rooster flapping his wings and "strutting his stuff"
Image by Duy C??ng Nguy?n

Narrated by Marie T. Russell.

Watch video version here.

All it takes is turning on the news, reading the newspaper, or talking to people these days to be reminded that men’s behavior is getting a lot of attention — and not necessarily for good reason. The #times up, #metoo and Black Lives Matter movements provided the requisite spark to raise awareness about toxic, masculine behavior. The list of “fallen men” in high profile public and private sector industries and companies continues to grow. This group of men are the minority of men

Yet they are not the only culprits. In fact, the majority of men — who stand by unaware, silent, idle, afraid and reluctant — are contributing to men’s behavior remaining in the spotlight. 

In my work with men, both at the individual and organizational level, when I bring attention to the unwritten rules of what it means to be a man and how they do not work for anyone, men included, I rarely get any pushback. Rather, most men are interested in not adhering to the old “playbook” of what it means to be a man. They just haven't given it much thought. Because there hasn't been a new playbook created yet, many men end up asking, “What do I do?” This is their early-stage empathy growing roots, and it's a good thing. 

The Male Majority Needs to Be Better

This very same group of men comprises fathers, brothers, partners, sons, leaders, and colleagues. It's my belief that inherent in all men is an innate desire to be better — better men in their various roles. Yet inequality and inequity still reign. And of equal importance is the fact that the people affected by the lack of accountability and intervention on the part of the majority may very well be our wives, sisters, partners, colleagues, daughters and friends. 

innerself subscribe graphic

Ironically enough, if this majority of men made a commitment to allyship and leadership, the narrative would change. In a narrative of healthy masculinity, men and those around them would feel safe, thrive. As a result, the majority of societal problems would shrink significantly. 

What Will It Take to Realize this Commitment?

Men must be willing to “acknowledge their stuff.” In essence, that means we men get interested in what drives our behavior so we can make changes.

This requires we go beyond our biases and acknowledge our privileges so that we can use them for good. We need to acknowledge that the Man Box — the unofficial playbook of what it means to be a man — exists. 

Here’s how: 

Yes, the Man Box is Real

The Man Box is handed down from prior generations. Men before us — our fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, teachers, coaches, and in the society at large — have adapted, accepted, and modeled this playbook. It’s not consciously talked about; it’s just always been so, with many people paying the price of unhealthy masculinity. 

If gone unexamined, this playbook drives our way of thinking, speaking and acting like men. It shows up in our personal and business lives. It influences our leadership styles. Most importantly, our unconscious adherence to the Man Box not only negatively impacts others, it can also have negative consequences on we men as well.

Maintaining the idea of stoicism over emotionality is, without question, the most hurtful result of the man box. When men seeking to be allies and inclusionary leaders don’t express themselves emotionally, not only does it discourage others from being authentically human, it also severely limits leaders’ capacity for creating authentic relationships, leading effectively, and more. 

Unpacking the Unwritten Rules

When men as allies and leaders start challenging and unpacking the Man Box, they see a real opportunity for growth and behavior change. The Man Box is a narrowly defined, traditional set of rules for being a man. These rules are enforced through shaming and bullying, as well as promises of rewards — designed to force conformity to our dominant culture of masculinity, and to perpetuate the exploitation, domination, and marginalization of women and people who are queer, genderqueer, and transgender. 

Unpacking the Man Box requires we know what these unwritten rules are, including: 

  1. Real men don’t show their emotions, but showing anger is okay.

  2. Real men are always confident — we won’t show you our insecurities or admit we don’t know.

  3. Real men don’t ask for help.

  4. Real men make all the decisions.

  5. Real men are heterosexual and sexually dominant.

  6. Real men continuously talk and play sports.

  7. Real men are never handicapped, disabled, or unemployed.

Taking on the Role of Ally and Leader

You cant think like a "new man" if you don’t know what old thinking needs to be abolished. Thinking like a "new man" requires introspection — becoming aware of our unexamined ways of behaving, often driven by unconscious thought.

When we allow our biases to drive our behavior, microaggressions occur — instances of sexism, homophobia, racism, and more. They often manifest through language, errant gestures, or the way one looks at another person. These behaviors affect those who belong to target groups. Microaggressions might also manifest as insults, derogatory comments, or gestures.

What is important to understand is this: Much of the programming we’ve experienced on what it means to be a man, especially in relation to women, is from the past. What we saw modeled while growing up has been seeded deep within. And this is where the new man scorecard can change for the better. It’s exactly where you need to start, getting interested in what has historically driven your sense of being a man. It’s why self-examining our behavior is so important.

Talking like a better ally doesn’t mean being aggressive, dominating, or belittling. Instead, it means being inclusive, patient, and unbiased. This requires, first and foremost, that we consciously think like an ally so we can communicate like one.

Consider for a moment that the word ally is a verb as well as a noun. To be a true ally, you must “do” something. In all my years of inclusion work, I have repeatedly been asked the same question both by men and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) professionals about the engagement of men as allies: “What do I do?” But it’s not so simple as telling men or their organizations just what to do. That’s because we, as men, need to examine what drives our thinking.

When we begin to think more consciously, we can increase our awareness of our own biases and privileges, allowing us to make new choices that support new actions. Only then can we finally be congruent with our words, choices, and actions. Ultimately, it’s our actions that will do the talking: thinking and talking like a man without action is not enough. Its men using their power, position, and privilege to advance women and minorities that creates the change which benefits everyone. 

Acting like a man doesn’t mean being the boss, working more hours, or expecting women to set up the meeting room and be the receptionist (in addition to the actual position she was hired to fill). It means having an equal share-and-care in your work environment.

Copyright 2022. All Rights Reserved.
Printed with permission of the author.

Book by this Author:

Showing Up

Showing Up: How Men Can Become Effective Allies in the Workplace
by Ray Arata

book cover of: Showing Up: How Men Can Become Effective Allies in the Workplace by Ray ArataIn Showing Up, you’ll discover the DIY method of heart-based leadership Ray Arata has used with such companies as Verizon, Bloomberg, Moody's, Intel, Toyota, Hearst, and more—a male-modeled, real-solutions approach by and for men to increase diversity, bolster the bottom line, and create a culture so everyone in the workplace wins.

Showing Up is a “how-to” book for men in organizations seeking to be better allies and leaders. The book also gives guidance to HR, Diversity & Inclusion Professionals on how to engage their men in diversity efforts. With stories that illuminate common missteps, followed by key learning sections, and deep-dive training exercises to support the development of allyship, Showing Up turns good intentions into specific actions you can implement immediately.

For more info and/or to order this book, click here. Also available as a Kindle edition and as an Audiobook.

About the Author

photo of Ray ArataRay Arata is an award-winning diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leader and speaker, consultant, and trainer, with global clients from PwC to Verizon to Toyota to Bloomberg. He founded the Better Man Conference for the development of healthy masculinity and men as allies and partners. He was recognized by UN Women in 2016 as a HeForShe Champion for Change and received the Ron Herring 2020 award.

His new book is Showing Up: How Men Can Become Effective Allies in the Workplace. 

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More books by this Author.