Perspectives

How Performative Masculinity leads Men to Soul-Death

19 Feb, 2021

The masculine narrative is destroying us.

Most men adopt the traditional masculine narrative that’s been around since the beginning of human evolution. That is to protect, provide and take on the masculine role that society has constructed. There’s a crisis in the exploration of identity that most men get wrong—a twin tension that we cannot avoid when we transition into the adult world. This twin tension is a choice between being our perfectly authentic self or conforming to what the culture finds acceptable. Spoiler alert: Neither one is possible, or healthy.

We disguise to fit in.

By choosing to perfectly blend in and meet societal standards, we become a cog in the system – and our souls start to die. We lose touch with our depth and authenticity. Over time, we realize that we’re not being true to ourselves. As men, we perform the masculine “act” and continue to conform so that we can be a socially viable agent in the system. What this means is that we know we are swimming with the sharks, and if we ever let on that maybe we aren’t a shark – or question the shark tank to begin with – we’ll be eaten alive before we can get out. We have to look, sound and act tough. Tough is reliable. Reliable is safe. Safe is good. And good gets paid. So we act at being “good.”

We all learned in high school that the athletic guys were the most “masculine-oriented,” the ones who got the girls. If you ride a particular bike, play a particular sport, drive a particular car, then you are considered a respectable “man”.

For most men, if we simply wear this standard male attire we can slip into this narrative very easily. We don’t feel the need to question the narrative because it feels right, easy and straightforward. Why should we be the ones to stick out our neck and be “authentic?” We have a family to protect and money to make, and it’s so much easier to go along with what has been established – the style, the words, the posture – so we can keep any questioning at arms length.

This is how men stay safe. By looking alike. But at what cost? And to whom?

We assume that there is no cost to our spirit. If we’re even aware of there being a choice, we choose to do this for the reasons mentioned above. We get up and wear what won’t arouse suspicion in others. We put on what will make us unquestionable. But think of what we leave out when we do this! We disregard genuine personal style, personal choice, personal expression, personal exploration, all in the name of conformity and safety. We do what we’ve been told to do, subtly, by learning very carefully what kinds of “masculinities” are accepted, rewarded and repeated – and what kinds aren’t. Maybe there are other kinds of masculinity that don’t look very masculine.

This paradigm of capitalism that is propped up by the predictable performance of masculinity is a lot like working a dead end job that only benefits the company. The company is western capitalism, and it cares not one iota for our individual souls. In complying without questioning, we become locked out of our genuine upward creative potential. We become cogs in the company machine – for what?

Eventually, this leads to soul-death.

One of the reasons so many men are crippled with anxiety is because we’ve been doubling down on masculine performance, rational thinking and control. Let’s talk about what this means.

Middle-aged white men have the highest suicide rate among all population segments, bar none. The paradigm of masculine performance that I’m referring to is largely invented and propagated by this same segment of people. Coincidence?

Could it be, as I suggest above, there is a cost to this performance? And why do I call it a performance?

Remember the tension I spoke about earlier? A tension between being perfectly authentic (not sustainable) and being perfectly conformist (leads to soul death). The thing to recognize is that it’s not about one winning over the other – burning down our lives so we can finally be “free” and live how we always dreamed. It’s about having a healthy, even uncomfortable, tension between these two poles. Being as authentic as possible while staying in contact with what is acceptable. And thereby expanding what is acceptable. This is called leadership.

For men – far more than any other segment of the population – this is a task at which we are failing desperately. And paying a tremendous cost in terms of mental health, depression. What is depression if not the opposite of vitality? Men don’t feel vital when they don’t feel they are really engaging with life. Conforming makes us small and sad. Engaging with the creative tension makes us alive, interested and relevant.

How to take your power back.

Do the little things

Try and think of ways you can embody – or begin to embody – your most authentic self. Sometimes, in the absence of knowing who we are, it can help to explore who we are not, but perhaps secretly wish we were.

Try wearing that strange shirt that you love but never pull out of the closet. Or take on a new role in a group or even your family. A role you have been afraid to take on because of the agreements you have unconsciously decided to uphold. Enroll in an exotic dance class (Even just a drop in), without trying to use it as a way to meet potential intimate partners. Learn a new instrument. Eat at a restaurant of an ethnicity that is strange to you, even repulsive.

See what you learn about yourself by physically embodying the experience of interacting with what you have always felt is “wrong,” “strange” or “different.”

Face your psychic social and monetary fears

Think of ways you can confront the thing that scares you the most. In a social setting that may mean being yourself in a large group of people. Financially, it could mean not holding on to a job that kills your soul. Perhaps inquiring into a career that allows you to put your own heart and expression into it, even if it means earning less. Physically, it could mean hiking a larger mountain than you’ve ever attempted, or going on a longer run. Or jumping into freezing cold water.

Push your own edge. And most important: have no judgement about where that edge is. Remember, no one’s watching. This is for your own exploration, your own discovery of relationship to discomfort, difference and strange.

Tap into your intuition

One of the things that has been trained out of us all, is body awareness and intuition. These two aspects are the key to masculine growth. Our society has convinced us that this inner guide and mind-body connection is a feminine attribute. But it is precisely our inner feminine that gives us the ability to gather, collaborate and decide what the right next move is for us. This is also one of the antidotes to anxiety. We use the listening body to help us make unconventional choices.

Allow your thoughts to be heard and embrace your intuition so that you can move with purpose and live authentically. The most important thing about this one is to recognize intuition as a muscle that you grow over time, by working it. And you work it by listening and then taking a chance on trusting what it says. You’ll never grow your intuition if you second-guess it and run it through your rational brain every time. That’s not intuition. That’s doubt and fear. Learn to trust your intuition– slowly, over time.

See how these work for you. I’d love to hear your failures and successes! Hit me up @pietervanwinkle1.