Thanks to the #MeToo movement, toxic masculinity has been brought to the forefront of our cultural psyche. It exposed the deep patterns of abuse within American male culture, revealing why so many young people have a reasonable distrust and distain for male authority. However, more awareness can often bring more confusion (at least, in the early stages). Several critics thought the inherent identity of men was being named toxic. But this common misunderstanding illustrates the same fundamental problem we’ve had for generations: men have had no positive masculine identity given to them by modern society. We have a cultural void where the only message of what masculinity is, says it’s “not anything feminine.”
"[B]oys typically define their masculinity predominantly in negative terms–as not feminine, not female, not like mother... this may be the source of boys' tendency to devalue the feminine in general, a pattern not paralleled by girls' views of masculinity. Research suggests that young boys' forceful contempt for anything feminine is a means of assuring themselves that they are truly masculine (Chodorow, 1989; Kantrowitz & Kalb, 1998)." –Julia T. Woods
The craving for identity – to be know – drives us to fill it with something, but there is no clear path forward. In short, masculinity doesn’t need to be eradicated; it needs to grow up. If perpetually juvenile and toxic masculinity isn’t what we want, what kind of masculinity do we want? Hopefully, you and I can contribute to a cultural transformation by defining “holistic masculinity” clearly as a positive, inclusive and mature development of masculine identify for anyone who self-identifies as male.
Expecting men to grow up creates a pathway to accept themselves completely, heal from the trauma they’ve endured and take responsibility for the abuses they may have inflicted on others.
Rather than division and separation, holistic masculinity inclusively accepts both masculine and feminine sides of oneself in order to integrate growth in one focused direction towards greater moral character, power and vitality. In other words, a holistic male has experienced suffering, knows his own power intimately and uses it to protect and nurture the vulnerable around him. He is guided by an inner fire that has no substitute. It speaks truth, teaches him wisdom and leads him to joys beyond circumstance. This kind of maturity cannot be bought or faked by mimicking another’s behavior or appearance. It has to be entered into – by going to that place only you can go – but the question is how. Here is where we need help; most of us can’t find the doorway on our own. We need to be invited in or initiated by someone who does know what it means to identity as masculine.
“[B]oys who lack a strong, personal relationship with an adult male, masculine gender can be elusive and difficult to grasp (Ingrassia, 1995; Tyre, 2008).”–Julia T. Wood
A young boy is invited into holistic masculinity when older, wiser, adult males who already embody its essence initiate him into training for life. Even though it’s not a common experience for most American males, we have examples of this kind of “initiation training” in stories everywhere (like the classic archetypes in Star Wars) – where boy asks, “What’s in [the darkness] there?” and the teacher replies, “Only what you take with you.”
Immaturity cannot comprehend what the teacher means when he says, “Your weapons, you will not need them,” until it has been fundamentally transformed into maturity. Immaturity is blind to anything but itself. I believe this is the root of our collective problems; there are so few elders to teach us to grow beyond ourselves.
Ancient civilizations had symbolic rituals that led boys into this kind of manhood, which we’ll explore more in later posts. They called this initiation process the rites of passage for men.