XIV - Much Better - Toxic Masculinity - Privilege - I Melt With You
– Toxic Masculinity – Privilege – I Melt With You
Friends Ron, Jonathan, Richard and Tim, have known each other since college. They reunite in Big Sur to celebrate Tim's 44th birthday. Each of them enjoy some degree of professional success but are unfulfilled with their lives. Ron is a stockbroker, but is currently facing indictment from the SEC for embezzlement. Jonathan runs a medical practice, but all of his patients are wealthy drug addicts, he and his wife are divorced, and their young son identifies more with the stepfather. Richard is a published author, but has only written one book and now teaches high school English. Tim, openly bisexual, was in a happy relationship with a man, until accidentally causing a fatal car crash five years ago that took the lives of his boyfriend and his sister.
Drugs, drugs and more drugs and plenty of alcohol – unite the men – along with memories of their youthful indiscretions. Sexism and elitism – shines among these self-centered men. They speak of how they’ve made poor choices, yet strangely it is so unfair that they face accountability for some of their actions.
One man has fleeced many clients of their money, but he is so, so proud that he’s never been unfaithful to his wife. Another has had sex with many women, but he doesn’t want to settle down with any one woman.
What does it mean to be male – as 2023 is about to begin? What does it mean to be cis-gendered and upper-middle class? What does it mean to be white?
An important part of all of this for me – is my relationships, both with the mostly younger men who have some significant things in common with me, as well as the ties that I build with others – locally and beyond – who have much different life experiences!
As one who no longer drinks alcohol, nor consumes the mighty 420; who has never been an aficionado of tobacco, and is mildly lactose intolerant, I’m pinned in and out of some corners.
I can see that I’m far, far from “better” than others. I recognize that significant addictions, and/or seeking bonding and connection through them, usually seems suspect.
The four men in the movie are best of friends, but what does that mean? While they speak with admiration of each other, and take potshots, they don’t probe deeply into their respective souls. Part of significantly caring about others is to ask questions – substantive questions, helping all of us to grow.
Being a moderately privileged man has benefits that unfortunately commonly trap men like me! We can walk and even run into many different spaces, without facing resistance, or questioning. We can minimize and ignore the pushback. Much of the time we can easily avoid thinking about both the impacts of our actions on others, as well as their feelings.
Seemingly easily we can show that we are relevant, and that we care. What do we need to do – to seem “good” to others?
We need to work and make a decent living. We need to be present at meaningful events in the lives of our partners, children, parents, and close friends. We need to show respect for others, avoiding unnecessary conflicts, not being a bully, not being threatening. Our “goodness” is often shown most by our absence of having visible weaknesses, and not rocking the boat.
In their heads, these men tried to be “good”. They stretched boundaries. They strayed in ways that interfered with their well-being. Their downfalls resulted significantly from these types of things.
Growing up we are often taught many horrible lessons! We learn to do, not to be. We learn to be independent, and through that emotionally alone. Our worlds can be very competitive, where we fear losing. Even when we seemingly are successful, there is always a “step” above us, a further challenge to pursue. Thrills, foolish risks, and pushing boundaries to show a supposed lack of fear, are sometimes necessary to show our buddies we are manly.
If we are an athlete, we need to standout as an individual, being the top batter, pitcher, shooter, runner or whatever. Our individual statistics define our identity. Teamwork often is less important.
Being visibly successful is very important! Our girlfriends need to have the perfect curves and thinness. When we are gay, our boyfriends, or the man we are with in the moment, needs to be young and cute, or buff, or visibly supporting our youthfulness.
There are other paths we can take in our lives! We can be on a path towards comfortable and meaningful masculinity, rather than toxicity. We can work on our childhood traumas, recognizing the importance of our personal growth. We can embrace becoming the men we respect as equals.
Connecting deeply with other men is important, regardless of our sexuality. Listening and really hearing others is important. Sharing in caring ways is important. As we grow positively, we can explore more deeply the worlds beyond our immediate reality.
How do many women find community in ways that differ from what we are used to? How is it that they emotionally caretake for their friends, families, co-workers, and more?
We can choose to dig deeply into our emotional journeys! I am white, upper-middle class, cis-het, Jewish, autistic, and more.
Growing up autistic, I also had insecure bonding issues with my parents, which further isolated me emotionally. My family valued and embraced being “different” – which in a few ways was incredibly wonderful. I learned to be anti-racist, and to care about the rights of others. I learned to think for myself, and not feel pushed to agree with others.
I also learned that life was nearly only learning and intellect; totally being in my head. My emotional journey was stunted, particularly diverting me from working on important personal issues.
In my late 60’s, I finally started to learn to love, and care for myself. This allowed me to begin to love and care for others, and to connect much more deeply with their journeys in life. This has helped me avoid serious recurrences of depression, which had ruled over much of my life previously.
Doing mutual aid work – significantly different from “charity” – has helped me blend my personal life with my political – activist core. I can see the importance of using my personal work, in building my journey beyond – my immediate self.
Reproductive justice is a core concern of mine! My direct, personal ties to abortion and some of the other major parts of reproductive justice is limited. I see how reproductive justice gets at the importance of (for example) Black, female, queer identified, working class women, and their issues.
I know virtually nothing of a world where teenage girls might not go to school, because they can’t afford disposable and/or reusable menstrual products. Part of my self-education is learning about these types of issues.
One trap, I am seriously trying to avoid! It is easy to isolate myself in seeing “one answer” to the issues that I face. I can say, for example, that “the personal work is the important thing”. I could also (instead) say: “the political work is the critical thing”, when the intersection of both of them is most important!
I can also say that “racism” or “sexism” or “the patriarchy” – are where ALL my focus must be. While perhaps, depending upon how it is defined, “the patriarchy” may encompass much of this, climate change isn’t directly related to the patriarchy. I can and do try to support the work of others on climate change, while focusing most directly on anti-racism and reproductive justice work with white men.
We can do a lot more towards building a socially and economically just world! I find meaning in this work. I hope to reach others and work with them supporting the efforts that so many others are already doing! Thanks!