As someone who works in the personal development arena, I have noticed that the common voice for leadership in personal growth is one that is overwhelmingly female – Oprah Winfrey, Gabrielle Bernstein, Martha Beck, Gretchen Rubin, Elizabeth Gilbert, etc. Of course we see men like Eckhart Tole, Alain de Botton, and Deepak Chopra, but it seems that personal development work seems to be disproportionately female.
On one hand, it’s wonderful that so many women are leading the charge in the pursuit of a balanced and meaningful life. On the other hand, it begs the question, where are all the men?
Men, for the most part, are socialized to believe that the most un-male thing a man can do is show weakness. The vulnerability and openness required for self-exploration and personal growth are often seen as weak at worst, and as feminine at best. Nothing could be further from the truth, but this common misconception can leave men feeling displaced – uncomfortable about engaging in a process of growth and discovery that doesn’t follow traditional male norms.
Men still hear archaic messages about what it means to be male. Real men provide. Real men are strong at all costs. Work comes first. Real men are stoic and unemotional. Real men are rescuers. On that last note, I believe the Disney prince archetype is potentially even more damaging than the princess one. In her TED talk, Dr. Brene Brown talks about an encounter with a man who says, “my wife and daughters would rather see me die up on my white horse than fall down”. I’m certain he’s not alone, given the constrained view of modern manhood.
In addition, somewhere along the way, as femaleness became good and powerful, maleness seems to have become the enemy. Boys and men are exposed to damaging modern messages about manhood as the battle of the sexes evens out – messages that suggest that men are stupid and lazy. Take stock of the TV commercials you see and you’ll usually see the man portrayed as a lazy and ignorant buffoon. Yes, we see equally damaging portrayals of women as sex objects and selfless martyrs, but we also see a balanced view of womanhood from other feminist sources. There doesn’t seem to be a progressive counterpoint for men today.
I have four brothers and a nephew. I worry about the messages they absorb about what it means to be a man. Many reinforce gender stereotypes that are just as damaging as the ones we see about women. To see the popular image of modern man still reduced to worker, provider, rescuer, and rock denies the many shades of maleness. And it leaves little room for the idea that personal growth is a worthy male pursuit, with the exception of career development.
Since the feminist movement, women have openly discussed and debated what it means to be female. This multi-decade dialogue has led to a more nuanced understanding of the complexity of womanhood, and what it means to grow and develop as a multi-faceted woman. A similar dialogue between men about the nuanced intricacies of malehood has been slower to develop. Slower, yes, but I’ve noticed the emergence of some decidedly male voices on personal growth in contemporary culture.
Consider the Good Men Project, founded by Tom Matlack – a forum for discussion on modern manhood and the multidimensionality of men. It fosters dialogue about ethics, sex, fatherhood, gender, pornography, aging, growth, etc., and all from a male perspective. It’s encouraging to see forums for progressive dialogue on modern manhood and personal growth sprouting up like this.
I would love to see more man-to-man conversations about personal growth in order for broader male culture to embrace personal growth as a worthy pursuit. Two colleagues Michael Trotta and Mike Hrostoski, who trained under the same coach as I did, have fearlessly entered this arena.
Michael Trotta, Founder and CEO of Sagefire Institute, helps people find authenticity through storytelling, nature-based coaching, and rites of initiation. As part of his work he trains men to help guide boys into adulthood so they can become men of integrity. Mike Hrostoski created The Conference for Men – a safe space where men can talk about things like sex, wealth, and emotional wellbeing among a united community of brothers. I hope to see more forums like this emerge as the conversation about the multifaceted post-modern man continues. The discussion is overdue.
I understand the irony of a woman writing about this. I don’t care. There are too many men I care about for me to not say something. I have told my brothers about some of the wonderful man-to-man dialogues out there, and I can’t wait to see more discussions about modern masculinity emerge.