While all the hubbub around Seth McFarlane’s Oscar homage to sexism was bouncing around the country, I experienced another side of men here in Los Angeles—one I’m willing to call the return of the Sacred Masculine.
I’ve been calling it the best men-are-awesome ten days ever: Overlapping the Oscars, I attended events featuring four of the most compelling, artistic men of modernity: First was an epic performance by Tomahawk fronted by former Faith No More lead singer Mike Patton. He’s known for his ability to switch from operatic, ballady vocals to insane sounding shouts, raps, and indescribably strange noises. He’s both extremely playful and deadly serious, and 100 percent wow-worthy. Second, was the album release concert for the new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds record, Push the Sky Away. Like Patton, Cave is a master at showcasing his vulnerability. He also rears a slightly terrifying side, screaming, wailing, arms waving. It’s fantastic, thrilling and some of the most life-changing music I’ve ever experienced. The third event was the sixth time I’ve seen composer/DJ Amon Tobin perform. His shy persona (we met in the lobby) seems to perfectly balance his output of the boldest and most creative electronic music being made today. Tobin seems to be writing a new language—one that reaches beyond Earth’s boundaries. And, speaking of aliens, the last event in those ten-days of men-are-awesome was my first viewing of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 on the big screen at LACMA (I’ve seen it a dozen times on TVs, and it’s a totally different experience). Kubrick may have been a jerk to work with, but he was a most serious artist, with sensitivities and aesthetics unrivaled to this day.
We hear a lot about women’s rights, the goddess movement and the return of the Sacred Feminine. While bra-burning Steinem days may be long gone, we ladies still have our battles to fight as we struggle to make as much money as our testicled counterparts, or thwart unnecessary objectification and violence while still honoring what it means to be a woman responsible for bringing human life to this planet and nurturing it into self-sufficiency. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is picking up quite a bit of slack for her Lean In campaign and new book urging women to claim our rightful place in the mix. Women who speak up are often called bossy and bitchy, she said in her recent 60 Minutes interview, while men who demonstrate the same behaviors are hailed as leaders. Modern women are expected to earn our keep but still be submissive and sexy, virtually all the time. Yes, clearly, there is much to work out; and whether the return of the Sacred Feminine is underway or not, doesn’t it seem just as important, if not more so, that we look to encourage the return of Sacred Masculine as well if anything’s really going to change?
I’ll admit it: I laughed at McFarlane’s “We Saw Your Boobs” song. I liked that it was racy, and thought it was challenging the uptightness of the Oscars more than it was offensive. Besides, eventually, most everything is going to offend somebody. And McFarlane was simply illustrating the sad truth of where we’re at as a nation, a culture, a species. Of course we saw boobs…we always see boobs. Every so often (please, God, how about more of the “often” part?), we see Daniel Craig’s ass, too. During Django Unchained, when Jamie Foxx’s character is captured and hanging naked upside down, I seriously, embarrassingly, turned to my partner (who works in Hollywood art departments) and asked him if that was, in fact, Jamie Foxx’s actual penis. It seemed impossible to me that a man would show himself in that way.
And that really got me thinking.
Not only do women regularly take it all off on the screen, but we most often do it alone, especially if there’s a man in the scene. That sounds less like sexism on the part of men and more like an expression of their sheer terror and fear, perhaps even a little bit of jealousy. Not necessarily from the actors or filmmakers, but from the male audience in general who eschew seeing other naked men, mostly because that’s what they’ve been taught. I’m not saying we don’t objectify and mistreat women (we certainly do) as a result of the frequent nakedness (or in spite of it), but there is another problem we don’t talk about nearly as often, and that’s just how traumatized our collective image of men is.
Whether or not a man has been circumcised, millions and millions are and have been throughout history, and that has greatly shaped how our society–and men–view the world and their place in it. Circumcision is a traumatic, unnecessary genital mutilation that if we did it when they were just a few months older, would be considered a horrific, punishable crime. It scars, desensitizes and sometimes even severely damages the penis. But we do it anyway. We don’t talk much about it. We certainly don’t apologize for it. The effects of sexual trauma, as we know from the countless childhood molestation and rape cases, can last a lifetime. It can distort relationships with the opposite sex. It can cause resentment, fear and dozens of other emotional issues not uncommon in our world today. Men need to talk about this, heal from this and hopefully help stop it for future generations.
Of course, circumcision is not the only cause for modern man’s awkwardness and lack of sensitivity, but it’s a damn good place to start looking at how to heal these issues our men face. Like Patton, Cave, Tobin and Kubrick, some men channel the male awkwardness into art. They confront what masculinity means directly, looking at it through the lens of creativity rather than the muddled goggles of society’s acceptable definitions. Men coming to grips with their fears and vulnerabilities become stronger, not weaker. Surrender is acknowledging what you can and cannot change. And art is one of the best ways to explore and even transcend that.
Who is the Sacred Masculine? I’m not exactly sure. We can stereotype him as a New-Agey pony-tailed man who’s not afraid to cry or eat tofu. But, come on. Men don’t have to give up being men (but giving up meat’s not a bad choice) any more than a woman has to give up her bra. We don’t need to revert to archaic definitions of genders; we are evolving and creating a new tribe, new ways of honoring and expressing ourselves. It requires rethinking, redefining and re-experiencing who we are as both men and women and everyone else in between. Like Nick Cave sings on the title track of the new record:
And if you feel you got everything you came for
If you got everything and you don’t want no more
You’ve got it, just keep on pushing and, keep on pushing and
Push the sky away
Sexism is, and always has been, a two-way street. The definitions our society puts on our gender roles can only be rewritten if we look at the masculine as well as the feminine–and just how similar they really are, both in their most magnificent glory and constricting oppression.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger