I’m an old, white guy. If I didn’t live in poverty or had any real social power, I might be dangerous. I still have the ‘privilege’ of being white, male and old, none of which did I have to work for.
There is a meme (or social construct) that “old white guys” are the cause of most or all of our social ills. I have been handed this bunch of privileges on the proverbial ‘silver platter’. And I am very aware that I have them.
When I was young, I had to appear to live up to certain standards but, if I didn’t, a reprimand was sufficient. If I were non-white and/or female, I would have been watched and held closer to the line by the threat of loss of employment, loss of freedom, or even loss of life. I have seen this happen to the marginalized.
This is where “the Myth” comes into play.
Myth: a story of the gods, a religious account of the beginning of the world, the creation, fundamental events, the exemplary deeds of the gods as a result of which the world, nature and culture were created together with all parts thereof and given their order, which still obtains. A myth expresses and confirms society’s religious values and norms, it provides a pattern of behavior to be imitated, testifies to the efficacy of ritual with its practical ends and establishes the sanctity of cult.- Finnish folklorist Lauri Honko
Crystal M Fleming said: “The powerful always thrive on the miseducation of groups they seek to exploit and control.”
“Myth” and the way it is interpreted is the basis of our social structure and norms. It is the stories that have passed down for generations, sometimes for millennia and has a deep and abiding control over our minds and the ways we act and react to others.
(Of course, as a writer and mental health advocate, I put a lot on the power of story.)
Myth has been manipulated to divide people into “us” and “other”. It is used to create stereotypes and defines our worldview. It is given authority over what we believe to be our ‘true nature’.
Originally it may have found use in consolidating societies, it now finds use in dividing us by race, gender, and gender-identification, religion, classes of economics, abilities, and parentage. Even classes of needs and wants. This is not just from the world at large but also ingrained within us by the stories we are told and tell ourselves.
The man-myth tells us that men are unemotional to the point of denying pain (both physical and emotional). They are protectors, providers, aggressive, masters over themselves and those perceived to be “lesser”, they must be right and never self-doubting, and as such, they are closer to God. To try to accomplish all of this is obviously elemental to psychosis. Taken to the extreme, it is about obsessive, omnipotent control.
I realized in my teens that I was incapable of doing all of this and much of it I didn’t want to do. But where did that leave me? If you cannot live up to the myth and the myth determines who you are, how do you feel? It doesn’t matter that you weren’t brought up in a religious household because these have become secular social values.
I will note here that this is concerned with my personal view of contemporary American culture and how my experiences have been shaped. As Western culture and interpretation of myth have influenced much of the world, I feel that this is a pertainent observation.
Heroes and their stories teach men how to be men.
I grew up with John Wayne, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry on the TV after school. I read James Bond and Conan the Barbarian. I lived with icons like Superman and Batman. The strong silent types of male figures that roamed alone and saved people. These were “free” men. They owed nothing and if they got hurt, they were always taken care of, usually by pretty women. I wanted my version of that.
And if you are not a hero you are a villain or a civilian.
I felt that I had to wear the mask of what the myth demanded, even if I knew it was not true. ‘Acting’ the part is self-destructive, but with no other way available, you go forward.
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This is not without substance.
- Men commit suicide about 3 times more often than women. Though women attempt suicide more often than men.
- Men are more likely to die of some health problems.
- And, men die earlier than women, statistically.
From the National Institute for Mental Health: “Men and women experience many of the same mental disorders but their willingness to talk about their feelings may be very different. This is one of the reasons that their symptoms may be very different as well.”
This could account for men committing more violent crimes. And for the variety of ways that men and women are treated by the judicial and penal systems.
And, most men really just want to be “good people”.
Maybe it’s a loop that we see. We believe the myth and act on it. We use statistics to validate the myth, but don’t change things and so, reinforce the myth as reality.
The myths we tell ourselves can make everyone’s life harder. Our myths are broken. Our stories of differences and centralized authority may kill the human race and much of the life on this planet. It is not about religion vs science: or “red” vs “blue”: or economic system vs economic system. It is about equality and the interconnected web of life.
We must, in my view, restate the myths or adopt new ones to show better ways to live in a civilized world. But there is no one answer to changing the world. Arts, Sciences and Humanities will need to work together holistically to achieve change.
As sociologist Dr. Crystal M Fleming says, “We can dream better, more inclusive dreams and create a more just society. And even if we aren’t able to bring about all the positive change we would like to see in our lifetime, at the very least, we can begin to imagine it.”
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From the International Men’s Day website:
On November 19 International Men’s Day celebrates worldwide the positive value men bring to the world, their families and communities. We highlight positive role models and raise awareness of men’s well-being.
OBJECTIVES OF INTERNATIONAL MEN’S DAY
The 6 Pillars of International Men’s Day
- To promote positive male role models; not just movie stars and sportsmen but every day, working-class men who are living decent, honest lives.
- To celebrate men’s positive contributions to society, community, family, marriage, child care, and to the environment.
- To focus on men’s health and wellbeing; social, emotional, physical and spiritual.
- To highlight discrimination against men; in areas of social services, social attitudes and expectations, and law
- To improve gender relations and promote gender equality
- To create a safer, better world; where people can be safe and grow to reach their full potential.
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