On Being A Man

Reflections on being a man

As a man, where do you feel most fulfilled? Down the bar with a group of men, joking and laughing about this and that, sharing a few drinks, playing pool or whatever, or in a social gathering with lots of relatives of both sexes? In the company of women or in the company of men? With the boys on a fishing trip or camping expedition, or on holiday with the family?

These questions are not just provocative. If you feel more comfortable with men than women, more at home in a group of men, more understood, in fact, with no need to justify yourself, could it be that you are missing out on something in our society? And, conversely, if you feel uncomfortable in a group of men, could it be that you are frightened of maleness or masculinity in some way?

Scientists (well, sone of them) believe that genetically we have the potential to express our maleness in very important and profound ways, that there are necessary steps that we as human animals need to go through to develop into fulfilled men, and that our experience in the family and society does not generally give us what we need to become adult, mature men with a full sense of our deep masculine selves.

Video – men in society – the male identity crisis

In fact, so the idea goes, we are the way we are in society because we’re conditioned away from true masculinity – and what is left to us is a thing often derided, abused and shamed by feminists and even “new men”: a weak shadow of true masculinity, a weak masculine self, or a swaggering John Wayne macho image of immature masculinity, or a chaotic and confused adolescent maleness, perhaps with the acting out of violence and aggression (often against women). In short, a masculinity that is afraid to stand up and show itself in all its glory, a masculinity that is afraid of women, or seeks to placate them, or dominate them with physical and emotional manipulation. Or, a masculinity which turns against itself, and abuses itself with drugs, addiction, violence, self-harm……and, at its worst, a feminized masculinity in which a man is ashamed of being a man. 

But what of true masculinity? This invokes words like strength, consistency, clarity, compassion, care, vulnerability, emotional literacy, gentleness, protectiveness, anger, joy, grief, fear, courage, excitement, adventure, risk-taking, providing for others, protecting others……and so on. 

And yes, it may well be that small boys, big boys, and men all want to have adventure, excitement, and take risks (even little ones), and that women are fearful of this: it may be that men are more interested in going out to work and bringing home the hunted animal (or a pay packet) than making a nest.

It may be that men are genetically programmed to be providers and women are programmed to be more nurturing: it may be that men have different ways of thinking to women, and that communication between the sexes will always be difficult: it may be that a woman wants stability and a man wants excitement – in many ways, including sex.

So dare we accept that men and women have evolved with different genetic programs to do different things, to feel different things, and to be moved by different things – and, most importantly, can we learn to accommodate our true differences as best we can, instead of pretending that actually we’re all really the same regardless of our gender, and we could all get along nicely if only we men would be more like our womenfolk?

YES! We dare! And more, for the sake of our mental health, WE MUST! But if we do this, then along come the responsibilities: To learn what true masculinity means for ourselves and for our brothers (i.e. other men).

To care for our families instead of going off and seducing the next willing, attractive woman who comes along. To raise adolescent boys so that they know what true maleness is, and so that life is not ruined for all of us by leaderless gangs and undisciplined males acting out aggressively in our society.

To behave towards women with self-respect and other-respect. To stand up for ourselves with women assertively and not aggressively or abusively. To learn that the meeting of the true masculine and the true feminine is complementary. To understand that the sexes can be true to their own gender while still respecting the other. Not to fear or hate or be violent towards each other.

A romantic vision? Maybe, maybe not. The world changes each time one man sees a different way of being in it….and so change is possible. If any man reading this has sensed something in himself which stirs at the thought of the deep masculine coming alive, have a look at this book. The idea of archetypes – king, warrior, magician, lover – is deep in each of us.

Think of the development of the male fetus in the uterus. The default path of human development is towards the female: unless testosterone is produced under the influence of the Y chromosome at two specific stages of development, one very early and one rather later in pregnancy, the baby will develop into a female with a vagina, clitoris and labia.

