Can we redefine what it means to be a ‘Man’ in todays society? Blake had to lose his masculinity to find out and boy, was he glad he did. Read on.
No one is free from insecurities, such is the price of consciousness and the human imagination. The former is desperately aware of the absurdity of its existence, and the latter is driven by an insatiable desire to storyboard, direct and reinterpret reality, always with ourselves in the starring role. On top of this, or rather, below it, if only to make assurance doubly sure, man is an animal and fears like one too.
The phrase – “secure in his masculinity” – is regularly trotted out in praise or envy (usually both), and yet the man ‘secure in his masculinity’ is either vacuous or veneered, both amounting to the same thing. The truth is that no man is secure in his masculinity, he is rather, secured by it, trapped inside it – a prison of ignorance, immaturity, imagined self- importance and fear of genuine self-examination. It’s not difficult to understand why people, on mass, flee from the examined life, it’s difficult, and it takes courage. To examine oneself with any honesty unearths unfathomed questions, few answers and plenty of punch-lines. Inevitably the examiner comes upon the truth, like the presence of a continent, that we’re amorphous worlds of infinite jest in which to define oneself as simply masculine, or indeed feminine, is akin to committing a holocaust of selves in a frantic effort to avoid the uncomfortable truth that we are androgynous individuals in charge of the composition of our character.
To be androgynous means to have both male and female characteristics. Who among us would be so crude, artless and boring as to attempt a gender-reveal upon their soul? What colour would signify your being? I could no more colour my soul than paint the Pacific Ocean. Who of us can honestly say we know all of ourselves? I don’t think such an awareness is even possible. The problem with masculinity is the problem all superficial identities constructed to comfort fears have and require: simple-mindedness.
The composition of character requires the courage to withstand the vertigo encountered in thought when we begin to realise our own height and depth. Simple-mindedness is the fear comforting denial that we are not complex, that we are not deep, in short, that we are not human beings. It’s not only the delusion that we are perfectible, soluble, or definable, but that one is free of ignorance – that one really is perfect, solved, defined. It’s all too easy to be small, shallow and simple-minded, but the truth is we come out of the world and into life afloat in untold oceans of consciousness. “It’s a small world,” begins Steven Wright’s joke, “but I wouldn’t want to paint it.”
Simple-mindedness’s petty sense of perfection means masculinity is not an idea but an ideal. It’s an ideal that segregates tough guys from the sentimental, macho from camp, rugged from dandyish, good guys from bad guys, cowboys from Indians, cool from uncool, and white from black. The consequence of this ideal is stuntedness, for maturity is one’s personal history of reality tussling with idealism. Masculinity is an example of an ideal whose spoilt power has been mistaken for a paragon. In truth, masculinity, undiluted and greedy for uncritical praise, is naught more than a form of childishness.
None of this is to say that men and women are the same, though we’re more similar than we are different. It’s just that the differences are found at the extremes and are thus exaggerated. Biological differences are another layer of complexity for the individual to navigate; and shying away from the complex will get you no further in life than a single-celled organism. Nor is this to say that there are no such things as categories, it would be as silly to deny the existence of categories as it would be to deny the influence of nature and nurture. Without these evolutionary systems of order there would be chaos.
To suggest that we can absolve ourselves of our natures in some Utopian world free of difference is as silly as suggesting, as some have, that future ages won’t understand Othello because sexual jealousy will be an anachronism of humanity’s primitive past. We are not artificial, and we are not sexless, but neither must the individual feel chained to their nature or their nurture. Androgyny, which is to say individuality, isn’t the abolition of difference, but the freedom to affirm it.
The most ridiculous aspect of any denial of individuality by fearful devotion to a singular self-definition, is the tacit assumption that it is possible to elude, elide, or eradicate parts of ourselves. What staggering conceit the wholly masculine display in considering themselves exceptional from Mother Earth, Mother Nature, and most absurdly, their own mothers. For millennia the masculine fear of inner-complexity has driven mythologies of parthenogenesis (virgin birth), or other such abolitions of the womanly and feminine. Mithras, Jesus and even Genghis Khan are supposed to have been born by a process of parthenogenesis; and The Buddha, supposedly the Great Coper, couldn’t even stomach a vaginal birth, he had to come out a slit in his mother’s side. It could be argued that parthenogenesis, in Christ for example, is demonstrative of Christ’s androgyny. But the better argument suggests that this is the most damning proof against the moral monopoly, and certainly the literal veracity, of the world’s religions: They present an almost uniform absence or ridicule of women. What more proof is required to show that these myths are man-made? If that sounded humorous it’s because contrary to the popular joke, humour is the truth that enters without knocking.
