This reflection is written by Travis Wing. He is an original member of the ManUp team and has been studying healthy masculinity for the past five years.
NB – We have no reason to believe Dwayne Johnson is anything but an amazing man. We are targeting the way culture perceives his traits, not the traits themselves. In fact, we believe Dwayne may in fact be an ally in the Healthy Masculinity movement.
Over the past few years, we have worked with many school groups. One of our favorite activities is one that is designed to identify and deconstruct some of the stereotypes around being a man. The activity starts with a simple question, “Who is the manliest man alive?”. Without fail, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is a consensus, top 3, pick. We’ve come to the conclusion that this can be attributed to the universally accepted notion that society values three hypermasculine physical and social qualities, above all else. The first is dominating physical strength / stature, the second is extreme wealth and the third is success in widespread sexual conquest. This message is communicated clearly and repeatedly over every media source and outlet at our disposal. Subconsciously they are built into our video games, social media, mass media and high school social dynamics.
One could present a seriously compelling argument that these traits are in fact positive and beneficial for men to pursue and embody. These are fair arguments. In fact, many of the greatest men in history possess these traits. But, given the compelling evidence that society is masculinizing men in such a way that it is producing widespread sexual violence and increasing numbers of perpetrators of sexual violence, it is time we start questioning why.
My suggestion here is not that the traits of physical, financial and sexual dominance are dangerous to men. My suggestion is that the reckless pursuit of any or all of these three things, at the expense of other human traits, presents serious (if not extreme) danger. What happens is that young men start to measure their self-worth in accordance with their pursuits of the big three traits. Inevitably, the vast majority of men will be falling extremely short in all three. If they are lucky, they might excel in one area but feel they lack in another. If we are being honest, it would be nearly impossible to actually achieve excellence and mastery of all three. So where does this leave us?
When we are supposed to be tough, independent, strong and fierce but feel inadequate, it can make us feel desperate. When we feel desperate to meet an unattainable standard, we start looking for anecdotes to our desperation. We start looking for ways to feel physically dominant, to feel rich and powerful and to feel sexually dominant. Sadly, some men start to exercise this dominance whenever they find themselves in a position of power or advantage over someone.
Problem… these self determined mechanisms (to exercise or feel dominance) have side effects and side effects can be harmful. Take sexual harassment and unwanted cat calling as an example. Some men resort to public or social media harassment and cat calling as a means to exercise dominance over women (socially and sexually). Inevitably, these men and boys are starting to shift away from healthy perceptions of women and towards treating them like objects. The natural consequence of these behaviours is a reduced ability or an inability to be emotionally and socially intimate with a woman. This inability leads to isolation, isolation leads back to desperation and back to square one. It’s a vicious cycle and its wreaking havoc on our culture.
The actual antidote for our constant pursuit to feel validated in our masculinity is meaningful relationship. The critical traits for successful relationship are honesty, integrity, patience, kindness, generosity, servitude and tolerance. With this in mind, we need to start actively pursuing people and behaviors that build these traits. Emulate the men in your life that embody these. Equally important, reject the influence of behaviors, experiences and role models that suppress them. If you wait for a cultural shift where this is happening on a broad scale, you will be disappointed. This needs to be adopted on a case by case, personal level.