THE BLOG
07/17/2014 11:22 am ET Updated Sep 16, 2014

The Problem With Masculinity

paolomartinezphotography via Getty Images

The other day, I was at the grocery store with my 2-year-old son.

He was sitting in the shopping cart as I pushed him through the prepared foods section. It was lunchtime, and the place was really starting to fill up.

As my eyes scanned the steaming hot trays of vegetables, rice, meat and lasagna, a man, late 30s, started walking by. He was also pushing a shopping cart full of groceries. And there was a little boy, maybe 4, sitting in there, crying softly to himself.

Even though the boy was causing no major disturbance (much less a minor one), the father was visibly flustered. He gave his son a cold, hard look:

"Hey, no crying," he muttered. "What did I tell you about that? You're not supposed to cry."

But the boy sobbed on, his pink eyes spilling tears.

The father let out an exhausted sigh. Then he looked over at my 2-year-old. Pointed at him.

"Look at that boy over there. He's not crying. He knows you're not supposed to cry."

I've heard this nonsense far too many times. Boys being told that they shouldn't express themselves. Being told, even, that it's something only girls do. What is this mad, widespread delusion?

Simple: It's the delusion that masculinity is king. That aggression, toughness and competition trump compassion, expression and collaboration.

We've short-changed our boys and men by defining masculinity in such a way as to constrict the complex essence of their humanity.

Carl Jung believed that everybody came into the world with both masculine and feminine qualities. Men are the physical embodiment of the masculine, yet they all have the feminine archetype within them, known as the anima. And women are the physical embodiment of the feminine, yet they have the masculine archetype within them, called the animus. With these two forces at play within us, we all have the potential to be happy, balanced, and whole in our time on Earth.

Criticizing masculinity doesn't mean pitting males against females. Masculinity is not exclusive to men. We all carry its qualities.

Moreover, masculinity is not the problem in and of itself. Masculinity -- usually associated with competition, logic, rational thinking, boldness, action and strength -- is only a problem when it's operating in excess.

And the excessive masculine bravado in our culture will only get worse -- until we quit shaming the feminine.

Feminine qualities include intuition, emotional expression, receptiveness, quietness, gentleness, communication and nurturing. In general, these qualities are perceived as weaker than their masculine counterparts.

We see it everywhere we look. We're sold some fiction about the inferiority of femininity on every street corner. We buy into the myth that the superior leaders are the ones who are tough and uncompromising, not the ones who use gentleness and compassion to light the way.

We wage wars -- in our homes, on our streets, under our nations' flags -- putting on a steely front in an attempt to further some cause or another, when peace and collaboration would usually prove the more reasonable, less destructive path.

We poke fun at men who articulate their feelings, who know how to decorate the interior of a house like it's nobody's business, who cry during movies, who decide to quit their jobs to take care of their kids full-time.

And since women are the prime physical embodiment of femininity, we need only look to them to witness the widespread lack of reverence for feminine values.

We're bombarded with countless billboards and commercials and films depicting women as ornamental. There to merely quench the thirsts of our senses.

The amount of women who head major Hollywood productions, who serve as heads of state, and who are ranked among the Fortune 500 is downright abysmal. Men outnumber women in virtually every professional arena.

It's shocking that we let this go on. That we so unconsciously choose to look the other way when it comes to issues of gender and inequality.

A society that shows us that the value of women and femininity is not equal to that of men and masculinity suffers wide gaps in constant formation. Especially when we're told that femininity is just "a woman's thing" and masculinity is just "a man's thing."

This kind of thinking perpetuates more than just imbalance. It causes actual catastrophes. It gets women shut down. Silenced. Swatted aside. Abused. Assaulted. Murdered. Told they're not good enough or beautiful enough or smart enough or capable enough.

And let's be real here: This doesn't just affect women; this fear of the feminine affects men, too. Because men of all stripes get silenced, as well. Their rich and layered inner lives get thinned and flattened out by our worship of manly-man exteriors. Yet they're forced to just keep holding it in, granting others no access to who they really are. With no permission to emote or nurture or comfort or be gentle or soft...

And with no permission to express this side of themselves, men can succumb to depression, aggression and outright violence. So let us no longer hide from this issue. Let us instead admit: We need greater cultivation of feminine energy. In men. In women. In us all. Let's stop pretending this is a Mars vs. Venus thing, sweeping it under the rug for the sake of maintaining business as usual. Let's stop focusing on all the ways in which the genders differ. Let's stop demonizing and name-calling and labeling and aggrandizing.

We are all -- every single one of us -- representations of both the masculine and feminine. Let us have the courage to honor both such forces within ourselves. In doing so, we can bring back the balance.

The Earth beneath our feet is shrieking. Crying out for our attention. Trying to get us to understand the gravity of our excess competition and forcefulness. This overflow of masculine energy destroys our planet. Erodes relationships. Cripples our health. Stamps down our authenticity.

As I look around me, I am heartened by the many men I see who have the courage to embrace the masculine in a healthy, balanced form. These men respect women, are excellent communicators, and understand the value of nurturing.

I'm also heartened by the many women who resist steeling themselves with masculine forms of accomplishment as a means to get ahead or feel valued in the world. More and more women are letting go of their extreme need to compete with other women. More and more women are relaxing into their feminine wisdom and recognizing the power that is (and always has been) available there.

As the mother of a boy -- currently pregnant with another boy -- I am hopeful we can look ahead to a future where our precious feminine qualities are cherished. I want my sons to grow up in a world that accepts them fully, for who they truly are, rather than weighing them down with generic standards regarding who they should be, according to what their gender is.

I want my sons to know of the inherent strength that exists in grace, in receptiveness, in softness, in compassion, in peace. I want my sons to love and cherish the feminine in their lives as much as they do the masculine. So that the two sides may come together in a seamless union.

I look into my toddler's eyes right now, and I'm invigorated by the perfect balance that resides within them. All the textures of masculine and feminine come out to play, as he is living in perfect alignment, blissfully ignorant of what society will soon expect from him.

Most children are like that when they're that young. They tumble in and out of different states -- showing emotion, aggression, gentleness, assertiveness, and sweetness interchangeably, whenever the situation calls for it.

Let us grant them -- and ourselves -- the freedom to access all their many parts, be they feminine or masculine, so that someday the distinction between the two will seem absurd. Doing so will give us a chance at a kinder, more loving, more sustainable world. As opposed to the world occupied by that kid at the grocery store, where you're told with force that you're not supposed to feel.

Rhoda Jordan is a spiritual mentor + manifestation coach + writer + actress + filmmaker. She helps others to cultivate their inner feminine wisdom, so that they can become their happiest, healthiest, sexiest selves. She recently produced and starred in the motion picture Living Things, which was endorsed by PETA.

Her website is: http://rhodajordan.com

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