The Man Box is where all the rules of dominator masculinity are hidden and contained. Almost every young boy learns these rules by heart - both consciously and unconsciously - by about the age of 7.
He also learns very quickly and painfully, that to break any of these rules, will mean ostracising, or even expulsion from the ‘Real Mens Club’.
According to the Urban Dictionary, the ‘Man Box’ is the spoken and unspoken rules for "acting like a man"; the mentality, behaviors and restrictions that many men and boys are socialized to conform to. These tenets of the "cult of masculinity" are both symptoms and enablers of Dominator Culture. They can be so pervasive as to be almost invisible; yet they lead men to disrespect, mistreat, and abuse women, and each other.”
Yes, each other. The Man Box is inherently a set of rules which teach men to limit, hurt, and harm each other (let alone women).
THE MAN BOX RULES
Of course, as with most cultural impositions, not all men abide by all the Man Box rules.
There is some variation in compliance to the rules. Every male has a different culture, environment and upbringing, and individual characteristics that will effect his choices in this regard. But it is a rare man indeed who has the capacity to step outside this structure, because punishment - whether physical or psychological - is swift and brutal.
So yes, the Man Box brutalises men. And no, of course that doesn’t mean women don’t get brutalised also. That’s pretty obvious. But how it brutalises men, is not so obvious.
Imagine from the day you are born, that you are taught not to feel… you are taught to be strong, to be tough, to ‘be a man’.
Not to be a boy when you are a boy, but to be a man.
Though its kind of ok to be angry, you are taught that any of the finer emotions – like joy, vulnerability, humility or compassion - are not acceptable. In fact they are so unacceptable, that you will be immediately shamed and punished with the fear of expulsion from your tribe… The Real Men’s Club – The Man Box .
If your father is not around much, or at all - which is fairly likely in western cultures - then you will be expected to ‘be the man of the house’.
Whatever your age, you will be expected to somehow magically do more, be more and have more than your mother - despite her being an adult, and you are just a kid.
As you stand there as a 5 year old - frozen in the English winter afternoon - valiantly playing goalie at your school football game - you know that if anyone sees a molten tear wend its way down your grimy face, you know in your bones with a deep unspoken foreboding, that this is not going to end well. You just can’t work out what the point is of this violent and stupid game, and how you got caught up in it. But you do know that all the other boys and teachers and fathers think its essential that you do this. The only saving grace is that your own father doesn’t believe in this ancient brutalising ritual, so thankfully you are given permission to not continue. But of course you will pay for this for the rest of your life, by not being able to partake in these bonding rituals. You will always feel like an outsider.
TRUE STORY – You come from a musical family, and you have some real talent, so you decide you want to learn violin. You have to bring your violin to school for after-school lessons, and every time you do, you are mercilessly ribbed and made fun of. The other boys call you girly names and your valuable violin is regularly ripped from you, and they only give it back when you cry or get angry. You don’t continue with lessons. Its just not worth it.
So as the years pass, you toughen up more and more. You shut down, you dare not question the status quo because if you do, the shaming starts immediately. The ‘outsiders’ who don’t play by the rules pay a high price, and you don’t want to be one of them.
As the years pass you forget that you are imprisoned in this Max Box, you think you are free. You think you are powerful. And one of the best ways to remind you that you are powerful, is to pick on less powerful beings than you – women, children, animals and weaker men. Hence, whether you like it or not, or whether you do it or not, violence becomes part and parcel of being a good enough man. It is inextricably woven into the fabric of masculinity.
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“Violence is the symptom of a wounded spirit.”
LOOK FIRST TO THE SYSTEM
This truly is one of the most exciting and pivotal points in history – and more especially for gender and relationships.
Never before in the history of humanity have we had the confluence of so many factors that could enable a paradigm shift in ‘relatingness’ - in not only how we relate to each other, but also how we relate to animals, how we relate to nature, how we relate to our political systems, and how we relate to the larger inner and outer cosmos …indeed to every facet of existence.
And of course that includes how we all relate to maleness and what it means to ‘be a man.’
Systems or Chaos theory tells us that everything moves in patterns or waves. In the beginning, there’s a period of instability when something new is being created… then a period of stability or stasis… and then the system gets bored with itself, and starts to implode or go into chaos, till it then again creates some form of stability, and then stasis.
In the West, after a long period of patriarchal/dominator stability, we are now hurtling towards the bottom of the wave in a period of instability and chaos.
