Men: A Call to Men, by a Woman
I’m coming out of the closet with being so fed up with the teeny tiny toxic man box, as a woman. I have HAD it with the ass backwards relationships between a man and his power, which is socially reinforced like it’s on steroids.
By the way, if you don’t know what I’m referring to when I say “man box” watch this:
Mr’s. please hear me. We have brave men who specifically support and speak into empowering women to heal and rise above the toxic social messages that imply or convey that they are second class citizens, and to instead know their worth and resist these sexist messages that society or their past tells them. I appreciate those men’s voices in support of women rising above a culture that tries to stifle them. It may be a long shot, but for whatever it’s worth, I offer my voice speaking into men’s lives wherever it may be received.
It’s challenging for a woman to speak to men about gender issues because an insidious part of gender issues, specifically related to gender violence against women, comes from living inside the man box, where women are considered inferior – easily dismissed or slammed for speaking out. I wonder if this means most men are receptive only to men when it comes to having a conversation about what it means to be a real man even though most men who live with women or girls want to be validated by them as being real men too, even if they don’t show it. I’ll take my chances that some men are receptive to voices that aren’t exclusively from men when it comes to this topic. I believe a part of the problem is that most men are unaware of being inside that same man box, even if they never become violent towards a woman themselves, and this is what perhaps contributes to keeping them silent and complicit – adhering to the invisible man code of omission in the face of commission when it comes to violence against women. I am witness to this, and I will not stay silent, though I am not a man.
I’m a woman who has unfortunately experienced domestic violence, has reached out to men in my life asking them to confront this issue and the man with me, and nobody answers that call. Instead I get a litany of excuses for their disengagement, even if that means a woman they care about is at risk for being seriously hurt or worse. Where are the men? They are hiding in that man box, which is preventing them from being the men they could be, because that means being vulnerable, taking initiative, and therefore putting their egos in the backseat so they’re free to take risks with other men. That is why I’m personally fed up with this man box. The only thing that fits neatly inside is a very fragile male ego.
As a woman, I don’t have that man box to contend with in order to feel validated in my gender. I am not stifled by the socialization of my gender that is highly controlling and restrictive when it comes to having emotions. When I do encounter this from other women, I believe it’s second hand to women who have been indoctrinated by men AND women who believe the man box is all there is when it comes to being “strong”. It can restrict everyone to a certain degree, but less for women than men in my experience.
I know I’m a woman, I don’t feel the need to prove this by acting out in certain ways with men or women that violate or ignore the right to consciously have my own values. That is a gender-based prison our culture throws boys and men into, that creates barriers from ever being challenged from the inside out, by other men, or by women who are obviously not men, and therefore according to the man box, don’t really matter.
Sirs – please. Break out of that man box.
The reality is you DO have power which is unique to being a man. You can choose how, when, and where to wield that power but since it is power, there are big stakes involved. I am speaking as a woman who has been through the clutches of domestic violence, which in most cases though not all (some women do have significant physical and financial advantages over their male partners) involve a man using his advantages to evade his own inner emotional work, at the expense of his own family and exploits a woman’s vulnerabilities by going to great lengths to avoid his own. Although believing (albeit unconsciously) that entering into vulnerability or emotional work is optional at best, or God-forbidden – “women’s work” at worst. That the relinquishment of the only kind of power he knows – power OVER others, including parts of himself that he’s terrified or ashamed of (like his emotional needs) and cannot fully access. It’s as if his penis might shrink or fall off if he gets in touch with his emotional life.
Undoubtedly, you’ve been taught by a culture that you cannot afford to give up this man box. That the only thing to fear is, fear or vulnerability. But your shield of invulnerability is what keeps you caged inside the toxic tiny man box, and locks away your true sense of power – the power to consciously and courageously navigate through your own internal world and integrate that world with your external world. Your internal world of vulnerability exists whether you openly acknowledge it or not. Integrate this in a way that makes you feel undeniably and unpretentiously self-respecting and can entitle you to feel like the kind of man you will be proud of while in the vulnerable unmasked presence of those you’re closest to and know you best, your own family.
I cannot tell you how to do that work, as a man. I’ve never had to break out of the man box, but I’ve lived with men who are extremely attached to it, and it’s hurt. Profoundly. That kind of work IS man’s work. We women have our own work when it comes to getting out of our own unhealthy gendered socialization. It’d be presumptuous and arrogant of me to tell you how to breakout of the man box just like it would be if a man were to tell me how to heal my wounds from sexism or misogyny. The kind of traveling companion you need is a brother of sorts, a man who knows what it’s like to live in that box, and work his way out.
I can tell you that this refusal to STEP UP and LEAD your family, or your community, your department, your tribe of whatever proportions – with courage, humility, and self-respect is squashed when you live in that toxic man box.
The way UP is OUT.
The way to move UP from boyhood and into manhood with bravery, integrity, and strength that doesn’t dominate others out of a fear of vulnerability is to get OUT of this toxic man box, and get around other men who are doing the same. They do exist. Just as women who are healing from our own gender-based wounds, you cannot do this alone, which herein lies a challenge if you’re stuck in that box. You need others, and they need you, because you’re doing what your sperm has to do in order to create a new life – swim upstream. Graphic, but don’t miss the rich symbolism in how men contribute to the creation of a new human life. Swimming upstream!
One of my favorite quotes comes from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:
“If you want to know what a man’s like take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
This is the kind of strength and leadership women want from their men in intimate relationships. It’s hot. It’s sexy. It’s admirable and will make most women take pause. But in order to get to that point, you have to stop burying what the man box says you need to bury – your feelings. The vulnerable ones, not just your feelings related to being pissed off or horny, you’ll need the rest of them too – they’re there.
Our culture does you a disservice when they sell you short with the man box, and you cannot escape being exposed to it – it’s widespread in our American culture.
Depending on how much or how little you’ve been exposed to life outside of the man box, you may need either a shovel to dig out your emotions, or an excavator. But who do you need permission from in order to begin doing this work? – YOURSELF.
Doesn’t waiting on other men or mainstream culture to grant you permission to be fully alive and consciously awake to ALL of your emotions render you vulnerable and dependent, which is a violation of that man box you adhere to anyway?
Our culture does no favors to you, women, or children by keeping you in that man box. Dig yourself out, don’t wait for someone else to rescue you or grant you that permission. If you don’t have it from other men in your life right now, that’s OK. Revolt. Find men who get it. If you give in to the man box, you may slowly die by burying core parts of yourself alive inside a box that cannot handle a man that’s fully alive – thinking and feeling independent of that man box. Dig like the quality of your life depended on it, because I’m willing to bet a lot of it does if you have any women or girls in your life that you hold dear. And do it wholeheartedly because, you are worth more than half-assing it.
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