Society is ever-changing; indeed, the world is evolving at such a pace is sometime difficult to keep up with it. One area that seems particularly vulnerable to change is that of gender role and particularly expectations and perceptions of what it is to be a man in a modern society. In this instance, I can only speak from personal experience and having spoken to a number of other men about being a ‘Man’, I am certain I am not alone in my observations.
Since the early 60s, well perhaps even before, gender quality has been on the forefront of the societies agenda and we have found that the world has changed, I believe, for the better. This change, like any change, has led to some suffering though, and especially suffering for those for where gender role and societal expectation is questioned.
As human beings, we are led to believe, from an early age, that role and gender definition is something that you align with. A reference point at which you are marked and judged by. For instance, if you are Male, you are a hunter or a gatherer; emotional and dispassionate. Gender role definition by society goes as far as dictating the colour you wear and the clothes you are assigned. From an early age gender and especially the expectations of that gender role are clearly placed upon you.
That is not the end of it although. As you go through ‘life’ you will find that what is is assigned for you is reinforced by society and the individuals that are part of that collective. They too have expectations of you that are built around “your” gender role.
E.g. you are “A” and therefore the expected behaviour of an “A” is laid upon you by a “B”. You are expected to act and behave in accordance with these pre-defined rules and the way that society expects you to be and this for me is the Kicker.
As a man of the 70s I was brought up in a post liberated 60s Britain. I suspect the UK that I was living in was economically challenged and I certainly know that my parents struggled to bring up two young children in a economically tough time. Combine that with a strong matriarchal presence and an absent patriarchal role model, I grew up to be a sensitive chap. Later on, in my early teens, I grew up to be quite a tall and gangly child and for one reason or another I was not overly social. I did not have a broad range of friends, although I did have some solid friendships and I was uncomfortable and clumsy with the opposite sex. Although I loved female company and felt comfortable in their friendship groups, I was “fumbling“ and “embarrassed” when it came to the idea of love.
All of this led, early on, to some form of “identity crisis“ and a deep questioning of what it was to be male. I wasn’t a ‘Blokey’ bloke, far from it, and this Identity crisis and an overall questioning of self-identity became, for a while, became part of my self-reflection journey. The idea of “Role” became a whipping post that I found myself tethered to, and around it was a constant cycle of self-reflection and personal questioning that was the whip that I used to analyse the concept of role. In fact, one counsellor called it “naval watching“ while I would rather now refer to it as self-harming. Ineffective, self-damaging and narrow minded, the search to understand Role became the main focus of my life. An all-consuming goal to achieve ‘insight” rather than experience pure existence. In other words, I was wrapped up in self-identity and the idea of “role“.
Spin forward to the present day and the question is, “has anything really changed? “ Well no, not in any real sense. I am still a gangly, sensitive and somewhat socially uncomfortable character. However, the fundamental thing that has changed for me is “Awareness”. The awareness, is not of “who” I am, it is much subtler than that. Awareness provides me a tool to help see “how” I am reacting to everything and “how” I fit into the world that is around me. That objective viewpoint enables me to define more clearly, my purpose in this world. That position enables me to accept what I currently see myself as, warts and all and with the intention of moving towards the core of who I am. As I have stated, in previous posts, I believe the core of who we are to be what I refer to as our “Own True Nature“ (OTN), and this is not a role-based nor gender specific trait, nor is it socially constructed or determined. Our Own True Nature is what you could call “soul” and not a purely a role, it is where we can truly connect and not just with each other but with the whole of creation.
As Ram Dass (Richard Alpert), Psychologist, spiritual mentor and all-round interesting character has implied in his work; you need to connect and fully understand your attachment to “role” but ultimately you need to live by your “soul”. The very core of who you are is your Own True Nature and it is something that is not subject to societal expectations, mind based fear and is invariable. As such the gangly, uncomfortable teenager who has clearly been walking a rocky and uneven path through life, perhaps even since he was a toddler, has now become more aware of the importance of soul and that role is something that you can lay down as it is a covering and not the heart of who you are.