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 and face the dominant culture, saying with determination and pride: we refuse to be rigidly boxed into masculinity by seductive promises of power or intimidating threats of violence. Men identify as allies with women, learning how to work collaboratively and developing shared power and leadership. Together, we are creating a new culture where being a healthy man is an open-ended, ever expanding expression of possibilities. Healthy masculinity means hope for the world in places where we have long felt only hopelessness.
Steven Botkin is founder and executive director of Men’s Resources International. Long involved in the global movement to transform masculinity, Dr. Botkin recently developed a toolkit for organizing “Masculinity Reflection Groups” for men and women with CARE International in Mali and Niger.