Manhood in Our Times

What is it to be a man? There seems to be a clear crisis on manhood at the moment. Millions of women have recently (and very bravely) come forward with their stories of abuse and, as terrible as it was to hear the countless accounts of men taking advantage of women, it is very easy for other men to turn a blind eye and simply say “I would never do such a thing”. But is the real issue here a worryingly large number of bad apples? Or does it go deeper then that? Is there a fundamental issue with what is really means to be a man?

In our culture, it is assumed that men must have masculine energy, and women must have feminine energy, and within these energies, come certain traits – masculine energy is seen to have the traits of courage, action, domination, independence, aggression, assertiveness, rationality… whereas feminine energy is said to have the traits of nurturing, compassion, empathy, vulnerability, patience, passivity and sensitivity… In our society, which of these energies are celebrated and which, of the two, are seen as “weaker”? I remember growing up, and seeing all over TV the archetypal man being stoic and strong and not wanting to talk about his feelings, while the women would constantly worry if he was okay. We are taught that the masculine traits are what we need to concentrate on to become a success in life. Maybe, specific to our society, that is true financially, but when it comes to happiness, it surely isn’t working. Look at how we, in general, are treating women, not to mention the rates of male suicide flying through the roof, especially in white males – who are statistically seen as the most successful group on the planet.

I feel that it is because we are subconsciously taught that the traits of feminine energy are seen as less desirable, that so many men either consciously or subconsciously feel that it is possible and appropriate to take advantage of women. For men, perhaps it begins at school. The boys that display these feminine traits are bullied, which can then begin a cycle. That person goes on to bully those they see as weaker then themselves, and then the cycle is perpetuated. This continues into the workplace and into adulthood, because in a Capitalist society, it unfortunately pays to step over people blindly on your way to the top. As an employer purely focused on financial gain, do you want your workers to smash their way through their targets on their way to becoming their individualistic best, or someone who wants contentment and community?

Psychologist Jordan Peterson has been in the news recently and has become somewhat of a celebrity. He received a lot of flack for posting a youtube video stating that he was unhappy about a legislation being passed in his native Canada that forced him to use gender neutral pronouns or face imprisonment under the charge of hate speech. After stating many times that he has no issue with trans people whatsoever, his argument is that he see’s the governments stance of forcing these laws as a symptom of a hazardous bigger picture that could spiral the West back into extreme far left politics. Wrongly, he has therefore been called an Alt-Right activist, when that couldn’t be further from the truth – he is about as centrist as they come. Far Left is no better then Far Right, and if you want to see how, read what happened in The Soviet Union between 1918 and 1956. Personally, I have no issue in calling anyone whatever they want to be called. I don’t agree with everything Jordan Peterson says, but his views on what it takes to be a man resonate with me. It is centred around the fact that men need to wake up and grow up. He says that the world needs strong men. His message is essentially that, sure, it’s great to be carefree and not take anything seriously and cling onto your youth, but that road leads nowhere. You will get the most out of life when you start to commit to things, when you start to move through hardship and when you prove to yourself that you are in charge of your own destiny. In short, stop playing the fucking victim. This is where the argument that Mr Peterson is a mouth piece for the Alt-Right crumbles. The Alt-Right relies on recruiting disillusioned men under the guise that they are struggling in life due to an exterior source, such as immigration. Jordan Peterson is saying the opposite, he’s saying to look inside yourself and to stop blaming other people. He is imploring men to start to harness their power in different, more constructive ways, directly addressing the destructive imbalance of what masculine power has become. For too long, men have been acting too predatory, disrespectful and crass. Men and women were the worlds first team, start to act like it. Harness your sexual desires in a way that totally respects women and stop watching and reading anything that teaches you otherwise. The majority of pornography these days basically simulates rape, it’s insane! Sexual desire is a strong energy, but as men we need to shift away from the idea of “I am physically attracted to you so I want to dominate you”, to “I am physically attracted to you so I want to worship you.” Are you as a man ready to allow the women in your life complete free reign of their emotions and their sexuality? If not, you need to ask yourself why. Look inside and face that fear head on, you will become better for it. If the idea of a woman being sexually and energetically empowered frightens you to the point that you want to put her down and belittle her, then you need to switch from your need to dominate out of fear and prove to yourself, her and the world that you are able to not only support her, but to be the rock hard foundations to allow her to grow and flourish. This does not mean infidelity, this means allowing her an unlimited amount of energetic potential. This is not easy, you may have to totally rewrite your entire belief system around women. This is a mans job.

It is a total misconception that masculine energy is just for men, and feminine energy is just for women. This is not the case at all. Ideally, each person, no matter which gender they are, or identify with, should have a balance of both energies. This is what we have seen with the rise of feminism, women are taking their power back and learning to balance their masculine traits of aggression, action, courage and assertiveness. It is incredibly brave. What us men need to do now is to match their bravery and work on our feminine aspects. To challenge what it really means to be a man. We need to learn how to nurture. We need to learn compassion and empathy. To talk about our feelings and thus understand them. To face our fears from a different angle, not just to tackle them head on or not at all. To find strength in softness. To feel comfortable to empower our mothers, sisters, friends and lovers to move into their own power, not just support ours. Once we do this we can move into a new society of emotional egalitarianism, which would be a beautiful thing.

