I write this post for a 10 year old me. And a 20 year old me. Oh, and 30 year old. I write it for those cis men feeling like they don't quite fit in. For those maybe intimidated by the alphas. For those of all genders exploring what their 'masculine' is, in this day and age of mixed messages.
Although we are in a period of great change, the messages we receive of 'masculinity' can be incredibly harmful; in films, advertising, television, world leaders, peers and generally all around us, we are being taught of an identity driven notion. So much of this 'masculinity' is to be 'attained', meaning we have to work to achieve it. Some manage it, whilst others don't. Are either happy? Perhaps, perhaps not. The difficulty lies in that if it is 'attained', it then has to be 'maintained'. The end result of this is great suffering, through domination, suppression of others, wars etc. It is all in fear of losing what has been 'attained'. So you're damned if you attain current 'masculinity' (fear), and you're damned if you don't (inadequacy). These feelings of fear and inadequacy are on a huge, interwoven, spectrum of course, but you get the idea. When 'masculinity' becomes part of an identity it is incredibly fragile.
I will share my story to help in understanding how I arrived at this point. You may of course want to skip that, and go straight to the notions of 'masculinity'. Please consider the ideas of 'masculinity' written are not a new identity to be attained, but a discovery of what we all have from the off. They are not assigned to a gender, but will be in everyone, in varying amounts. This is all just my current understanding- which is open to change- but has at least got to somewhat more beneficial than the messages we receive at present.
I write as a white, cis gendered male, heterosexual, and with what I would say a middle-class upbringing. In other words, the world is designed for me to slot right in- privileged in other words. I understand that, and will be unpicking that forever. So I have to admit that privilege has enabled me to go on this journey of exploration and discovery. Also, I know in two years time I will look back on the post and think it naive. All blog posts are kept on the site as I don't think it's something to hide or be ashamed of. Those further on in their journeys, I apologise for that.
Let's start from the start as it all plays an important part, and I share little of my personal life on here. I was born into a loving family, with a father who was battling cancer. This meant contact time with the masculine was somewhat limited as he was in and out of hospital for most of what I can remember. When out of hospital he was weak and so couldn't do all the 'usual' father-son activities. 'French cricket' (a game where he could stand still and just hit the ball for me to run around and fetch essentially) was as active as it could get for him. He finally left his body and his suffering behind when I was eight. This isn't part of a sob story, but a blessing.
Shortly after his passing I could go cross-eyed. Seems like nothing, but in all his time alive, he could and I couldn't. It seemed strange to a little me that after he had 'left' I could do what he did. I also recall trying to program a game for the Sinclair Spectrum (the ones with the cassette player, which you could also type computer code into) and I didn't know a piece of code. And then what I could never have known appeared in my mind. He was often on computers and it would probably have been something he would've known, so it appeared to me that he had given me this information. These things could of course be merely coincidental, but they sparked an intrigue into possibilities that we're not taught. That combined with seeing human death at such a young age was wonderfully useful in planting seeds of searching.
In this short space of time my notions of 'masculinity' had somewhat been shaped already. And they weren't all that cool. A story my mum likes to tell me (so I like to share with others too) is one Christmas Day- I think I was four- my dad was doing the washing up and I walked in and asked him why he was doing that when it was women's work? Yes, a four year old male chauvinist. That's the imprint of 'masculinity' at four, so I dread to think what I was like by eight. This is why his passing was such a blessing in many ways, as I had far less to unpick when I reached 'unpicking' age. 'Cubs' and 'Boy Scouts' then helped add extra layers of 'masculinity' was 'supposed' to be. I think females were allowed to join as I reached the age of leaving, so it was very much a 'man's world' in the groups; fires, night hikes, building things, fixing things, and such like. Yet in all this I probably felt the most comfortable around women and girls. Of course, I didn't know why at the time. It just seemed actually easier to talk, and talk about things that seemed more important. Blending in with the 'boys' wasn't a problem, but it didn't feel quite right.
Growing older that didn't change much; trying to fit in with my own gender, but feeling more comfortable with the other. I used to just assume this meant I was quite 'feminine' due to an upbringing by primarily my mother and was ok with that. The solution was always activities. Skateboarding mainly. Or later on it was drinking. Activities gave common ground and so those feelings of alienness would be suppressed. Moving 'up north' helped me discover 'banter' and the idea of putting one another down in the name of humour. It was something I could join in with, but again, didn't feel quite right.
