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.
Mothers undoubtedly make tremendous contributions to their sons’ mental, emotional, and social development. And you’ll be hard-pressed to find an adult son who doesn’t love and appreciate his mother immensely for it. But a boy’s successful development requires the substantial, positive, masculine influence of a father or male mentor. For only a man can teach a boy how to be a man. Dr. Frank Pittman, a psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of men, says this:
‘A mother may give her son booming self-esteem, may imbue him with a wonderful sense of his specialness, but she can’t have expertise on what he as a man is to do with the masculine specialness. Mothers, no matter how wise and wonderful, can only point boys in certain directions, but boys need fathers to show them how far they should go’It’s hard to imagine how we can raise a better generation of sons until we have a better generation of fathers.’
Many people think a father’s weak or missing influence in the life of a growing son can be compensated for by feminine influence. Ultimately, this isn’t the case. Growing up as a male with a female as primary mentor can lead to at least some degree of role confusion. When a young boy’s self-concept isn’t shaped by the man in his life, he’s bound to have trouble understanding his own masculinity in a healthy way, and be anxious and frustrated as a result.
It begins the minute we’re born, well before we’re aware of it. ‘Little boys are made of snips and snails and puppy-dog tails.’ As young boys, we love guns, tanks, racecars, and airplanes. And by the time we reach adulthood we’re thoroughly indoctrinated and well practiced in our culture’s expectations of what a man’s supposed to be’achievement oriented, assertive, autonomous, dominant, confident, practical, unemotional, and strong.
But here’s the problem, this is a lose-lose situation. If we fall short of the ideal, we’re wimps and failures; if we attain the ideal we’ve become a so-called ‘man’ at the expense of being a human being. Dr. Frank Pittman says this:
‘As a guy develops and practices his masculinity, he is accompanied and critiqued by an invisible male chorus of all the other guys who hiss or cheer as he attempts to approximate the masculine ideal, who push him to sacrifice more and more of his humanity for the sake of his masculinity, and who ridicule him when he holds back. The chorus is made up of all the guy’s comrades and rivals, all his buddies and bosses, his male ancestors and his male cultural heroes, his models of masculinity’and above all, his father, who may have been a real person in the boy’s life, or may have existed for him only as the myth of the man who got away.’
Guys, perhaps its time we rethink what it means to truly be a man!