on masculinity

I’ve been thinking a lot about masculinity, or more specifically about what it means to be a man in this world we inhabit. This is a difficult thing to do given patriarchy; indeed many, including feminists, have theorized about masculinity in this world. But given that one of my main models for divinity includes a masculine/feminine duality, and that the intermingling dance of these two energy archetypes embody all that exists, I must clarify what I mean when I say “male” or “masculine.”

And if we want to imitate the divine, we must be clear about what “masculine” and “feminine” mean.

These meanings are corrupted, I believe, in our society today. For example, look at what femininity means in our society. Pagans often use the “maiden, mother, crone” trinity to refer to the feminine. In our TV society, the maiden is a supermodel with a flat, muscular stomach and large breasts. Mother is busy at work all day cleaning house and cooking a meal, and can only be interrupted to comfort a skinned knee. The Crone is the grandmother of the house, who has no real power in a political sense but who can silence a room with her wisdom and insight.

This is pretty far from a complete picture of femininity.

In the same way, what is often taken for masculinity in this culture — physical strength, fighting prowess, aggressiveness, etc — is woefully inadequate. I would in fact go a step further and say that these characteristics should not be associated with men; on the contrary, these are boyish traits that a grounded, self-realized man would have long since overcome and harnessed.

So what is left? What does it mean to be a man — a grounded, fully-integrated into the tribe/community/family unit, using-his-strength-well man — in this society?

Central to these questions is strength. Men are strong, right? That is of course a generalization as there are many kinds of strength. But one thing I believe to be true: strength is measured in kinetic energy, not potential energy. Stength is not how much Ahh-nuld can benchpress; rather, strength is what a man (or anyone) does with his abilities.

And if you look to the masculine — particularly the divine masculine archetypes, I’m thinking of Christ, Odin, Prometheus, etc — one of the primary attributes is self-sacrifice. The man uses his strength, selflessly, for the greater good. And I’m more and more convinced that this trait of self-sacrifice — willing, non-begrudging, with a full awareness of the work leading to the greater good for all — is a primary trait of the masculine half of divinity.

We see glimpses of this ideal in popular culture, though it isn’t usually associated with masculinity, but rather of heroism. The man who rushes into a burning building to save the baby in the crib, the knight in shining armor who risks life and limb to save the damsel in distress, the war hero who gives his life by falling on a grenade to protect his fellow troops, even the domestic corporate wageslave who sells his attention for all-too-many hours each week as the “breadwinner” to support his family.

It takes a tremendous amount of strength, in becoming a man, to learn to “lay my sword down at your feet” of one’s family, one’s community, one’s companions, for the greater good of everyone.

And it seems to me that this kind of energy is moving through me now. I am in a situation where I need to practice restraint, to do some deep personal Work for the greater good of my family and my immediate community. And I use this model of masculinity because the nature of this Work is to quieten the fears of my “inner little boy” (heh, how cheesy), and to show some strength, some deep, masculine strength, in trusting that this Work is not only for my own growth and benefit, but also that everyone else involved with this will benefit.

I am nearly 37 years old, and it seems I am still learning how to be a man….

3 thoughts on “on masculinity”

  1. heh, maybe you are right, Deb!

    Actually I think there is some serious truth in your joke (jokes are funny because they contain truth): I think that in our culture there is a SERIOUS need for rite-of-passage-into-manhood for our boys. The same is true for women, but to a lesser extent I think.

    Most males in this society never learn how to be men, and this lack contributes mightily to that, I think.

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