What to do when you’ve built your identity on being needed?

Jakob Owens, Unsplash

The impetus for this article was yet another man leveling the charge of “arrogance” at me. This happens in my life with startling regularity.

As an entrepreneur, doctor, and confident woman, I get a lot of epithets tossed my way: “overeducated,” “unfeeling,” “self-aggrandizing,” “delusional,” etc, but within this swirl of pejoratives, “arrogant” is by far the most popular indictment.

I became curious about this phenomenon. As a researcher, I naturally like to look for trends, and when I catalogued the instances (and there were many), two trends stood out in particular:

Given the fact that I have raked myself over the coals for years about others’ opinions of me, mined every interaction for information on my own ego and state of being, relentlessly pursued self-growth, and on many occasions taken full responsibility for the feelings, actions, and fears of others, I am very comfortable at this point accepting that charges like “arrogance” say more about the accuser than they do about me.

Given also that the charge has only ever been leveled by men who I’ve in some way rejected, I believe these incidents are a clue into a larger existential dilemma that modern men are grappling with.

First off, we’d be blind not to notice the global empowerment of women. Though far from “equal,” we’re seeing women rising strong in the world. Women are outpacing men in college enrollment and graduation, women-owned businesses are proliferating, and half of all households boast a woman as the main breadwinner. While divorce rates are relatively steady, more and more women are opting out of ever getting married in the first place. Furthermore, when divorce does occur in a heterosexual couple, 70% of the time it’s initiated by the woman. Finally, there’s a trend happening now of traditionally-hetero women turning away from men altogether to find happiness with women partners.

The patriarchy, which Susan Maushart in her book Wifework defines as a “sexually strategic” agreement, was formed, bulwarked, and maintained entirely on the premise of men being needed for very specific roles, mostly provider and protector. This arrangement was actually reinforced by women who, in the time before widely-accessible birth control, were extremely vulnerable during childbearing years (for more information on this I suggest you read Maushart’s book, which is brilliant).

Things have changed though. Women now more than ever have the ability to choose when and whether to become mothers. As a result, they’ve snapped up the ace card in the sexually strategic balance that was the patriarchy. In short, women don’t need men to perform roles of provider, protector, and master. They are becoming their own providers, protectors, and masters.

And the patriarchy, predictably, is not taking it well. From sweeping large-scale policies designed to roll back childcare and access to safe and lawful abortions to the individual backlash of scared men spitting epithets at women who refuse their “help,” we’re seeing before our eyes an unconscious existential fear rise to the surface. It is, after all, far easier to attack than to pause. This is especially true for a group that has been conditioned for generations to believe that domination is a way of life. As a result, we see panicking, rudderless men frantically trying to protect and rebuild an inexorably- crumbling system.

There’s another response to these shifting tides- a rare one, but still visible in the many brave and adaptive souls who seek to answer the question, “now what?” These reflective men are willing to look our current, arcing changes in the face, accept them as an unconquerable force of evolution, and seek to equitably and collaboratively shape what wants to emerge.

The men I know who are rising to meet this existential challenge with grace and acceptance have turned inward to discover the deeper, unchanging truth of their masculine essence. They are, as David Deida categorizes it, discovering their “third-stage masculinity.”

This is a type of masculinity that’s neither threatened nor cowed by big, ambitious, brilliant women or large-scale global female empowerment. It’s not, in fact, threatened or cowed by anything. It’s unapologetically and unmistakably masculine without being domineering, brittle, fragile, or predatory. It’s a strong, loving, connected form of the masculine that accepts and revels in the rising dance of feminine power.

These men, raising firm, gentle, and loving voices, will stand as unshakable role models for their blindly-panicking brethren. These will be the allies, partners, and indispensable co-constructors of the new world we’re stepping into.

Calling all men. We do need you. Just not in the way you think.


Kate Newburgh, Ph.D, top writer in Leadership. Leadership development: www.deeppractices.com.

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