Hence, in relationships, no-one seems to know the rules any more. Some women continue the fight for equal rights… and others fight to go back to how things were. Many men are in confusion about what it means to ‘be a man’, what women want etc. Internet dating has established itself with all its magnificence and confusion. Marriage is almost never ‘till death do us part’. Gay, lesbian and transgender issues are increasingly on the agenda. And understandably with all this confusion, more and more people are staying single for longer.
Flirting… why are we talking about Flirting?
In the mid 90s before the advent of the internet, I ran some tongue in cheek workshops called ‘The Fine Art of Flirting – the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Flirters.’ I thought it would be mostly women turning up. But instead, there was a flood of men. Men, who when they rang to make a booking at any time of the day or night, would spend hours telling me their difficulties and confusion with women and dating. (Thankfully the internet takes care of bookings these days… phew!)
It really woke me up to just how much men were suffering. I have to admit, that until then, I had done what many of us do, is just assume that men were okay and on top of things, and it’s the women who need the support.
Ooops! Sorry guys. Welcome to the Invisible Prison.
It seemed to me that many of these men were completely lost, they had scant idea of how to treat women, or how the ‘new’ women ticked. It was like the whole Feminist movement had passed them by… that all the seminal books of the era that were informing and changing women - like Germain Greer and Gloria Steinem et al, were assumed to be only for women, and therefore of no interest.
All the Womens Studies at Uni was just for women, and therefore of no interest.
Personal development workshops and books were somehow for women, and therefore of no interest. Unless they were about Tantric Sex - that’s different ;-)
Womens groups were just for women and therefore of no interest.
Basically, men were falling behind. More and more women were surfing majestically with many twists and turns down the steepest curve of the waves of change and freedom… falling over, crying whooping with joy, learning and growing. However, curiously many of the men were paddling in the shallows… not even aware of the exciting waves out beyond the safety of the shoreline. What could possibly be stopping the men from surfing the same waves? They were there out beyond the shoreline for all to experience. What insidious force has been blocking their natural exploration?
The Partnership Wave
So we can either ignore or resist this wave of change, or flow with it. We can be either pessimistic about the future, and blame Feminists or whoever takes our fancy - or get excited about the new possibilities that are emerging - the new possibilities for a Partnership Culture. A culture of new freedoms and connection and creativity such as we have only imagined. As you are about to see in the following pages, Patriarchy and Machismo have not created a whole lot of joy for anyone, anyhow – whether female or male or anyone in between.
So bring on the Chaos!
And lets explore more deeply what this insidious blocking force is made up of....
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DEDICATION - This book is dedicated to my 4 brothers who I watched grow up and suffer, and survive, as they squashed themselves into the Man Box whilst attempting to achieve that almost unattainable goal of being a ‘good enough man’.
INTRO - This book is about Masculinity – and the deep importance that this subject has on the majority of issues that matter in our world in the 21st century.
When you ask people what they think the most important issues of our time are, they usually say things like: environmental degradation, climate warming, terrorism, financial collapse, homelessness, obesity, Trump ;-) etc etc. But after a decade of research, I am beginning to think that underpinning all these issues is something more fundamental…. men and womens perception of what it means to ‘be a man’.
Many people wonder why I, a woman, would be so interested in this subject, and especially a self avowed and long time egalitarian/feminist. But I was born with a deep compassion and empathy for others, and my father was very strong on social issues and would regularly encourage us to think and participate in the issues of the era… like anti-apartheid in South Africa etc. He taught us a very foundational value… that 'others matter', and that 'its important to question everything' ( except maybe Religion ;-). As we travelled and lived around the world for my first 16 years - experiencing many and varied cultures - we also imbibed the concept of anti-racism.
But it was my mother who, as a very fledgling Feminist, put the real shine on my long love affair with Egalitariansim. Thought she was firmly ensconced in living life as a tradional wife and mother, she thew in just enough rebellious comments to sow the seeds of questioning the patriarchal status quo. As the only girl in a family of 4 boys, I often stood back and observed how different my upbringing was to theirs. While I was fighting for equal rights for women… including having to physically and emotionally fight my brothers and father… they were being systematically brutalised and forced into the ManBox – bashed into becoming ‘male’ in ways that I just never got to experience as a female.
Yes, I was watching.
