The Masculinity Issue
I have a question for the people behind Beauty Shot. When are you going to write about masculinity in a “beautiful business” sense? I find myself in a place that is unfamiliar to me in the world of work. I’m no longer sure how to act as a “privileged white man” from the West, what to strive for, or even how to define myself in the workplace anymore. I’d love to know how you’d “beautify” this topic.
Thanks and best wishes,
Thank you for your letter—and for the timely question. Father’s Day is coming (it’s already here in Germany), and we also have questions about the “modern man,” paternity, and how men can live better within the current world of work. Let’s look into this together.
Based on conversations we’ve had with other men who identify with privilege, you were probably exposed to the idea that most of the things you do need to be won. So you finished your dinner before your siblings, you strived to run the fastest, and you wanted to become a Monopoly tycoon. It means you believe(d) the world was yours to take. And because of this, you could be anything you want, do anything you want, have anything you want—provided you worked harder than everyone else.
Because you’ve been the world’s prototype for success, but also the archetype of entitlement. But it doesn’t seem to make you happy, does it? Because the world around you doesn’t want that anymore. And so the man you’ve become doesn’t make sense anymore. Therein lies the wound.
Is that what makes men sometimes do things that nobody understands? In the worst of the worst: it’s the man that shot those children last week (and 96 percent of every other mass shooting). It’s the man that’s carrying out a “special military operation” in Europe right now. And it’s the man in a speed boat somewhere rocketing kilos of cocaine across the ocean in the name of paper money. You’d think the things men do make no sense, but they do. Because it’s 2022, and the male character has spiraled into chaos.
Now let’s say that the modern man is made from equal parts Rambo and Mister Rogers. Guns and Mattel-backed merchandise on one hand, strength through emotions on the other. What’s a man to do with such polar personalities? Sit like Buddha and wait? Succumb to the ideas that scream the loudest? Or maybe just take the straight, well-paved road of indifference in hopes that some more enlightened generation comes along and mops up the mess. Then we also have the question of greater culture. In some places, women still look to a man to be their “solid wall.” And in others, “Dad is depicted as an incompetent idiot in sitcoms.”
Then there are the more tangible elements of society, like education, health, and the justice system, which still won’t fully trust a father with his children. And the question of when societies socialize boys and men to conform to a definition of masculinity that emphasizes toughness, stoicism, acquisitiveness, and self-reliance—traits that can contribute to resilience but could cause problems without the proper channeling. It’s no wonder that at times we’re still producing "aggressive, emotionally-stunted males who harm not just themselves, but their children, partners, and communities."
And there’s a long list of specimens that men have absorbed. Think of Ernest Hemingway—the deep-sea fisherman, the big-game hunter, the brawler, lover of women, and big drinker, who promoted a sense of uber-masculinity. Instead, let’s call it what it is: false courage, silent endurance, and the duty to “be a man” (whatever the hell that means). Just watch the original Goldfinger with Sean Connery, or some random episode of "Friends." Your skin should curl, Jason. Stallone, Brando… Weinstein. The list goes on and on. It feels outdated, it feels ridiculous, it feels stuck in the clichés of heterosexuality. And it all feels awful. And yet here we are, still subscribing men to the same pile of so-called manly bullshit.
And here you are, Jason, a man in the workforce, carrying the baggage of years and years of masculine ancestry of which you had no say in. They certainly didn’t figure this out. And we won’t either, sorry. But we can offer some observations that make just enough sense of this to start a conversation. You in? Here are some ideas where we can start.
On “manning” meetings
Let’s begin with meetings. In a study of over 150,000 company conference calls, it was found that men spoke 92% of the time. Ever heard of the “manologue?” Don’t tell us you’ve never “manterrupted” or “talk-blocked” a female colleague. Sure, it isn’t done to harm—goddess forbid you pass off as a silent idiot. So you seek to talk about charts and findings and anecdotes that bear some relevance to the topic but don’t really. You do this to show enthusiasm, to exhibit engagement, to look like you really do care. But you don’t always, and you feel like you should. And so you speak—out of turn, and often out your ass to save face. So before you speak, ask yourself: “Would I be saying this, in this particular situation, if I was talking to another man? Will anything change fundamentally if I don’t say it at all? Am I speaking from a genuine space?”
On being an expert
You weren’t hired to be a sage no matter what twisted paternal instinct is poking at you. No stone tablets, no morning pep talk, no need to over-analyze and “mansplain” anything to the masses. You’ve been hired to be present, to listen, to be open and curious to what the people around you are in need of. The modern man serves the other, the modern man proves his worth with actions outside the fickle sphere of knowing things. “I don’t know” has to become your most beautiful phrase.
