“Please, be that guy.”

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Man-Up-whydontcha

A few weeks ago I had a conversation about what it means to be a “man” in today’s western culture with my friend Ramvir who is a 32 year old man of Indian descent who has lived in Auckland, Aotearoa for most of his life. Ramvir, turned 17 in a youth detention centre and before this he says he was, “surrounded by violence both physical and emotional”. For Ramvir manhood was enforced through violence, through language – those who did not meet the bar of what manhood was supposed to look like; those who cried or showed emotion got called pussies, fags and bitches.

After 9 months Ramvir was released and says by 19 few of his friends knew he had ever been in prison. Ramvir spent most of his life not discussing how he felt or his past, it is only in the last two years that he is coming to terms with it and rethinking what being a “man” actually means to him – reimagining what masculinity can be, for him.

Ramvir spoke to me about how he used to bond with other men, him and his mates would make commentary on women’s bodies, stare/leer at their “big breasts” and bond through sexualising women.  In the last two years he had what he calls a “slow awakening” which was typified when he stumbled onto a  group of radical feminists on the website Reddit,

This group was a space for women to vent about rape, sexual violence, inequality and the general bullshit of patriarchy in this world. This was not a space for “learning” or for men to become “informed”, it was a space for women who already knew their shit to discuss their shit – in other words do your homework first or do not post in this group.

What Ramvir read in these forums lead him to, doing his own further research in regards to women’s rights and the overwhelming violence women are facing today. He began to question what masculinity means and ultimately challenging and changing his own behaviour; catching himself when he (literally) used women’s bodies to bond with other men. Ramvir said, “Now, I try to bond with men by talking about how I feel, in the moment. Sometimes men are repulsed by it, sometimes it connects them to me. I talk about how I feel with other men in an attempt to create spaces for them to speak as well”.

The thing is I have spent a greater part of my life campaigning for the rights of women and trying to think of ways we might end rape and violence against women. It has only occurred to me in the last year or so, the violence is never going to decrease or stop unless we seriously address how we are raising young men.

Nothing is going to fucking change if we do not start talking about how patriarchy is not serving men either (we know beyond a doubt it is certainly not serving women) as Carlos Andrés a poet, activist and writer states, ‘by buying into the illusion of power afforded by patriarchy, we as heterosexual men do far more than just oppress women and gay men – ultimately we are oppressing ourselves. Ramvir said something simular in our conversation, “I do not think patriarchy or misogyny is working for a lot of men either. There may be a payoff but it is not worth it. It may feel reassuring to be born into a leadership role, to be told you are naturally a leader because you are a man so you buy some power but you have sold your ability to step outside of the confines of that gender expectation”.

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The thing is misogyny is not just killing women (globally, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by an intimate partner) it is killing young boys and men as well. Michael Morones is an 11 young boy who happens to really like My Little Pony, as the NY Daily News reported, ‘…he is one of many young boys who is part of a growing section of the male population that enjoys “My Little Pony”, which was originally marketed toward girls and created in 1983.’ Michael tried to hang himself over a month ago because as Michael’s parents say he was teased relentlessly over his love of the cartoon My Little Pony. Because Michael did not play with only trucks, action figures, fake guns and tanks because he did not fit the dominant ideal of masculinity because he played with “My Little Pony”, a toy for girls, he was bullied to the point life was no longer worth living.

I remember when I was a teenager I meet this kind hearted young man called Dave, he told me about how his father used beat him daily, “to teach him how to be a man”. He told me how sometimes he felt like he was dying inside.  He hung himself a year after I met him.  He was passionate and sensitive and looked after me at a time when my home life was falling apart: my sister was hooked on drugs, sometimes she would go missing for weeks on end, my family was seriously going into crisis and I had no idea what to fucking do about it – I was only 15. When I felt like I had nothing, Dave gave me everything. He let me stay at his house on the couch when going home seemed like too much and he kept me safe (boys and girls can really “just be friends”).

I wish someone had kept him safe. I wish someone had told him it is ok to cry, it is ok to feel too much; it is ok to be vulnerable. I wish I had helped him find a language to articulate his pain and suffering instead when he tried to talk to me about how he was feeling I told him to “get hard and it will be ok”. Effectively I told him to “man up” when he had just told me he had been beaten for most of his life. I was too young and too wrapped up in my own suffering to hear what he so desperately needed to say; “please help me.”

