Key Shared Insights & Perspectives
What is the Man Box Culture?
Our view of gender has been distorted by our Western culture of masculinity through power and hierarchy showing up in the expression of “How well can we, as men, dominate those around us” as Mark points out.
The “Act Like a Man Box,” a concept developed by Paul Kivel, is a narrow set of rules for being a real man which includes: Don't show your emotions, Make a lot of money, and Always be in control. Awareness of this box begins in the crib when we denigrate feminine characteristics and criticize boys whenever they express themselves in ways that are theoretically not masculine.
When we tell a boy not to show his emotions, we are essentially ending his ability to form authentic relationships. This creates a hierarchical, domination-based version of masculinity.
What Are the Feminine and Masculine Traits We All Have Within Us?
In our society, we typically consider traits such as dominant, strong, independent, assertive, brave and innovative to be masculine, while emotional, collaborative, nurturing, vulnerable, caring and humble are usually feminine. Yet, “You will find every masculine trait on display with the U.S. women's soccer team,” adds Mark.
Whether we look at our natural world, our biosphere, or our culture, we witness femininity and masculinity everywhere and from every level of our reality.
Similar to consciousness or intelligence, we can't easily define gender. “Gender is an experience and a manifestation of how we behave”, adds Jean-François.
What Was Your Personal Journey Embracing Femininity as a Man?
Mark shared how caring for his son reconciled him with his “mis-gendered” feminine traits and led to a more abundant experience as a human being:
“Growing up in a culture of traditional masculinity, I did all the things that supposedly represent success as a man in America - making money, having a family and buying a property - while feeling intense anxiety. That anxiety began to end when my son was born as I began to care for him and hold him. Being a primary caregiver for him changed my perception of myself because I discovered that my hands knew how to care for him. I I knew how to hold him close. I knew how to be in connection with him in ways that I had no idea come naturally to me as a man. And so in that moment, it began to wake up my awareness that my true validation as a person was not making money or having power or having authority. In that moment, I became fully validated and began this pursuit of why is masculinity what we define it as, instead of this rich or more abundant experience.”
Jean-François shared how his couple relationship was an eye-opener and led him on a journey to rebalancing his own femininity:
“I grew up with a mother who really helped me value the feminine, yet my parents were a very traditional family model with a complete lack of gender understanding. In my own couple relationship, I found that I had not integrated in myself the feminine side of myself. The mother of my child and I went on this journey of learning to move away from our own polarized side of our gender to open up, and today I think I can honestly consider myself as androgynous.”
Embracing Our Feminine Side Increases Opportunities for Creativity
“When we have a fully diverse and inclusive leadership at the top levels of organizations, we get dramatically higher levels of creativity, innovation, long-term value creation, profitability. Everything goes through the roof in terms of performance,” says Mark.
By stripping away connections, society creates an isolating culture for men.
Consequently, men hold themselves to a narrow set of expectations such as being in control and having all the answers. For them, saying “I don’t know” becomes a liberating act and creates space for collaboration. They gain a new ability to navigate uncertainty by embracing this feminine characteristic, holding their own ideas more lightly, and waiting to see what others bring.
Our Evolutionary Process Is Moving Into a Holomidal System
Until now, our worldview and society have been built on pyramidal structures with a strong emphasis on the masculine values from which centralized power, command and control, labor division, and an overarching philosophy of scarcity flow.
But, as Jean-François asserts, “This kind of collective has reached its limit...it has hit a wall of systemic complexity.”
In his research, he has identified an evolutionary movement in collective intelligence toward what he calls a holomidal, or distributed, system and a new language giving birth to an elevated relationship with the world.
How Do We Teach Others to Reconcile With Their Masculinity and Femininity?
This is the wrong question to ask.
Instead, we should ask, “What kind of conditions and invisible architecture can we create to promote and facilitate this gender-rebalancing process?” It’s clearly time to design new systems, architectures, and processes to allow less binary expressions of gender.
In addition, we can model relational intelligence and self-care for our children by encouraging them to express their emotions and gain the skills to connect in relationships. Our goal should be to inspire, not force them, and provide possibilities for emergence.
As we came at the end of the hour, our group concluded the discussion in the same way we started, with a tour de table. Each participant had the opportunity to reflect on what they heard and share their take-aways from the conversation.
Final Thoughts to Consider
As we witness the crumbling of this current societal model, we find ourselves seeking more feminine influence. Today, countless mainstream books and articles endorse this idea with most emerging trends calling on women to take leadership roles to fix our systems.
As Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, "The deepest experience of the creator is feminine, for it is the experience of receiving & bearing." However, despite the need to increase female leadership for a more equal world, this might not fix our problems entirely.
We’ve stereotyped masculine and feminine genders when, in fact, their underlying traits are plural and dynamic; they change with culture and vary among individuals. In business, qualities commonly associated with designers, including empathy, curiosity, and kindness, have been labeled as female, whereas leadership, sales, and strategy are usually given a male connotation.
It is time that we, as a society, realize that masculinity and femininity are not characteristics strictly associated with gender, but depend on the person instead.
To be balanced and better people, we all need both. And, it starts with reconciling with our true selves: a mix of masculinity and femininity. We need to break the stereotypes of what it means to be a man or to be a woman.
To bring the best version of ourselves into our world, we must perform this balancing act between both sides. When we unite the traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity, we get a whole human being who can reach creativity, optimal human connection, and create communities.
The next generation of leaders, thriving in our new world, will be those who have learned to consciously step outside predefined gender “boxes” and the limiting expectations associated with them.
Additional resource: The Little Me Too For Men book from Mark Greene.