Irreverence can be such a liberating thing. A friend and I once conceived of a web site we wanted to start. It was a dark bit of satire we'd call, "JUST ASK A MAN (There's a Reason You Call Us Know-it-Alls)". The site would be essentially an advice column with the two male hosts mansplaining their way through things they know nothing about.
So, this question from Sue in Detroit: "How can I tell if I'm in labour?"
No problem, Sue in Detroit. It's easy. Do you carry a lunchpail to work? Then you're in labour.
We thought it would be hilarious. We also knew we could never pull it off. Two males making fun of two males mansplaining? The world as we know it would not have allowed it, having lost its sense of humour these days about, well, pretty much everything. Sensitive people would write in to say that they'd been traumatized by mansplaining in the past and it was cruel of us to make a joke of it. Righteously indignant people would complain that we were perpetuating negative stereotypes to suggest that women needed to have things explained to them in the first place. Okay, whatever. The world, instead, remains a sadder place.
But the reality behind our humour is no laughing matter. Men are feeling lost. So destructive has male dominance been in our cultural story, here in the West, that many now consider masculinity itself to be toxic. Leadership, strength, action--these traits were traditionally heralded not only as being socially acceptable, but necessary. Soldiers returning from war were considered heroes. Fathers making sacrifices for the sake of their families were called good providers. Not any more. Soldiers are scorned for being warmongers and working fathers are derided for being emotionally absent.
There's no question that such male stereotypes have to die. Men are more than their actions. They are capable of care and compassion. And yes, they need to shut up more than they do and start listening for a change. Not to mention the damage done to all the men who don't naturally fit the stereotype to begin with. But to devalue all the men who are living out the cultural norms they inherited, about what it means to be men, is to leave them in a no man's land, literally, where they are damned both for who they are and, also, for who they're not.
I'm genuinely concerned about men in the modern world. Devalued and dismissed, some are withdrawing into a resentful, soul-consuming silence. Disenfranchised, others are retreating into the pulsating world of porn or the comfort zone of conspiracy theories as places where they can fantasize about being in control. Their anger and their hurt is either going inward, as depression, or outward, in acts of violence. And their confusion about it all is shaking the very ground beneath their boots.
My concern about modern men led me to talk with Dr. Marv Westwood. Marv is a Professor Emeritus in Counselling Psychology at the University of British Columbia. In his counselling role Marv has helped countless midlife men navigate their way through broken marriages and vocational crises. I know. I was one of those men. But his chief work in recent years has been a deep dive into the heart of traditional male culture, the military, where he and his team run therapeutic weekends for soldiers traumatized by war.
Marv knows that the old stereotypes don't hold. Men have as much need as women to release their emotions, to care tenderly, to listen attentively, to work cooperatively, all the cultural norms traditionally associated with women. He also knows that speaking of gender at all, of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine,’ has become limiting, counterproductive, and often wounding. Speaking instead of character traits would avoid sexual stereotyping altogether, he says, strength and compassion, for instance, being desirable traits for everyone.
But Marv cares about the men caught between the old cultural norms and the new, and about how they are honoured and valued in the interim. That's what we discussed in this episode of The Mystic Cave, called, "Men Talking." The work is hopeful. But it's also daunting. We humans have such a long way to go to discover new ways of being ... human.
To listen to our conversation, please press the Play button below. To access the show notes, with links and information relating to Marv's work, please press the Information ("i") icon and scroll down.