In a 1913 letter, D. H. Lawrence described the establishment of a new relation between men and women, “or a readjustment of the old one” as “the problem of today.” After more than a century our problem is still with us, though considering the relationship’s history this isn’t surprising. Across almost all cultures, the masculine male power template has kept women and their sexuality quashed in order to shelter men from having to confront their fears and insecurities. This is not to say their fears and insecurities are unfounded, in evolutionary history male mates have been typically selected from the top of the hierarchy, meaning many have missed out. That’s why we have more female ancestors than male. We tell ourselves there’re more fish in the sea, but the sea is harsh and real, in the end even Hemingway’s courageous Old Man could “only endure.” 1
It is time to address the elephant in the room, or at least mention the absurdity of its trunk. The male member, the testosterone Pez-dispenser, is as elemental an ingredient of humanity as carbon or courage. It ensures the predominant Darwinian pressure upon man to be his potency. Montaigne believed stature to be the sole masculine beauty, 2 perhaps this is why masculinity puts itself under such terrible pressure to stand tall. Unfortunately, for both men and women, the reputation of the male organ exceeds itself. This is the masculine cover-up: the male organ is not as powerful as we purport it to be, and seldom as potent as we’d like it to be. It is the lie that reveals the truth, that the male organ, like men themselves, is actually quite sensitive, capricious and vulnerable.
The hyper-compensatory masculinity that the regressive nationalism of figures like Trump promulgate, with its inherent animosity toward women, is derived from the insecurities of men who hear the words ‘female empowerment,’ and consider them a slight against their own potency. I guess if you’re holding a small nail, everything looks like a big hammer. Such is the effect of fear driven simple-mindedness, it absolves the individual of empathy. It’s the gateway mindset to narcissism, and Trump is a narcissist – he had no intention of ‘draining the swamp’ for he’s transfixed by his own reflection in it.
On the other hand, the contemporary cultural atmosphere is darkened by flocks of arrows threatening to rain down on any opinion that doesn’t place masculine toxicity at the emanating core of contemporary issues. This is not to say masculinity is harmless, indeed much of this essay is concerned quite directly with the pernicious harm masculinity has involved itself without throughout history. Nevertheless, it’s easier to condemn a symptom than admit a systematic problem; and the desire to bring the gavel incontrovertibly down on masculinity is yet another example of simple-mindedness.
That systematic problem is fear – it may’ve aided us in decisions of fight or flight during pivotal moments in our evolutionary journey, but in human relations fear is toxic. Unless we admit the depths of our real problem all we are doing in this larger cultural debate is arguing over what minute alterations we can make to the conventions we disguise ourselves in to avoid facing our fear of truth and individual freedom. The Devil isn’t in disguise, The Devil is disguise.
The argument to be made for androgyny is parcellated within the higher argument for individual freedom, and the courage to compose one’s character throughout real breadths and depths of complexity. The price of consciousness may be fear but remember what was paid for – the freedom to think and the determination of will – quite the bargain, a ‘steal’ even, and so it was for Prometheus.
Real power isn’t potency but the ability to change. There’s no escaping the groundwork, and there’s no substitute for curiosity. Don’t settle for the first thing that’s handed to you, and don’t abide monotony – monotony is a rub that scars the soul. You’re never too old to change, for all change brings new youth. For those comfortable in their masculinity, flirt with the feminine. For those cloistered in their nationality, venture across a frontier. For those desperately itinerant and lost, rest someplace and establish a routine. For those marooned in a single perspective, read. Whatever it is you fear, find the courage to face it, only then will you learn what you are and what you love. In all events dare to be distinct, dare to be so different that your death will be an extinction.
The composition of one’s character is an original composition, thus it’s never complete, but always becoming. Only a copy can be thought complete, and therein lies its flaw. We are, to borrow Heaney’s wonderful image of the “spade” and the “squat pen”, forever “digging” into ourselves 3; and we must craft a method of coping that best promotes love, friendship and humour. Originality is a precious gem, and to find something precious on this earth you have to claw and dig deep into the earth, it doesn’t just fall from the sky, if it did, it wouldn’t be precious.
Words | Blake Matich
Images | Tato Belline
1 Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea; 2 Michel de Montaigne, Essays, “On Presumption”; 3 Heaney, Seamus (1964) “Digging”, Death of a Naturalist
“Masculinity is not an idea but an ideal. It’s an ideal that segregates tough guys from the sentimental, macho from camp, rugged from dandyish, good guys from bad guys, cowboys from Indians, cool from uncool, and white from black.”
“We are not artificial, and we are not sexless, but neither must the individual feel chained to their nature or their nurture. Androgyny, which is to say individuality, isn’t the abolition of difference, but the freedom to affirm it.”