It seems to me that the notion of a “mature masculinity” is intractibly entangled within a larger discussion about gender, their roles, and expression of the aforementioned characteristics. I suppose a better question to answer first might be “what does maturity look like”?
From a social perspective, a lot of what is considered “mature” behavior in American society is directly linked to Puritan notions of the primacy of work and the complete dominion over one’s home life. I suppose it’s not a tremendous stretch to say that “dominion” could be expanded to both spheres, but it seems to me that in most of our institutions and governing structures the vast majority of efforts are predicated on the notion that earning as high a wage as possible, being the absolute best (or at least very notable) in one’s professional achievements, and providing a materially-sound domestic life to one’s family are held in the highest regard.
It’s interesting to me that little substantive thought is given to the development of one’s emotional fortitude or of providing a sound philosophical platform upon which a person might build a stable life. I suppose through various other institutions (organized religion, youth groups, professional associations), a person might thereby have bestowed upon them a pre-fabricated set of moral and logical (sometimes illogical) conclusions about the world and the people that inhabit it. One might engage in further conjecture in determining that these belief structures might be inadequate in explaining or otherwise providing guidance in difficult scenarios.
Examples of what I personally see as “failed” frameworks are the literalist interpretations of Abrahamic texts, whose inability to reconcile its own adherance to outdated practices and beliefs holds its adherents back from joining a more modern society. Literalism doesn’t just plague Western religious texts and practices, but almost all religious texts across the spectrum: Buddhism still has people and individuals that believe that there is a Buddhist Hell and there are still demons and evil spirits, New Age belief structures that still have these vague cosmologies, explanations, and belief structures for common phenomena (a story about an exorcist who will ‘remove evil spirits from your digital devices’ was printed earlier this week), alongside many others.
None of this is intended to immediately and irrevocably mark religious or spiritual belief as false or otherwise tertiary to maturity or the composition of philosophical structures; on the contrary–in some cases they can be complimentary if not outright synergistic. Abrahamic faiths speak of love and human brother- and sisterhood (sometimes in the same breath as a condemnation of an entire subset of such), “Eastern” faiths often remark upon the qualities of stillness and precision in all pursuits (meditation, concentration, practice), and even New Age and Pagan spiritual systems have something to offer the modern world: A window into the boundless imagination of humanity and the belief that our ancestors’ blood grants us strength and wisdom.
What instead I am trying to understand is how half-truths and aphorisms only partially construct and inform our world-view. Without the efforts of studious and sometimes bombastic changes of perception from the Stoic philosophers, thinkers of the Renaissance, all the way up to present-day social agitators and mystics, we would not have the ability to turn inward. What instead I am trying to highlight is this:
Without honest introspection and retrospection that holds no belief sacrosanct, no being infallible, and no idea as unworthy, there is little chance that any belief structure (no matter how well-intentioned) will ever be able to provide a flexible model from which a person might build an empathetic, loving philosophy from.
Bearing this in mind, it seems foolish to consider any kind of masculinity “mature” when so much pain and violence is promulgated by haphazard constructs. The hyper-masculinity that can be found in board-rooms, back-rooms, bathrooms, locker-rooms, and bedrooms does a disservice to the breadth and depth of the male experience, regardless of sexuality or expressed gender. Contrived mythopoetic (admittedly often Stoic) masculinities do even worse damage, relegating emotion and internal discovery to the realms of crisis and “femininity”. Which leaves us with a further conundrum: How does these belief structures (relating solely to masculinity) square-up against the experience and breadth of knowledge that we now possess as a species? How does one square the belief that a gay man’s life or experiences are worth less than the paper their obituary will be printed on? How does one come to grips with the notion that action-oriented emotions such as hate and pride are somehow at-odds or are “less-than” when compared against emotions such as sadness and regret?
It is my belief, having attempted to explore many of these points on my own, that masculinity isn’t actually the problem. A lack of maturity is the problem.
Maturity is many things:
- Being able to say: “I was wrong, I’m sorry. I need to consider this and square it against what I know now.”
- Having the courage to say: “I am hurting. I need help.”
- Being able to accept hardship and say: “I didn’t quite do what I intended to do. That’s fine. At least I know possible.”
- Having the ability to give and receive in all aspects of life: “Thanks for the the favor/compliment! I won’t forget it, and I’ll do what I can for you when you need it.”
There’s a lot left to unpack. If maturity really is the root of the problems within masculinity, then clarifying maturity in the so-called “modern age” might be the first step necessary to begin resolving the problems that men (and some women) have with masculinity as whole.