Feminism has been good for me and for women globally, enabling opportunity, education and rights that have elevated the status of women in myriad ways. The rise of women’s empowerment, while not over, has changed things for the better.
Nonetheless, despite the gains for women due to the rise of feminism, men are not thriving. The combination of shifting demographics and a changing notion of what it means to be a man creates a mountain of loss and confusion for men today. Men commit suicide 3.7 times more often than women, more than 60 percent of the time by firearms. 90 percent of our U.S. prison population is male. Gun related massacres are hugely on the rise in the last 20 years and addiction rates remain chronically higher for men than women.
Women today outnumber men on college campuses and graduate programs and receive more support for education and training worldwide. Until men fully thrive, our most profound societal problems will remain unsolvable. In my lifetime our success at true partnership between men and women in ways that benefit ALL, is shockingly, despairingly, limited.
Imagine a new world order where men are capable of being vulnerable and giving and receiving empathy, compassion, and support for life’s natural pain points, including depression, loss, and fear. Think about what it would look like if men supported each other in successful self-management, and taught their children that courage included being scared and failing sometimes. Consider what true equity would look like if women held half of all top business jobs and governmental offices, contributing materially to our notions of gross income, innovation, and stability, joining the workforce early and staying through their lifetime.
I propose the following five critical shifts for true partnership man to woman:
1. Men Turn to Each Other
Women’s support is ubiquitous, appearing everywhere from yoga groups to book clubs and women’s only conferences. It has clearly helped women to learn from and with other women. Men can and will learn deeply from other men. We need to create mechanisms at work and in community for men to support and challenge each other; and women, get out of the way as the translators, mediators or “helpers.” Moving beyond old school “boys clubs” where rank and status are the calling cards for membership we must instead create conscious and thoughtful ways for men to come together in support of other men and men’s contributions to society.
Through men’s work with each other the notion of what it means today to be a man can shift and evolve as new, healthy partnerships grow. Organizations such as The Good Men Project, offering a glimpse of what masculinity might look like in the 21rst century, and Marc, Men Advocating Real Change, provide resources and ideas for men engaging with each other.
2. Openly Discuss Roles and Equity
We must stop idolizing and perpetuating the mythology of the ideal job being a 24/7 corporate executive with a stay at home spouse (who manages their life details.) Most people today value meaning at work and lifestyle considerations above all else, and yet the majority of leaders across all sectors remain men whose work dominates their lives (often supported by a stay-at-home spouse.) We are acculturated to focus on women’s issues and needs (particularly with their roles as mother/home maker) with wide disregard to the needs of men to have lives and relationships outside of work, community involvement, caretaking, and hobbies.
Openly discussing the pros and cons of relevant currencies to men and women alike: money, time, connection, visibility, impact, etc. provides higher likelihood of normalizing competing demands between work and home for men and women. One idea is to invite employees in your company to discuss what priorities for their time in home and community matter to them as they strive to work hard. Such open conversations invite vulnerability for both men and women about their story and how they want their relationship with work to play out on a day-to-day basis.
3. Raising Kids Differently
We raise boys and girls differently, and it affects the men and women they become. Women are stereotypically encouraged to be cooperative, verbal, unobtrusive, supportive, and emotionally tuned in (while the also must meet a complex number of qualitative norms such as weight, beauty, motherhood, fashion, and social glue.) Men are acculturated to be decisive, logical, strategic, and strong (never weak.)
The habits of how we raise our children land us in a world of hurt when it comes to true partnerships as adults: women often hesitate to assert in conflict and speak directly, and men are left without the skills to name and practice emotions beyond anger and detachment. One way to do this in practice is to pay attention to how we notice a child’s assets: focusing on the humor or creativity of girl children rather than appearance or inviting a little boy to talk about his feelings when he is upset rather than encouraging him simply to “buck up.”
4. Killing the Rugged Individualist Mindset
“I stand alone” might well be the mantra of 20th Century manliness, but is now an outdated phrase that creates isolation, lack of partnership and loss. The ability to stand-alone has been replaced in the global economy with standing together. In their bestseller, The Athena Doctrine, John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio highlight that nurturing, communication, sharing and cooperation are the traits most desired by businesses globally. Debunking the myth that any of us, especially men, can stand alone and succeed, will unlock the capacity for men to become networked human beings with material support and engagement that brings out their best.
We can do this be reinforcing in practice the workplace norms for collaboration, listening, trust building, and empathy which invites partnership behavior rather than lonely isolation handling problems alone.
5. Altering How We Validate Men as Caretakers and Women as Career-Holders
Women who work often speak of feeling guilt ridden due to their internalized feeling that they should be perfect mothers, wives, sisters and daughters at the same time as they are successful in their career. And men who step off a career track to take care of family or pursue other interests continue to face subtle ridicule and nuanced pressure that they are not doing what men should do: support the family.
Let’s start talking about how women are breadwinners and world changers in significant ways (which takes intense work and time) and that men can and are appropriate and tender caretakers of home and hearth (which is also hard work and often undervalued.) We must talk about our unconscious biases across gender lines and how they impact the paths we foster and celebrate for men and women. Openly discussing the complex roles we each play and the societal expectations we carry will assist us in finding new ways to validate one another across gender.
Feminism (equal rights and opportunities for all) can only succeed if men and boys also succeed. We need to reconsider how we work, how we parent, how we love, how we spend, how we listen, and how we lead. I propose we have the honest conversations at home, at work, and in community that are necessary to create lifestyles that make sense for human beings; workplaces in which men and women thrive equally, and homes in which breadwinning and care taking are ambitions worth seeking for men and women alike.
This reprinted article first appeared in Conscious Company Magazine, Issue www.consciouscompanymagazine.com.
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