Coalition on Men and Masculinities

Set Perfectionism Aside

I spent the greater part of the week torn over what I should write about for the Men & Masculinities blog. I had these grandiose ideas of writing something that would change the landscape and contain some groundbreaking original thought. Something that would move readers. I was so caught up in this idea of writing something profound or perfect that it actually kept me from writing. Where else does this happen in our lives?

I see this every day in my own life. We are so obsessed with making sure everything we do is perfect. The never ending quest for perfection is absolutely debilitating. It doesn’t breed productivity, but rather keeps us from engaging and moving forward. But before I making sweeping statements and claim that we all are always striving for perfection, I will say it’s cultural. For me, it’s a privilege I have to strive towards perfection. I am a white, heterosexual, temporarily able-bodied, male on a predominantly white campus. I have been told all my life that I should be creating and disrupting.

I am so afraid that this mission for perfection prevents us from action. And then I realize through my own identities that I also have the privilege to not so anything. I can perpetuate norms day in and day out and nearly never be questioned. I have the undeserved privilege to not even have to say a word. This ranges from the countless micro aggressions I see in person or the conversations I share with students about hetero and sexist norms. I don’t have to say anything.

These perfectionist tendencies leave us always straining our brains or sifting through the research to figure out how to have these conversations. We are left with thoughts of, “what if I say the wrong thing,” “what if this person then doesn’t like me,” “what if I don’t think I am the expert?” It’s absolutely paralyzing. So we are able to slowly back away and not say a thing. We have unreal expectations that there is only one way to make change. We have unreal expectations that there is only one way to have a conversation. It’s time to move the discourse from perfection to good enough. What if any conversation was good enough?

Dr. Stephen Quaye spoke at ACPA 2014 and left a sentiment that brings to light so much of our fear. Dr. Quaye suggests that we should move from being “Perfect to Good Enough.” He went on to say that the culture of perfectionism has become a defense mechanism for the fear of failure. And isn’t it just that? We are so afraid that the conversations we have with our students just might not work. But for a moment, think about one conversation that changed your life or your perspective.

Have the conversation even if you don’t think it’s perfect. Say what needs to be said even if it’s not perfect. Because without even starting that conversation, we perpetuate the cycle. Maybe that one conversation you have will be enough.

How does this relate to men and masculinity? As a white male, this is one of the biggest problems. We need to have conversations with the students we interact with and begin to help them to identify themselves within identities. Be a support for to our students as they begun to understand their identities and privileges that they hold. Empathize. But number one be willing to share the conversation. Because my silence perpetuates white supremacy and patriarchy. We need to guide our students through these conversations rather than hope someone else will bring it up.

1.       Have the conversation

If you can’t complete this, please go back to the beginning and read again.

2.       Seek their Story

There is so much humanity and so much community when you allow a space for someone to share their story. You both have now spent time and energy sharing and making meaning of what their young person’s life is like. You can begin to seek to understand why they say what they say or what they think. We can begin to then understand what questions to ask them in order to help them. We can ask them how they feel about their origins or how they fit into the world of binaries we have created. In particular with masculinity, sexism and our patriarchal society.

3.       Your story is your own

Do not expect your students to be where you are or to understand you immediately. Our nation is suffering from a lack of ability to take another’s perspective. We are surrounded by individuals that have rarely imagined life beyond their very own story. When you are sharing a conversation it is important to remember that you are where you are because you have spent your whole life as you.

But even more, my understanding of masculinity is not the same as one of my best friend’s understanding of masculinity. We must be aware of our identities and how culturally it impacts us all differently.

I know I haven’t said anything profound but I hope we can begin to shift our thinking from perfect to good enough. Any conversation is better than no conversation. Say something when you hear something. Because after all my silence perpetuates white supremacy and patriarchy so you can at least count on me.

About the Author:

Evan Knoespel is currently a Hall Director at Iowa State University. He earned his graduate degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs from the University of Iowa where he served as an Assistant Hall Coordinator. He earned his undergraduate degree in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Evan also previously served as an Intern at the Savannah College of Art and Design.