Guy Talk: The Will to Change 6: Jobs and Identity

No man who does not actively choose to work to change and challenge patriarchy escapes its impact. The most passive, kind, quiet man can come to violence if the seeds of patriarchal thinking have been embedded in his psyche. Much of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde behavior women describe in men who are alternately caring, then abusive has its root in this fundamental allegiance to patriarchal thinking. Indoctrination into the mind-set begun in childhood includes a psychological initiation that requires boys to accept that their willingness to do violent acts makes them patriarchal men.

hooks, bell. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love (p. 59). Atria Books. Kindle Edition.

Hello and welcome to the sixth in a series.  Here, we’ll be going through Bell Hooks’ book “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love” as a way of prompting conversations about maleness.  I don’t want to call this a book club because I’m going to be writing for people who haven’t read the book.  But if you want to read along, you are certainly welcome to do so. As always, this is a trans-inclusive space and EVERYONE is welcome to comment. Also, don’t feel like you have to stick to this topic.

After talking for a bit about the female fear of men’s emotions, which we talked about in the very first part of this series, Bell Hooks expands this truth to include that men are also afraid of other men.  She didn’t start there, she says, because she didn’t know it for a long time. But men want the love of other men just as fervently as women do.  Boys want the love of their father.  And generation after generation, boys grow up without a model of how to express love and therefore are at a loss on how to break the cycle.  

To create loving men, she says, we must figure out how to value males without basing it on patriarchal ideas of what makes males valuable.  She says “In patriarchal culture males are not allowed simply to be who they are and to glory in their unique identity.  Their value is always determined by what they do.”  I am reminded of a research paper I read in grad school about suicide among Nunavut men.  Those who killed themselves did not seem more depressed or even more unhappy than other populations.  They simply did not feel like they contributed enough and believed that men should not take up space if they couldn’t find something useful to do.  

This obsession with productivity is men’s bane and their enabler.  They can be as distant and emotionally unreachable — or as violent and abusive — as they want, as long as they bring home the bacon.  And many men feel this disconnect between what society wants of them and who they want to be.  A job is not an identity.  A paycheck is not a character.  Outward adulation does not give one permission to be oneself.  Nor does rejection.  Both straightjacket.  

“So, Bob, what do you do?”

It’s a refrain we hear all the time.  The most frequent question a man gets asked is what does he do “for a living.”  And by living, or course, we mean profession.  Life is work.  Work is life.  A man who cannot provide for his family or at least himself is no man at all.  A woman can find fulfillment outside of a traditional job if she can find a way to financially manage, but a man must work no matter if economically he needs to or not.  To not have a career is to waste your life, no matter what your circumstances.   And if you have a career and provide monetarily for your family, that is considered an acceptable excuse to not support them emotionally.  Daddy’s tired.

Women who work come home and then do a shift managing the house and emotional wellbeing of her their families.  This is because a woman’s worth is still defined by the domestic while a man’s is not.  Even though men participate more than they used to in domestic work, many still think of it in terms of being a favor to their wives and might even use doing the dishes or vacuuming the living room as yet another excuse to avoid emotional work.  

Some men like this arrangement because they’d rather be overworked and tired than face the fears, wounds, and anxieties that their patriarchal upbringing never taught them to deal with.   

Do you have a hard time separating what you have (or haven’t accomplished) from your self-worth?  Is your job your life or have you seen that in others?  And when you encourage the young men in your life, do you ever fall into the trap of basing their worth in achievements rather than in being themselves?