For most women, its seems pretty obvious how Patriarchy disempowers women ie lack of equal rights, control over our bodies, unequal pay etc. But its less obvious to perceive the more subtle ways the patriarchy disempowers men. Of course, the more subtle something is, the more difficult it is to perceive, and hence the title of my book – "The Invisible Prison." Its much harder to fight against something you can hardly see.
Hence this is why I believe that the Mens Movement has taken so long to have an impact in the general culture. I can imagine that many men might think, "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Why join a group that aims to fix issues we can’t perceive?" As a big supporter of Mens Movement for over 25 years, I look forward to their expansion and integration into the mainstream.
Lets call it The Dominator System
Most people understand Patriarchy as a system that disempowers women, but this is only a partial understanding. In order to understand things more deeply, we sometimes need to change the languaging. And so throughout this book, I will be using Riane Eislers definition and label. I read Riane Eisler's seminal work - The Chalice and the Blade over 20 years ago and it had a profound impact on my understanding of power systems. Rather than Patriarchy, she calls it the Dominator system – a system of ‘power over’… a system that is neither the natural order, nor necessary for survival of the species… a system that supports and encourages playing power games – men over men, men over women, men over children, animals and even the planet. And of course, when women get power, they can also play the power-over game. More on this later.
“Dominator System - Authoritarian and inequitable social and economic structure of rigid hierarchies of domination in both family and state.” Riane Eisler
In essence, the Dominator System serves to subordinate and brutalise both women and men – but in quite different ways. However, because the disempowerment is blatantly more obvious for women, they started to wake up and fight the good fight long before men. And yes, women have made amazing inroads despite huge hurdles and with the support of many good men, but we still have a long way to go. And my belief, is that without men waking up to their own enslavement, we are stultified in our capacity to escape the system that strangles us all. Basically - guys, we need you.
So the purpose of this book is to provide a wake up call to the males on our planet. Its to provide information and support for them to fight and bypass this subtle but scurrilous scourge on the freedom and health of our men and boys.
And yes, I suspect there will be plenty of men muttering in their beards - “piss off girly, we can do our own emancipating thank you very much.” (and we will see in the following pages how the ManBox makes so very hard for men to accept support from a female) … so I appreciate and respect that concern.
However guys, I'm not just writing this book for you. Im also writing it for women. Because without you freed up and fabulous, we don’t get the full versions of your magnificence. We get these half assed, crushed, bent out of shape blokes that are just not all that much fun, and can indeed be quite dangerous.
And yes ladies, women/females, this is also for you, because there is not much use in men freeing themselves from the Man Box, if you/we just continue playing the same power games. Duh.
So until more of us realise how deeply imprisoned/enslaved men are, how can we do any thing about the suffering and limitations imposed by the system… how can we truly meet each other as equals. (And by ‘equal’, I don’t mean ‘the same’. More on this in Chap…..) Unless the power games of the Dominator system are called out - by both men and women - then I believe our planet is doomed.
Doomed! Dems heavy words? Indeed, doomed. Because until we wake up that competition, control and violence are NOT innate or natural to humans… let alone males, then all the atrocities committed against people, and animals and our mother Gaia will continue unabated. ( More info in Chap…. )
This issue, I believe, is one of the biggest games in life. Are you ready to play?
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I am writing a compassionate and deeply questioning book about Masculinity and the new forms emerging on the planet... and would love to hear mens’ thoughts and feelings about what it is like to be a man in the 21st Century, and whether you would like things to be different or better, or not.
This is a totally confidential survey. Only myself, the author* will see the responses. They will be treated with the respect they deserve. All sexual orientations are welcome. If I use your stories or comments in the book, I will use your nickname, and make every attempt to make sure your real identity remains private.
I would also really appreciate it if you would forward it to your male friends and post on your Facebook wall?
Many thanks in advance. ❤️
CLICK HERE for the Survey https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/BNW9ZXC
Greetings and Salutions - How exciting to be starting my first blogging experience ! Im doing this to make myself write the 4 books I have been threatening to write for a loooooooong time now.
Im going to start with writing a blog/book on Masculinity called: "The Invisible Prison - Escaping the Man Box'.
And of course, the plan is that my amazing Blog is picked up by an international publishing company, and I get published and become a very rich and famous author who travels the world speaking and spreading her incredible paradigm-shifting wisdom ;-) Ooh yeah Baby!
Sacred Activist, Writer, Integral Feminist, Energetic Healer, Conscious Relationships and Sexuality Counsellor, Coach, Facilitator and Speaker since 1991.
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