Something that we have totally lost in our culture is the idea of initiation. Tribal societies still practice this and it is the time where a man is tested beyond his limits to find out who he truly is and what he can offer to the world. It is done at a time where a young boy is about to move through his teens and into manhood, and this transition is marked with a life changing experience. In our culture, we sort of fade through our teens, go to university or straight to work, bumble around for a bit, and eventually at some point decide that it’s time to be a man. This is damaging, as our society lacks this definite point of transition that tribals cultures have. There are man-boys everywhere, not knowing their place in the world and acting like fools. It is not our fault, where are we meant to learn this from? Our fathers, if we even know them, didn’t go through these initiations either. These initiations are far from easy, and are meant to be the most challenging thing you will ever do. Some, for example in the indigenous Sateré-Mawé from Brazil, wear bullet ant infested gloves for ten minutes at a time, twenty times. The bullet ant has the most painful sting known to man. The Iwol tribe in Senegal, who I have been lucky enough to spend some time with, send their young men out into the forest on their own for over three months, they are only allowed to return “in secret” some evenings if they can’t find any water. Some never make it back. Boys of the Algonquin Indian tribe of Quebec were escorted to a sacred wooden cage like structure and given a medicine the call Wysoccan. It contains a highly violent and hallucinogenic plant called Datura and is said to be over a hundred times more potent then LSD. They are given repeated doses for twenty days until all past traumas, negative memories and bad habits are dealt with and forced out of their system. Allowing them to come back to the tribe “clean” and ready to act like a man. As you can see, these are ridiculously difficult and scary rites of passage to go through. But one of the points of initiation is to make it so harrowing and difficult that no matter what life throws at you afterwards, you can face it head on in a mature way and not act out of selfishness, keeping the tribe in balance. It is also clear that most young men would desperately not want to do these initiations, but knew they had to. This would cultivate a belief that the world isn’t all rosy and you can’t do and take as you please. It is for the communities benefit as much as your own, you have to think about the benefit your behaviour will have on other people. Tribes often say that their village is a bird, and men are the left wing, and women the right. The bird needs both wings to flap in unison for the village to fly. This balance clearly shows that the women are just as important as the men, and these are the societies which have survived for thousands of years.

Effectively, what these initiations do is provide a stern enough test so that the boys will harden up enough to fulfil their duties as men. They become strong. They face their issues and past traumas and return stable enough to support their communities. Also, many, if not all of these initiations show the men that they are connected to something larger then them. The bullet ants remind them of the respect that they must have for nature, the Wysoccan medicine shows them that there is a higher power that is able to heal and transmute the traumas of the past, and the Iwol forest initiation shows the men that if they live in balance with nature then nature will provide all that they need. This anchoring that these young men are provided with allows them to feel safe and grounded enough to know their true place in the world. I think that the Western mindset that men are at the top of the food chain brings with it a huge amount of pressure. Everything that’s wrong in the world seems like it is up to us to sort out, and that is simply not the case. We have never been in control and we never will. Nature will provide the answer if we begin to live in harmony with her. I think this will come hand in hand with truly embodying respect for women. It is not a coincidence that nature in every single culture is considered feminine. Take global warming for example, the world will balance itself if we stop mining and burning the fossil fuels and stop breeding billions of livestock for food. Scientists have recently discovered a mushroom that loves nothing more then to chomp on plastic. I believe that that is a new mushroom, and has evolved to help us! Even the wars in the Middle East that have ravaged the entire area in the last couple of decades are a product of disillusioned and power hungry men.

Having difficult initiations that test our young men to the point of near death, or actual death, may not catch on in our societies, although I myself have been through some of them and they have certainly helped me. What I think is achievable is for men to stop acting like victims and to take responsibility for their own issues. Yes, life is hard, and yes, people have been through terrible things, and it is a complete and utter tragedy. But don’t blame anyone, prove to yourself that you can overcome it. The difference between a warrior and a soldier is that a warrior picks his battles. A warrior knows when to let things go and try another day. A soldier will charge blindly into the line of fire because someone told him to. Think for yourself. You can either let things keep you down, or use it as fuel to become the person you want to be. In our social media culture, it’s so easy to find inspiration from people. Choose the people you follow on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook carefully. Surround yourself with a positive, uplifting and hard working bubble that will give you the confidence to allow yourself to become the person you want to be. I like this quote by Woodrow Wilson, which sums up what I’m saying nicely, “No man has ever risen to the stature of spiritual manhood until he has found that it is finer to serve somebody else that it is to serve himself.” Being a man is about allowing your family to feel loved, it is about nurturing your lovers with total respect and proving to them that they can feel safe in becoming and feeling however they want to. It’s about getting out into the world and being an example to young boys. It is not about money, flashy things and dominating as much as possible.

Don’t worships idols, become your own idol. Validate yourself, you’re the only one that can truly do that.

Eddy Elsey