Many young men are in a state of limbo because they’re confused about when boyhood ends and manhood begins. Our culture has no identifiable rite of passage to announce, affirm, or celebrate this transition.
Many cultures around the world understand the need for such rites of passage. There’s an African tribe where, on the day of induction, one of the boy’s adult teeth is knocked out. Males who still have that tooth act and are treated like boys. Males who have lost that tooth act and are treated like men. The induction ceremony is often painful and frightening for an adolescent boy. But afterward he flaunts his painful wounds as proud proof of his manhood.
One Native American nation had a similar rite of passage. During the winter of induction, a boy was taken to a frozen lake. A hole was cut in the ice through which the boy dove three times to the bottom of the lake. Each time he brought up a stone from the bottom, which, from that day forward, he carried in a pouch around his neck as tangible proof that he was a man.
Of course, I’m not suggesting the reinstitution of these particular rites of passage! I’m only stating that no appropriate rites of passage exist in our society. I do, however, think we need them. Today’s young men usually have no idea when the transition to manhood should take place, leaving them confused, frustrated, and angry as a result.
Are traditional gender roles part of our DNA, or produced and directed by culture? The differences between men and women go far beyond anatomy, right to our very souls. Yet men share many basic needs with women, such as the need for emotional intimacy and transparency, the need to love and be loved, and the need for purpose and meaning. Beneath our cultural costumes, men and women are more alike than different.
But the cultural role we play as men affects whether and which of these needs are met. Rough-and-tumble little boys can become relationally closed and competitive men and resist appearing affectionate, gentle, kind, expressive, relational, emotional, understanding, submissive, and nurturing for fear they’ll be judged less than manly.
Here then is a source of masculine anger. Men are trying to live out the stereotypical role of being rough-and-tumble, self-sufficient, and independent, and in so doing many of their most basic needs are going unmet. Conversely, if a man opens himself to others to address those needs, he may think of himself or be thought of by others as unmanly. We’re in a double bind. And the discontentment and frustration can easily degenerate into anger.
Cultural expectations concerning what a man should be and how a man should act often leaves him feeling unsure about his societal role in general. But, how might this affect the way men relate to women in particular?
Many men who succeed in conforming to the masculine stereotype for too long stand in danger of developing what psychologists call ‘mascupathology.’ Don’t be frightened by this high-sounding term. It’s not difficult to understand. What it describes is the extreme trouble some ‘macho’ types have getting comfortable with women. These men are tense and on guard, and can’t let down their masculine edge. They’re so intent on displaying their gender before the opposite sex that they can’t seem to be friends with women, even their sisters, daughters, and wives.
This isn’t all that rare. I’m sure many of you listening today struggle at some level with ‘mascupathology.’ If you’ve found that my description sounds a bit like you, I encourage you to make a change both, for your sake and the sake of the female loved ones in your life. Begin by understanding the cultural myths of masculinity that may be blocking you from addressing some of your basic emotional needs. If you fail to grasp the conflict between myth and reality with regard to your masculinity, you’ll never be able to get to the cause of your anger and discomfort. I’ll be talking at length about these myths in the days ahead.