In my last article for the daily blog in which I spoke about the damage and impact objectifying language and images have on people I stated , “it is time to demolish archaic paradigms so we can build new ones which respect women” (yeah, I really am quoting myself), the thing is this is impossible unless we build new paradigms that “reimagine what manhood” can be – reimagine a whole entire new cultural and social landscape which is vastly different from the one that has been enforced. The Statistics for rape and violence against women are only going to grow if we do not address the fact men are being raised in a culture that tells them the way to be man is to never show emotion. Jane Fonda the award winning actor and activist while in conversation with Eve Ensler states,

‘I have a grandson who is 8, I guess a burning thing I think about a lot is what do we do about our sons? You read the headlines about columbine and all the school shootings and all these things and the headlines say, “What is happening to our children?”, “What is happening to our American Teenager’s?” what it should be is, “What is happening to our sons – our boys?” And it comes back to this issue of bifurcation. And how we raise our sons or our grandsons is going to make a huge difference for tomorrow… we need to do everything we can to keep our sons and grandsons emotionally literate. To keep them connected head to heart. And it is really hard because I work with adolescents and the boys who have remained hooked up [to their heads and hearts] are not in a safe place they are called “sissies” and “pansies” and “momma’s boys” and they do not know anymore when they are sad. They [boys] loose emotional literacy. We have to raise sons who are capable of intimacy and love and compassion and empathy.”

We, need to decode the language around us; words like “pussy” and “faggot” which are used to put down men who behave too “emotionally” aka “like a homosexual” or “like a women” are being used as weapons to control and dictate how men must behave. These words are seriously damaging in all there seemingly defused and normalised use Carlos Andrés Gómez states, “I had the realization that straight men strategically use certain words to police who they are. And at the centre of that enforcement are… faggot, bitch, and pussy. All three of those words share something in common: Men use those words to devalue the feminine.”

It is men like Ramvir and Carlos who are questioning what it means to be a man – and we need more men who move, “outside of the predetermined boundaries of masculinity”. These men and I am sure so many more like them cannot be content in a world that tells them to gain power; to be powerful you must dominant, humiliate, intimidate, dehumanise, control through violence – other people. A world which instructs men and young boys  the way you become a man is to stop feeling, stop crying, stop caring; “Stop being so fucking emotional”, (something women are told endlessly whenever they are too loud, too outspoken, too angry; too much). A world which is telling young men, the way to be a man is to effectively stop feeling your own humanity.

What this world desperately needs is more men, more people who are deeply connected to their own humanity – that is how we begin to change a world that serves the rich and not the poor, caters to the powerful and not the (perceived) powerless. We need more people who have found the courage and conviction to tell their stories with their whole hearts – now, that is power. People who question a culture that pedals dangerous and damaging stereotypes of what “manhood” should be, in the words of Carlos:

“Masculinity is a choke chain. It is a suffocating bar that can never be met.”

 

19 COMMENTS

  1. Absolutely correct. Testosterone has a lot to answer for. It is up to women and mothers to start this revolution in the training of their sons, until the men they make become aware enough (as the 2 men above were) to join in removing aggression from child-rearing. One wonders at the opposition to allowing boys to be gentle. I’ve known many such men, and they are the saving of their sex. For a safe society to work we must allow all boys to be raised in a non-aggressive, un-endangered way.

    Which prompts me to remember and applaud Sue Bradley’s anti-smacking law–much maligned, but so sane.

      • I agree, I never said it was up to women and mothers to start a revolution in regards to how we see masculinity I think it is up to people world wide to question the bullshit of this world.

    • I agree except with your reference to the snit-smacking bill…my understanding is that it is the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 not the anti smacking; you don’t get prosecuted for what most consider to be smacking (a light tap across the hand or bottom), you get prosecuted for child abuse & no longer have the right to use the law to defend your abuse as “reasonable force”…

      The Act states: “To avoid doubt, it is affirmed that the Police have the discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent of a child or person in the place of a parent of a child in relation to an offence involving the use of force against a child, where the offence is considered to be so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution.”

  2. I have a 16 (almost 17) year old son. I tell him that one of the most important qualities of a man is how he treats women. As equals. As partners in this great adventure of life. As people to be loved, not used. And I owe those values, believe it or not, to a father who was born in the late 1920’s and who modelled that in his attitudes towards my mother.

    • Agreed IV, there was a time when boys were raised to become gentlemen.

      My grandfather and my father were raised likewise, and treated my grandmother and mother with utmost respect and honour. I believe this paid dividends to everyone concerned: my parents are still very much in love after nearly 40 years together, and are each others best friends as much as anything. My grandparents had a relationship akin to The Notebook, and it was beautiful to witness.

      My father has always been a man to do what is right, regardless of how other men might respond. I know he has challenged his friends and/ or acquaintances in the past, on the way they have treated their wives or girlfriends, even though this hasn’t always made him particularly popular. He has been even less concerned with keeping the peace when it came to me!

      One day, I hope to find a man with the same integrity and honour as my father. Someone who doesn’t just love me, but would also honour and respect other women, too.

  3. “What this world desperately needs is more men, more people who are deeply connected to their own humanity – that is how we begin to change a world that serves the rich and not the poor, caters to the powerful and not the (perceived) powerless.”

    Brilliant Chloe. Thank you for writing this. I hope this article is read as much as the more male oriented political articles are on this blog.

    However, I fear it may be seen as a “women’s issue” and will be passed over by many for that reason.

    It’s not. It’s a human issue. It affects us all negatively, but differently.

    We should not have to appeal to the self interest of men to convince them to discard patriarchy and to treat women and transgenders with respect. They should do it because it is the decent and right thing to do.

