In my last blog, I wrote about how boys are shamed into either hiding or suppressing some of their natural human emotions. And I asked the question: Do we raise our sons to be unemotional in order for them to be useful pawns for war? What happens when that boy becomes an adult?
Boys are made to feel that their feelings of fear, pain, inadequacy, vulnerability and failure are shameful because they are not emotions that ‘real’ men have – that these feelings are not truly masculine. The boys who are told they do not live up to masculine expectations become the adult men who continue to feel insecure about their own masculinity, whenever they experience an unacceptable emotion.
The result are men who are blocked from many deeper forms of human communication. Whenever a man experiences fear, pain, inadequacy, vulnerability or failure, it is accompanied by insecurity about his masculinity. This obviously results in a split between men’s inner, emotional self and their outer presentation of masculinity.
Stephen Frosh* in Sexual Difference: Masculinity and Psychoanalysis, says that men are afraid that their emotions make them vulnerable, and dependent and ‘like a woman’. They fear loss of emotional control. Unless, of course, the emotion is one acceptable to men, such as anger, which can become a substitute for all other emotions.
This masculine self-protection especially impacts on men’s relationships. Many men are hardly more than cardboard cut-outs when it comes to expressing their inner reality to others: their life partners, children, male friends and colleagues.
Our training of boys to hide or deny their emotions handicaps them for future intimate relationships. Intimate relationships wither and die without the communication of emotions, both inner emotions and emotions towards the other. If one partner is unable or unwilling to communicate their emotions, the relationship will always be distant and unfulfilling to both partners. Nowadays this is recognised for what it is; a mild to severe emotional disability that works against closeness and contact – important elements of any relationship.
Often men fail to recognise and name their emotions, let alone think about, experience or talk about them. Recognising feelings, thinking them through and understanding them, needs both awareness and practice, skills not encouraged or developed in either boys or men. It is basically an analytical process. But an analytical process that may bring them too close to emotions that are taboo – that can expose a carefully hidden insecurity.
When a man becomes a father, it is difficult to drop the emotional self-protection. With little experience of showing softness and caring, a father can struggle with the physical or verbal display of love. He is reluctant to expose other emotions. He hesitates to tell his child that sometimes he’s also afraid – afraid of not being able to protect his child, uncertain that he can earn enough, vulnerable because he doesn’t have all the answers. It’s easier to put on an act of toughness and power. Some fathers substitute anger, denial or withdrawal for more risky emotions. This father remains detached from his family, marginalised, and excluded from the reality and emotional responsibility of raising his children. The emotional well-being of the family is left to the mother.
A cycle is established. The debilitating limitation of being emotionally crippled gets passed from father to son. A father, who is emotionally limited himself, anxiously rejects his son’s emotional expression. Only later in life will the son understand that this behaviour was the self-protection and pretence of an insecure man – a display, not of confidence, but of weakness. But by then, the son is doomed to his own future of masculine insecurity.
Adult men with their friends are pretty much the same as they were at school. Activity-based friendships are the easy option. The fear of putting his masculine identity at risk limits a man’s expression of his emotions. Men find personal problems uncomfortable to talk about, or listen to. Even when problems reach crisis level – when his wife leaves him, he faces dismissal or bankruptcy, or he is told that he is seriously ill – there are limits to how a man can express his emotions to his male friends. He’ll also try to skirt around personal failure and vulnerability. Men live with restricted friendships because they are understandably afraid of the response – the strained silence, the embarrassment, the hurriedly-curtailed conversation and the rejection. Instead of providing a safety valve where a man can release pent-up emotions, friends will come up with a fix-it solution or a joke to defuse the emotion. Often a man is thrown back on his life-partner as the only outlet for his emotions.
The workplace also strictly demands that men suppress their emotions. No matter what the job, any hint of hesitancy, doubt or insecurity is frowned on or used against him. What he must show is confidence and determination. This puts immense strain on men. It also works against the company, in that it restricts mentoring, team-working, and the seeking of help or advice.
We continue to present this fantasy of perfect masculinity, symbolically represented by the ideal soldier, to boys as if it is true. We continue to brainwash them into believing that if they don’t live up to the fantasy, they are not masculine enough.
Men suffer for this fantasy of perfect, rational, unemotional masculinity. In my next blog I look at another attribute of the perfect soldier. See: https://caygin.wordpress.com/chapters-3/difference-fea…ssion-violence/