I have separated the two words “gentle” and “man” to not confuse the concept with the traditional definition of “gentleman.” Not that I have anything against a man conducting himself as a gentleman--quite the opposite—and not that there can’t be some overlap, but that I want to address those of us who do not conduct or define ourselves SOLELY by those attributes usually associated with the idea of being a “man.”
Even as I write this I am having flashbacks to the old SNL routine with Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon as Hans und Franz characterizing their lesser counterparts as “girly men.” Yeah, well, there are always going to be those who elevate themselves by putting others down, but what I am looking to propose is a new perspective on manhood that is less about chest-thumping and more about compassion, less about “I” and more about “us,” less about dominating and more about including others.
Much has been written about gender polarization and how moving away from that has led to the demise of couples staying together. I do believe that we have reached a point in our culture where we have “androgenized’’ to some degree but I, for one, see that as a positive. Positive in that we have the freedom to choose where we want to appear on that spectrum of masculine/feminine.
In conversations with peers, there is often some bristling at defining how masculine or feminine one is. Eastern cultures have the concept of yin/yang as a cornerstone of their belief systems, the yin being more what we describe as feminine, yielding, soft, passive, accepting and the yang: bold, assertive, hard, fiery.
In our culture, gender roles used to be much more clearly defined if you go back to the 1950s and before. Actually, it started to change before that with the rise of industrialization in America and then the suffragette movement in the 20’s. Nathaniel Branden describes this in much greater detail in his book, “The Psychology of Romantic Love.” Then we had the Feminist movement in the 60s that took gender equality (or the movement towards that) to another level. Now we are fifty years on and on the verge of another movement that may finally see equal pay for equal work, women standing side by side with their male counterparts, perhaps even a female president.
All this is laudable and wonderful for women, and a long time coming, but where does it leave us men? For all of that to have happened, women have had to get in touch with their more dominant side, and men have had to let go a bit: become more accepting, allowing, inclusive. Some would say (alright, I’ll say it) “girly.”
Yeah, well, guess what? That’s not the worst thing in the world, by far. As our world borders continue to dissolve (despite the efforts of some), I find it increasingly important to move away from the concept of “I” to move over to the concept of “us.” And while I see that as important from a global perspective, I see it as being even more important on a much more local level: how we relate as men and women.
We are supposed to be evolving as humans (right?) We are no longer scrounging for food, the physically bigger and stronger of the tribe relegated to doing the hunting and shelter building. Many women take for granted the strides our culture has made towards gender equality, so I have to pause when I hear women talk about wanting a "manly man." What they don’t include in that are the “excepts”: except in decision making and except in being treated as an equal, except even in love-making: “Yes, take me, yes, but I want to come too!”
I saw a wonderful meme on the internet recently with the message, “She’s someone’s sister/mother/daughter/wife.” “She’s someone” was circled and the rest crossed out. Brilliant perspective in its simplicity. And yet, what is required to make that statement stand up is a shift on the part of men away from ownership, away from “MINE” and an acceptance of women as our parallel humans.
And that acceptance requires a certain gentleness.
Enter the Gentle Man. Don’t get me wrong, this is not the doormat, the passive let-everybody-else-get-their-way enabler, the milquetoast. This is a new breed of man that is making conscious decisions about how he wants to lead his life that INCLUDES THOSE AROUND HIM. A man who knows what his priorities are and is looking to further them and at the same time is mindful of the needs of those around him. A man who knows when to dig his heels in and fight for what he thinks is right but is open to listening to what others have to say and is willing to yield and compromise to include the needs of others, not just in the outside world but in the intimate world, in those relationships that are most important, including that one most important with his partner.
Some men do not want to give up the mantle as dominant gender and will continue to fight, tooth and nail, to prevent that from happening. To them, I say, if that is your conscious choice, after careful, conscious deliberation as a sentient, deliberate, thinking person: fine. But don’t do it just because that is the way it has “always been.’’
We have incredible freedoms of choice at this time in our history. To choose to be present, loving, nurturing and kind are not attributes that in the past have been considered as part of being a MAN.
As a man, where do you stand on that spectrum? Put a percentage on it; is it 75/25? 50/50? Even more importantly, where do you WANT it to be? Some of you might say, “Well, it depends on the situation.” Well, of course it does, but stop avoiding the question. Looking at the Big Picture, in general, as you move about the world, how often do you lead? How often do you “push” (perhaps even at times when you shouldn’t?) How often do you fight?
Conversely, when are you passive? How willing are you to “accept?” How difficult is it for you to receive?
I know, I know, this all requires a certain amount of introspection and self-examination, but I am talking about personal growth and becoming the person YOU want to be.
Once you come up with a quantitative number, consider how that proportion feels. Do you like it? Does it feel comfortable? Do you think it should shift one way or another? If you are a total “mans’ man,” if you are the master of your world, and everyone falls in behind you, you probably won’t even be reading this. But if you are somewhat removed from that polarity, your softer side may “let” you consider this exercise.
What if you are closer to 50/50 or even less? Are you too conflict avoidant, passive, always following, never leading?
Don’t get me wrong; I am not advocating androgyny or passivity. I’m not advocating anything here, outside of being aware of where you fall on this spectrum, and where you WANT to fall in who you are in your daily life. And yes, there will be times when you are passionate or adamant about a single issue, 100 percent. Non-negotiable. And other places where you don’t care about an outcome and are willing to concede.
If you are having some trouble with the whole concept, think about how often you say “yes.” And how often you say “no.” Then consider how often those yesses and no’s come from a place of strength or fear. But that is getting too far into the weeds for this discussion.
Why even ask?
I believe we are at a time in our culture when many of us are becoming more polarized. Our political climate as we near another national election has pointed out the differences between those who are promoting their own singular agenda and those who are more inclusive of others. In 1988, accepting the Republican nomination, George H.W. Bush declared that he wanted a “kinder, gentler nation.” How much of that was political blah-blah-blah I don’t know, but I would suggest that as a nation we have certainly moved away from that.
What is YOUR part in that? Are you getting ahead by crushing others? Or do you help others in need? If you are driving your car and someone signals to get into your lane, do you inch forward and pretend you don’t see them? Or do you let them in? Is your first response to any request of your time or resources “no?” Or do you stop and consider that it may have even been difficult for that person to ask?
How do you want others to see you?
When you look in the mirror, how do you want to see yourself?
Are you “man enough” to call yourself a gentle man?