, but instead because you’d like him to connect with you. Chances are your ideal man would not cross the line into weakness. I’m aware this is leading and generalised. I’m equally aware that generalisations almost never match an individual’s reality. But they serve as a background for discussion.

People are people, regardless of gender. We have emotions, ups, downs, strengths, weaknesses, good times, bad times, stressors and things we relish. We know this logically. We can also learn to appreciate that logic has very little to do with how we experience the world.

‘Man’ may well include the attributes above, but to the man who does not naturally possess these, even if only in a moment of vulnerability or pain, it can play on his mind. In much the same way that a woman sees the ‘perfect’ form of a woman in a magazine and inevitably finds herself lacking, a man sees the ‘attractive’ man and finds himself wanting. A contemporary vision of the modern, successful feminine archetype may leave the housewife feeling like a failure, despite her key role in life. And the man who has not managed to carve his ‘success’ from the world may feel helpless and unworthy of manliness.

People naturally experience a vast range of emotions, perceptions, and assumptions which make up their ever-changing reality. To a degree, we have the power to choose these. But often we set it to automatic. In societies which outwardly, (if unspoken) look down on the man who expresses the full range of these experiences, we risk suppressing him. Where we suppress, we create imbalance and unrest.

Often we hear discussion on the effect of pop media or unrealistic ideals on the development our youth. This often does include males but it seems to me at least that it is usually focussed on the effect on girls/women. There are great organisations developing, (the Movember Foundation is a great example) which recognise this and are balancing it out. Men’s groups, like the one I attended are popping up all over in local communities everywhere. Initiatives like the #itsokaytotalk campaign that spread over Facebook recently are also appearing.

I enjoyed choosing to use my evening to delve deeper into myself. I could instead choose to watch TV, a movie, or read a book. I could choose to DO something that entertains me. I could choose to spend the evening combing TradeMe for that bargain “I just have to have because…” or buy clothes that will (briefly) help me feel sexy. I could enjoy some delicious food or some other ‘normal’ distraction from what is really going on in this thing that is me. Instead, I enjoyed connecting with other men on a deeper emotional level than is ‘normal’. I plan to continue with it and when I move on, I intend to be active in seeking out something similar.

So this is my contribution. I don’t expect to change the world, but I choose to believe that individuals can add momentum to any shift in culture. I choose to believe that each little bit helps. I choose to discuss things that make me feel and I hope that one day we live in societies where we are all (male, female or otherwise ‘classified’) really able to just be who we are.

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