On Being a Man
Guest post by Bruce Switzer
My own visceral reframing of what it means to be a man and why the empowerment of girls and women is critical began many years ago. A friend (another man) suggested that the key to moral and ethical power was to embrace my feminine side. He was referencing the idea of Yin and Yang.
He asked me to imagine my mind as a pool of water. He suggested that when I was in a male mode the water would be choppy. Any sunlight hitting the water’s surface would be diffracted in thousands of different directions. However, if my mind was still, the reflection would be clear. He was suggesting that power and accuracy were first dependent on stillness or perfect reflection, followed by action.
After thirty years of testing this hypothesis it has remained one of my greatest teachers. It has taught me to listen until clarity emerges. It has also blurred gender roles for me significantly.
In 2000 I attended a weeklong Quilt Canada event at the University of Toronto. Four hundred women with an average age over 70 and myself attended. After one of the early workshops I entered an empty men’s room, looked at myself in the mirror and asked, “Am I having an identity crisis?” The following day I entered again and honestly answered my own question. “No . . . you are just having fun”. Is quilting a women’s thing, or just carpentry without sawdust? It can take a bit of imagination to get started down that road.
I have continually pursued a greater understanding of gender, particularly the discrepancies in gender rights. I now come to accept that respect for and the application of gender equality is a fundamental measure of a man’s character.
When reviewing data on human rights issues, whether gender, education, repatriation or health, with all human rights indicators, women and children consistently fall to the bottom of the charts. Is this then representative of what we as men consider as being successful . . . that we put ourselves first? I have come to accept that these indicators are highlighting our failure, that there is a need for a concerted effort by men to change the present status quo.
The challenge for men is redefining what it means to be a man independent of their current cultural norms and privileges. The nature of the shift demands that they take accountability for the disparity and champion more equitable social reforms. The psychological impact of this change might be similar to you stepping away from a religion you have accepted and supported your entire life, yet realize that it is counter intuitive to balanced personal and social growth. It is hard, but doable.
I live in a just society where women’s rights are evolving faster than any other time in our history. I am grateful for the strides we have made together, and wrestle with the distance still yet to go. I think it is important to consider that all Human Rights are a process and not a destination.
Last week I saw a picture of a dog with a sign around it’s neck that said, “I dream of a world where my owner is not afraid to take me for a walk at night”. Even in our societies, our friends, daughters, my wife and mother do not enjoy the same rights and freedoms as I do. This must become unacceptable to all men as a cultural norm. Much of the change I suspect will rely on instilling the importance of empathy as a fundamental part of a man’s strength.
I continually ask myself, how can I encourage more men to understand that the current state of Women’s Rights is a direct reflection of our humanity as men or lack of it? How can I articulate to men that women’s advancement is in large part dependent on our (men’s) active recognition and support? How can I address the present inequality of gender rights in a way that illuminates the positive consequences of equality for all?
Culture, political ideology and religions are likely the biggest barriers to swift change. I will simplify by grouping them all under the broader heading of Culture(s). It is our cultures that men slide behind, relying on prepackaged morals ethics to deflect away individual responsibility and action. In short abdicating personal responsibility and accountability for the state of women’s rights.
For the last couple of years I have taken every opportunity to discuss the disparity between men and women when speaking with other men. Many agree with me, yet I know the conversation will often be lost in a sea of social data. For a few though it sparks recognition and they begin their own initiative to support and promote the rights of women and girls.
This empowerment leads us to independent critical thinking and mastery over our own lives.
I am a big supporter of mentoring and leadership training for girls and young women. Seeing any individual make decisions based on self-determined objectives and values gives me hope for our futures. Leadership training for boys is as important and for the same reasons. The present disparity between genders has made me an advocate for women and girls Rights. As a man it feels like the wisest course of action.