In part 1 of this series, I spoke about how the male gender is struggling. Men in the 21st century are expected to not only uphold the traditional masculine stereotypes of self-reliance, restricted emotionality, and toughness, but they are also being asked to “embrace there feminine side” and be sensitive and emotionally available. In other words, guys today are not only expected to climb over the competition on their way up the corporate ladder, but they are also asked to enjoy taking the kids to play group and watching Pride and Prejudice for the tenth time with the wife.
To make matters worse, men are expected to keep these aspects of themselves separate, because if the guys find out that you enjoy Pride and Prejudice, you can expect to have your “maleness” seriously challenged. As a result, I think men, though well intentioned, often feel frustrated and inadequate to meet the various, inherently conflicting demands placed upon them, which in turn can lead to disillusionment and disconnect. What can we men do? And, what can you do to help the men in your life? Here are a few ideas.
1) We need to redefine what it is to be man.
Back in 1963, it was said that “there is only one complete unblushing male in America: a young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual, Protestant father of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight, and height, and a recent record in sports.” I think the same could be said for today, some 50 years later. And, that’s a problem.
We need a clear and achievable definition of masculinity that provides the necessary flexibility for men to meet the demands of the 21st century. Sure it’s ok to have any or all of the attributes listed above, but is should also be ok for men to be different…to lack confidence from time to time, to feel sadness or shame, to experience unemployment or find out they are impotent. A man should not blush if he is NOT white, heterosexual, married, young, athletic, well educated, etc. There has to be a way to keep what is good about being a man and add the attributes we need to adapt and achieve success in our lives. Speaking of this…
2) Men shouldn’t be afraid to embrace their feminine side.
I have to admit that writing that sentence makes some part of me cringe. Let me explain what I mean. We need to realize that in order to conform to the male gender role men give up vital behaviors and experiences, like their ability to share feelings, express dependency or seek closeness.
There are many downsides to this. For one example consider a condition called Alexithymia, which is the inability to connect words with feelings. Many men experience this condition as a “vague ‘buzz’ of undifferentiated affect rather than a clear or articulate emotional message.” In other words, they feel like something is off, but they are unable to describe their emotional experience beyond saying they feel frustrated, or numb. They are stuck. This can be a very frustrating experience, both for the man and the people who want to know what their man feels.
We men have to understand that in order to have fulfilling relationships, at home or work, we have to have access to our feelings and be able to communicate them effectively. Some would also say our physical and mental health is connected to this ability.
3) Men need role models to show them how to do this.
It’s a lot easier for men to take the risk of expanding the traditional masculine stereotype and start sharing their feelings if someone else is doing it, especially if that other person is a man that they know well and respect.
Men have few such individuals in their natural environment. The popular media portrays men as being on opposite ends of the spectrum. They are either the James Bond/John Wayne type hero or the emasculated, perpetual adolescents who can’t figure it out (e.g., 40-year old virgin, Knocked up, Hangover). Where are the real role models who show men they can be both tough and determined as well as emotionally available and nurturing? That may be you.
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