A Q&A about The Five Stages of Masculinity, originally published at The Good Men Project
The Good Men Project recently spoke to Joseph Gelfer who has created a new model for understanding masculinity called The Five Stages of Masculinity.
GMP: So, what exactly is The Five Stages of Masculinity?
JG: The Five Stages of Masculinity is a model that shows the different ways people understand masculinity. Stage 1 is Unconscious Masculinity, and includes all the people who are impacted by masculinity but don’t really think about it. Stage 1 is where all the mindless war and violence happens. Stage 2 is Conscious Masculinity, and includes all those groups who believe masculinity should be a certain way. Stage 2 includes people who think in terms of archetypes, men’s rights advocates, and so on. Stage 3 is Critical Masculinities, and is basically a feminist worldview. Stage 3 identifies various problems with masculinity and shows how power works in society. Stage 4 is Multiple Masculinities, and demonstrates that masculinity can be pretty much anything you want it to be. Stage 5 is Beyond Masculinities, and argues that masculinity is an illusion.
GMP: Why did you create The Five Stages of Masculinity?
JG: I’ve been working around the subject of masculinity for quite a long time. During that time I have felt my own opinions about masculinity shift and develop. But when I have moved from one perception of masculinity to another I have not necessarily abandoned the old position. I can see some value in the old and the new perceptions. For example, men’s rights advocates are correct when they say that there are aspects that men do badly in, such as health and education. And feminists are correct when they say that men enjoy the benefits of patriarchy. Both can be right, to a certain extent, simultaneously. The Five Stages of Masculinity provides a way to see all these elements at the same time.
GMP: But surely, if one stage is higher than another, the higher stages are “more right” than the lower?
JG: Yes, that’s true. However, by seeing perceptions within their stages we can do a better job of understanding the unique challenges of those stages rather than simply dismissing them as wrong. Stage 3 is “better” than Stage 2 inasmuch as it is more just. But we need to understand Stage 2. For example, men’s rights advocates tend to think at the personal level, whereas feminists tend to think at the systemic level. If Stage 3 can understand Stage 2 properly it should realize that the latter is not wrong by Stage 3 standards because it is talking about Stage 2 standards. In general, I believe progress can be made by those at higher stages doing a better job of understanding those at lower stages rather than simply denouncing them. Once this happens, the communication between the stages is of a different nature.
GMP: So is there a clear dividing line between the stages?
JG: No, the stages are porous and overlapping. When visualizing the stages it is tempting to imagine a triangle akin to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The overall direction of this is sound, but it is too crude. A more useful way of visualizing the stages is a pyramid-shaped Venn diagram, with different-sized circles indicating points of overlap. It is also possible to operate at different stages at the same time. For example, you might have certain beliefs about the biological nature of masculinity, which is Stage 2 thinking. Yet at the same time you might be in full agreement with the analysis of patriarchy and the need for masculinity to change, which is Stage 3 thinking.
GMP: You’ve talked a lot about Stage 2 and Stage 3. Tell us a bit more about Stage 4.
JG: Absolutely. From the outside, Stage 4 initially looks like gay masculinity, but it’s not. Stage 4 is really queer masculinity. By this I take queer to mean category-busting. It means that masculinity can look like anything you want it to look like. You might think this is what Stage 3 is about, but it’s not. Stage 3 still has a pretty firm understanding of men and women, masculine and feminine. Stage 4 takes all the analysis of power from Stage 3 but then troubles the nature of all the terms that analysis is based on. Stage 4 is ultimately libertarian in nature: libertarian with an ethic of care. Stage 4 is about freedom.
GMP: And of course, Stage 5: tell us about the grand illusion!
JG: Ok. Stage 5 really only makes sense once you’ve fully embodied Stage 4. If masculinity can mean anything you want it to mean, as Stage 4 tells us, does it have any meaning at all? The short answer is “no.” The bottom line of Stage 5 is that masculinity does not exist. Or at least, masculinity is an illusion that nevertheless has real-world effects. But if you’re talking to someone at Stage 2 this sounds rather fanciful. In general, if you’re trying to change people’s minds, I advocate speaking to people from one stage above their worldview, as this is an easier stretch.
GMP: Where can people find out more about The Five Stages of Masculinity?
JG: Head over to the website http://www.masculinityresearch.com. On that website you can find a more detailed overview. You can also find a free tool you can use that will tell you which stage you are at. By using this tool you’ll also help build an evidence-based picture of what each of the five stages looks like.