The #MeToo movement was stunning in the swiftness and force with which it brought to light so many women’s stories. The veil had been lifted and some of the most powerful men in industry, media and politics were being held accountable for decades of violations and crimes they had perpetrated against women. And in the aftermath, we became acquainted with the term “toxic masculinity” and readily deemed unsavory behaviors from men with its brand.
I was right there with the movement. The persistent street harassment in New York City alone would put any woman on the frontlines. I even found myself contextualizing parenting advice to Emmanuel’s father in the scope of “toxic masculinity.” Paranoid about my son’s psyche, I insisted that coming at him with an old-school, aggressive dad energy was not the way to reach him.
Recently, however, I was humbled by a moment I spent sitting across from a man that I love dearly. I watched and listened intently as he meandered through his current narrative, exposing the raw emotion of lingering grief over a loss while contemplating his assets and professional prospects. He was this beautiful mixture of anger, sadness, hope, ambition and preoccupation. All the while, I could feel the weight of his effort to define his life and self-worth.
A few days later after a brief conversation with my friend, Kate, about masculinity, Google managed to hone in on a remnant from our chat and queued up a panel discussion on masculinity from the Milken Institute. Google’s undeniable surveillance freaked me out a bit, but I decided to watch the video anyway. Moderated by a woman, this discussion invited four men to define and discuss masculinity in today’s era. Their perspectives were as varied as their backgrounds, yet one thing on which they had consensus was the idea that any attributes reflecting femininity were considered a threat to a man’s masculinity. In other words, masculinity is most notably understood as being the opposite of femininity.
One panelist went on to add that men are taught to pursue power and dominance as an indication of their masculinity. With nods of agreement, there was an inevitable shift of focus to the current occupant of the White House and with that, a tangible despair permeated the air. For no one represents a toxic mix of disdain for all things feminine with a ruthless pursuit of power better than Donald Trump.
Against the backdrop of the recent image of Nancy Pelosi’s ardent stance in his face to the steady flow of evidence of his criminality, we have become enlightened to the fact that Trump’s brand of masculinity will not only be his demise, it has been and will likely continue to be his bondage.
Thankfully, most of the men we know and love are not poisoned in such an extreme way. Yet, it is common to observe their battle against the narrow forces that define who they are and who they are supposed to be. Perhaps as most of my male contemporaries nestle into middle age, their struggle is more apparent to me. In light of #MeToo and Trump, I believe that it’s time to make space for reconciliation and integration.
We are all created whole, an embodiment of a perfect balance of the divine masculine and feminine. Our conditioning often causes us to lose our way and to succumb to distorted images of who we think we are supposed to be, but all is not lost.
To the divine masculine, thank you for your instinct to protect, to see the vulnerable and act on their behalf. Your worth is not defined by your ability to wield oppressive power. It shines through in your humble leadership and willingness to nurture the potential in others. You take care of us best when you bare your vulnerabilities and authentically stumble and struggle towards your dreams.
Most importantly, when you allow the divine feminine within and outside of yourself to lead, you create space for the creativity and intuition that is needed to heal families and nations. You balance your striving with an appreciation of the joy of the present moment. Your strength becomes rooted not in your bottom line or title, but in the expansion of your wisdom and perspective.
In the late 90’s, my father saw the quick rise and fall of an enterprise he started. Stoic and resilient, he weathered his failure on his knees in prayer. His business wasn’t restored, but his heart was opened to see the gift of leadership from the woman who had been by his side for almost forty years. With humility, he passed the mantle of their lives to my mother, following her to a new state and a more peaceful life in a quiet suburb of Atlanta.
Surrendering his quest to become a “master of the universe” and the often grumpy temperament that came with it, my father lived the rest of his years driven by his passion for golf and for counseling people making difficult career transitions. What I appreciated the most is that he always gave credit to my mother for guiding them into this new phase of their lives.
Probably the most powerful point made by a member of that panel on masculinity is that we have to move to a place where we accept that there is no one definition for it. Masculinity should be allowed to be complicated and fluid and self-defined by those who embody its energy. And above all, it should be loved.