To talk about the needs, suffering or pain of men within public view is to invite a reaction of harsh criticism from all sides of the political spectrum. If talking about the needs of men meant their’s supersede the needs of women, deny the importance of equality that feminism brings us all, or dare to justify a man’s abuse of power, critique would be warranted. Other criticisms say men are under attack and believe talking openly about the vulnerability is part of an agenda to feminize masculinity. But none of that is what it means to talk honestly about the challenges men go through with increasing sobriety, empathy, and maturity.

The privileges and consequences of white male patriarchy have emotionally stunted, suppressed and trapped men within a set of cultural ideals they did not choose. Toxic masculinity (the self-destructive behavior, boredom, & resentment that fills the void left by male maturity) was passed on— often harshly, from older generations onto impressionable young boys longing for any kind of masculine attention and identity. Boys wanting to be men, were only given the lack of maturity by men who themselves lacked it too. Acknowledging this doesn’t excuse toxic and abusive behavior. Neither does it deny men have benefited from their position in society. It doesn’t compare men’s suffering with women and minorities either or minimize the injustices committed against them. It only reveals how men suffer also, at the hand of these maladaptive cultural gender expectations and norms. It further illuminates what we already intuitively know— every pain has a source.

Men are suppressed under the weight of every previous generations’ patriarchal expectations and aspirations.

Our culture doesn’t allow us to talk about such things publicly— not because of some alt-right conspiracy or feminist political agenda, but because everything in our personal being and complex human systems resist change. Every part of the larger cultural system will inadvertently attack anything that threatens the status quo, even if they share the same goals for reform. It’s an unconscious (and maybe even biological) reaction to keep the stability of our survival steady. All change is a disruption to this stability. Understanding this dynamic can help put us all on the same side. Change is difficult for everyone of us, especially if we want it.

So I tread lightly in hopes of threading the needle on this important topic. We need change. We need specific change and how we make these changes matters.

If we want to see a more mature male modeled for our culture, we need give these topics more space and acceptance in our public discourse.

We must acknowledge men need exclusive spaces for men to experience healing vulnerability with one another.

Just like it’s important for women, children, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and religious minorities to have their own exclusive spaces where it’s safe to be open, vulnerable and build connections with one another. These spaces are not hidden from the public, but they are not for everybody either. They are space reserved for each people group. Men need similar publicly visible but still private spaces too.

They need to be visible because everybody needs to know communities like this exist so we don’t inadvertently marginalize the people within them, and so we can come to their aid if any folks are intentionally targeted for marginalization. They’re still private because everybody also needs to know we all can’t be included inside these spaces. They each are exclusive for a purpose and that purpose is undermined without the dignity and privacy necessary to build trust and safety. We need such privacy to be protected but we also need it visible and transparent enough to be accessible.

Now if we think men don’t need or deserve such spaces because they’ve long held the positions of power, we miss what’s hiding in plain sight. The message to men confirms the misguided perspective human needs are only be vulnerabilities to be used against you. Men hear it loud and clear: to find your identify as a man, you must dominate others before you are dominated by others yourself.

Rare moment of man seen vulnerable in a public. Glasses off, head in his hands, man is on his knees in an empty pew.
photo by Samuel Martins

No form of vulnerability within men is tolerated. It is beaten out of them— sometimes literally. Vulnerabilities are exploited as weakness and used against them. In order to survive within this system, most men learn to hide those tender and inflamed spots from others, and even themselves. The weaker ones are abused, and the stronger ones rarely grow up. So if our collective response to men asking for private space to experience and explore their own vulnerability is to deny, attack or criticize them for it— it only reinforces this culture of toxic masculinity. Men are not allowed to be vulnerable anywhere. It proves this destructive narrative of male power domination goes far deeper than we can admit, even for the people who are on the same side of actively trying to transform it.

Safe and exclusive spaces allow men to experience bravery with honesty, to be clumsy, feel powerlessness, discover healing and find a deeper strength that protects vulnerability, instead of exploiting it.

For the average American male, vulnerability is awkward, uncomfortable, embarrassing and shamefully emasculating. It’s a legitimately painful experience. Why? Vulnerability threatens to expose the trauma men share and have not yet worked through. It’s awkward because so many men have never leaned into, grown from it, and developed a mature masculine identity. When we allow and support more private spaces for men to gather together, we give men the courage to face their trauma with increasing intention, honesty and grace. We give them the space to confront themselves. We give them the space to experience their suffering. We give them space to grow up.

Here is a window into one of these exclusive spaces for men:

Elderbrook’s music video can be viscerally uncomfortable for straight cisgendered men. It illustrates why all men need private spaces that are public enough you can look through the window once and awhile, but private enough only men (by inclusive self-identification) can be in the room. Immaturity can’t handle it and squirms away in avoidance, but something in us can recognize there is an unspeakable goodness here. For the men who witness or experience something like this, genuine change is possible and it can be profoundly healing.

Men can only grow if we allow them their own private spaces to risk something real, to feel foolish but not be mocked, to be encouraged to find their own strength and offer to support other men.

If anyone tries to fake this kind of growth, real maturity will see through it. Maturity will even see the shame hidden below the motivation for someone to fake vulnerability and authenticity. But there is no competition here, no one trying to one-up the other guy, and no power plays of domination. There is only a collaborative effort between men of all sorts of different shapes and sizes to reach out and make a real connection with each other.

Communication is connection.

Witnessing the communication in this video can give men a vision for friendship, vulnerability and non-sexualized intimacy. It’s a shock to the male nervous system because sexualized intimacy is the only brand of intimacy our culture usually sells to men.

On top of that, masculine sexuality is often packaged with power over women and as a tool for the domination of their peers—like bragging about sexual exploits, degrading other men with sexualized language, or actual sexual assault. It’s estimated that one in six men have been sexually abused or assaulted. This fear of being dominated by another man is the source of almost all homophobia.

Men have so much to grieve and no tools to know how to do it. Yet everybody knows boys don’t cry.

No wonder most of us men are emotionally underdeveloped! Many of us have been emotionally neglected all our lives.

We need to learn to grieve.

Fear and insecurity of unresolved grief keeps so many men from ever knowing the kind of vitality, connection, and bravery that’s possible within their own masculine maturity. The presence of another man’s vulnerability and pain doesn’t have to be a reminder of our own vulnerability and long history of responding to it with shame. It’s an opportunity to be known & accepted exactly as we are, insecurities and all, in our grief. This doesn’t feminize a man or take away his fierce wildness. Grief work matures it.

We can only genuinely change in ourselves what we first completely accept in ourselves.

We need more practice facing ourselves honestly, experiencing ourselves as capable, competent, and emotionally healthy— integrated and differentiated. We can’t crack the wall of toxic masculinity if we don’t have the appropriate space for those walls to come down and for men to open up.

To heal from toxic masclunity, we need to create more privately experienced but publicly known sacred spaces for men.

If men start developing more of these spaces, let’s remember it’s not to take anything away from everyone else. It creates a pathway for men to grow into mature men.

My hope is more men, women, and everyone else will support the growth and development of these privately experienced but publicly known sacred spaces for men, just as men will need to offer the same respect and support for all other groups and subgroups of people to develop similar spaces of their own.

More visibility. More accessibility. More humility.

This is how a new holistic masculinity can heal and grow past the trauma we know today as toxic masculinity.

1 Comment


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  1. Wesley

    I just went through a few of your articles and I think you’re definitely onto something here with the approach of holistic masculinity. I look forward to reading more!