Friday, November 29, 2013

Assertive Femininity and the New Masculine

Women have been taking leading roles in their relationships with men for a long time, despite the patriarchal structure of modern society. History is full of women leading men in science and engineering, computer development, medicine, humanitarian expeditions, exploration, and social activism (just read the Blanche Black recommended reading list).  And in fact, even though that history was obscured and neglected for many years, due to poor character and discipline among Western Civilization’s rather socially-insulated male scholars, the collective work of female scholars within the Feminist Movement managed to recover a large portion of it for us.

Perhaps one of the most potent demonstrations of women’s abilities as cultural leaders has been the development of the Feminist Movement over the last two centuries. Beginning in the 1860’s over the issue of women’s suffrage, the movement eventually began to address a much broader scale of political and social concerns, all of which were tied together by a common feature: the persistent censorship and repression of women’s self expression and self determination. As it turned out, the cultural female gender identity that had been prescribed for women by their social and professional peers wasn't working for them; rather, it proved to be consistently ineffective in protecting women against exclusion from family and group decision-making, domestic violence, sexual assault, denial of legal recourse, lack of employment opportunities, homelessness, and other depressing topics of discussion.

The Feminist Movement, however, was the collaboration of female thinkers, writers, researchers, academics, intellectuals, and activists who addressed this challenge by redefining society’s cultural and legal understanding of womanhood, redefining women’s concept of their gender role in heterosexual relationships, and changing public policies and laws to protect these developments. These women pioneered the first revision of a cultural gender identity - in a patriarchal and nearly global society - and they did so knowing the “heat” they were going to take for it from insecure men and women. And despite that clearly foreseeable backlash, they expressed their true gender identity anyway. We Feminists continue to do so.

So, there has never been any shortage of women out there leading men.

The reason misogyny and backlash against assertive women is still so widespread is not for lack of women leaders effectively leading. It is for lack of men following women’s lead by coming “out of the closet” regarding their own identification with and admiration for women’s cultural contributions, as well as their desire for a new masculinity – one that compliments the self expression of their newly “liberated” female peers instead of attempting to compete with it.

Men- the intimidation tactics resorted to by those who cleave to the myth of machismo for fear of change is merely an indication that it is time for men to follow in the footsteps of their assertive female peers and have their own gender identity revolution. In many social situations, it is only the example of socially-evolved men, and their increasing success with pleasing women, that makes other men begin to question the necessity, or even usefulness, of using attitudes like egotism and self-centeredness to prove their “maleness” to others.

It is in public that men really show others what their perception of masculinity is. Public behavior, not private life, is what demonstrates whether a man defines his masculinity as complimentary towards a women’s self expression, or dominating towards women. Is a man doing and saying whatever he’s doing and saying to impress other men in the room by attempting to demonstrate a form of power and control over women?  Is he aggrandizing himself and other men in his own eyes, and in the eyes of others, at the expense of the women in his company? Or does he use those moments when others are looking on and listening in to demonstrate a woman’s importance to him, as a man, by making her needs and interests a priority, even over those of his own?

And a man’s concept of his own masculinity determines how much room he allocates in his mind for perceiving and considering women. When it comes to evaluating a man’s potential as a prospective romantic partner, it’s the details of his public persona that tell a woman how he really thinks of her and her gender.

Fortunately for women, the overdevelopment of ego in a man usually shows itself as a subtle yet transparent disregard for others unlike himself. For example, men who engage me in conversation long enough to notice I am confident, independent, and most likely Feminist, often try to pass themselves off as supportive of Feminism and other assertive behavior in women in order to get a date with me. In the course of a lengthy conversation, they are quick to deny interest in porn and readily condemn perpetrators of domestic violence; yet they casually refer to the women in their life with the diminutive term “girl”. They are “all for” women in leadership, yet they are quick to criticize female leaders in the public eye and skeptical of women’s judgment in business and work situations, in contrast to their relatively blind faith in the men that occupy similar positions. They are not familiar with any female pioneers in their fields of interest, and in the midst of a speculative philosophical or scientific statement they blithely refer to the entire human species as “mankind”.

These are the ‘guys’ whose concept of “submission” to a dominant woman consists of lying on their back during the sex act.

These are the type of men that keep the dildo industry in business, simply for purposes of time efficiency.

Women- if you’re dating a guy who opens the door for you, yet fails to offer to carry the heavy backpack and grocery bags you’re carrying, you’re dealing with a self-centered guy. If you’re dating a guy who commonly refers to males over the age of 18 as “men”, yet refers to post-pubescent females with the same word he uses for pre-pubescent females, you’re dating an egotistical guy with the creepy inability to distinguish between age groups when relating to females. Other symptoms of an overdeveloped ego in a man include: interrupting women in mid-sentence; walking in front of his date in public; lack of interest in asking a woman questions about her opinions or livelihood; eating off a woman’s plate in addition to his own during meals; lack of gastro-intestinal control; and lack of grooming, research, and other forms of self-exertion in preparation for dates.

Personally, I’d much rather spend my time with a man who thinks enough of women and their wants to groom himself, in body and in mind, to their liking. What turns me on is a man physically disciplined enough to get his body in beautiful shape in anticipation of pleasing a woman visually, while also being mentally disciplined enough to choose his words wisely; a man who refers to adult females as “women”, in acknowledgement that they have more-than-earned a title that distinguishes them from children; a man who loves sports enough to know who Babe Didrikson and Jackie Mitchell were; a man who is well versed enough in the history of social activism to know who Mother Jones was; a man who would have voted for Victoria Woodhull in 1872 when she ran for president of the United States; a man who knows about the first group of tested and trained American astronauts that made up the Mercury 13 space program, and that they were all women; a man who knows that the inventors of the first computer software program, as well as the first computer language, were also women- along with the inventors of Kelvar, windshield wipers, and the Mars Rover; a man who knows the definition of Feminism and isn’t afraid to use it in front of other men.

Check out this example of masculinity by Jackson Katz, in his TED talk “Violence & Silence” . This is a man who works with men in professional circles, institutions and industries where machismo and a deep misunderstanding of manhood runs high (athletics, law enforcement, the military, college campuses); yet he coaches these men to be affirming and protective of women in order to be effective social leaders for their male peers. His example of appreciation for female leadership and his public demonstration of respect for women should be the official standard for any self-respecting heterosexual man who considers himself a lover of Womanhood. And among the hoards of men he has mentored and influenced there are many others who follow his example and mindset by demonstrating love and appreciation for assertive women in their interactions with other men.

So you can believe there are a lot of men out there redefining the gold-standard for masculinity with their Pro-Feminist worldview and attitude. And there are a growing number of women out there who know enough not to “settle” for any less.

There is a rich history of assertive femininity and female-affirming men out there that has paved the way, as well as a wealth of human activism all around us giving birth to the new manhood; both have been actively censored from academic textbooks and popular media channels by those industries that stand to lose money from the social changes such a collaboration would bring about.  It takes a socially-evolved man to follow in the footsteps of his Feminist female counterparts by reclaiming this stolen heritage, liberating himself from the unsustainable gender identity of machismo, and redefining his cultural gender role towards women to achieve meaningful and authentic relationships with them. Indeed, that is the only type of partner worthy of a “liberated” woman.

Additional Resources:
Tony Porter, A Call To Men
Jeremy Meltzer, Where Is Men's Roar 
Ingrid Vanderveldt, The Art of Making the Impossible Possible
Codes of Gender, Infantilization of Women
Lauren Zander, No One Is Coming To Save You (How women can get what they want)
Joel Stein, My Search For Masculinity
Educational Resources: The Bro Code
Educational Resources: Tough Guise 2