Refusing to "BE A MAN!"

Men's Resource Center 

EuroPROFEM - The European Men Profeminist Network 


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43en_mas ... Masculinity

Refusing to "BE A MAN!"

Men's Resource Center 


By Steven Botkin

Originally published in Voice Male, the quarterly magazine of the Men's Resource Center of Western Massachusetts. Subscription are $25 (U.S.)/year -
MRC, 236 N. Pleasant St., Amherst,
MA 01002, USA"

Steven Botkin
Executive Director
Men's Resource Center   


The mission of the Men's Resource Center for Change is to support men, challenge men's violence, and develop men's leadership in ending oppression in ourselves, our families, and our communities. Our programs support men to overcome the damaging effects of rigid and stereotyped masculinity, and simultaneously confront men's patterns of personal and societal violence and abuse toward women, children, and other men. 

Be a man!

If we can achieve this goal we are promised a sense of power, pride, confidence, mastery, control and invulnerability. If we do not "cut the mustard", "make the grade", "step up to the plate", we are threatened with isolation, shame, abuse and violence.

But what does it mean to "be a man?" It seems that most of us can easily answer that question. For years I have regularly asked groups of people what comes to mind when they hear that expression. The responses, from men or women of all ages, are frighteningly consistent. And everyone knows what happens to boys or men who do not fit inside this "box." Matthew Shepard, beaten and left to die tied to a fence post in Wyoming this October because he was gay, is the ultimate example.

Most of us who are men know some (usually less lethal, but still profoundly traumatic) variation of this story quite well. We remember schoolyards and street corners, and often our own families, where proving that we had acceptable masculinity was an ongoing backdrop to our daily lives. We learned that any non-conformity to the rules of this masculinity was risking being the target of brutality. And we learned that we could have prestige and privilege, power and control, to the extent we were able to "be the man."

And yet, especially as children, we knew we really did not and could not meet the impossible and inhuman standard. Sometimes we did get sad, scared, and hurt. We did, at times, want to cry and be comforted. If we had enough safety as children we might respond to the command "be a man" with the truth "but I’m not a man."

But it wasn’t safe to tell the truth. So, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways we practiced hiding or minimizing our gender non-conformities, because we were told that’s not how men are. How we dressed, walked, talked, used our hands, expressed our emotions, related with other males, and talked about and behaved towards females was all carefully scrutinized so that we would not betray any deviance from the prescribed rules for being a man. We did not want to be standing alone in shame about our difference. We denied parts of ourselves in order to feel safe and accepted within a dominant culture that demanded of us "be a man!"

What would it mean now if we were to create a culture where men join together to reclaim these parts of ourselves that we hid and denied? If we discovered that, as we peek out from behind our fear, we find the shy and smiling face of another, reflecting our own remembered wholeness. What would it mean if together we find our courage to stand and face the dominant culture, saying with determination and pride – we do not want to "be a man?" We refuse the rigid box of gender conformity. What if we created a community where we could feel safe and accepted in the infinite variety our gender non-conformities?

It would mean the end of the system of patriarchy where the promise of power is leveraged by the threat of violence. Homophobia, violence against women, and war, the ultimate weapons of gender conformity, would disappear, no longer needed to prove and protect our "manhood." Men would show up in the full rainbow of our expressions. We would inhabit our homes and families, remembering the delights of nurturing relationships. And we would seek out the close, loving companionship of other men and other women. It would mean hope for the world in places we have long felt hopelessness.

I believe this is all happening now. Yes, it can often seem agonizingly slow and painful, and there is certainly plenty of overt and covert resistance, however, there is a tremendous wave of liberation moving through our world. Men breaking free from the individual and cultural demand to "be a man" is one key ingredient to this movement.

It’s time for us now to assert that we will not be boxed into masculinity by seductive promises of power or intimidating threats of violence. It’s time for us now to break through our fear and isolation and come out as gender non-conformists who do not fit or accept prescribed rules of manhood. It’s time for us now to call each other out of the shadows of the box with a welcome of acceptance and safety. In this way we are creating a new culture where being a man is an open-ended, ever-expanding expression of possibilities.

This is the work of the Men’s Resource Center of Western Massachusetts. I hope you find hope and inspiration in the pages of our magazine. Please join us by sending a subscription/membership contribution.


Our population of concern is all males, without prejudice to age, race, class, ethnicity, nationality, religious orientation, sexual orientation, and/or disability.

To this end, we are working to develop a variety of resources that will motivate, assist, and support males at all levels of interest and commitment, as well as females who support our mission. Our wish is to challenge old, non-useful ideals of masculinity with newer, broader definitions which emphasize compassion and personal responsibility.

We are greatly concerned with the condition of males in our country and in our world. It is our belief that we as males suffer greatly from mistaken notions of who we are and of our place in the world. In our dilemma, we consequently cause the suffering of others as well. Crime, dependency, war, and genocide are the sad by-products of this suffering. Our organization came into being through a desire to contribute our part to the alleviation of this ignorance.

As males, we have the great potential to redefine power to become the tool of a peaceful society. As males, we have the opportunity to provide mentorship, leadership, and companionship to less-fortunate elders, brothers, and sons. As males, we have the obligation to respect and share with females in a cooperative society.


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