Innovative Masculinity

November 19, 2018

My biggest fears lie in how uncomfortable I am with not knowing enough. As I get older, I become slightly more comfortable with not knowing everything. The more that you navigate the world, the more that you learn to question things.

But the brain doesn’t like uncertainty. It always goes back to the reference point of what was successful in the past. In light of recent events in the world, I think, as men, we must look at, not only what patterns we have used before which may be outdated, but also how we define success.

As a health expert, rightly or wrongly, I feel a desire to reveal some ideas to the larger community. With regards to what is happening I feel reluctantly compelled to say something from my own first hand experience, and also from my observations. As someone who has the privilege to hear conversations among men, and also in groups, which are predominantly women, I feel my position may be somewhat unique.

Yet as a forty-something heterosexual man, I am also just asking myself: How do I make sense of this environment as a man in 2018?

As a disclaimer, I’ve never been in any position of privilege or ease, and maybe my thought processes and behaviour would have been different if that were the case. I hope and pray that it wouldn’t be, but there is always the possibility.

Growing up in a situation which was survival challenged, it was hard to expand the bandwidth or consider alternative ideas or behaviours beyond observed social and cultural conditions. There is no specific ritual that transitions boys from adolescence into manhood, and often what we lack in resources in that adolescent time becomes a driving force in adulthood, as we continue to try to prove our worth and whatever is our standard of masculinity.

Men are generally assigned status—at least amongst ourselves—based on three basic categories: financial success, sexual prowess, and physicality or athleticism. The dominant male institution is designed to prove your toughness rather than to find your own voice and be resolute in your own convictions.

Further to these limiting beliefs is a disturbing trend in which we seem to be looking to politicians and celebrities as some sort of barometer for normal, acceptable behaviour—whether scrutinizing or idolizing what we see.

While I don’t think we need to expand upon why to not use politicians as our moral compass, there are some media portrayals of men that are quite standard, and can shape both boys’ and men’s perspective on what is expected or tolerated.

There tends to be four archetypes of men presented through the media:

  1. The slightly charming buffoon.
    • The one with the perfect wife and the imperfect physique who hangs out with his friends, watches sports, drinks beer, works an average job, and largely gets by on his humor.
    • Envision Ray Barone, or any other sit-com husband in this role.
  2. The hyper-stoic man.
    • The rigid and somewhat angry man, sometimes formerly of the military.
    • Whether his opinions and short-temper are a source of humor or discord depends on the context but, his lack of emotionality is highlighted—as Don Draper in Mad Men.
  3. The dysfunctional hyper-productive man.
    • He may be a workaholic in any field, or maybe a Dr. House-type man whose genius allows whatever are his other character ‘flaws’ to be overlooked.
    • Regardless, his commitment and accomplishments in his work may seem somehow admirable, even when his treatment of people is questionable.
  4. The glorified heroic figure.
    • The one of perfect physique who selflessly risks his life and predictably saves the day—and sometimes a woman in distress while he is at it.
    • He may be somewhat tortured in his own right, behind whatever is his ‘mask’, but he always comes out on the right side of the moral dilemma.

All these archetypes fit a certain stereotype of men—in their masculine portrayal and in their relationship with women. And, as we all relate or aspire to some version of them, these can become ‘identity traps’ for the accepted, or even desired, notion of what men ‘should’ be.

We must be aware of our own identity traps. In order for psychological transformation to take place, we have to be aware of our masculinity threats. I have heard it said that manhood is a hard thing to learn, yet is quite easy to lose. We tend to devolve whenever rejection occurs, as threat is perceived to the fragility of that identity.

One part of the discussion regarding Brett Kavanaugh involves how men are conditioned to impress other men, and this establishment of hierarchy can, at times, derail who we really are. Where such conditioning in the brain and the environment intersect, we establish what is normalized behaviour; yet we still must have accountability and courage to know what is right and wrong.

While I think most men can recall instances where we may have been guilty of some stupidity or indiscretions, I believe the true expression of masculinity is to be as realistic and pragmatic as you can be in facing the challenges—both in responding and evolving. For that change to occur, it is time for us to stop directing our focus just on categorizing what we perceive to be a discretion towards women, rather seeing it from a larger perspective.

We have the opportunity to innovate the modern version of masculinity in a way that is healthier for everyone. These times are sparking us to do so and, rather than see it as what we are losing, we can focus on what we can create. From that spark we can use the strengths of the masculine in developing clear steps and strategies to start something great.

I can’t say as I even know how to accurately define feminism, but I think we can learn from women in how they are more likely to collaborate, innovate, and adapt versus the more traditional tendency of men to simply walk away or close off.

Innovation requires encouragement, collaboration, and communication to keep that spark going. Genetically and epigenetically we have this adaptive potential to change. As men, we can be better with expressing our needs and our fears with an emotional nuance which may resonate better with women and, ultimately, allow us to navigate our own internal and external environments more effectively.

Perhaps the boldest thing we can do right now is to start the conversation.

Dr. Tabrizi is a chiropractor, osteopath and a passionate member of both the local and scientific community, whose goal is to teach that the pursuit of optimal health and wellness is much more than being symptom-free. His practice is rooted in the philosophy of treating the person rather than just treating the illness or ailment. As a result of his interdisciplinary training, Dr. Tabrizi has developed a neuroscience-based therapeutic education approach to treating his patients, focusing on healing illness from a wider perspective, placing equal responsibility on patient as well as practitioner. Dr. Tabrizi aims to educate his patients and provide them with the tools and framework needed to integrate pain management and healthy living into the fabric of their everyday lives.

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