I recently read an article discussing toxic masculinity in the context of fatherless South African young men. I was struck by how similar the issues raised are to MindlessCraft’s issues. Except for one difference, Mindless grew-up with a father.
As I read, another thought occurred to me. In Mindless’s case, and so many others I’ve seen on blogs and forums, the case wasn’t so much of a missing father (though, perhaps, an overly quiet one) as it was of a controlling mother; a mother who refused to empower her child to make mistakes, learn from mistakes, and to have a voice of their own. A mother who wanted their son never to grow up, never to be a confident man capable of making his own life choices, a mother who wanted never to let go. Pretty much the opposite of this video by Kristina Kuzmic. I love this video, especially the lines, “you see, the more I treat a child like a competent human being, the more he or she will act like a competent human being. Isn’t it crazy how that works?” And, “we don’t get to decide our children’s strengths and talents, so why don’t you let your child be and go get yourself a puppet.”
This blog post has been sitting as an unfinished draft for some time, in the intervening days since I wrote this, the Gillette ad came out. I must say, I love the Gillette ad. As I read some of the backlash comments, I was stupified by the prevalence of such toxic masculinity that still exists in our society, our American society.
And, it occurs to me once again, how I think the real issue at play is “control.” Men who hold onto notions of toxic masculinity, men who are reacting negatively to the Gillette advertisement are doing so, perhaps, because they sense that many in American society are tired of male dominance being the expectation, these men are losing complete unquestioned control. We are moving to a place where many in our society actually expect RESPECT to be the guiding principle in how we treat others, regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. I am astounded that the simple idea of “mutual respect” is receiving such backlash!
And, it brings me back to thinking of MindlessCraft’s issues, which are his to describe and his to heal. However, placing them in a broader, societal context, I cannot help but think that there is a misunderstanding between “aggressiveness” and “assertiveness.” In my opinion, aggressiveness, including passive aggressiveness, seeks to manipulate or control the agency of another. Whereas, assertiveness is merely the recognition and honest expression of self while honoring others also have the right and responsibility to express themselves.
How many of our men refused to be assertive in their daily visible personal lives and resented that fact? How many of our men saw their hidden sexual lives as something they alone controlled? I look at the latter as an aggressive act borne of fear and resentment, while also a fundamental mischaracterization of what it means to be a man. Being a man isn’t about being aggressive and taking what you “deserve.” Being a man is about being an adult, which means being authentic, assertive and respectful of others’ need, right and responsibility to do the same.
I will not give Mindless control over me, I will not give Mindless my agency. On the other hand, damn it, I don’t want him giving over his control and agency to me. Instead, I want an assertive partner. One who has agency and recognizes that each of us has agency in our decisions. One who understands the difference between assertive and aggressive, including passive aggressive. I don’t want to be a human puppet, and I don’t want a human puppet for a partner. I want a partner who discusses all openly and honestly, but also understands that I will be doing the same.
Being a man isn’t about sexual conquests, it is about being an adult. Being an adult isn’t about control, it is about living with courage. Living with courage isn’t about getting rid of fear before being open and honest, living with courage is about being open and honest in spite of the fear.
Since before d-day, I see so many differences on this front with Mindless. It is definitely a work in progress. But, of all of the work he is doing to become a healthy man of integrity, this is probably the one that gives me the most hope and the strongest sense of safety.