Constructing a New Masculinity

Last Monday I had the opportunity to attend the gathering of Central Ohioans for Peace where the topic for the evening was a documentary called The Mask You Live In.  This documentary explores how young men and boys struggle to navigate a very narrow definition of masculinity that is forced on them by almost every angle in American society.  The dominant notion of masculinity is espoused everywhere from sports, video games, movies, and TV shows to the many ways, both subtle and overt, that our young men are taught to distance themselves from their feelings, to shun intimate and authentic relationships, and to fear association with anything deemed feminine.  While there are certainly many exceptions to this, I doubt I have to work very hard to convince you of the dominance of this type of masculinity in American culture.  HERE is a link to a video that includes clips from the documentary that can give some examples.  (Be warned that the clip contains some harsh language/images.)

The documentary also spent a good amount of time trying to show how much this form of masculinity is harming young men and boys.  A couple of troubling statistics it cites include the reality that suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in boys, and 21% of young men use pornography every day.  There are certainly a number of other factors that contribute to these realities, but the film makes a compelling case that dominant masculinity is an undergirding factor. 

We only had time to watch a little over half of the documentary, so I am not sure how it ends.  To that end, this critique may not be valid, but as I watched I found myself wishing that the directors would make the move from deconstructing dominant masculinity toward helping viewers see what it means to construct masculinity in a way that helps all young men and boys to thrive. 

A few years ago, I wrote the following poem for a class project in which I attempted to do this type of constructive work.  It is modeled after the poem Imagine a Woman by Patricia Lynn Reilly and is my attempt to imagine what kind of man I hope I am becoming.  I have a copy hanging on my refrigerator to inspire this kind of masculinity in myself every day.  I hope you too can find it to be both challenging and encouraging.  In addition, I’d love to hear how you would complete the sentence: “Imagine a man…”

Imagine a Man

Imagine a man who accepts that it is right and good that he is a man.
A man who acknowledges his privilege and accepts it as a responsibility.
Who refuses to remain blind to the truth of his power.

Imagine a man who recognizes the truth of others’ experiences.
A man who approaches the world with curiosity and wonder.
Who allows himself to be shaped by the many truths that surround him.

Imagine a man who is free to be whatever a particular moment calls for.
A man who laughs, weeps, yells, rough-houses, and sits quietly by himself.
Who does not fear the ‘other’ he finds within himself.

Imagine a man who knows what strength truly is.
A man who recognizes that the strongest armor is his truest self.
Who carries the burdens of another out of love and not obligation.

Imagine a man who appreciates his body.
A man who values both the hardness and softness within himself.
Who defines his worth only by the size of his heart. 

Imagine a man who values the men in his life.
A man who sits in circles of men and recognizes a rich diversity.
A man who knows he cannot do it alone.

Imagine a man who allows the power of the Divine to dissolve all boundaries.
A man who commits his strength to tearing down walls rather than building them higher.
Who recognizes the limitations of his own experience of the Divine. 

Imagine a man who lives vibrantly.
A man unconstrained by artificial limitations.
Who paints his life with all the colors available to him.

Imagine yourself as this man.