Recently Ross Reynolds of KUOW’s the Conversation (who will interview me August 12th about my memoir/love story Clearly Now, the Rain) did a brilliant interview/call-in show about “what it means to be a man.”  Lately I’ve also been reading this radical, raw and thoughtful blog called The Good Men Project.  So I was just very slightly more prepared than I ordinarily would have been when my Treating Internalized Oppression instructor told me I absolutely had to work on my internalized male oppression. 


Now.  What this means in the context of Jerry Saltzman’s class is that you write up everything you can remember or have ever felt about being a man—every stumble, every shame, every sorrow—you send it to the other twenty people in the class and then you go face to face with Jerry for a counseling session in front of said class.  He is as consistent and vehement in his warnings about how emotionally traumatizing the course will be as he is laudatory of those of us “courageous” enough to go through it.  I get to go first. 


Like many people, I’d imagine, I have been trying to cognitively get a handle on what exactly “internalized male oppression” looks, feels or sounds like.  According to the model in the course, every identity comes pre-stocked with oppression.  The price of identity is, in fact, oppression.  Jerry talks a lot about “contradictions” as psychotherapeutic interventions.  I can say this much: simply the notion that a guy like me could be considered oppressed (in addition to oppressive) is a wallop of a fucking contradiction to every analysis I’ve ever rendered. 


But in preparing my outline for the class, some things did start to shift.  I realized that my view of how to properly be a man is quite dialectic—or to be more honest, contradictory.  There is so much about “traditional” maleness and male roles that I’m not ready to abdicate, and I don’t mean about privilege, I mean about responsibility.  I know that there are feminists out there (still) who would probably prefer you not hold a beefy door open for them, much less posse up with your boys to beat down a rapist (that was a long time ago).  I’m not so naïve—especially at this point in my pursuit of a psych degree—to fail to realize that rape is about power and only manifests as violence and so using violence to disempower a rapist is probably only maintaining homeostasis in the bigger sick system, etc.  But still.  It’s better than doing nothing—turning a blind eye, actively condoning, shrugging.  And I still think that when I see a man strike or bully a woman or a child, it’s my responsibility as another man to do something.  But I know both men and women who would make the argument eloquently that my notions are chauvinist and do a disservice to the cultivation of a true gender equality.  I know men who despite employing what I might feel are inappropriate ponytails and limp handshakes, probably are keeping it more real in terms of true gender equality than I am.  Maybe part of gender equality means letting go of trappings of maleness and sliding somewhat toward the center of what many people now consider a spectrum. 


What do you think?  What does it mean to be a man?  Or a feminist man?  What are not willing to let go of?  


  1. I combine the noble elements of past male role models with those of the modern realm. I don’t lose sleep over being a lousy handyman, but I take pride in accepting blame for my actions. I chuckle over the fact that I struggle to change a flat tire, but I beam with pride over teaching my kids how to shake off boo-boos when playing sports.

    Masculinity is changing, and I suspect if we grab the best from both worlds we’ll be better off for it.

    That said, I do hope I’ll become a better handyman over time …

  2. Good questions E. I struggle with this consistently. Though he is considered to be somewhat outdated and chauvinist, Robert Bly’s writings on this subject resonate with me.

    I open car doors on dates. When I see a man threatening or inappropriately touching a woman in public, I intervene in ways I never would if it were another man (who I didn’t know) being threatened. I know that makes me a hypocrite. Women have identities of femininity that are healthy and respected (even revered) in the more progressive communities but stereotypical masculine traits are often demonized in these same communities. So where does that leave progressive men? Are we supposed to be feminine in every way but the physiological? I find that depressing, confusing, and destructive.

    On a side note, I am also a shitty handyman.

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