Gender is a funny thing.
On the one hand, we as humans have taken long strides in legal and political equality for women, and on the other hand, we as men have lost some of our true nature at the same time.
By that I mean, I can see the beauty and power of the amazing transformational experience that pregnancy and childbirth brings to women. Throughout that time, as her body has grown another human being inside it, with no conscious effort on her part, it’s obvious that there is a good deal of primal or body wisdom involved. Something that is hardwired into to the female genotype that just knows what to do. The mother doesn’t have to ‘grow’ a tiny kidney, or hand, or anything. It just happens – a miracle, we think.
If we looked at the role of a female of our species with a scientific view, we’d no doubt find that the object is to produce the next generation and care for them. (Now, don’t get offended, I’m just taking a macro view of our genders as if we were what we call animals. Humor me. I’m most definitely not saying that women should just have babies and take care of them as their only activity.)
Our baby girls are born with their eggs already present – their contribution to the species – and so I say in an oversimplified way, that girls have babies, so we can continue with the human race.
And when the mother births the baby, her body has this intricate interplay, or dance, between her natural birthing hormones and her muscles and organs, between her uterus and the universe. It certainly seems like magic to me. Grace, more likely.
Having several daughters, I have noticed that they are almost always girly by nature, and that boys are pretty boyish by nature. I’ve seen that the needs to experience the world through the body, or the pull to nurture something, are right there, instinctively, before we think they’re old enough to have absorbed our ideas of what boys and girls should be.
So if I’m willing to believe that my daughters are born with some sort of womanliness, and am ready to support and nurture that in them, what ought I be willing to believe for my son?
If being a boy also means that there is a biological manliness in our code, so to speak, then we as men need to begin nurturing it in our sons and nephews. What boyish behavior are we willing to believe has a biological or primitive purpose and should be encouraged, not denied?
What is the male version of childbearing? Where is our primal or body wisdom?
In a general manner, it has been interpreted that protection is the role men play, so is it war or conflict that is the equivalent for us? I’d rather take the side of the bigger picture, in that protection falls under caretaking or providing for the family. We go outside the family and bring back what it needs to survive, whether it is actual goods or the currency to purchase them. That may also include protecting the family from anything outside it, but choosing conflict or war as an aggressive act isn’t part of our nature. Much less energy is needed to continue a peaceful existence than to wage war, in my opinion.
Perhaps the male version of childbearing is child-giving (impregnating)?
That seems too simplistic to me, as when we compare the roles of animal males to humans, most animal males don’t have anything else to do with the mother or children after mating. With humans, and our much longer infant and dependent phase, the male also plays a long-term role in providing for his partner and offspring, so anything that would benefit the family might be counted as a biological trait of manliness.
And that role as provider of food, shelter, and protection tends to lead men outside the house, outside the family, to be on the outskirts. Out-from-behind-the-skirts. On the fringes, so to speak, not in the core of the family unit at all times. Sometimes independently and sometimes with a group, boys will run off and explore, perhaps expressing those ‘outlier’ traits. And at the end of the day, they all return home, back to the family. Hardwired? or learned behavior?
We might say that acting as an explorer or scout or prospector could be a useful biological manliness trait.
We don’t go out into the wild and hunt and gather for food or home anymore, but we still go out into the world and ‘hunt’ money and ‘gather’ groceries. (Again, I know that mothers also do this these days, but I’m generalizing here.)
As boys, we ran and jumped and played a lot more than we do now, and we used our voices to call to each other and to express joy and excitement and disappointment. We don’t do that enough as men. We also naturally formed into groups with a clear leader, and worked together to achieve a common goal, collaborating and sharing our ideas. Yet now, we are mostly placed involuntarily under a boss or told what the goal is, not really pursuing a ‘common’ goal. Kind of like the difference between playing on a school team and playing a pick-up game.
Those boyish skills, though, are important to a scout – to move the physical body through space and to perform work with it, to stay in contact with others and coordinate the work as a team, and to work through all possible solutions to challenges (such as game playing – we always want to play another game of soccer or baseball, because it’s different every time). It’s something we might watch in our boys, and figure out how to bring in some of these influences if they aren’t school sport types of kids or joiners in general.
Perhaps we’ve also confused the idea of hunting with the role of being the hunter.
The hunting might have to happen due to nature, but the hunter can choose the best time and place for him, can learn from his mistakes, and can work through the possible scenarios to be most effective each time – the hunter can adjust. Too often, our ‘hunting’ is after what’s easily available, such as the generic j-o-b, instead of pursuing something more filling or fulfilling to us.
One of the stereotypes of men is that we are our jobs. We over-identify with our work, and our self-worth depends on how fulfilling it is, either financially or emotionally. And if we are indeed ‘hunting’, and we’re always bringing home the smallest of the catches, barely enough to go around, then it’s got to affect how we see ourselves. Is it possible to instill some different values in our young men, such as the idea that we aren’t what we earn, and we aren’t the things we own, and that it’s important for a man to figure out what he’s really ‘born’ to do, not just follow along?
Guiding these little explorers is a father’s work.
We ought to be giving them the benefit of learning from our mistakes, not just our victories. We do them a disservice when we gloss over our mistakes and merely instruct them. For a boy to see his father truly, in relation to the world and to other men, not just an infallible person that we put on a pedestal, is to help him to imagine his manliness, and his true nature.
Guiding them is also a community’s work.
I think that another biological manliness trait we don’t see much of is the act of voluntarily gathering together to share ideas and knowledge, in participatory ‘councils’ and meetings. We gather for things which are expected of us, but not often for things which excite us or move us, and that others could learn (or teach) from. Learning from the ones who have gone before us, and communicating those experiences to others, is a part of the education process. We might think about bringing our boys with us into groups of men – our peer groups, and those older than us, simply to observe and learn.
Here’s my big thought: If we took these biological manliness traits and directed and inspired them in our boys, wouldn’t they be the modern supermen?
The liberated man, the evolved man, the primal man, and the modern man, existing and working in synergy within this new superhero – a giant among men, able to feel and think and act without hesitation because he’s at peace with all the parts of himself – father, warrior, and sage.
So tell me, what do you think are the ‘hardwired’ parts of maleness or masculinity? How can we better accept and nurture those in our boys?
[And please forgive the amateur anthropology/sociology/gender observations and generalizations.]
Oh yeah –> If you like this, you might want to also follow me on Twitter.
Image: malias at Flickr