Category: 2012 Fall

Patrick McGann

A Thousand Points of Light? A year ago when I typed into a Google search bar “defining healthy masculinity,” one of the first links to appear was “Choosing Healthy Masculinity and What That Means” on the website of the organization where I work, Men Can Stop Rape, I thought, “Oh, good. Maybe we’ve already defined it.” Joe Samalin, my former colleague who wrote the piece in 2009, characterizes healthy masculinity as “a group of high school boys volunteering at a local domestic violence shelter… or, straight and cis-gendered college men partnering as allies with LGBTQ student organizations… and, the enlisted men and officers in the Air Force who come to [our organization] for training on how to create safer workplaces.” But when it comes to defining it, he claims “there is no single definition or ideal of healthy masculinity—there are as many definitions as there are men.” Here’s a definition with the caveat that it’s very much a work in progress. Healthy masculinity: • involves the ability to recognize unhealthy aspects of masculinity—those features that are harmful to the self and others • leads to the replacement of harmful, risky and violent masculine attitudes and behaviors with empathetic behaviors and attitudes that benefit men’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being and increase their ability to role-model nonviolence • is based on supporting gender equity and other forms of equality •...

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Jackson Katz

Irreconcilable Concepts “Healthy masculinity” incorporates two distinct but nonetheless intertwined concepts: “health,” which suggests a biological perspective, and “masculinity,” which is a social construct. This interplay between the biological and the societal represents one of the great dialectics of our time, and raises a fundamental question: what does it mean to be a “healthy” man when the very idea of what it means to be a man is so contingent on the maintenance of an economic and social order in which men are arranged hierarchically in relation to one another and as a group are in a position of dominance over women? If we can speak of healthy masculinity, can we speak about “healthy whiteness” or “healthy heterosexuality?” There’s another catch. The very act of deconstructing the term “healthy masculinity” in a brief essay—rather than exploring some of the physical, emotional or relational aspects of being a man—repeats the familiar pattern of a man staying in the more “masculine” intellectual realm and neglecting the more “feminine” realms of emotions and relationship. We do need to explore the meanings that underlie our use of terms like “healthy masculinity” if we want to help build better and more life sustaining institutions. But we’re also embodied animals who experience pleasure, pain and love, and are around for a preciously brief time. We might be able to envision democratic futures in which there...

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Any Gender Is A Drag

Michael Kaufman What is healthy masculinity? There’s no such thing! After all, masculinities are social constructs, descriptions of the power relations between women and men and among men. Especially in their hegemonic versions, they are a set of stereotyped assumptions about what it means to be a man. They are systems of ideas—ideologies. But the thing is, masculinity doesn’t exist, at least not as we think it exists, as a fixed or timeless reality or as a synonym (healthy or harmful) for being a male. Years ago I described masculinity as a collective hallucination, as if we’d all taken the same drug and were imagining this thing actually existed in front of our eyes. Couldn’t, though, we speak of healthy versions of these assumptions and ideas? True, there are healthier and less healthy brands of masculinity. However, by prescribing and proscribing certain behaviors, having definitions of gender (even healthy ones) limits us as human beings to a code that supposedly comes with our biological sex. Ultimately, I think what is important is to encourage healthy men, healthy in the physical and emotional sense. That has a wide range of meanings (which I hope other, more clever, contributors are enumerating!) but perhaps which boil down to men who were raised to be nurturers, that is nurture others, nurture the planet, and nurture themselves. I look forward to the day when...

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A Collective Journey

Steve Botkin Healthy masculinity is remembering and reclaiming a caring, loving and sensitive self from the dominant legacies of patriarchy. Even as the boy grows to be a man, learning each gesture of domination or control, he is also searching for ways to express his inherent, healthy desire for connection and natural capacity for compassion. Healthy masculinity is men respecting, and being respected for, the full range of our feelings, no longer denying our pain, our fear, our anger or our joy. It is men from different backgrounds, lifestyles and communities learning to feel safe with, listen to and care for each other. It is men creating a culture where we can practice understanding rather than winning, communication rather than fighting, sharing rather than defending. We inhabit our homes and families, remembering the delights of nurturing relationships, seeking out close, loving companionship with other men and women. Healthy masculinity means learning how to recognize, take responsibility for and change our individual and collective patterns of hurtful behavior. Men find ways to take actions that challenge cultural and institutional systems of domination and control, and give voice to our caring and our commitment. Homophobia, violence against women, and war—the ultimate weapons of gender conformity—disappear, no longer needed to prove and protect “manhood.” Healthy masculinity is a collective journey of men and women joining together to find the courage to stand...

