We think of masculinity as being strong. Think John Wayne or James Bond. Tough. Invulnerable. They epitomized the idea of men as fearless, strong-willed, in control, and unflappable. Masculinity is often identified with strength, courage, independence, leadership, power, and assertiveness. But built into that way of being is fragile masculinity.
How we understand masculinity is changing. This is partly due to both women and men stepping out of more stereotypical roles and embodying qualities that are considered both feminine and masculine.
Bill and Georgette
I once worked with a couple that was struggling in their relationship. When Bill made decisions unilaterally, without asking Georgette what she thought or wanted, she was pissed. Rightly so.
The work this couple needed to do involved having Bill being able to get more vulnerable and consider his partner’s needs more, rather than just deciding for the both of them without a conversation. In a sense, he needed to co-navigate within the relationship rather than “rule the roost.”
Bill began to delve into his feelings, his wounds, the areas of his childhood where he had been used emotionally and hadn’t been validated. “Go take care of your brother,” didn’t leave him any room to have his own feelings as a child. So, he pushed them away. Buried them. But they leaked out, often in a toxic way.
Essentially, Bill learned to tough it out, get rid of his feelings, and BE A MAN. This meant he wasn’t open to input from his partner. He made decisions and then told Georgette about them. She hated that.
Bill began to learn about the more nuanced and vulnerable parts of himself. He began to learn to express that part of himself. He began to be able to say when he felt sad or afraid. He began to understand some of his patterns. He learned how he pulled away when he either didn’t know what he was feeling or how to talk about what he was feeling. How he pulled away when he felt vulnerable.
Over time, Bill developed a relationship with the part of him that sometimes felt insecure.
As he became more facile with his feelings, wounds, and vulnerabilities, his partner Georgette became alarmed. She didn’t want a ‘weak’ man. She liked the part of him the was invincible and in charge. Even though she hated when he did just that and expected her to accept his authority.
She was in a quandary. She wanted Bill to be two things at once. Vulnerable and invulnerable. Georgette had her own work to do about how she identified masculinity. She needed to learn to see the strength of vulnerability. She needed to look at the double bind she was putting him in. Let me in, but don’t be vulnerable.
This isn’t possible. We can’t take charge and discuss our deep needs and feelings collaboratively at the same time.
What is “fragile masculinity?”
- It is rigid.
- It relies on old concepts of masculinity (John Wayne, James Bond).
- It is afraid of vulnerability.
- It tends to fix instead of listening and provide emotional support.
- It may be uncomfortable with interdependence.
Both men and women know what dependence is. It can scare us. The person who NEEDS us. Yet, it is part of being human. We all have feelings of dependence at times. The need to not be abandoned. Feeling that we need to be loved.
And we also know what independence is. We’ve grown up, launched, and started our own life. We may be starting a company or have a career with a lot of responsibility that we need to be on top of.
Independence is probably overvalued in our culture. It almost indicates that we don’t need anyone or anything. That we don’t need support. While it is a developmental milestone to go off on our own, independence is a myth. We relate with a web of others on whose support we need.
But what is interdependence?
Interdependence is different than independence and dependence. It means we balance out self needs with the needs of the other person we are relating with. We share emotionally while we also have a solid sense of self.
Developing interdependence in a fluid way that allows for emotional sharing and vulnerability in a relationship is an aspect of the new masculinity. We become a team. We can lean on each other. We learn to co-regulate each other (meaning we help each other regulate our emotions together.)
Diversity is, of course, the core of what it means to be human. All of us will always be better at or more developed in some things than others. Different people (women, men, trans and other gender and sexual identities) embody different qualities. Someone might naturally be more of a leader or another more of a poet, or an entertainer. That is part of what makes us each unique. When we are fluid and balanced in our masculine and feminine qualities, it is easier for us to help each other using our strengths.
We’ll be looking at issues with femininity and the new femininity in the future.
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If Jealousy is an issue in your relationship, try this article, The Jealous Relationship & What to Do.
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