It is the miracle of testosterone which turns the baby away from the female path and causes penis,testes and scrotum to develop instead. And the testosterone masculinizes the baby’s brain as well: this infantile testosterone produces different connections in the brain which make it easier for men to display certain skills, and women to display other skills. There is little doubt that the different brain wiring patterns of men and women are in large part responsible for the different behavioral patterns of men and women.

A good-enough book on this subject, which includes a test for you to complete so you can judge the degree of masculinization/feminization of your own brain, is Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps, by Alan and Barbara Pease. Here’s what it says on the Amazon.com website: “Ever wonder why women can brush their teeth while walking and talking on various subjects while men generally find this very difficult to do? Why 99 percent of all patents are registered by men? Why stressed women talk? Why so many husbands hate shopping? According to Barbara and Allan Pease, science now confirms that ‘the way our brains are wired and the hormones pulsing through our bodies are the two factors that largely dictate, long before we are born, how we will think and behave. Our instincts are simply our genes determining how our bodies will behave in given sets of circumstances.'”

That’s right: socialization, politics, or upbringing aside, men and women have profound brain differences and are intrinsically inclined to act in distinct – and consequently frustrating – ways. The premise behind Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps is that all too often these differences get in the way of fulfilling relationships and that understanding our basic urges can lead to greater self-awareness and improved relations between the sexes.

The Peases spent three years researching their book – traveling the globe, talking to experts, and studying the cutting-edge research of ethnologists, psychologists, biologists, and neuroscientists – yet their work does not read a bit like ‘hard science.’ In fact, the authors go to considerable lengths to point out that their book is intended to be funny, interesting, and easy to read in short, this is a book whose primary purpose is to talk about ‘average men and women, that is, how most men and women behave most of the time, in most situations, and for most of the past.'” Yes, indeed. It’s a book worth reading.

But what does all this mean in practice? Many things, but one of the worst is that we are shamed for being men in so many ways. Even those men who tried to accommodate women and became the so-called “New Men” of the 1990s were rejected in some way by their women. These men became what women apparently wanted – soft, caring, generous, emotionally understanding, warm – and their women found this delightful to start with….until it became clear that actually it wasn’t working. And really, why would it? If a woman is heterosexual, she doesn’t want to live with a feminized male – a woman with a penis. She wants a real man. And there is the problem: there aren’t many of those around. See this for more on the matter: a therapist offering a way to reclaim masculinity.

Video – Men and responsibility – Jordan Peterson

Most of us men don’t even know what a real man is. There may be plenty of wife-beaters, and weak men, and good men who don’t know what they want from life, and many millions of men emasculated by being thrown out of the only work they knew by ruthless capitalistic systems, and adolescent gang members, and kind men with no vision or real purpose, but there aren’t many real men around. And so we are brought up in families without much male emotional support or physical presence, mostly by women, in that social, emotionally supportive, nurturing, safe way that women have, and we are in danger of losing our sense of adventure, of risk, of self, of maleness. And for boys brought up in single parent families, without any male role models, no matter how wonderfully caring their mothers may be, one thing is certain: there will be a time when they need an adult older male to show them what it means to be a man.

Some people reading this will be fuming with rage. But this is not an attack on single mothers, and certainly not an attack on women. Single moms have just about the hardest job in society. It really may take a village to raise a child, as the old Indian proverb has it – and if it doesn’t take a village, it might just take a bunch of relatives living near at hand. How then does a single mother cope? And why do right-wing, antisocial, reactionary governments pillory single moms with welfare cuts?

But this article is not about women. It’s about men and the fact that men have been shamed – maybe rightly, maybe not – for behaving in the way they do. But the feckless man who leaves his children, the adolescent gangster, the wife-beater, the man who uses abusive porn, the deceiver who seduces woman and abandons them: they have all got one thing in common – they are shamed by society without compassion. And yet, who ever taught them to be men? Whoever gave them the models they needed to respect, to look up to, and whoever taught them that a man needs a vision and, if not a vision, a role? Yes, that’s right – no-one. And who cares? Well, some men do.

