The recent presidential election campaign has thrown gasoline on the fires of the gender wars and ignited a whole new level of fear and loathing. We believe that, as a culture, we are now in a state of heightened awareness of gender issues. We feel we must speak to the fear and anger that has arisen. We ask that men and women thoughtfully and respectfully consider the challenges we face.
The fact that Donald Trump has named Stephen Bannon, who has been chairman of Breitbart News and champion of the “alt-right,” as his chief strategist, has drawn much attention. On Nov. 17, a related story by Jessica Roy came out in the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Wondering what a ‘cuck’ is? A guide to ‘alt-right’-speak: Followers of Trump’s chief strategist have their own ‘alpha’ slang.”
One of the terms mentioned in the article, “masculinist,” was explained as follows:
“Masculinist: A word meant to embody the opposite of feminist, celebrating ‘manliness’ and the traditional ‘heroic’ nature of men. To the alt-right, ‘masculinist’ principles are ones that serve and advocate for men. Critics say they primarily reinforce antiquated gender roles.”
Another term, “beta,” was explained thus:
“Beta: Members of the alt-right are obsessed with masculinity, manhood, gender roles and the concept of ‘alpha’ and ‘beta’ males. Alpha males are leaders, like Trump; beta males are portrayed as weak and emasculated.”
To be fair, these brief statements do not accurately depict the full spectrum of thought espoused by those who use the term “masculinist” to describe themselves. Just as with feminism, masculinism includes a wide spectrum of thought. Some proponents would be considered relatively mainstream, some radical, and some extreme. We are not interested in analyzing the full extent of the movement called masculinism. We are interested in talking about a few of the issues that arise in relation to this term and those who embrace it.
As the Times article explains, some masculinists are angry at the feminist movement and question the political thought related to it. It appears to us that some men have chosen this political arena to voice their anger about feminism and the apparent (to them) ascendance of women at men’s expense. These men have stated that they experience hatred from feminists, who they believe vilify them and marginalize them through their words and actions. (See Facebook page for International Brotherhood of Masculinists.)
Through our work, we have seen the wounds that men have experienced in their relationships with women. Men are often hurt and confused in these relationships. They often have difficulty negotiating the emotional land mines that seem to pepper the landscape of male-female interface. Many men feel that their anger is not allowed in a conversation and that their logic and their emotional lives often account for very little. Many men feel that they are not appreciated by women, no matter how hard they work or how much they try to understand. Many men are confused about their roles as men and are unsure how to be a man in today’s world.
Under these conditions, many men are plagued by reactions of shame, rage, confusion, helplessness, powerlessness, bitterness, despair, and feelings of inadequacy. These feelings necessarily touch on the experience of the wounded boy in us, who was indeed powerless when he found himself in situations he could not fully comprehend nor adequately resolve. We all carry such feelings into our adult lives and they tend to arise when similar situations confront the man. It is a continual challenge to respond from the position of the relational man rather than from the position of the wounded boy. The boy wants to lash out, regardless of the consequences. He wants to conquer his adversary in order to reestablish a sense of personal power. He wants “power over” others in order to not feel like a victim.
To us, it is unfortunate at best and a disaster at worst when men take the strategies of the wounded boy into the political and cultural arenas. To behave like an enfant terrible in a situation in which everyone is experiencing pain and confusion does nothing to improve the situation or work toward the difficult goals of resolution and reconciliation.
Our work leads us to a “manliness” that is relational rather than focused mainly on the self. This includes striving for honor and integrity in all relationships; communicating respect and compassion in interactions with others; a reverence and respect for the sacred in all its forms; generating kindness when at all possible; awareness of the long-term consequences of our actions and words; and honoring and respecting the feminine in all its specific and general forms.
To us, this is a masculinity that carries power from within. Therefore, it has no need for “power over” others. It recognizes that hurts and wounds have been experienced by many women and men and strives for mutual respect between men and women. It advocates the spreading of kindness and compassion, and honors the value and integrity of each individual man and each individual woman.
Perhaps masculinism offers us at this time an encouragement to consider where we stand on these issues. We feel it is time to call on men to join us in continuing to build a masculine sphere that is founded on integrity and honor rather than bitterness and false heroics. We ask that men join us in standing up for wisdom, discernment, and compassion. We ask men to choose thoughtfulness rather than impulsive rage, kindness rather than bitter vengeance, reconciliation rather than power grabs, and integrity rather than self-indulgence. We believe that, if we can meet this difficult challenge, we will be contributing to the general good and that this will benefit everybody.
Now, more than ever, we need to call on a masculinity that values and respects the feminine, that is infused with wisdom and restraint, that offers discernment and deep caring for the world and its people.
Richard Palmer and Tom McGee, 11/21/16
We ask any men who are interested in joining us to consider attending our next retreat, Feb. 24-26, 2017, entitled, “Voyage into Masculine Soul: A Men’s Retreat on Authentic Masculinity” We offer to those men who will join us the opportunity to deepen into the most beautiful aspects of themselves and celebrate them with a group of full-hearted brothers.
For more information on the retreat, click here.