What is masculinity? How do you define it? For yourself, let alone for us as a culture. It’s a topic increasingly receiving examination. From me and others.
In my Humanitou conversations — an ongoing social art project of humanness and creativity — I ask men for their thoughts on masculinity. What it means to them, where we are, where we’re moving with it.
There are “men coaches” and podcasters out there carving up lanes and laying down boundaries on what counts, trying to find “balance between being pro-bros and macho jerks, and yoga mats and new age wimps … to be our best selves.”
I appreciate the intention, the courage of vulnerability. It’s not easy to be a man talking about being a man in a way that isn’t merely flex and growl, and feel we’ll be accepted. Yet the approach I just quoted from one of those other vulnerable, publicly trying men still is confusing.
All these categories of definitions, ideas, looks, walks and talks of manhood, manliness, masculinity. “Yoga mats”? I guess that excludes me. This Sunday I will facilitate a workshop at Root Center for Yoga & Sacred Studies titled, “Exploring Modern Masculinity and Yoga.”
The boundaries, well-intentioned as I hope they are, are unnecessary.
Yoga is inclusive. It is about experiencing the highest Self, inherently and always. No gender identity needed. Yoga does not require or encourage separating ourselves. It does not support redrawing cultural boundaries to decide who qualifies as male/masculine and who does not count.
Yoga is a practice of connection and strength, internal strength, strength of spirit. All else extends from that. Yoga offers empowerment. It offers the ultimate balance of Self, within and with out (externally).
Masculinity is a front. It’s a concept, a product. It’s the inflated, masked, armored hope of being accepted. It’s manifestation of fear. Maybe it’s a question we don’t authentically know how to answer for ourselves at this stage in the conversation, and don’t even need to. Yet the inquiry and the conversation are essential just the same.
Masculinity (or femininity) is not the purpose of yoga. It’s not the question or the answer. Yoga is the balance of masculine and feminine, both being within each of us. Yoga is infinite. Our identification with these boundaries, labels and expectations limits the power of yoga, the power of ourselves.
To draw boundaries of masculine and feminine, and to further divide masculinity into narrow lanes of comparison and judgement, only entrenches the toxicity of separateness.Toxic masculinity, as seems to be the phrase of the times, negatively affects men as much as it does women.
Strong identification with the concept of masculinity, and calls to rediscover our proof of manhood in society, is but one more method of reducing ourselves. It attempts to soothe fears by planting flags of belonging and attempting to ward off fears of rejection for oneself.
It is focused on standing our ground, as if that ground of Self has been stolen or somehow walked on. Barking our identity of masculinity is done in fear over claiming one’s authenticity, expecting instead that it won’t be accepted others, especially other men.
And that is not the case. The terrain we work with when aiming to be our “best selves” always is within. It cannot be infringed upon when the practice is focused within, focused on truth of Self, of true balance — yoga.
Who Am I, Really?
Maybe the effort of trying to answer “What is masculinity?” is a misguided one. Maybe the more pressing questions of Self and authenticity begin with, “Who am I?”
Gender identification is irrelevant to the pursuit of understanding who we authentically are. I am who I am.
Masculinity is a front. It’s a concept, a product. It’s the inflated, masked, armored hope of being accepted. It’s manifestation of fear. Maybe it’s a question we don’t authentically know how to answer at this stage in the conversation, and don’t even need to. Yet the inquiry and the conversation are essential just the same.
It’s possible that all answers we try to give, the ones we feel will be accepted and safe, are seated in stories and images of warriors and cowboys and athletes, through beers and bro-hugs.
The question isn’t, “Am I a man or am I man enough?” The answer to that is a resounding “Of course!” It is more like, “What man am I?” as a question along the way to answer the question, “Who am I, really?”
That is the question of yoga? Yoga is about self-understanding. It’s about being our best Selves.