    But I think that we will be more successful if we point out as you have so eloquently done here that it is in their best interests too.

  4. Chloe, I can only applaud what you have to say.

    For an unusual example of a new type of role model I can recomend former NZ cricketer Martin Crowe who has gone through some interesting times and emerged as a male who is in touch with his feelings. He has an article out today which is by quite some distance the most insightful piece of writing about the big cricketing news currently absorbing the country.

    Cricket isn’t that important in the scheme of things but Martin is a man who is very publicly recovering from the forces that shape our boys and young men and is someone who now has my deepest respect. http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/720283.html

    I also recommend an organisation called ‘Mates’ which is looking to set up mens groups all around New Zealand with the express aim of getting men talking and creating decent role models for our boys

    For young parents and people about to become parents I really hope you investigate things like Non Violent Parenting, the Continuum Concept and/or Attachment Parenting.

    Children raised with these influences are observedly more grounded, more reasonable and have less supressed anger than their peers and for my money this is where the real revolution is going to happen.

    We live in a culture where abuse of power is the norm and consequently our children are shown every day that they should use power to get what they want regardless of the results. The behaviour we model now will determine the attitudes of the next generation so it’s up to each and every one of us to make the changes in ourselves first.

  5. I wish that posts like this became mainstream news, that this topic became mainstream conversation as until this happens, nothing will change.

    The masses don’t acknowledge or want to talk about child sexual & physical abuse or rape & abuse of women. They don’t want to talk about that 99% of the offenders are male & that 80% of those who offend against children are heterosexual yet it is all linked in to one common denominator – shit parents. They don’t want to talk about the obvious links between porn & treatment of women & they don’t want to acknowledge that misogyny is just as prevalent as it was 2000 years ago.

    That said, yes absolutely men need to take a stand & lead by example, but women have a lot to answer for too – both in the apathy towards stupid songs sung by stupid dicks like Robin Thicke as two planks who normalises rape language such as “tearing your ass in two” in pop culture, to porn, body image crap fed to us via advertisements, celebs, magazines etc. Many women accept misogyny & often enable it by refusing to expect & demand more from the men in their lives – their own fathers, brothers, husbands & sons. They are failing to set the standard & in doing so telling their daughters that being treated with disrespect is OK.

    But getting back to the good guys…why are the good men good? Did their parents really get it right or was it a case of good luck rather than good management? Parenting seems to be viewed more as a right & a title, rather a privilege & a verb.

    I think in order to really address rape & its evil twin misogyny we need to address the lack of education about what it takes to be a good parent.

    Anyone can be an egg or sperm donor, but a parent well, that requires time, effort, thought & strategy as you are not raising children, you are raising adults.

    How many good homes that have a lovely white picket fence have mothers cheating on fathers or fathers cheating on mothers? A parent who is always at work or a workaholic? Dismissive parents who don’t engage with their kids? Who shut them down? Give them things rather than time? Who fail to lead by example in terms of empathy?

    These things are present in many homes & they result in resentment & contempt for others, especially in boys towards girls.

    Sure not all boys who grow up in such homes will become rapists, but many will make shit husbands/partners & shit parents & grow up to be misogynist pricks – which I think is just one (or maybe a few) step away from rape.

    So yes, re-thinking our language in terms of what references are acceptable with respect to women is definitely a start, but poor parenting is by far the most important issue we need to address.

    We need men to be men who are not afraid to express their vulnerabilities, who understand that being strong doesnt mean one has to raise their voice or fist & women who can be strong & assertive without being bitches and who can be sexy while not allowing themselves to be treated as an object.

    • I think it comes down to more than parenting as I pointed out in what i wrote it is a wider culture that also teaches men, “how to be men” it is not just parents that need to step up and shift the way they raise boys it is just everday people who need to question a culture that has raised boys to believe that being a man means turning off your own humanity.

  6. Great reading. Reminds me of a Upworthy post last week about the three most damaging words uttered to young males – “Be a man.”

    It also reminds me of one of my favourite movie quotes – “I know, I know ya can fight, but it’s our wits that make us men.” -Braveheart, for those who couldn’t pick it.

    • Depends who’s teaching. And the values they are imparting.

      Such old-fashioned notions as ‘Don’t kick a man when he’s down’, Queensberry Rules – fight fair, and no hitting below the belt – are transferable skills to most parts of life. Plus modesty and humility in victory.

      And finding out your strengths as an individual contributing in a team, and your willingness to strive for excellence.

      BTW those same little kids playing sport and learning those values can be great for subduing the unsportsmanlike behaviour of the ‘sideline warriors’: ‘Dad! Your screaming at the ref is really embarrassing and bad sport!’

      Depends, Gosman.

  7. If we could shift the meaning of the phrase “be a man” then instead of damaging statement that demands men, stop feeling and just suck it up, it could become something positive. Language holds so much power and if we do not question the meaning of words; if we do not decode words they will be continued to be used to police men.

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