The whole notion of 'masculinity' seemed built upon trying to be better than one another. Hierarchies and pecking orders were a plenty, with alpha males at the top. Again, they seemed fine to mix with, but it didn't feel right. Physique would also grow increasingly important as the world became more image conscious. A six-pack- and an absolutely buggered back in order to achieve that- was the order of the day, and a skinny little runt like me can get one no problem.
To cut a long story short, nothing that was 'deemed' as masculinity seemed quite right. Or perhaps, I didn't fit in with it. Yet as I grew older and started noticing more, it seemed that many cis men had this same feeling. Mixed messages were a plenty, with society and the media saying one thing; our feelings and what others saying, another. In the 'dating world' the messages were just as mixed and the feeling was that 'masculinity' was the finest line in the world, that could never be found. What the flying f*!k was this 'masculinity' malarky and did it even exist?
I created a men's group, offering a sharing circle where guys could talk. In all honesty it would've been for my own healing and inquiry. We all seemed in a pretty similar boat and answers weren't necessarily found- but it was a beautiful group and showed that we weren't alone in our questioning. What ensued after was an attempt to unravel myself in order to discover what was 'mine', and what wasn't. What society had taught didn't seem right. In fact, what society seemed to teach as 'masculinity' appeared to be based on trauma and over-compensation. It clearly wasn't working as although cis men have it easier, they were killing themselves more than any group. The argument from many feminist texts was that men are more violent and so more likely to end their life. Perhaps. Or also likely- just because the system makes men's lives easier, doesn't mean that same system doesn't cause great identity confusion amongst cis males in the 'modern' world, along with an inability to talk about it and release emotions. Honestly, it's a literally deadly combination.
Unpacking it all meant lots of reading, observing others, my actions, my inner self (yoga), healing. wounds, more reading, more observing and experimentation. I mention my early life, as I was fortunate to not have huge amounts of 'masculine' influence so perhaps had less to remove (and it's an ongoing process). The more stripping away the socialising and conditioning, the more what 'masculinity' might actually be started revealing. The more healing of wounds, individual and collective trauma, the more it started revealing itself. Of course, to many, much of it might appear on the outside like 'femininity', but in revealing the 'masculine', the 'feminine' inside was also revealing herself.
Now you might say that the binary split of 'feminine' and 'masculine' no longer serves and is actually harmful. I went through a spell of thinking that, and fighting against the notion, saying we are all essentially the same. But I now see it of service, not just to the gender it's 'assigned' traditionally to, but to all. We all have different levels of the two within us. It is useful to play to our strengths, and learn our weaknesses in life, so that recognition is necessary. They are also under our control with practices such as yoga. This means we can learn to 'summon' more of the energy of one when necessary, keep them in balance, or just let them do their natural thing. These are fluid notions which will always ebb and flow. As Uma Dinsmore-Tuli has alluded to, the practices of yoga may have been created for men to 'gain the powers' that women naturally have. I wouldn't argue against that at all, but would suggest that the practice also gives the 'powers' of 'masculinity' too (just not society's 'masculinity'). Or Śiva (consciousness- masculine) and Śakti (energy- feminine).
So what is this 'masculinity'? I see and feel it now as a constant, of which the 'feminine' dances around, to and from. Think of an atom, with the neutron in the middle. It is that neutron, the heaviest part of the atom, of which the protons and electrons revolve around. You may say that is my gender bias, but I am not saying 'women' revolve around 'men' (and yes it will 100% sound like that). This is within us all, and it is more of an inner energy, with outer results. How does this show itself then?
Please remember these are just one side of human experience and also require the 'feminine' elements to keep us in balance. If any of this triggers please consider removing the notion that I am talking about 'men', and see if thoughts change. They may not, and please share your thoughts if so.
Śiva or consciousness can be simply expressed as awareness- being aware. Have you noticed being completely lost in thoughts, and then suddenly being aware of that? Or driving somewhere and noticing you don't really know how you got to where you were? That is awareness 'kicking in'. We can go about our days unconsciously, using our autopilot of learnt behaviours and such like. Or we can be aware and make conscious choices. Awareness of the inner world and what is being experienced inside ourselves. Awareness of the outer world and what is in our experience outside of ourselves. Awareness may be of other fields outside of our direct experience. This is the key element of 'masculinity' found in all of us, and where all these other aspects stem from. You may notice that all of these aspects are interrelated and somewhat interdependent.
As we've seen, our consciousness- our awareness- can drift around or it can be under our control. I like to think of it as being on a leash- think of one of those retractable do