A Note on Gender and Terminology

Bros on a porch

How’s this for bromance: three (almost four!) of these dudes on a porch are now dads … | photo: Yoshi Silverstein

As a blog on Fatherhood, Hineni obviously references and talks a lot about gender and related issues. So, some thoughts on that:

I am a heterosexual cis-male married to a heterosexual cis-female. This inevitably biases my thoughts, actions, and reflections. That said, I try to be sensitive and aware of non-binary understandings of gender, sexuality, and identity. I hope that this blog will feel open and welcoming to those of any and all gender and sexual identities for whom the concept of fatherhood — and the desire to discuss what it means and is and should be — resonates.

Indeed, part of the entire idea of this blog is to push the typical boundaries of what’s consider “normal” for men vs women – eg that women should write blogs about motherhood but men don’t need to write blogs about fatherhood.

In some important ways, I am apparently not a “normal” guy. According to a close family friend, who is professionally trained in and studies and works with these things, I’m a bridge brain — which means, I’m told, that I can access both typically masculine and typically feminine modalities of thinking. Certainly I grew up surrounded by strong female role models, and have always easily been close friends with both men and women.

And yet, as with many thought and behaviors deemed normal vs abnormal, I have a hard time believing that my atypical qualities are truly so unique among men. Rather, in a society entrenched in toxic masculinity, modalities deemed “appropriately” masculine are emphasized while other modalities are either mocked or allowed but only with an ironic wink (see: bromance). I get that the irony makes for a few good laughs and entertainment — and yes, the bromance between Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan is amazing and we should totally enjoy its vicarious delights.

But we have on the one hand messaging that tells us that men need to “be more sensitive,” and “in touch with their emotions” etc and then, when we actually do these things, the feeling that they can be celebrated only through the lens of ironic quotation marks.

And in the end, this continues to privilege a narrow (often toxic) view of masculinity while continuing to push other modalities of masculinity down and aside. And, along the way, completely non-masculine modalities become further diminished as well.

So, what’s this got to do with Jewish fatherhood? Good question. I began this post in an effort to name my biases and areas of both sensitivity and inevitable lack of inclusion, and wound up a bit down a byway around what I think masculinity is and isn’t and should and shouldn’t be.

I think my essential message here is that just as we cannot expect for women / mothers / various other minorities and oppressed groups to exclusively bear the burden of their freedom — ie we who have the power and privilege in certain arenas need to shoulder the work ourselves of learning and acting in ways that lead to greater freedom — we who are (or will be) fathers, in the act of discussing what fatherhood means and what its joys and challenges and struggles look like, are not only normalizing these conversations we’re also easing a bit of the burden off those who have been expected to shoulder the greater weight of parenting for generations (ie mothers).

Ok, back to bromances — specifically those amongst Jewish friends (though obviously those are by no means the only or necessarily most important … but this is a Jewish blog after all). How about, instead of a cutesy ironic term, we replace this with something more meaningful, something that resonates with our Jewish tradition?

Achi — my brother — is certainly one option. Another is chevruta — a term that references a traditional Jewish learning mode of two learning partners who consistently challenge and push and support each other throughout a lifetime of learning and growth around Torah, both that which is written and that which is embedded in the world around us. I think I like that one. I’m lucky to have a handful of friends who I’m honored to call chevruta in the great learning experience that is life and fatherhood.

So, to all those who wish to be in chevruta with me and us in the great journey that is Jewish fatherhood: welcome. We’re so glad you’re here.

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