natural alternatives to an identity crisis

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{Written 1st March, West London}

So this is interesting. I’m sat reading an article in the Observer about the issue of masculinity and the role models for men.

It feels as if, as the traditional ideals of the 20th-century man – strong, stoic, repressed – begin to fade away, nothing has stepped into replace them. In today’s pop culture landscape there’s no single archetypal ideal that we are supposed to emulate. (Max Olesker)

One on hand I wholeheartedly agree, in a world where the idea of the ‘feminine’ has been examined minutely in every way, the idea of modern maleness, masculinity, hasn’t really been in the spotlight. Not in a positive way at least. (And at risk of being shot down for gross gender generalisation, I think this is level of self-examination and endless discussion is a feminine trait, well certainly a western one. Hence where we have got with feminism and all that follows. And yes before the knives come out, I remain in continual gratitude to those women who made it possible for me to even write these words, even have a voice.)

I would like to reassure or maybe commiserate with Mr Olesker. As a woman in her 30s understanding whom one is supposed to emulate is equally as confusing. Is this a post-feminist era? Are we supposed to allow men to pay the bill and open doors for us? Can we seek random sex through Tindr? If men are feminists can we be ‘masculanists’? And would that be considered and insult?Is it anti-feminist to get a Brazilian? In an age of apparent equality why do we have issues of equal pay, discrimination, 8 year olds wanting to wax their legs and little girls in provocatively revealing clothing?

There is no obvious path, no easy how-to guide.

Mr Olesker concludes
Just as men must fight for, support and celebrate progress – with initiatives such a HeForShe, launched last year – we must help one another as we enter the next stage of our cultural evolution. If we do, maybe our personal masculine crisis will give way to personal masculine identities all of our own. What have we got to loose by trying this? Nothing but our ever-increasing sense of worthlessness.

Yes. Quite.

I wish he’d talked a bit more about this last point, and this ‘cultural evolution’, as far as I am concerned, that is the really interesting bit.

Maybe one of the issues is that all of the examples he mentioned, David Beckham to Dapper Laughs, are creations of mass media. In fact when you start to think about it, maybe elements of our identity crises stem from our continual exposure to the mass communication of our current world. From advertising to social media, to TV, to fashion, each one reifies and solidifies the last, telling us what we should buy, who we should emulate, what we should wear. Blogged, re-blogged, Instagrammed, pinned; the 10 o’clock news giving legitimacy, Twitter debating, self help book on self help book, sound bites and vox pops, the red tops sensationalising, the columnists decrying, brands taking our insights and making them into products which we buy…Consuming to become ourselves.

Amidst this maelstrom of stimulus and input we mould and piece our fragile identities. Looking for archetypes, looking for meaning. Looking for someone, something to tell us some unshakable, fundamental truth about who we are, and who we are not.

And we are surprised young girls from South East London are heading to join Islamic State?

The thing is, as Max’s last sentences emphasised, the extraordinary opportunity innate in this era is for us to seek our own identities. To set sail on journeys of self-knowledge in our unique and individual way, to understand what being ‘me’ means to me, through my experience.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not an easy thing. This is a life’s work. And maybe we need all the help we can get – be it religion, mindful practices, counselling, sports teams, musical affinities, professions, activism, yes maybe even consuming. Just as long as we see all these things as ways to help us on this journey and not the be all and end all, as long as we see them for what they are.

And yes we are culturally conditioned, contrived and created by all that surrounds us, in ways that we will never even know. And yet, and yet…we are so much more, we have the capability to be so much more.

Personally. For me. At the moment. I am exploring what it means to be a woman, what it means to be me, through my relationship with the world around me. The inexorable, beautiful, complex-yet-simple, timeless nature of, well, nature; helps me understand so much. Through moments of experience, moments of clarity, moments where all my pronouncements of ‘I am this’ and ‘I am that’ fall away in the perfection of a snowdrop, the return of a corpse to the soil, a sapling’s roots gently but firmly lifting and breaking the concrete.

I acknowledge this is an education of constant change, complete non-fixity. This is my journey at this moment. Tomorrow might be a different matter.

And there’s the rub. Even by writing it down and sharing it I am fixing it. And no, this isn’t helpful in trying to provide an answer for anyone else’s quest for the real feminine, the real masculine, but maybe that’s exactly the point. My journey cannot be your journey. I can offer insight from what I have experienced, narrative, fables, stories…but in the end that is all they are.

So read this and move on, on your path, on your journey…

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