There is so much pressure and expectation put on men today. To be strong, a breadwinner, fit, handsome, successful in business, bed and sport. And with a 21st century twist to also not repeat the mistakes of our fathers and our father’s fathers and to be more emotionally literate and sensitive, change the nappies and take paternity leave to care for our family.
Like many men, despite a life lived in alternative circles and spiritual communities, I too felt that pressure to be the prototype male. To be my father’s son, which in my particular case, given a notably successful father, was a hard act to follow.
I tried and yet given the standards of wishing to perform to my Dad’s levels of success have failed. Living a life of relative lack of financial prosperity in a city focussed on money (Hong Kong) also did not help. Whilst I could see I had made some contributions, there was an underlying sense of failure in me, compared to the genetic program I had inherited. Squaring this circle, of wishing to be successful on my own terms and then realizing that part of the drive to be successful was an inherited drive, was a tough task.
4 years ago a couple of related events happened that completely changed my relationship with masculinity and maleness.
When I was left by my girlfriend for another man, it hit me very hard and I felt humiliated and fundamentally a failure as a man. Hitting rock bottom, I realized something had to change. I had already gone through a painful divorce with my son living in another continent. Thank God, I had already signed up to start a long term psychotherapy training, and I contacted one my best friends to conduct a rite of passage into manhood. I had been in a few men’s groups, but in hindsight the last one simply deepened and worsened the sense of pathology I had about not being man enough.
The rite of passage in to manhood really was a powerful event, a 10 day ritual with a 4 days fast in a desert but with a year’s preparation and half a year’s follow up. Unexpectedly out there in the desert, I realized that I could be as feminine a man as I wished to be. Paradoxically this realization felt very masculine to me.
Combining this with my studies in Process Work, which included weekly therapy, brought me to a new realization about masculinity and how we perceive ourselves. What I learnt in theory and in practice was that elementary dictum of accepting myself exactly as I am. Seemingly so simple yet in reality a journey in itself. In Process Work we have a term ‘deep democracy’ and we combine it with the verb ‘marginalizing’ to describe how we can be against parts of ourselves. This usually happens because of a belief system or because of an ‘affect’ or ‘complex’ (to use the psychological jargon), parts of ourselves stuck in the past calling for healing. If we are against a part of ourselves, as I was against my lack of traditional masculinity or the fact that my skill set was not in making money in Hong Kong, then it manifests itself continuously as signals we send out to others. Perhaps a slumped shoulder, a tic in our speech, or a projected anger onto others who are successful.
We in Hong Kong, live in a city with a strong yang (male) energy. If we don’t fit that culture, then there is a sense of going against the tide. Conversely in a very feminized culture, to be very driven would have the same feeling and that part of a person would be culturally marginalized. There is no prescribed right or wrong way to be in Process Work, we are on a journey of awareness into discovering who we truly are. It’s part of human nature to have marginalized some aspect of ourselves. In some ways, the therapeutic journey is a journey back to wholeness through including parts of our unique identity which we had to momentarily freeze out and the age old truth that we are fine just the way we are.
We can, as was true for me, be unaware that we are against parts of ourselves. Culturally there are values praised and discriminated against. If we are gay for instance, or differently able then we get marginalized by society. In the microcosm of our internal world we do the same thing too.
My experience the last mens group I was in is that there is an unconscious presumption of what are good male qualities and thus an inherent discrimination against the fullness of the human spectrum. Though initially the group was helpful and even liberating for me, i now am in a phase of questioning this presumption. Maleness for me now is one construct among many, such as sexuality and other boxes we put on ourselves. There may be inherently male qualities, I really am not sure anymore if even that is true. Assuming it is though, and that femininity likewise has certain features, we all have qualities within both sides of the spectrum and whoever we are is our journey as individuals. It’s more important for me now to become aware of our internal deep democracy and being aware of all that we are.
So for me I realize now that I am who I am, a man who is not relatively good at being a provider in the traditional sense. At least for now. There is such a relief in me at admitting this – publicly even! Suddenly I can see the systemic pressures on individuals to be certain ways.
As mentioned before there is a paradox to really embracing this feminine part of myself. I feel incredibly strong about who I am and the greater social background behind discriminating subtly against those who are different. I am conscious that this very article is possibly also a heterosexually biased viewpoint. Jung had a term called ‘enantadromia’ which alluded to the fact that when you go fully into one aspect of our psyche the opposite can emerge. Rage can be followed by calm. And acknowledging my failure at being a man, and finding peace with the fact that I don’t do money or conventional strength well, has being incredibly strengthening. So paradoxically I feel far stronger and clearer. In fact what may be a defining masculine quality!
I welcome you all to experience just who you are too in your fullness.