Toxic vs. healthy. Stoic vs. vulnerable. Clueless vs. clued in. In spite of the limiting, binary approach contemporary culture employs to grapple with understanding masculinity today, men are changing. Not in a straight line, or a wavy gender-fluid one, for that matter, but the shift is noticeable almost everywhere you look.
In the space of a few weeks this winter, the Gillette razor company launched a campaign centered around a nearly two-minute digital ad featuring a montage of news reports on bullying, #MeToo, and toxic masculinity and calling for males to be better men. Also, the American Psychological Association published its first-ever guidelines for working with men, “drawing on more than 40 years of research showing that traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful, and that socializing boys to suppress their emotions causes damage.”
If that wasn’t enough, a range of male singer-songwriters and bands have released albums explicitly calling out old-school masculinity, tackling among other struggles men’s alarming suicide rates, loneliness, and emotional restrictiveness. Songs like “The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry)” by the British band As It Is: “Just close your eyes and bite your tongue for now/Don’t let them see you fall/ Stay strong/Hold on/You’ve got to keep it together now/Just dry your eyes/’Cause boys don’t cry/No, no/Boys don’t cry….”
Among the complex range of experiences that make up manhood—and the continuum of masculinities—some men are not only uncovering the source of their own pain, but also getting in touch with their accompanying, heart-wrenching feelings. They are learning to speak a rudimentary form of emotionalese, articulating a hunger for deeper connection with other men—and a better understanding of themselves.
For more than a year and a half, women’s achingly honest, whitehot #MeToo testimonies have given men the greatest opportunity we’ve ever had to jump-start our own inner transformation. Will we accept the invitation? Some men are ready; some are willing but frightened; others are confused. And, of course, there are men who are just plain resistant. Those men—adherents of conventional manhood—are struggling to hold on to the old order; too stubborn to adapt, lumbering through the end of the second decade of the 21st century with a Mesozoic Era mindset—dinosaur men headed for extinction as surely as their kin of 65 million years ago.
Since #MeToo began, there’s been an uptick in men having “aha” moments, acknowledging their place on the continuum of #MeToo behavior. (Of course there are many men who refuse in any way to be accountable, destined, I believe, to become a dazed minority, isolated, witnessing their privilege and power slipping away.)
While many men may want to change, there is no guarantee that all will. Many—including those who identify as ardent supporters of women’s rights and gender equality—have blind spots where their public egalitarian pronouncements have been undermined by their private behavior.
This issue features stories that, taken together, suggest a path forward for men unsure how to traverse an unfamiliar gender landscape. In “What’s the Best Way for Men to Be Profeminist? For Starters, Be Vulnerable and Humble,” Alan Berkowitz persuasively argues that profeminist men must not only speak out in support of gender equality, but also speak in— plumbing our inner lives through therapy and accountability-based men’s groups, among other strategies to ensure that we walk our talk. “Being intellectually brilliant and labeling ourselves profeminist is no guarantee,” Berkowitz writes, “that we will do the inner work necessary for healing” from how we were socialized as males.
Michael Kaufman, in an article about his new book, The Time Has Come: Why Men Must Join the Gender Revolution, makes a compelling case for men to enlist in the cause women have long led: fighting to end men’s violence against women; transforming fatherhood; creating gender-equitable economies, demanding equal pay, and insisting on harassment-free workplaces; rethinking how we raise boys; debunking as a false equivalency sex and gender; and celebrating the diverse experiences that make up men’s lives. Kaufman’s book aims to show men that “feminism is the greatest gift men have ever received.”
From Rimjhim Jain’s overview of a new anthology on global masculinities, “Capturing the Boggart of Patriarchy,” and Pamela Saavedra Castro’s eye-opening report, “Learning from Young Feminists in Chile,” to Rus Funk’s new curriculum for men, What’s Wrong with this Picture, described in “Men: Are We Willing to Examine Pornography’s Impact?,” and Diederik Prakke’s painfully honest memoir, “To Heal My Wounds, I Work with Men and Boys,” Voice Male continues our work chronicling the gender equality revolution.
In “Deferring to Men,” Linda Stein recalls the struggle for gender dignity more than half a century ago, before the feminist revolution burst forth, and Michael Messner offers a tender portrait of vets-turned-activists in “Thank You for Your Service.”
Anne Eastman Yeomans’s poem about Christine Blasey Ford reintroduces us to a shero whose voice proclaims, “The Silence Is Broken”, and Steve Kanji Ruhl with raw honesty and tenderness takes us inside men’s lives, revealing darkness and karmic light in his poems, “Running on Rattlesnake Gutter Road” and “Chink.” Frederick Douglass reminds us that some men have been championing women’s rights for a long time in an 1888 speech excerpt, “Why I Insist on a Woman’s Right to Vote,” delivered on the 40th anniversary of the pioneering women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. “Men have very little business here as speakers…they should take back benches and wrap themselves in silence.”
For men in the feminist-led movement that since #MeToo has begun a new chapter, it’s time to speak out and speak in. It’s time to examine our inner lives so deeply that when our children and grandchildren ask, “What did you do during the Gender Equality Revolution?” we will know what to say.
Rob Okun is the editor of Voice Male.