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Beyond Boxes

Paul Kivel Describe a healthy masculinity. Sounds easy at first glance. But the word “masculinity” immediately calls up feelings and thoughts—from cultural meanings and practices the word has accumulated—almost none of which seem healthy either to the bearer or those around them. A certified masculinity and its benefits were the devastating “rewards” that male socialized people were given for colluding with ruling elites and carrying out their violence. My colleagues and I have long invited men to step out of the “Act Like a Man” box that glorifies certain attributes and calls them “true” or “successful” masculinity. Do we really want to create another box that claims to describe a healthy one? There are many masculinities, femininities, and transsexual, transgender, and gender queer identities that people claim. None are easily described. All vary widely based on class, race, culture, sexual orientation and a variety of other factors. Some people, ignoring the hierarchies of power connected to particular masculinities, want to default to a non-gender-specific concept of “humanness.” But does everyone in the world share certain qualities? Would it be “healthy” if they did? Would it be appropriate to their circumstances and their other identities? I’m inherently distrustful of any attempt to create new social expectations for people to aspire to or new boxes for people to put themselves into. For me the relevant questions are: • What gender identity...

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The Courage to Grow

Tom Gardner “What are you afraid of?” That was a question I wanted to put to a young friend whom most would define as courageous—a man’s man. He never flinched from tough, physical sports like ice hockey, or dangerous assignments connected with his work abroad. But he seemed to be running from something more challenging—a committed relationship. Mind you, relationships are not for the spineless. They take a lot of work, and, most threatening of all, they require looking inward. They may require even reconsidering everything you thought you knew about being a male in this world. Why are men not well prepared for this challenge? Because traditional notions of courage that society associates with masculinity are not the kind we need in relationships. The flip side of tough is obstinate, and that makes it difficult to hear another person’s needs or pains. The tough-minded also have trouble hearing or voicing their own needs and pains. We are told that denial and stoicism are so much more functional when faced with threats and challenges. Vulnerability only creates an opening for defeat. Press on. Stuff it. We fear emotion, because it may show weakness. These standard notions of masculinity do not serve us well in the most important arena of our lives—relationships with others, especially close, intimate relationships with significant others. One thing I have learned about relationships is that...

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Healthy Males, Healthy Females

E. Ethelbert Miller The term “healthy masculinity” seems somewhat problematic to me. Is there a bar or level of measurement we should all attempt to reach? Should masculinity even be linked to topics or issues of health? Are we looking at our actions, thoughts or simple conditioning? Is this a term that’s now a part of our vocabulary because of how men wrestle with their identity and the handling of power in this society? Social change often demands a realignment of power relationships between groups. As women become more empowered does it threaten male privilege? Do men respond by showing “unhealthy” manners and behavior? Do they become violent towards women and other men? If we turn our attention to young males during a time of transformation in our society, how do we raise them to have a “new” idea of what masculinity might mean? Can a society have a healthy male without a healthy female? This is not a Zen koan but instead a serious way of “interpreting” healthy masculinity. Do we need an “other” to determine how we behave and think? The term is perhaps linked to what we want best for our society. It could be connected to the pursuit of the Common Good and citizenship with purpose; how we live and love will determine our health as well as our vision. Literary activist, author and poet...

