How well do you understand your masculinity asks Glen Poole?
What does masculinity mean to you? Are you proud of your masculinity? Does being masculine come naturally to you or do feel that your masculinity is something you constantly have to prove?
Do you think that masculinity is all about manning up, growing a pair and being a real man or is your version of masculinity all about getting in touch with your feminine side?
Last month I had the privilege of speaking at the UK’s first Male Psychology Conference where I presented my thinking on the seven different stages of masculinity. These ideas are based on the work of the psychologist Clare W. Graves who created a “bio-psycho-social model of human development”.
To help make this model of masculinity accessible to those of us who aren’t psychologists, I’ve give each stage of masculinity an easy-to-remember name that reflects its key characteristics as follows:
- Caveman Masculinity
- Tribal Masculinity
- Warrior Masculinity
- Ruler Masculinity
- Explorer Masculinity
- Peacemaker Masculinity
- Integral Masculinity
The theory is that all men experience some or all of these stages of masculinity at various times in their life, but will generally be most comfortable with one particular stage. By reading the descriptions below, you can get a sense of which stage of masculinity you associate with and begin to get a better of understanding of what makes different men tick.
Caveman Masculinity is mostly found at a collective level in pre-historic communities. If you can picture a human with the conscious awareness of a baby, living in a man’s body and driven only by his biological need to survive then you may imagine a sulky male teenager. Caveman Masculinity is far more basic, fundamental and instinctual than a modern teenager and you are unlikely to ever encounter it at a collective level in the 21st Century. At an personal level you experienced Caveman Masculinity as a baby when you drew upon your natural, unconscious instincts to try and get your needs met.
Tribal Masculinity is more sophisticated than the Caveman Masculinity. It can be seen in the development of shared rituals, traditions and superstitions and is found today in tribal cultures around the globe. You can also find tribal masculinity closer to home, in the collective worship of local and national sports teams, in modern mating rituals like stag nights and in the tribal culture of street gangs.
Warrior Masculinity with its drive for power and dominance can be seen at play in rogue states where political movements like the Taliban and Isis take control. Historically, the feudal system found across medieval Europe with its rigid hierarchy from Kings to Nobles to Knights to Peasants, is a clear example of Warrior Masculinity being played out a collective level. In modern democracies. Warrior Masculinity can sometimes be found in the grey economy of contraband, stolen goods, loan sharks, protection rackets and organized crime. Warrior Masculinity is also present in white collar boxing, cage fighting, hedonistic celebrities from the world of music and show business, rebellious teenagers and tantrum-prone toddlers. While many of the examples are negative, Warrior Masculinity can be heroic, protective, and a powerful force for self-preservation and personal advancement.
Ruler Masculinity can be clearly seen in the world of team sports where each player has a role and everyone is bound by a single set of rules. It is no coincidence that football’s first regulatory body (The Football Association) was founded in Victorian England, a society where rules and roles were paramount. Ruler Masculinity is usually socially conservative and is most comfortable in settings where men’s and women’s roles are clearly defined and distinguished. This stage of masculinity is fundamental to traditional religions with their adherence to agreed rules and absolute truths.
Explorer Masculinity has it roots in the Age of Enlightenment (or Age of Reason) when logic and individualism become more important than collective traditions. It is seen in the fight for the individual rights of man (and woman) as symbolized by both the French revolution and the unbridled individualism of modern capitalism. If Ruler Masculinity shapes the game of sport, then it is Explorer Masculinity that is running the business of sport. Explorer Masculinity is practical, rational and meritocratic and believes that the pursuit of individual success should be encouraged, acknowledged and rewarded.
Peacemaker Masculinity came to prominence in the swinging sixties with the rejection of both traditional and commercial values. Peacemaker Masculinity is strongly associated with feminism, gay marriage, animal rights, vegetarianism, environmentalism, anti-capitalism and human rights campaigning. Men who associate with Peacemaker Masculinity are often considered to be more sensitive and empathic than “typical men” and tend to believe that we should work collectively to improve the lives of the “have nots”.
Integral Masculinity is difficult to find at a collective level. It was certainly at play within Nelson Mandela when he united many different stages of masculinity in the creation of post-apartheid South Africa. This is a typical quality of Integral Masculinity which can provide you with the ability to remain true to your own values, while still appreciating and understanding the value of others, no matter which stage of masculinity they represent. If Ruler Masculinity is strong and protective; Explorer Masculinity is assertive, independent and competitive; and Peacemaker Masculinity is more vulnerable, yielding, intimate, collaborative, nurturing; then Integral Masculinity at its best is strong and vulnerable, assertive and yielding, independent and intimate, competitive and collaborative and protective and nurturing.
Which stage of masculinity do you most associate with? Do you aspire to developing the qualities expressed in a different stage or are you happy with your experience of being a man at your favoured stage of masculinity? Do you remember passing through different stages of masculinity at various times in you life? Can you identify the different stages of masculinity at play in some of the men you encounter?
Every stage of masculinity listed above is valid and valuable and is a response to the constantly evolving and changing life conditions that we face as men. Each stage has its own potential strengths and weaknesses. Now you’ve heard about the different stages of masculinity, you may start to notice that you have a different way of understanding men. If you have any comments or questions about the seven stages of masculinity please post them in the comments below, I’d love the hear your thoughts.
—Photo Credit: flickr/dullhunk
Written by Glen Poole author of the book Equality For Men.