Reflecting on “Masculine Pride” I find myself asking,”Why do we need to attach pride to gender to be OK with having male bodies?”
For me, masculinity is not something to be either ashamed of or proud of, it simply exists. And it exists in a context that is fundamentally male supremacist, which makes it a slippery fish to discuss.
Gender takes up way too much room in the box where we have been indoctrinated by the patriarchy to find and express identity.
Gender, race and “occupation” (how we make money) are the mainstays of patriarchal identity. There is an implied hierarchy on an identity continuum.
Race is assumed, based upon appearance. The hierarchy continuum is white, brown, black.
Conventionally, gender was also assumed based upon appearance. This is no longer true, to the dismay of conventional dominant culture. The gender hierarchy continuum is straight, male, female, lesbian, gay, trans. The data supporting this is relative homicide statistics and hate crime victimization rates.
Once the first two questions are answered, “So what do you do?” is the next thing we need to know to place a person in the hierarchy of the status quo. This continuum puts laborers, farmers, unemployed persons and indigenous people at the bottom of the scale and pen pushers, celebrities and billionaires at the top.
These sources of identity are vertically oriented and create a constant feeling of anxiety in nine tenths of the population.
In cultures which are primarily oral, and secondarily literate, like most indigenous cultures, the primary locating questions are about relationships not status. “Where are you from?”, “Who are you related to?” and “Do you know so-and-so?”
The first can be answered satisfactorily in two ways: where you live now or where you were born. The second is an effort to determine kinship, or the degree of kinship separation, and the possibility that we might even know someone in common. These sources of identity do not imply hierarchy status but rather are horizontal and imply connection.
Pride, when attached to masculinity, especially the question, “What are you proud of as a man?” tends to push us into a patriarchal framework of identity. Menʻs groups which are specifically exploring questions about masculine identity in the context of feminist social critique spend a lot of time exploring accountability and unraveling male shame. This is hard work with many pitfalls.
It is not uncommon for men who are doing this work to try to balance the negativity of these explorations by asking, “What are you proud of as a man?”
It is as if seeking and reinforcing pride has some magically uplifting quality that everyone deserves to claim equally without regard for what circumstances they are handed by dominant society based upon their position in the gender, race and occupation hierarchy.
The question also assumes a connection between identity, sense of worth and gender.
Both of these assumptions are derived from the fundamentally alienated sources of identity in the patriarchal identity hierarchy.
The first act of conquest in colonization is to kill or assimilate the spiritual and political leadership of the indigenous people. This expresses the patriarchal principle that might makes right.
The second act of conquest is to claim ownership of the land and resources. This breaks the fundamental identification of a people with their landscape and their physical and spiritual sustenance.
The third act of colonization is to impose hierarchical culture and religion on the conquered people if they are animist and ancestral, or to replace a previous hierarchical culture and religion with a new one if they had been conquered and converted before.
Before colonization, people derive identity from their ancestry, their cultural practices, their language and their deeply connected relationship to place. Who you are is a matter of to whom and to where you belong. Identity and belonging are equivalent.
In traditional societies exile was often more feared than death. To be exiled was to be cut off from belonging and thus identity. To be exiled was to be without land or kinship, to be no-one, not a person.
When there is no conception of “ranked identity” in your world view, the experience of belonging and being of value is integral to existence.
This is the experience one hopes for for oneʻs children in the context of innocence and family. In contemporary society, loss of innocence is the recognition that belonging is conditional and worth is scaled.
Identity suddenly matters when there is a possibility of being lower or higher on the scale of “might makes right” identity.
This is a fundamentally alienated state of existence. All questions of pride and identity in dominant culture are conducted within the assumed condition of alienation and a broken sense of belonging, but without acknowledgment of that condition. Because everyone shares the same basic alienation it is “normal” and therefore unquestioned.
The path of liberation from the consequences of colonization is different depending upon many factors. Most of these factors have a lot to do with where a person falls on in the identity hierarchy of patriarchy. The specific cultural nuances of how a particular patriarchy expresses its authority is also a factor.
If you are a man you are handed pride as a birthright. If you are a woman you are handed shame and inferiority as your birthright. Obviously this dichotomy is not accurate or nuanced. If you are a rich woman you get some of both pride and shame. If you are a black man you get more of both pride and shame.
For the sake of discussing pride in the context of privilege and oppression, claiming pride is healing and liberating for those who are denied it in the hierarchy. Womenʻs pride and black pride make sense in the struggle for liberation. Male pride does not.
In the long run we all need to reach for belonging as our source for identity.
When our identity begins to approximate that of our indigenous past, our sense of worth, and therefore our pride, is rooted in our sense of belonging, which is to say, our connectedness to place, ancestry and kin (which includes teachers, mentors and friends).
It is more important for men to ask themselves what they are doing to promote their sense of belonging than what they are proud of.
Where is our sense of self worth growing? Authentic unalienated self worth stems from being in service to that to which we belong.
To whom and where do we belong? How are we connecting with and serving our community? How are we connecting with and serving nature?
These are the questions that will help men dodge the bullets of gender hierarchy and alienated identity. Pride is not a factor that relates meaningfully to menʻs healing and transformation.