Over the last year or so, I've been exploring sex and gender. First, I was researching for No Bone Zone. The premise of the book was simple - our modern understanding of long-term relationships is sort of fucked up and we need to rethink how and why we do the things we do if we want our long-term relationships to be successful.
When conducting research, I consistently came across a gender-specific pattern: A lot of men seemed to fall into the "Nice Guy" trap I've discussed before, and this pattern was sabotaging relationships. In No Bone Zone, I made a case that our conceptualization of relationships has shifted from a pragmatic organization to more of an ideal. Relationships used to be practical arrangements for raising a family. Ideas like "soul mates" simply didn't exist. Today, we expect our partner to fulfill all our needs; to "complete" us.
And we're not very well equipped to make that work.
Relationships aren't hopeless, though. A few fairly simple tweaks and adjustments in expectations is all that's needed to make our modern relationship ideal into our reality.
But what about the individuals? What about the men and women that make up said relationships? Their gender roles have shifted significantly over the last few decades. For women, this has meant a dramatic increase in freedom by extending the same rights, opportunities, and possibilities once enjoyed only by men. Women, more than any point in our country's history, have come close to gaining full equality. And that's a great thing.
Men, on the other had, haven't had such a smooth transition. In fighting for women's equality, it was necessary to attack a lot of the societal barriers that created the glass ceiling for women. Many of our patriarchal beliefs and behaviors, which once served a utilitarian purpose, are no longer relevant today.
The problem - we have a tendency to throw the baby out with the bath water. On the surface, we vilify masculine behaviors like aggression, violence, dominance, assertiveness, competitiveness, narcissism, etc. while reinforcing behaviors like cooperation, passivity, submissiveness, agreeableness, indecisiveness, etc. In other words, we've set up a society where we teach men to be more androgynous than masculine. This has made it much easier for women to assume masculine roles within society, but also caused a bit of an existential crisis for most men. And inadvertently, many women.
Here's the problem. When we look at at males throughout history (or even today), we see that "masculine" traits tend to show up when needed. It's almost like men are Superman-esque. Under normal circumstances, men can assume either masculine traits when food or protection is required, or assume feminine traits when going things like child-rearing. In other words, men were once adaptable.
In modern times, we've actively discouraged that ability to shift gender roles by punishing many masculine traits (think schools banning Pop Tarts bitten into the shape of a gun) and reinforcing androgyny. This causes problems for males for several reasons, including:
- Men can't do man stuff.
- Men are losing the opportunity to bond with other men at the local fraternal organization.
- We're losing the apprenticeship dynamic where men learn to be men from hanging out with men.
- And the real clincher... men aren't especially good at relationships.
The last one is, for the purposes of this blog, the most important. Modern man sort of drops the ball when it comes to relationships because we've been taught women want a warm, caring, considerate sensitive man that's in touch with his feelings, open to mutual self-disclosure, and will always place her needs above his own.
Indeed, almost all women DO want a man with all those qualities...
... some of the time.
Women also want a man that can make decisions and lead, has confidence, be a good provider, fit, and able to command a social situation. Unfortunately, this second list of characteristics is also the characteristics of the stereotypical male we've associated with patriarchal oppression, hence the move to actively kill these characteristics. This man is going extinct because women don't usually consciously realize they're attracted to these characteristics.
Ask most men what characteristics they think women prefer and they'll likely rattle off items from the first list. In fact, they'll likely say women hate items from the second list. Except, of course, for the "bad boy" jerks that seem to get all the women. Men have a hard time explaining why women are attracted to "jerks" because we've been conditioned to believe "jerks" are misogynistic assholes.
But what if they're not? What if the behaviors other men identify as "jerk" behavior is really just typical masculine behaviors our male ancestors used to court and reproduce with our female ancestors? What if both genders are hardwired for it because it was so important to our survival?
I've been conducting an experiment for about a year. I've been intentionally testing out "alpha male" behaviors in every aspect of my life. As a pretty laid-back beta male, this change is fairly dramatic. The results have been equally dramatic. Both males and females respond to me much differently, and it's always positive. Even though we disparage overt masculinity, our behaviors betray our beliefs. All of us reward masculinity.
For the average male, this is confusing as fuck. It's no surprise most of us are motivated by sex. We're usually led to believe being a "nice guy" is the best route to getting said sex (and accompanying relationship, family, etc.) What we observe, however, is the exact opposite. It's the apparent jackasses that get all the female (and male) attention. This becomes even more apparent when female sexual desire plummets in a typical long-term relationship (and offers me the opportunity to make money selling books like No Bone Zone.) One of the secrets to recreating passion is getting in touch with that long-buried alpha.
So what's the solution?
It's clear killing masculinity and making all men androgynous isn't a workable solution. Some propose going back to "the good 'ole days" of the 1950's and before. That's problematic because the overt patriarchal system of that day simply isn't needed based on the sociocultural prosperity of today. The old system was set up for survival, but came at a heavy cost for men (who were expected to die to protect their family) and women (who gave up opportunity and rights in exchange for male protection.) Going backward is not an option.
There has to be a better way, right? There has to be a way to protect equality yet allow freedom of expression, right? Can we have a world where women aren't limited in opportunity or possibility simply because they have a vagina? Can we have have a world where men are free to be men yet have the freedom to express their feminine side when necessary?
I believe there is.
In my Utopia, any sex (biological or genetic) can possess and express any gender (masculine, feminine, or androgynous) characteristics they wish. In fact, we would encourage everyone to foster stereotypical gender skills. Diversity and flexibility always make a system stronger and more resilient, and this idea is no exception.
So what would that Utopia require?
First, we need to abandon the idea that masculinity always equates to misogyny and female oppression. That's simply not true. Masculinity and femininity are neither inherently "good" or "bad", they just "are."
Second, we need to understand "feminism" isn't about creating a matriarchy. Feminism is about equality. Specifically, assuring all of us has equal opportunities, possibilities, and responsibilities.
Third, we need to give males the opportunity to express their masculinity. This third point is the focus of the new project I'm starting (details coming soon.) We need to teach men how to properly express masculine characteristics in a way that doesn't interfere with the rights of others. We need to teach how and when to use these characteristics in conjunction with feminine and androgynous traits. We need to give men the opportunity to emotionally bond with other men. Finally, we need to teach men how to navigate the trials and tribulations of long-term relationships.
Modern man is in a crisis state. We've lost our way. It's easy to sit back and play the victim card. It's easy to blame the feminist movement or women in general, but they're guilty of nothing more than demanding equal rights. Our current plight is our own undoing because we haven't been willing to speak up. We haven't been willing to stand up and advocate for ourselves. We need to redefine what it means to be a man in our modern world. We have a voice. It's time to start using it.