A life like this is about the recovery of your true masculinity and maleness. And the recovery from shame. There are many ways we are shamed. One man in a men’s group spoke of going off into the woods on a little adventure of his own as a boy: collecting wood for a fire. He knew the woods well, and he knew what he was doing: enhancing his own sense of being a warrior – an adventurer, in control of his destiny and contributing to the family economy – or, at least, the fire. But he didn’t tell anyone he was going, and panic ensued: eventually he was found by his father, happily collecting my bunch of firewood and roping it together – and as they marched back home, father grim-faced and silent, he knew that his adventure would end with his mother saying the usual things: those things, which, said to each of us a million times by well-meaning women (and misguided men who fail to support our maleness), quell our spirit of adventure, our fire, perhaps our desire to be truly alive, certainly our desire to get joy out of life and to stretch our boundaries, to learn what we can do without risk, and to get a sense of our own courage and maleness.

And we are shamed sexually perhaps more than anywhere else in our lives: through the iniquitous comparison of penis size in the locker room (as if masculinity resided in our cocks!), through our first and every subsequent premature ejaculation, or failure to give a woman an orgasm …..yes, we are shamed sexually. And the irony is that maleness is actually so joyous, as is being a father or a family man, or being a young man plowing the furrow and spreading the seed. In short, just being male is a cause for celebration and delight.

In MKP’s NWTA men are given the chance, probably for most of them for the first time in their lives, to  talk openly, without judgment, about their sexual life. And the pain and pleasure that emerge are profoundly moving. Talk about being ruled by our cocks! (Well, probably our balls, actually.) In this complete cross-section of society, from the humblest and most disadvantaged guys, the experiences tend to be similar. Every man’s story is part of every other man’s story. We are indeed all brothers under the skin.

Here are some generalities that emerge from such spaces. Between one third and one half of the men have paid for sex, either once or regularly, perhaps when their wife was pregnant, perhaps because their wife or partner was not interested in sex, perhaps in addition to having sex with a partner or girlfriend. Some men who had lost their virginity to prostitutes, sometimes because their father or an older uncle had taken it upon himself to initiate the lad in this way (As one guy said: ” The bastard told me: ‘I’ll make a man of you.’ Thanks a lot, Dad. Unfortunately you started 15 years too late.”) And the product of this was shame and guilt.

Nearly all the men have used porn – some obsessively, some for years, from adolescence onwards. Some have filmed themselves having sex with their girlfriends, either openly or secretly, and the women had often (reluctantly) gone along with this to please their man. All the men masturbate regularly – some many times each day. They all have a mssive variety of ways to self-pleasure. Many speak of the lengths they go to to enjoy sexual release. And about two thirds of all men think their penis is too small.

Many men speak of their desire to last longer during sex, and their experiences of embarrassment and inadequacy at coming too quickly during sex. Most men say they want to last longer during sex. And the irony is – we are biologically primed to shoot quickly. That’s how it had to be when the world was not a safe place millions of years ago: spend too long locked to a female, and you became someone else’s meal! That’s how it was for our ancestors, and that’s the reason we have a challenge lasting a long time in bed now. 

Between ten and twenty percent of men speaking freely in these groups say that they have had sex with one or more men at least once, often leading them to question if they are gay. Many speak of having unwanted erections regularly, saying that they feel as if they are ruled by their cock.  

Yet the overriding desire, spoken again and again by men of all classes and colors and educational levels, is to have a real relationship from the heart: to be in an intimate, connected relationship of love, respect and sexual fulfillment. It seems that we men have two conflicting needs here: on the one hand a need to fulfill the dictates of our testosterone fulled bodies by having sex freely and liberally to spread our seed widely, and on the other hand a need to satisfy our very human desire to meet another human being in a soul connection, to love a woman (or man) and be understood by her, to have intimacy and love. Often the testosterone wins. There is no shame in that.

Shadow work – recovering your true self

Video link to above