I got so many amazing emails after publishing my column last week about masculinity and pro-feminist men and plenty of blogs picked up on the analysis and added their own, as well. I wanted to share some of the excerpts here:
From Joe Samalin and Joseph Vess of Men Can Stop Rape:
The thousands of men and boys that we engage every year show us daily what healthy masculinity looks like. It is a group of high school boys volunteering at a local domestic violence shelter, it is straight and cis-gendered college men partnering as allies with LGBTQ student organizations, and it is the enlisted men and officers in the Air Force who come to us for training on how to create safer workplaces. These boys and men are all moving deliberately toward who they want to be.
Putting the support and encouragement of healthy masculinity at the center of what we do has taught us two key things. First, there is no single definition or ideal of healthy masculinity–there are as many definitions as there are men. Second, developing healthy, authentic masculinity is a journey, not a destination.
I was presenting at that very conference, and perhaps the most interesting conversation was in the last session, which was a talk back type session to adopt a statement about what happened there and what our mission is. The conversation eventually became about whether to continue the practice of men naming the violence as “men’s violence against women” and focusing on what men can do, or whether to name it as violence perpetrated by male people who identify with and try to emulate the hegemonic model of masculinity that is the tradition in our culture. While I realize in the context I’ve described it seems very unwieldy to talk about it in that way I described last, I think there’s an important point there.
Jonathan also told me about this amazing post by Ronan, who was also at the conference.
The solution is both obvious and problematic: we need public role models who are willing to show through their actions as well as their words what it means to lead a feminist life while in a male body. We need men who are willing to walk the walk publicly, allowing themselves to be scrutinized and questioned.
AJ from Feminists for Choice:
Although I agree with a large majority of what Courtney is saying, part of me thinks we should cut the guys a little slack. I mean, we have to start somewhere, don’t we? In fact, many great feminist thinkers have made the argument that it is necessary for us to reject old systems of thinking before laying out a blueprint of the future. Revolution isn’t easy, and it most certainly doesn’t happen over night, however; I do understand where Courtney is coming from. As feminist men, if all our time is spent on problematizing masculinity and defining what we are not, then when are we going to decide what we are?
Alex Dibranco of Change.org:
This is the same kind of argument I often hear from young women who, despite fully supporting gender equality, don’t want to be “labeled” as a feminist. Which makes me wonder: Do men really lack an alternative to “toxic masculinity”? Or is it just that even these gender-conscious youths still have trouble fully identifying themselves as feminist–balking, like too many women’s rights supporters, from a conception of themselves that should be empowering? Moreover, the concept of a “feminist masculinity” seems unnecessary, and if anything detrimental, to the goal of combating sexism and homophobia in that it continues to present men and their “masculinity” in opposition to women. What if everyone just worked toward being a decent (feminist) person?
While I agree that it seems there was a lack of vision, perhaps the recognition of this performative nature of being a ‘man’ is something to celebrate. The men there were choosing not to perform as a Tucker Max or Bill O, and are instead acknowledging the façade and further admitting their lack of one. If all the problems are due to the fact that the sexist masculine stereotype is simply an act, then not acting is actually quite an accomplishment, and it seems like the students you were with have realized this. What I believe they are acknowledging is that what Max and the others espouse is not, in fact, natural to the male sex, but instead a symptom of the male gender. What you discussed in your article was the definition of ‘man’ and how they were trying to recreate that properly, to define the new, modern man. They certainly did not do that, but they did take us back to being male–a man without the pathetic and desperate act for approval, if you will–, and from there we can recreate what a ‘man’ truly is.
So, then, why do we need masculinity, if all the positive traits associated with it are just as easily associated with humanity, and all that’s left as decisively masculine is harmful?
My boys thank me often because young ladies are amazed at their fresh perspectives regarding gender. I raised them by example to honor and respect women as a great balancing force. I try to do so with the math classes I teach as I insist that girls are treated with respect and that boys who choose to show openness rather than machismo are respected.
Boys are so paranoid about appearing feminine that they adapt a “culture of cruelty” and retreat into the common male role. How can we raise our boys to break this pattern?