On neglecting self-care
Nobody wants to see a man suffer from loneliness and the inability to handle emotions behind a falsely-learned facade. Yet so many men reject help. In the U.S., depression and suicide rank as leading causes of death among men. And when you look at hospitals where chemotherapy patients are actively offered mental health services, men hardly ever go. In Australia, of all the people who called the Cancer Council 13 11 20 hotline for emotional support last year, only 20% were male. We’re willing to guess that most men want to make an impact. But you know how to really not have an impact? By stretching out your mind and body to the point of being broken. By dying of self-neglect.
On being the only man
At some point you will be out of the office at an event where men should be, but aren’t. This could be a child’s birthday party, a parent-teacher night, a talk on diversity. If you’re there and you’re the only man, it’s a good thing. Yet still you may ask, “Where are all the other men?” Forget that thought, all that matters is that you’re there. Because you’re a pioneer, you’re at the vanguard, the people around you need to see you there.
On being a loser
You’ve learned to win, now learn to lose. Loss and failure can, in fact, be beautiful. It’s also intrinsic to being a human, so you might as well get used to facing it graciously, leaving room for healthy self-reflection and aspiration. It will also help you build both resilience and humility. And you might also feel more from the process if you know that the end goal is not to hit all the marks. As House co-founder Tim Leberecht wrote back in 2019 the license to fail beautifully means “simply go out and feel joy, passion, and exuberance, without the burden of consequence.”
On channeling empathy
“When someone tells me a story about how they feel, I immediately start looking for solutions,” a male contact recently told us. And so goes the age-old conflict: analytical vs. emotional, and all the baggage associated with these words. While often quite skillful at self-reflection, men sometimes still lack the capacity to do the contrary: put themselves in another person’s world for the sake of the experience. What if empathy were part of a man’s upbringing, later growing into a natural part of their living?
On sharing and raising each other up
Being sociable (knowing many people and being at ease with others), and having deep friendships (with whom you can share anything), are two different things. Often men excel at the first one (due to a culture of business networking, for example), but suffer from the lack of a sharing culture. Loneliness among men is a widespread issue for these reasons. Try not to let that happen to you, Jason. Don’t be scared of intimacy and in-depth honesty, of listening, of sharing. It’s sometimes noted that, while women raise each other up, men bring each other down. The sarcasm shield is a transparent one, so compliment your male friends, and find a way to be sincere with them. Need examples? Why not join Evryman, a community for men run by Lucas Krump. Started as a small discussion group in 2016, it expanded so that, in the words of its founders, “the fulfillment and emotional awareness we experienced could be available to as many men as possible.” Or if that’s not your thing, start smaller with men around you that you trust.
On being strong
Look around Jason, and try to name all the people in your life you’d call “strong.” Is it a quality you’d say you appreciate? Is it a diverse group? Strength so often makes it to the first attributes of masculinity, but in reality it doesn’t characterize one gender any more than the other, and moreover, it can have a thousand different definitions.
“Every person should be strong,” the same male contact recently told us, “because, sadly, the world of ‘weak good people’ doesn’t stand a chance against that of ‘strong bad people.’” So it seems that what we really need is to redefine “strength.” What does it imply? Maybe being strong is individual in its nature. Deep down everyone knows their strengths. To be unassuming, to be able to adjust to any setting, for example. That sounds like strength. Or standing up for something or someone—not because you want attention yourself, but because that's how you see justice. Being consistent with it.
Strength as a quality = free of gender. In fact, the very notions of masculinity and femininity flow from one person to the other and create beautiful unique concoctions in each of us. Take a look at the animal world: recent research from Cornell University shows that “the glittering white-necked jacobin hummingbird reveals nearly 20% of the species’ adult females have male-like plumage” in order to “dodge bullies and get better access to food.” And vice versa, some males, like male garter snakes, imitate female behavior and produce female-like pheromones to avoid aggression from larger rivals and exposure to predators. Here’s a whole list of species where males imitate female behavior, to post on your wall.
But there’s more: clownfish, wrasses, moray eels, gobies, and other fish species are known to change sex, including reproductive functions. So you see, gender fluidity is not a recent social invention, it’s been here the whole time, as a very natural part of our lives—simply, our societies didn’t reinforce it. It can come as quite a shock to reevaluate ourselves in this way. As House Resident Jordan Bower said of his project Momentum: “On the surface, Momentum is a story about the year I spent walking down the West Coast of the US. I had a bad breakup, I was on a soulful, spiritual journey.... Beneath the surface, though, Momentum is a story about the struggle to evolve an antiquated understanding of masculinity—and the vulnerability, chaos, and terror that came with that level of personal transformation.” Embracing both masculine and feminine qualities regardless of our orientation or lifestyle is a good start to turn them into valuable, beautiful assets of humanity.