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Escaping the Man Box

Ted Bunch Men must challenge our views and beliefs about each other. A major obstacle will be to confront our traditional male socialization and how it limits us and boxes us in. We must get out of the socially defined roles that sexism, patriarchy, and male privilege provide for us. In addition, we must end our collusion with the violence, objectification and demeaning thoughts and behaviors that we as men engage in toward women. This will require that we address our fears and anxiety about stepping out of our—often harmfully—defined roles and challenge the traditional images of manhood. The fear of being perceived as “soft” or “weak” is an obstacle for many men that stops them from challenging sexist attitudes and behaviors, the hallmarks of male dominance. Social change requires courage, integrity, accountability to women and consistency through action. What is needed from men is to act in appropriate and respectful ways toward women. That will be the day when men, along with our sisters, have redefined manhood so that violence is not a part of being a man. As we promote and work to increase healthy and respectful manhood, we also prevent and work to decrease violence and discrimination against women and girls. Ted Bunch is a cofounder of A Call to Men and conducts antiviolence trainings around the country. A version of this passage first appeared in...

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Men’s Existential Vulnerability

Charles Knight Men’s health suffers from anxiety associated with deeply felt needs to control the world. Boys, much more than girls, are taught to seek power over things and relationships. Many men sense that control is a male privilege and feel that control should be within their reach. In reality most men have little effective control over the world or their relationships: other men control many aspects of their lives and as a result there is a persistent orientation toward anxious competition and too often doubts about self-worth. Beneath this social level there is the existential vulnerability of living creatures which no one, even the most powerful Alpha Males, can escape. Those who deny vulnerability often seek to dominate others and the natural world in order to escape the anxiety. The best we can do as humans is to increase our odds of health and happiness; we do not control outcomes. Men’s understanding of strength must be repositioned to mean living well with the acceptance of vulnerability. Men who learn to accept vulnerability and are relieved of the desperate need to control will be much less likely to resort to violence in their relationships with others. And they will have happier lives. Charles Knight is founder of the Project on Defense Alternatives, where he works to change national security policy, Charles Knight is former publisher of Working Papers magazine...

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Loving, Passionate and Grounded

Juan Carlos Arean I’ll be totally frank. I understand the label of “healthy” when we talk about masculinity, relationships, communities. In fact, it’s in the name of the very network I lead. However, I don’t like to stop there. When I die, I’d hate to be remembered only as a “healthy” man in a “healthy” relationship or as a “responsible” father. I want my family (and others) to think of me as a loving, passionate, grounded, joyful man and father (who also happens to be healthy and responsible). So, for me, a loving, passionate, grounded, joyful man is someone who lives his life leading with love and not fear; who values integrity and leads by example; who puts the welfare of his family at the top of his priorities; who stands by his word and his vows; who rejoices in his intimate partner’s and children’s dreams and works hard at helping them achieve them; who understands an intimate relationship as a partnership, not with identical responsibilities, but with complementary strengths; someone who takes care of his own physical, emotional and spiritual health; who doesn’t depend on his partner for all his emotional needs; who is real with other men (and women) and is not afraid of showing his feelings and vulnerability, when appropriate; someone who loves other men (and women and children) so much that he is willing to...

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Men Are Human First

Robert Jensen The list of traits we claim to associate with being a man—the things we would feel comfortable telling a child to strive for—are in fact not distinctive characteristics of men but traits of human beings we value, what we want all people to be. The list of understandings of masculinity that men routinely impose on each other is quite different. Here, being a man means not being a woman or gay, seeing relationships as fundamentally a contest for control, and viewing sex as the acquisition of pleasure from a woman. Of course that’s not all men are, but it sums up the dominant, and very toxic, conception of masculinity with which most men are raised in the contemporary United States. It’s not an assertion about all men or all possible ideas about masculinity, but a description of a pattern. If the positive definitions of masculinity are not really about being a man but simply about being a person, and if the definitions of masculinity within which men routinely operate are negative, why are we holding on to the concept so tightly? Why are we so committed to the notion that there are intellectual, emotional, and moral differences that are inherent, that come as a result of biological sex differences? It’s obvious that there are differences in the male and female human body, most obviously in reproductive organs...

