I Am Male, I Am a Man [How Not To Be Mothered]
Being male is biological and undeniable; being a man is in my character. To understand myself as a man, I need to look at my behaviour. I write about men's ability to live and fulfil their own masculinity, and I work to help men achieve it.
In my early 50s, I was the Design Principal of a practice based in London. There were eight of us—four men and four women. The firm was owned and run by men, including me, but the main design leaders were women.
After we finished our part in the re-design of theatre in the West End of London, I was invited to a gala re-opening night with the Prince of Wales. There was a performance of Mamma Mia and a champagne party afterward.
I chose not to attend with my wife; my marriage was in a bad way. Instead, I invited the lead designer, a single female, much younger than I was.
We hated the show and stayed in the bar, during the second half, drinking the free champagne. We drank far too much and networked with everyone who was there. At the end of the evening, I put her in a taxi, and I went off to get my train home.
We loved our time together being strong as a man and a woman. We enjoyed ourselves, but took it no further.
My Roles as a Man
That night, as a 'man,' I fulfilled a number of different roles:
- Husband: No matter what our relationship had become or what I felt about my wife, I was married, and my wife depended on me. I had developed all the earning power and that gave me a responsibility toward her.
- Father: I had two sons, who, although grown up, looked to me as a role model. As a father, I always influence my sons, positively or negatively. I take this relationship seriously.
- Employer: Here, I was in a position to subtly influence the situation in my favour. I had no intention of using this dominance to achieve anything other than success for the firm.
- Colleague: This involves knowing your colleagues as people and knowing their needs. In this case, my date had left her previous employer due to sexual harassment.
- Male: As a male, I was fully aware of how attractive she was and fully aware of the potential for a very enjoyable evening. I pursued that, but not by indulging any lust I felt. We showed that we could have a great evening without either one of us dominating the other.
- Mature Person: As an older person, I have plenty of experience in relationships. I have learnt that they only work if dominance and exploitation are not a part. (Well, unless it's by mutual agreement, which is a different situation altogether.)
- Fun Person: It has always been important that I enjoy myself and that others enjoy themselves with me. I know I can have a great time with women if I honour and respect them. This strengthens me as a man and them as women because we can fully open ourselves up with trust.
- Businessman: I had created a respected and strong business because I employed respected and strong men and women who did not see exploitation having any part of it.
It is in the level of personal success in these varied roles that I judge myself to be a man.
Being a man is not about being better than anyone else, whether it's another man or a woman, it's about being a fully developed example of the potential you have inside and the potential you have gathered in your life.
To me, masculinity is about my ability to be fully present with my abilities, talents and skills, my ability to focus and direct them, and my ability to do this with love and compassion for others.
Beyond this insular view, I believe that to be a man I need to look at the social context and apply the principals I hold for myself. I do this by living my life openly and by speaking up about what I believe in.
I write about men's ability to live and fulfil their own masculinity, and I work to help men achieve it. This often puts me into conflict with others.
Differences between Masculinity and Femininity
There are those who don't believe that masculinity and femininity exist. They believe they are just social constructs created to support dominance by those in charge: generally, privileged white males like me. These constructs maintain others, especially women, in subservience. To these people, we are all the same, other than the matter of our biological sex.
In my experience, I have found that the differences between masculine and feminine are very real, even when they don't align with male and female.
These differences have been, and continue to be, exploited for the benefit of the dominant race/class/gender. And that just means we have to work harder to separate the differences from any concept of power or superiority.
There are feminists who work to open up society for women and rid it of male dominance. They argue that the qualities I mentioned can be equally true for women.
My being a man in no way denies the ability of a female to be a woman using the same qualities I pursue. She can use her ability to be fully present with her abilities, talents, and skills, her ability to focus and direct them, and her ability to do this with love and compassion for others to create her femininity.
By all means, criticize privilege and dominance, criticize the way men use it to their own advantage but remember we need each other. Women need the support of men to break down the barriers of privilege and men need the support of women to change their concept of masculinity.
I am male, and I am a man, and that does not deny the strength and power that women seek. I believe that we have many differences inherent in our own personal masculinity or femininity. I believe that by celebrating these we can create equality by working for it together.
Letting Go of the Need to be Mothered
Many men and women unconsciously collaborate in maintaining domination by men. One of the factors at the heart of this is men's need to be mothered by women. For the situation to change men need to let go of this need.
Why is it that men continue to allow women to mother them? Why is it that men do not seem to be able to move beyond their childhood? Why is it that so many men refuse to take on the level of maturity needed to let go of this need?
In The Strange Death of Liberal England 1910-1914, George Dangerfield said,
Let the male be deferred to by all means; there was another and more subtle way of reducing him. He could be mothered.
Dangerfield was talking about Victorian women before the Suffragette Movement. He was alluding to how women dealt with being dominated and suppressed by men in the era where they had no power or even humanity. There was only one way that women had to get back at the men who ill-treated them. Their aim was to keep men dependent on them as children.
The problem with this approach was that it played into what men desired deep down. They wanted to be mothered and were happy to collude in this because it allowed them to continue to exert their power as men.
At the end of the 19th century there was tacit agreement to this impasse from both sides, it allowed life to continue. The Suffragette Movement started the process of breaking down this situation and encouraged the growth of power in women. Today the situation is very different, even if true equality has not been achieved. More needs to be done, though, to breakdown the prejudice that still exists in society at large.
One of the major problems that still exists is that for many men the situation they accepted over a hundred years still exists for them. For many, they are still encouraged in that situation by their women. It suits them both to still accept the impasse of a man's domination being accepted as long as the woman can control him by mothering.
The Strength of a Strong Man
Many women still feel weak and seek the strength and security of a strong man. There is nothing wrong with that per se, but it falls down when it becomes a co-dependent relationship lacking in the equality of respect for both sides. Co-dependent relationships always fail in some way.
While it is true that men and women are jointly responsible for this situation it is, in my view, the responsibility of the man to change this situation.
Why is this? Is it just me beating my breast as a man and blaming all men for what is wrong?
I see it as a man's responsibility to change and re-draw the relationship because of why it exists in the first place.
Men are, on average, stronger than women. They are physically stronger and bigger and they have been brought up to exert power and be dominant. Men are, even today, taught to be focused, decisive, dominant and powerful in a way that women are not. Whether this situation is true or not is open to discussion, but is not the subject of this article. Given that the situation exists it is up to men to use their abilities to change it.
Changing the Approach to Women
Change involves men doing two things; changing their approach to women and letting go of the need to be mothered. This combination will break the impasse and allow and new relationship to emerge and grow.
Letting go of the need to be mothered is where many men can start. When men start to stand on their own two feet, where their personal life is concerned, then they can see themselves and their partners in a new light. When men signal their desire for a new relationship with women by changing, then women can find more of their strength.
I know that for many people this has already happened. I see men and women who have changed their approach to the opposite sex, but majority of people have not yet moved on.
To me men and women are different and those differences are to be celebrated. The differences, however, should not be used as an excuse for either sex to attempt to dominate the other either by obvious or subtle means.