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Democratic Manhood

Michael Kimmel In the twenty-first century I believe we need a different sort of manhood, a “democratic manhood.” The manhood of the future cannot be based on obsessive self-control, defensive exclusion, or frightened escape. We need a new definition of masculinity in this new century: a definition that is more about the character of men’s hearts and the depths of their souls than about the size of their biceps, wallets, or penises; a definition that is capable of embracing differences among men and enabling other men to feel secure and confident rather than marginalized and excluded; a definition that is capable of friendships based on more than common activities (what among toddlers is called “parallel play”) or even common consumer aesthetics; a definition that centers on standing up for justice and equality instead of running away from commitment and engagement. We need men who truly embody traditional masculine virtues, such as strength, a sense of purpose, a commitment to act ethically regardless of the costs, controlled aggression, self-reliance, dependability, reliability, responsibility—men for whom these are not simply fashion accessories but come from a deeply interior place. But now these will be configured in new and responsive ways. We need men who are secure enough in their convictions to recognize a mistake, courageous enough to be compassionate, fiercely egalitarian, powerful enough to empower others, strong enough to acknowledge that real...

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Healthy Masculinity Is Oxymoronic

Allan Johnson The idea of a “healthy masculinity” is oxymoronic, because what patriarchy takes from both women and men is the fullness of our humanity, which is the only valid standard against which to measure the health of a human being. I can think of no positive human capability that is best realized by being culturally assigned to one gender or another, nor can I imagine a truly healthy way of life that does not include the work of understanding and embodying what it means to live as a full human being. To ask what constitutes a healthy masculinity affirms the patriarchal principle that gender is the indispensable core of human identity and that men and women are distinct kinds of human beings, each with their own standard of well-being. It is a separation that forms the basis for the elevation and dominance of men over women and the Earth. Trying to identify a “healthy” masculinity is a distraction because it encourages us to focus on issues of personality rather than the patriarchal system’s destructive patterns of privilege and oppression. In this way, we are kept from the real challenge before us, which is to confront the patriarchal worldview that splits humanity into masculine and feminine and assigns the former an obsession with control that threatens both the well-being of women and men and the Earth itself. Finding the...

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What is Healthy Masculinity?

Reflections by Some Members of the Voice Male National Advisory Board and Other Colleagues and Allies With a healthy masculinity summit in October [2012] in Washington, D.C., a key component of an ambitious two-year project to “spread the message of nonviolent, emotionally healthy masculinity,” it seemed timely for Voice Male to ask several members of its national advisory board, and other colleagues and allies, to address in short essays their thoughts about the challenges inherent in trying define “healthy masculinity.” What follows are the voices of those who responded just before the magazine went to press.   Healthy Masculinity Is Oxymoronic By Allan Johnson The idea of a “healthy masculinity” is oxymoronic, because what patriarchy takes from both women and men is the fullness of our humanity, which is the only valid standard against which to measure the health of a human being. I can think of no positive human capability that is best realized by being culturally assigned to one gender or another, nor can I imagine a truly healthy way of life that does not include the work of understanding and embodying what it means to live as a full human being. Read more… Democratic Manhood By Michael Kimmel In the twenty-first century I believe we need a different sort of manhood, a “democratic manhood.” The manhood of the future cannot be based on obsessive self-control, defensive...

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Dark Knights Falling

Now Can We Talk about Masculinity and Men? Even though it was–once again–a man who went on a shooting spree, the national conversation following the mass murders on July 20 has so far failed to focus on the root causes of this latest lethal outburst: men’s mental health and how men are socialized. Until we acknowledge those issues, we can only expect more tragic bloodlettings. The massacre at the Century movie theater complex during a showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo., ended with 12 dead and 58 wounded. The shooter, James E. Holmes, was arrested and remains in police custody. The multiple murders are the latest example of an expression of masculinity that society continues to ignore at its own peril. All these years after Columbine High School shooters Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed 13 in Littleton, Colo. (1999); Charles C. Roberts murdered five girls in a one-room school house in Lancaster County, Pa. (2006); Cho Seung-Hui shot and killed 32 at Virginia Tech University (2007); and Steven Kazmierczak killed five and wounded 16 at Northern Illinois University (2008); isn’t it glaringly apparent what the killers have in common? No, it’s not that all the assaults occurred at schools and colleges. It’s their gender; they’re all men. (As is Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass-murderer who killed 76 people a year ago.) Men’s violence of the...

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